For anyone who spent part of their youth screaming along at punk shows and staining their bathroom sink with Manic Panic, please know that riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna is doing her best to preserve the riot grrrl movement in an archive at the Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU. And in anticipation of post-punk British powerhouse The Raincoats performing at MoMA in New York (for which Hanna DJ’ed the pre-party), The Fader caught up with the Bikini Kill and Le Tigre front woman to talk about why riot grrrl needs an archive and her early influences as a musician.
The Fales Library, which already hosts a large collection of memorabilia around the punk culture of New York in the ’70s and ’80s, gained Hanna’s contribution of her personal zines, notes and show papers in January. Asked why she thinks riot grrrl needs to be preserved in an academic setting, Hanna gave a thoughtful portrait of what it was like to witness riot grrrl then and now:
… even just reading a Guerilla Girls poster in the ’80s was enough to scare the s–t out of me. That everything we were going to do was going to get erased. Even in the ’90s, Babes in Toyland was a band that was hugely important to us and we were like, God if only we could play awesome shows like Babes in Toyland. And now, you know, I meet girls who have no idea who they are. And I watch them be erased. And the Internet moves so fast that we could be in every single article today and then tomorrow nobody remembers who we are. It’s not so much that we want people to remember our names, but one of the most important things for me always was to f–k with the generation gap that makes it so that feminists from every era would have to reinvent the wheel.
… I felt like that’s the whole thing with the riot grrrl archive. It’s not so much about nostalgia, it’s about leaving a record so that people can view things in the future. I think of punk rock as more of an idea than a genre, and I don’t see it as antithetical to the notion of building on things. I didn’t have a grandma who like, left me a trunk full of s–t. I always wanted to leave that trunk full of s–t for someone else, you know? Feminism created a family structure for me.
Even before The Riot Grrrl Archive came about, Hanna has been helping to document the history of riot grrrl with efforts like the Bikini Kill blog. While she imagined the blog might only be appreciated by people in their 30s and 40s who were part of the original birth of riot grrrl, she’s been impressed with the large fanbase of young feminists and musicians who seek out Bikini Kill and other bands with the same fever as many embraced them in the ‘90s:
…it’s all been like 13-21 year olds who are like, I just discovered your music because you sang on the Green Day record. And they’re being influenced by it as if it was happening today. I think that’s like The Raincoats. People got a hold of their music and thought, This is my jam, this is my band.
Hanna has become an awesome proponent of young girls learning and making music, supporting organizations like Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and speaking to the teenagers who attend rock camp about her experiences in the music world. (Full disclosure: Willie Mae Rock Camp holds an incredibly special place in my heart.) Hanna talked to The Fader about how important it was for her, hearing seminal bands like The Raincoats and The Slits.
…it was women doing something weird which was even more remarkable because there’s that whole thing that you have to be really proficient at your instruments and sing a certain way and prove how good you are and what a good song writer you are. And The Raincoats just seem to turn that on its head like, We’re just going to do what we want. So that was definitely inspirational to all of us.
On the subject of what she planned on DJing at the MoMA party, Hanna promised to showcase music that influenced The Raincoats, and also spin lots of ‘80s punk, some Delta 5, The Modettes and some Bratmobile. "If it was my party,” she joked, “I’d probably be playing, you know, the Jackson 5 all night."
Expect to see more of Hanna in the riot grrrl preservation limelight, as she’s the subject of an in-production documentary titled The Kathleen Hanna Project aka Who Told You Christmas Wasn’t Cool?, which is being directed by Sister Spit co-founder and performer Sini Anderson.
As a benefit for the film, a slew of bands are performing Kathleen Hanna covers in December at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The line up includes everyone from the teenage girl band The Awkward Turtles (who Hanna endorsed as one of her fave new bands in a Grit TV interview last year) to the JD Samson outfit MEN, to such iconic musicians as Kim Gordon and Kaia Wilson. It’s sure to be a performance worthy of an archive, and then some.