Bikini Kill was an American punk band formed in Olympia, Washington in October of 1990. The group is widely considered to be the pioneer of the riot grrrl movement, and was well known and notorious for its radical feminist lyrics and fiery performances. Their music was characteristically abrasive and hardcore punk-influenced.
While occasionally collaborating (politically and creatively) with high-profile acts such as Nirvana and Joan Jett, Bikini Kill was well known for shunning major labels and the mainstream rock press. After two full-length albums, several EPs and two compilations, the group disbanded in 1998.
The band was formed in Olympia, Washington by Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail. They began working together on a fanzine called Bikini Kill, and with the addition of Billy Karren, formerly of The Go Team on guitar, formed a band of the same name. The band wrote songs together as a group and encouraged a female-centric environment at their shows, urging girls to come to the front of the stage and handing out lyric sheets to them.
After an independent demo cassette, Revolution Girl Style Now, Bikini Kill released Bikini Kill EP on the indie label Kill Rock Stars. Produced by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat, the album began to establish the band's audience. In 1993, Bikini Kill went to England and began working with Huggy Bear, releasing a joint recording together and touring the UK. The tour was the subject of a documentary film by Lucy Thane entitled It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The U.K.. By the following year, Riot Grrrl was receiving constant attention in the media, and Bikini Kill were increasingly referred to as leaders of the movement. Hanna called for a "media blackout" amongst Riot Grrrls, as those within the group felt the band and the movement were being misrepresented and commodified.
Upon their return to the United States, the group began working with Joan Jett of The Runaways, whose music Hanna described as an early example of the Riot Grrrl aesthetic. Jett produced the single "New Radio/Rebel Girl" for the band.
The band's final album was Reject All American (1996). Shortly before breaking up in 1998, a collection of singles released only on vinyl between 1995-1996, titled The Singles was released.
During the summer of 1992, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox and Billy Karren began to perform and record together with Molly Neuman of Bratmobile as The Frumpies, who toured as late as the early 2000s with similar Italian punk band Dada Swing. .
Vail, notorious for her numerous side projects and being in several bands at a time, later resurfaced in a band called Spider and the Webs, and she is now playing with the Old Haunts. Kathi Wilcox plays in the Casual Dots and Bill Karren is in Boo-Boo and the Corrections.
Kathleen Hanna first contributed to an LP as a member of The Fakes, and then turned to more dance-based New Wave music (with similar feminist lyrical themes) on her solo debut, Julie Ruin. She then became a member of the political New Wave outfit Le Tigre, which saw Hanna become far more comfortable with major record labels and the press.
Tobi Vail had a relationship with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (who wrote several hit songs such as "Aneurysm", "Drain You" and "Lounge Act" about their relationship). Kathleen Hanna is married to Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys. Kathi Wilcox is married to Guy Picciotto of Fugazi; their daughter Sophie was born in 2005.
Influence and criticism
Bikini Kill are recognized as influences by Sleater-Kinney, the hard rock band The Donnas (which Neuman of the Frumpies/Bratmobile manages), and the indie rock band The Gossip and the Passionistas.
Mike Park (of Skankin' Pickle, The Chinkees, The Bruce Lee Band, and founder of Asian Man Records) has a song about the band titled "Tobi Vail 4 President" on the album Beans & Toast from his acoustic solo project.
NOFX has a song titled "Kill Rock Stars" on their album So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes criticizing the radical feminist philosophies of the band and the stardom of Kathleen Hanna.
J Church's album Prophylaxis features a song called "Why I Liked Bikini Kill", a criticism of the responses to the band and their message.
The song "Don't Need You" was featured in an episode of Roseanne.
Bikini Kill's song "Rebel Girl" is number 455 in Blender's ranking The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born, along with L7 and their song "Pretend We're Dead". Both songs appear in Rock Band 2.