Instead of spending time feeling bad about themselves, Kathleen Hanna urges the audience to get creative.
This is precisely what The Julie Ruin’s leotard-clad front-woman did after the dissolution of her first band, riot grrrl trailblazers Bikini Kill. Armed with little more than a computer and sampler she put together the band’s debut eponymous album as a solo bedroom project in 1998.
It’s a venture that she returned to 12 years later, expanding it into a full five-piece outfit that included her old band mate Kathi Wilcox on bass. ‘Apt. #5’, played from the first release, sets the benchmark as bittersweet electro-pop that’s rooted in the 80s new wave synth of The B-52s and Strawberry Switchblade.
Two albums down the line and this pop immediacy still frequently masks a lyrical bite that maintains her position as a feminist cheerleader. ‘Hit Reset’, all sweet West Coast pop, details the abusive relationship with her father and the electro girl-group pop of ‘I Decide’ is part political manifesto, part disclaimer.
Elsewhere there’s more of a guitar driven punk spirit. ‘Record Breaker’ sounds like all the instruments are on hyper-drive and Hanna on helium; ‘A Place Called Won’t Be There’ is all serrated guitars; and their cover of Courtney Barnett’s ‘Pedestrian At Best’ reinvents it as wonky punk with keyboardist Kenny Mellman on co-vocals.
This is music that’s intended to make the audience think and question societal norms. It’s also music that comes with big positive choruses and an infectious energy, which is summed up in the encore of Bikini Kill’s anthemic ‘Rebel Girl’.