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Kathleen Hanna is best known for being the singer of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.
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In 1990, Hanna formed another band, Viva Knievel, and embarked on a whirlwind two-month North American tour. Returning to Olympia that fall, Hanna (vocalist and primary songwriter) teamed up with guitarist Billy Karren, drummer Tobi Vail and bassist Kathi Wilcox to form the soon-to-be iconic band Bikini Kill. Signing with the independent record label Kill Rock Stars,
over the next eight years Bikini Kill would become the most prominent exponent of what is known as the "Riot Grrrl" movement—a catchall term for 1990s punk rock bands identified with radical politics and third wave feminism. Bikini Kill recorded two full-length albums, Pussy Whipped (1993) and Reject All American (1996). Several of their singles, such as "Rebel Girl," "The Anti-Pleasure Dissertation" and "I Like Fucking/I Hate Danger," became underground feminist anthems.
Despite the message of their music, Bikini Kill still faced significant sexism in the male-dominated world of 1990s punk rock. "It was hard being in a feminist band in the early 90s," Hanna said. "People could be really mean and unforgiving towards us. I still have people, mostly guys, coming up to me repeating the same backhanded compliment I've heard for over 10 years, 'Wow you are such a nice person, I heard you were such a bitch.' I mean it's hard enough to be a girl in a band doing sound-checks in all-male settings, but having the 'bitch' label proceed me to nearly every club got really tiring." Bikini Kill disbanded in 1998.
In 1997, as a side project while on hiatus from Bikini Kill, Hanna recorded a solo album called Julie Ruin, winning critical plaudits for its feminist and anti-domestic violence themes. A year later, following Bikini Kill's breakup, Hanna joined forces with Johanna Fateman and JD Samson to form an electronica trio called Le Tigre, releasing a self-titled debut album in 1999 and followed by The Feminist Sweepstakes two years later. Le Tigre then signed with Universal Records and their released This Island, Le Tigre's third album and Hanna's first ever on a major record label, in 2004. Although Le Tigre has not released another album since This Island, the act continues to tour.
As the primary songwriter of the definitive feminist punk rock bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, as well as one of the most prominent artists associated with the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement, Kathleen Hanna stands out as one of the most important feminist musicians of recent decades. And as her fame and popularity continue to grow, Hanna is relishing the opportunity to serve as an alternative role model to mainstream female pop stars. "I get a lot of letters that are like 'You're my role model, you're my idol, you're a goddess,' and when I get them it feels really good," she says. "I try to be present in the moment and think, wow, I was a bridge into something for this person, and that's one of the most amazing things I can be."
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