Gig review: The Julie Ruin at Brudenell Social Club

The Julie Ruin. Picture: Aliya Naumoff
The Julie Ruin. Picture: Aliya Naumoff
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The Julie Ruin’s first European date hasn’t come easily. Originally scheduled for last May, the entire tour was postponed when front-woman Kathleen Hanna’s Lyme disease deteriorated.

Finally ready to re-embark on the shows, the New York five-piece’s cymbal and drumstick bags were lost at Heathrow and they had to appeal on social media for places that rented music equipment.

Then once on stage they spend a few disorganised minutes sorting out Sara Landeau’s guitar, which Hanna jokes would have made them sound like they were ‘faking Sonic Youth’.

It’s not the most prepossessing start to the gig but, after nearly 25 years in the industry, Hanna has weathered far worse. Starting out with the hardcore punk of Riot Grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, she’s since turned her political activism towards the kind of electro-clash pop that aligns her work with Chicks On Speed as well as the surf-punk of the B-52’s.

It’s a musical desire to keep looking forward that means the one-hour set focuses firmly on material from the band’s 2013 debut album, Run Fast. Former Bikini Kill member Kathi Wilcox may be on bass but none of their material is played, and likewise the only taster of Hanna’s previous electro-pop outfit Le Tigre is the nagging riff of ‘Friendship Station’.

With tracks as sparky as set opener ‘V.G.I.’ and ‘Party City’, on which keyboardist Kenny Mellman supplies enthusiastically shouted vocals, this focus isn’t misplaced. Fun and shamelessly pop in intent if not execution, they provide a lightness to feminism that contrasts with the intensity of the recently reignited Sleater-Kinney.

Yet despite glimpses of reflection and politics – praising Ireland’s ‘yes’ vote for same-sex marriage - it’s not until the one-track encore, when they perform a breathlessly passionate ‘Run Fast’, that they really connect with the audience. A song about the abuse Hanna and her teenage friends suffered for being different, it feels like the beginning rather than the end.

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