“This is not a time to be shy,” Kathleen Hanna projects her battle cry to a sold-out Brixton Academy. “The world is coming to an end. We have to use our connection to the power of the universe to change the world.”
Even before support acts Big Joanie and Child’s Pose took to the stage, there was an unspeakable energy amongst the crowd. The streets of Brixton were overtaken by pops of neon hair, leopard print, and the knowledge that a Bikini Kill concert is the prime place in which to be yourself.
Big Joanie and Child’s Pose graciously carried the torch to the flame lit 30 years ago in Olympia, Washington, bringing the London DIY scene to the front to say, “We’re here and we make incredible music.” The tension only amped between the support and the main act, with the kind of pre-show setlist you’d imagine being played in a tiny bar in the Pacific North West.
When the band sauntered out on stage, the immense response of a thousand teen bedrooms twenty years on went wild. Original members Kathleen Hanna, Toni Vail, Kathi Wilcox, and their exceptional new guitarist, Erica Dawn Lyle kicked off the flashbacks-of-nostalgia setlist with “New Radio”.
“I'm the little girl at the picnic, who won't stop pulling her dress up,” sings Hanna, building quickly up to the screaming bridge of, “What the f**k is written all over your pretty face?” Every second of the first song alone has more energy than anybody knew what to do with but to scream back: Come here baby, let me kiss you like a boy does.
With each segment separated by Hanna’s or Vail’s stories; stories about this one time they were playing a punk rock show and were stopped in the middle to be asked if you could be a feminist and a sex worker. "I felt like I was gonna cry," laughed Hanna but, "Tobi got out from behind the drums and explained it theoretically, so I didn't have to." The message? "Now I'm at a show where nobody is gonna stop me and ask why I'm a sex worker." As the crowd cheered louder and louder, she raised her voice to state, "There is no perfect feminist!"
With the current tumultuous political climate, it’s fitting Bikini Kill bring themselves back to the stage now. Women, transwomen, nonbinary, we need the voices of Vail, Hanna, and Wilcox telling us to, “Just pick up a f**king instrument.”
After 23 years as a group, away from an English stage, Hanna was awash with advice from never giving up to never giving in especially in the times we’re in today. Including “Alien She”, “In Accordance to Natural Law”, and “Carnival”, the set was nonstop short, powerful, punk rock songs that influenced a generation - including Hanna herself, she says, each time she listens to Tobi’s lyrics.
"I'm not a person who runs into the desk and says, 'Sorry!'" she starts, remarking on the constructions of gender and challenging their very existence; about debating the 'real authentic' us and the way we've been trained to be female. "You can't rip things apart like that. It's okay to be whoever you are."
“Rebel Girl” rounded off the main part of the show. The beginning drumbeat sent frisson across the Academy. It was then that even those who hadn’t been jumping began to jump. Bodies bounced off of one another as Hanna sang the opening lines of what is now one of the biggest and most influential tracks of the Riot Grrrl movement.
One of only two Europe-exclusive shows, Bikini Kill tore the Brixton stage apart with their anthems that changed a generation. Before leaving the stage we are gifted one final piece of essential advice that every women needs: "Keep making your mark," she insists. "It doesn't matter how old you are. Just keep making your f**king mark."
To close the show, they play “Suck My Left One” and “Double Dare Ya”. Then they go back to a song Hanna says they haven't played for a very, very long time. It's a song that's also a tribute to one of Hanna's friends, artist and Riot Grrrl visionary, Tammy Rae Carland. “For Tammy Ray”. And in those closing chords, the floor wishes they could do it again.
There’s also no doubt in my mind that this very night, a troupe of new, impassioned musicians were born.
Because Bikini Kill let them know they could.
This Is Not a Test
Don't Need You
I Hate Danger
In Accordance to Natural Law
Reject All American
Tell Me So
Resist Psychic Death
Double Dare Ya
Suck My Left One
For Tammy Rae