Bikini Kill and Julie Ruin

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Revolution Girl Style Now (1991) , 7/10 (mini)
Bikini Kill , 7/10 (EP)
Pussy Whipped , 7/10 (mini)
Reject All American , 5/10
Fakes: Real Fiction , 5/10
Julie Ruin (1998) , 6/10
Julie Ruin: Run Fast (2013), 6/10
Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (2016), 5/10

Musically, the riot-grrrrl phenomenon began in february 1991, when Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail formed Bikini Kill at Olympia's Evergreen College, and released the cassette Revolution Girl Style Now (1991), followed by the even more furious mini-abum Pussy Whipped (1993).

Hannah would later clean up her act, and, dressed like a housewife from the Sixties, release a solo album credited to Julie Ruin (1998), offering her post-feminist meditations in a surprisingly radio-friendly format (a fusion of electronica, dub, and hip-hop).

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La cassetta Revolution Girl Style Now (K Records, 1991) delle Bikini Kill inauguro` di fatto il "grrrrls movement". Il gruppo, formato nel febbraio 1991, e` la creatura di Kathleen Hanna (canto) e Tobi Vail (batteria), due grrrrls estremiste dell'Evergreen College di Olympia, vaginocentriche fino al punto da ritenere le lesbiche le uniche autentiche femministe. Hanna, in particolare, era un forza della natura, le sue esibizioni dal vivo ispirate da Poly Styrene degli X-Ray Spex.

Le Bikini Kill vennero riconosciute da "Sassy" e da una miriade di fanzine come le ideologhe del movimento e come tali vennero prese sul serio soprattutto le loro parole. Le musiche legittimizzarono comunque il rock come portavoce del movimento.

Dalla cassetta venne estratto l'EP d'esordio (per la Kill Rock Stars, 1992). Le canzoni delle Bikini Kill non hanno grandi pretese artistiche, sono arringhe strillate a squarciagola su un tappeto strumentale alquanto approssimativo. Carnival, Feels Blind, Liar e Suck My Left One (con i versi "sister sister where did we go wrong... we`ve got to show them we're worse than queer") si rifanno vagamente al punkrock di sfondamento dei Sex Pistols, e l'epica Feels Blind fa rispolvere persino il nome degli Avengers.

Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah/ Our Troubled Truth (Kill Rock Stars, 1993), disco condiviso con le Huggy Bear, accentua se possibile la loro ostilita` attraverso altri inni del loro "queer-core" come Don't Need You e soprattutto Rebel Girl, e versi come "white boy don't laugh don't cry/ just die!" (White Boy); peraltro Outta Me e` un manuale di powerpop. Demirep e New Radio, sul singolo del 1993 (per la Kill Rock Stars), sono altre due gemme della loro collezione.

I primi due EP saranno raccolti su The CD Version Of The First Two Records (Kill Rock Stars, 1994).

Sul mini-abum Pussy Whipped (Kill Rock Stars, 1993) la furia di Hanna e` incontenibile, ma il loro punkrock a testa bassa comincia a mostrare la corda, e le loro invettive tutte d'un fiato ("Yr alphabet is spelled with my blood" recita Blood One, "I'm a self-fulfilling porno queen" confessa Sugar) sono state disinnescate dai tempi. I riff truculenti ma di quarta mano delle loro sarabande di garage-rock stregonesco (Speed Heart e Hamster Baby sono forse i capolavori del disco) emotivamente contano meno della tristezza celata fra le strofe di girotondi demenziali come Alien She. Tutto sommato, questo disco appartiene alla generazione del punk-rock del 1977, sia in spirito sia in (crudo) sound.

L'EP The Anti-Pleasure Dissertation (Kill Rock Stars, 1995) e il singolo I Like Fucking non sono pero` all'altezza della fama. Anche sull'album Reject All American (Kill Rock Stars, 1996) sono poche (Statement Of Vindication, Jet Ski) le arringhe che ricordano il loro glorioso passato.

Hannah ha anche formato i Fakes con il chitarrista Tim Green dei Nation Of Ulysses. Del gruppo e` stato pubblicato Real Fiction (Chainsaw, 1995).

Tobi Vail lives a parallel life with the Frumpies, formed in 1992 with Bratmobile's Molly Neuman and two of the Bikini Kill (for a grand total of three guitars and one drummer). Frumpie One Piece (Kill Rock Stars, 1998) compiles the entire Frumpies repertory, i.e. the five EPs recorded between 1992 and 1998: Alien Summer Nights (Chainsaw), Babies And Bunnies (Kill ROck Stars), Safety First (Wiiija), Tommy Slich (Lookout), Eunuch Nights (Kill Rock Stars). The girls mainly scream like hell (Do You Wanna Donuts, Safety First, Deliberate Indifference), but also concoct some epic riffs (Malice And Discontent, think the Kinks' You Really Got Me played by a spastic people in a frenzy, or Baby Plays For Pritty), and lay down a couple of ferocious garage-rock grooves (Fuck Kitty, Wrong Way Round) Occasionally, the even sound like cute girls (the Go-Go's-ish Be Good) and twice they even came up with a poppy song (Interlude Tomorrow, Eunuch Nights).

Hannah then cleaned up and, dressed like a 1960's housewife, released a solo album credited to Julie Ruin (Kill Rock Stars, 1998), where she experiments with drum-machine, keyboards, loops and samples, all mixed with her rudimentary guitar. The fusion of electronica, dub, and hip-hop channels her post-feminist meditations into a surprisingly radio-friendly format (VGI, A Place Called Won't Be There), not so distant from Luscious Jackson and Belinda Carslile. A cover of the Foreigners' I Wanna Know What Love Is would become an instant hit.

Later that year Hannah formed Le Tigre, but she had to retire after being diagnosed with lyme disease.

Hannah finally resurrected the Julie Ruin 15 years later for Run Fast (TJR, 2013), which was basically a collaboration with keyboardist Kenny Mellman and featured guitarist Sara Landeau, Bikini Kill's bassist Kathi Wilcox and drummer Carmine Covelli. The best songs sound like a revival of the new wave of the late 1970s. Oh Come On is basically a hard-rocking version of B52's, and Party City is pure B52's fun. The catchy and relentless pow-wow dance Cookie Road (augmented with manic synth and piano) injects punk verve in the genre, and the feverish quasi-rockabilly Ha Ha Ha (with an anthemic guitar riff) weds the Go-Go's and Devo. There are echoes of Le Tigre in every song, and at least one Bikini Kill-style romp, Stop Stop. Unfortunately, the album becomes quickly repetitive and less effective (see Kids in NY), particularly when they try to be fashionable poppy (Goodnight Goodbye).

At the same time Sini Anderson made the documentary "The Punk Singer" about Hannah's life and work.

The Julie Ruin's second album Hit Reset (Hardly Art, 2016) had very little to commend itself. The single I'm Done is a lame imitation of Ha Ha Ha with surf guitar, and Planet You is another attempt at replicating the disco magic of the B52's. Hit Reset has the right combination of guitar feedback, tom-tom drumming and wasp-like synth but fails to ignite. Punk-rock flames erupt from the electronic Be Nice and from Hello Trust No One, but mostly this is a softer version of the band. The album hits a melodic peak with Rather Not that echoes the romantic lullabies of the teen-idols of the 1960s.

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