The point band of the early-'90s riot grrrl movement, Olympia, Washington's Bikini Kill exploded onto the male-dominated indie rock scene by fusing the visceral power of punk with the impassioned ideals of feminism. Calling for "Revolution Girl Style Now," the group's fiercely polemical and anthemic music helped give rise to a newly empowered generation of women in rock, presaging the dominance female artists would enjoy throughout the decade.
Bikini Kill formed in the late '80s at Olympia's liberal Evergreen College, where students Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Kathi Wilcox first teamed to publish a feminist fanzine, also dubbed Bikini Kill. Seeking to bring the publication's agenda to life, they decided to form a band, enlisting guitarist Billy Boredom (born William Karren) to round out the lineup. Led by singer/songwriter Hanna, a former stripper, the group laced its incendiary live performances with aggressive political stances that challenged the accepted hierarchy of the underground music community; slam dancers were forced to mosh at the fringes of the stage so that women could remain at the front of the crowd, for example, and female audience members were often invited to take control of the microphone to openly discuss issues of sexual abuse and misconduct.
In 1991, Bikini Kill issued their first recording, Revolution Girl Style Now, an independently distributed demo cassette. For their first official release, the quartet signed with the aggressively independent Olympia-based label Kill Rock Stars; the Bikini Kill EP, produced by Fugazi's Ian Mackaye, consisted largely of reworked versions of material from the first cassette. In 1992, the band issued Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, a split 12" released with the British group Huggy Bear's Our Troubled Youth on its flip side; a subsequent U.K. tour with Huggy Bear in early 1993 raised the visibility of the riot grrrl groundswell to unprecedented heights, and the movement became the focus of many media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. When Bikini Kill returned to the U.S., they joined forces with Joan Jett, whom the band held up as an early paragon of riot grrrl aesthetics. Jett produced the group's next single, the bracing "New Radio"/"Rebel Girl," and Hanna returned the favor by co-writing the song "Spinster" for the Jett album Pure and Simple.
In 1994, Bikini Kill released P**sy Whipped; their most potent effort to date, it featured the songwriting emergence of both Vail and Wilcox, a trend continued on 1996's Reject All American. The group quietly disbanded in early 1998, and Vail, Wilcox, and Boredom went on to form the group the Frumpies, while Hanna released a solo project, Julie Ruin, before assembling the band Le Tigre in 1999. Hanna left Le Tigre in 2005, later revealing that she'd been struggling with Lyme disease. In 2010, Hanna had recovered sufficiently to launch a new band, featuring Kathi Wilcox, which they dubbed the Julie Ruin. The Punk Singer, a documentary on Hanna and her career from Bikini Kill to the Julie Ruin, opened in 2013, and in 2014 Hanna founded a new record label, Bikini Kill Records, devoted to reissuing the band's back catalog and associated projects. ~ Jason Ankeny