Live Review: Bikini Kill - O2 Academy Brixton, London 11/06/2019


Two decades after bursting on the scene and inventing the Riot grrrl movement, Bikini Kill were invited to play at a concert to honour the British post-punk band The Raincoats. After witnessing the reaction from their fans who were calling out for a reunion, the band delved back into the whirlwind of their old lives. Things have changed a lot since then. As the musicians who paved the way for this to happen, it couldn’t be more fitting for them to play shows again, in the age of ‘me too’ and the discussion about the lack of female influence in the music industry. There is now a whole wealth of feminist punk bands continuing the movement and fighting for female rights.

At the second date of a two-night residency at Brixton Academy, it’s pretty safe to say that there was almost an even split between genders, so maybe we’re making progress – men who are happy to celebrate the fact that women can play guitars and be pretty badass with it (unless they were just being dragged along to the gig with their partners) and women who stand in solidarity with empowering people who have paved the way for their own creative freedom. Supporting Bikini Kill were British three-tone band, The Tuts, whose effervescent music was perfectly aligned with their tutu dresses that matched their instruments. Before their last song, they spoke to the crowd about a man in the music industry who is suing them because they spoke out about his sexually abusive behavior. This is the first time they have publicly mentioned anything about it, and they have created a movement called Solidarity Not Silence, in order to help with the legal fees associated with the case.

Big Joanie – South London’s black feminist punk band – performed an intense set filled with bone-rattling bass and vibrant vocals. Inclusivity is at the heart of what they do, as drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone tells the coloured people in the crowd that they should go out and start a band, as well as dedicating a song to the queer couple who were recently attacked on a bus, in London. ‘Girls to the front’ is a saying that has been coined by Bikini Kill over the years, and as we waited for them to take to the stage, there really were quite a lot of women carving their way through the crowds. Later in the set, Kathleen Hanna replied to somebody who shouted out the saying by clarifying: “It looks like there are a lot of girls to the front but honestly I can’t say what someone’s gender is by standing on stage and pointing them out. If you wanna take that space, it’s up to you […] it’s our space to do it together.” It has been 22 years since Bikini Kill really took to the stage, so it’s amazing to see how they’ve adapted their ethos, to the current world.

The great thing about punk music is that most of the time, the songs are incredibly short. This allowed Bikini Kill to power through a huge chunk of their back catalogue. Not wasting any time to warm-up the crowd as they’d already been tingling with anticipation, ‘This Is Not A Test’, ‘Jigsaw Youth’ and ‘Don’t Need You’ are delivered with real chunky grit. Brixton Academy is one of the best venues for sound quality, and each time Tobi Vail hit the drums, the sound was incredibly crisp and punchy; each bass note from Kathi Wilcox vibrated through your chest; and Kathleen’s voice was a beacon in the dark tying it all together. The band seamlessly switch between instruments and Vail took the lead on songs ‘I Hate Danger’, ‘Hamster Baby’ and ‘For Only’. Her wacky personality shining in front of the microphone.

Hanna stopped often to share anecdotes and give inspirational talks on discovering feminism, being authentic in the age of the internet and the importance of listening to your intuition. Despite all of these words, Bikini Kill still manage to play over 20 songs. ‘Reject All American’, ‘Alien She’, ‘Resist Psychic Death’ and of course the infamous ‘Rebel Girl’ received huge applause from a crowd of people who have looked up to these musicians for years. Earlier in the set Kathleen decided on calling these people peers rather than fans – it’s more respectful that way, and gets rid of the word ‘groupie’. It’s glorious to see that after 20 years, Bikini Kill can still pick up from where they left off – albeit in much larger venues and with a more diverse crowd and a world that is slightly more open to change than it was back in the 90’s. 

Words by Tyler Damara Kelly