Live Gallery: Bikini Kill at the Sydney Opera House 13.03.2023

Bikini Kill

Bikini Kill is a feminist punk rock band that emerged in the early 1990s and became a major influence on and part of, the Riot Grrrl movement. Based in Olympia, Washington and Washington DC, the band formed in 1990 and broke up in 1997. Kathleen Hanna sang, Tobi Vail played drums, Billy Karren (a.k.a. Billy Boredom) played guitar and Kathi Wilcox played bass. Bikini Kill reunited in the spring of 2019 playing sold out shows in NYC, LA, London and headlined Riot Fest in Chicago.

Whilst at school, singer Kathleen Hanna had landed the lead role in production of Annie. She was disappointed when one of the school mothers insisted that Annie was sexist because it had too many females in it and so to placate this woman, Annie was mashed with Oliver! so that the woman’s son could appear in the school play.

Later, Hanna was inspired to start Bikini Kill after some advice that she received from Kathy Acker. The band soon became the leading lights of the Riot Grrrl movement, which initially was a feminist movement characterised by the use of punk rock, DIY fanzines and community involvement.

If you want people to hear what you’re doing, don’t do spoken word, because nobody likes spoken word, nobody goes to spoken word. There’s more of a community for musicians than for writers. You should be in a band.

Kathy Acker advising Kathleen Hanna (from ‘Girls to the Front’ by Sara Marcus)

The women of Bikini Kill have had a profound impact on popular culture, they created the phrase “girl power” in a fanzine long before the the Spice Girls appropriated and commodified it. Vail dated Kurt Cobain in the early 90s and she, Cobain, Hanna and Nirvana’s drummer, Dave Grohl would hang out together. Hanna famously spray painted “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s bedroom wall after seeing the name of the ‘Teen Spirit’ deodorant brand at a store. Hanna has said of this incident, “There’s no big story besides I was being a drunk idiot.” The rest as they say, is history.

Tonight the original members Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Kathi Wilcox and touring member, Sara Landeau (of the Julie Ruin,) are playing the Sydney Opera House as part of their first tour of Australia in 25 years.

Kicking off with ‘New Radio’, the band blaze their way through their setlist. Age has not wearied them and Hanna’s vocals are in fine form. Her banter with the crowd is hilarious, she points to a group in the front row, who only took their seats well into the 4th song, she ponders on reason for their tardiness. It’s great to have Toni Vail back on drums, after illness forced her to miss some Melbourne shows.

Hanna shares insightful anecdotes between the ripsnorting punk songs. There are lots of young people in the crowd, Hanna apologises to a girl, who is at the show with her dad, for saying the F-word so much. She tells us about how young men (usually wearing vintage band T shirts) would come to Bikini Kill shows and spend the entire gig waiting for one of the band members to make a mistake.

Bikini Kill songs are fast and furious, Vail does lead vocals on some and Wilcox and Landeau cover the drums when she does. The crowd is bouncing around, everyone is up on their feet, united by the ferocity and power of the performance, it feels like the roof of the Opera House is going to be blown off. The screams of young girls in the audience reverberate around the room. Amidst the dancing and joy, I notice a woman wearing a Pussy Riot T shirt, it’s a stark reminder of the challenging times we live in.

The band performs a short encore – first off is ‘Double Dare Ya’ and then they rip into the classic ‘Rebel Girl’ and it is clear that the song has lost none of its power.

Nearly 30 years after Riot Grrrl, the UN has said that at its current pace, gender equality is still 300 years away. In many countries women’s sexual and reproductive rights are being actively dismantled.

Tonight at the Sydney Opera House, it is clear that Bikini Kill’s message of feminism mixed with raw punk power is still as relevant today as was it was back in the 1990s.

Check out our images from the show in the gallery.

Bikini Kill Setlist 13 March 2023 Sydney Opera House
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