We’re So Cool: The Professional Critics v. Bikini Kill

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Last month, Bikini Kill released the 20th-anniversary edition of their self-titled debut EP on their new eponymous label.

Dischord Records commemorated the occasion on its website; Ian MacKaye produced the record and was an early fan of the band. Coincidentally, in a Nov. 20 interview with The A.V. Club’s Marah Eakin, Kathleen Hanna compared herself to a “female Ian MacKaye, but with fewer morals.” Spin ran an entertaining oral history of the band’s first years. (Best part: Justin Trosper of Unwound’s anecdote about flunking high-school English after bringing Kathleen Hanna to speak to his class.)

All the requisite fanfare for a big-deal reissue, in other words. And as far as rock music goes, Bikini Kill is undoubtedly an important record. It provided inspiration to thousands of listeners; it rightly made a lot of detractors very uncomfortable, particularly in hardcore. Even in the late 1990s, an era hardcore fans remember for political correctness—in both the Old Left and Fox News senses of the term—run amok, columnists admitted or confessed to liking Bikini Kill in such right-on zines as HeartattaCk and Maximumrocknroll. It ushered in new discussions about gender politics, sexism, and sexuality in rock—punk and “alternative” rock especially, which so often believed themselves to be beyond criticism in that regard. It was confrontational. It was direct. In a very real sense, it had not been done before.

Yes, truly a groundbreaking release. What gets overlooked, though, in Bikini Kill’s historical significance, is the music itself. And let’s be real: the music isn’t there yet.

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