Release Date: Sep 3, 2013
Record label: Dischord Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Riot Grrrl
In 1991, feminist punks Bikini Kill published their second eponymous zine, and inside it the manifesto that defined riot grrrl. It made their mouthpiece, Kathleen Hanna, into the movement’s leader – a position she tried to refuse because, she learned, the problem with spelling out your beliefs means the second you change your mind you’re dismissed as a traitor, a phony. After Bikini Kill ended in 1997, Hanna formed Le Tigre, who went on hiatus in 2007.
"I lied when I said I was done," revealed Kathleen Hanna in the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer. "Singing is my life and I have to do it or I'll go totally bananas." In the film about the '90s forerunner of the Riot Grrrl movement, we learned that the reason for Hanna's abrupt retirement from music was due to a long-undiagnosed case of Lyme disease. That seven-year interim saw the frontwoman of feminist punk innovators Bikini Kill and politically charged dance act Le Tigre exploring other hobbies for fear of never returning to music.
A devastating battle with Lyme disease forced Kathleen Hanna off the stage for seven years. But the feminist icon is back with the Julie Ruin, a five-piece reimagining of her 1997 solo bedroom project. Renowned for her ferocious presence, the ex-Bikini Kill and Le Tigre leader sounds as energetic in her 40s as she did in her 20s, but now the artistic thrust is more about soul-searching than world-changing.
The rock ‘n’ roll world is so much better off when a fully engaged Kathleen Hanna is wailing away inside it. She exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s with Bikini Kill, a feminist punk band that launched a social movement, inspired a generation of young women and created a body of primal and enduring music. Next came Le Tigre, which paired Hanna’s social consciousness with an infectious dance sound.
It’s always tempting to say riot grrrl is having a revival or a moment, given that it’s been Having a Moment for almost two decades. But the moment has recently intensified. After a steady drip of histories and love-notes to the genre-- plus the de facto canonization that time and increased press mentions bring-- comes a primary resource: this year’s The Riot Grrrl Collection, an anthology of zines, many obscure, from New York University’s Fales collection and bandmate donations.
Pioneering Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kill founder, and noted feminist musician Kathleen Hanna first unveiled the Julie Ruin moniker in the late '90s. The project served as an alter ego of sorts, and featured Hanna's first experiments with sampling and electronic instruments, which led to her long-running work with the much more developed Le Tigre shortly thereafter. Years later, Hanna revived the Julie Ruin name, returning with a full band for Run Fast, a shouty web of punk, politics, and attitude that draws more on her organic basement rock brashness, but also nods to other phases of her storied career.
Kathleen Hanna has one of America's toughest punk voices – somewhere between a Johnny Rotten sneer and a Valley-girl shrug. She defined her raging sound in the 1990s, from the riot-grrrl attack of Bikini Kill to the punk-disco of Le Tigre. But after lying low in recent years (and battling Lyme disease), she explores what happens to all that anger with age.
Though she might not have had the high profile of some of her male contemporaries, Kathleen Hanna has proven to be one of the most consistently important, challenging, and powerful figures from the ’90s alternative rock scene. Her iconic voice provided the rallying cry for feminist issues, the fun-loving, rambunctious work of both Bikini Kill and Le Tigre powered by her intelligent, fierce, captivating persona. However conflicted, Hanna stood at the vanguard of the riot grrrl movement, her music empowering audiences while also providing them with some seriously lively tunes.
“What happens when you’re not twenty but forty-one / And you have to sink in to the you, you’ve now become / Will the teenage sneer you cultivated / Sneer back at you and make you feel so hated?” This verse, from “Goodnight Goodbye” off of the Julie Ruin’s Run Fast, could be a direct descriptor for the record itself, both in impetus and content. As Kathleen Hanna’s first album in nine years, and one produced while she was struggling with Lyme disease, Run Fast is the work of someone taking stock. Hanna is evaluating what came before, while also attempting to “sink in” to the artist she has become.
Hearing Kathleen Hanna’s voice again gives me a lump in my throat. It’s been a while. For so many of us her voice is as familiar and emotive as any of your Morrisseys or Joe Strummers, and while for some reason this recognition brings on the ire of a few (for apparently as long as "punk’s not dead" questioning the punk rock credentials of women will also never die… snore…), the force and influence of her 20 year musical career is undeniable.
More than her sociopolitical bent, more than her tantrummy vocals, Kathleen Hanna’s primary identifying characteristic — whether with Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, or the Julie Ruin — is how she makes what she’s doing sound like the easiest thing in the world, both for herself and for anyone interested in joining her. The Julie Ruin’s “Run Fast,” her first release since 2004, doesn’t change that, even with her shifted emphasis to spirited garage New Wave. Maybe too spirited at times; without the madcap intensity of Hanna’s best work, too much is simply frenzied.
The Julie Ruin Run Fast Maybe it's her off-kilter scream/singing, but Kathleen Hanna has a way of transporting you right back to where you left off. Derailed by Lyme disease since 2007, she refuels the Julie Ruin banner with an expanded lineup ready to party. Run Fast melanges the hit-and-run brevity of Bikini Kill ("Stop Stop") with synth sparkles lifted from her Le Tigre époque.