Kathleen Hanna (born November 12, 1968) is an American musician, feminist activist, and punk zine writer. In the early- to mid-1990s she was the lead singer of feminist punk band Bikini Kill, before fronting Le Tigre in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1998, Hanna released a lo-fi solo album under the name Julie Ruin and since 2010 has been working on a project called The Julie Ruin.
A documentary film about Hanna was released in 2013 by director Sini Anderson, titled The Punk Singer, detailing Hanna's life and career, as well as revealing her years-long battle with Lyme disease. Hanna is married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
Life and career:
1968-88: Early life:
Born in Portland, Oregon, Hanna moved with her family to Calverton, Maryland in 1971. As Hanna's father changed occupations, the family moved several more times. Hanna's parents divorced while she was in high school.
Hanna first became interested in feminism around the age of nine, after her mother took her to a rally in Washington D.C. where feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke.
Though several years would pass before she became an outspoken feminist, with Hanna eventually referring to herself as a radical feminist, the event left an impression on her. In a 2000 interview with BUST magazine, Hanna recalled:
In the 2006 documentary, Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl, Hanna elaborates on the effect feminism had on her in childhood, recalling that her interest grew when her mother checked out a copy of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" from the library. Yet Hanna and her mother's involvement in the women's rights movement had to be done quietly in the years before her parents' divorce, due to her father's disapproval. Hanna has also appeared in the documentary Who's Afraid of Kathy Acker? Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl is titled after a Bikini Kill song.
Hanna attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the late 1980s. During this time she began working as a stripper to support herself. Working with fellow Evergreen student and photographer Aaron Baush-Greene, she set up a photo exhibit featuring the pair's photography, which dealt, respectively, with sexism and AIDS. However, the school administrators took the photos down before they got the chance to be viewed, an act of censorship that prompted what Hanna refers to as her "first foray into activism"--the creation of an independent feminist art gallery called Reko Muse with friends Heidi Arbogast and Tammy Rae Carland. The three women then formed a band called Amy Carter, which put on shows before the art exhibitions.
Hanna also began doing spoken word performances that addressed sexism and violence against women, issues with which she became concerned after volunteering for a domestic violence organization over the next two years. Eventually she abandoned spoken word in favor of music, being inspired by one of her favorite writers, countercultural icon Kathy Acker. Hanna recalled,
1989-99: Bikini Kill:
Hanna later started another band called Viva Knievel that toured the United States for two months before disbanding. Upon returning to Olympia, Hanna began collaborating with fellow Evergreen student and punk zinester Tobi Vail after seeing a performance of The Go Team (a band made up of Vail, Billy Karren, and Calvin Johnson) and recognizing Vail as the mastermind behind the fanzine Jigsaw, which Hanna greatly admired and loved.
Bikini Kill soon became part of the seminal Olympia, Washington music scene of the early 1990s, which was characterized by political awareness, a strong artistic do-it-yourself ethic, and an emphasis on local collaboration and support.
The band's first release for the Kill Rock Stars label was a self-titled EP produced by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. Bikini Kill then toured the UK, recording a split LP with UK band Huggy Bear. This tour was filmed and the band was interviewed by Lucy Thane for her documentary, It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The UK. Upon returning to the U.S., the band began working with Joan Jett, who produced their single, "New Radio/Rebel Girl". After the release of this record, Hanna began co-writing some songs with Jett for her new album.
At the same time Hanna produced several solo pieces for the Kill Rock Stars "Wordcore" series of recordings, including the 7" single "Rockstar" and the song "I Wish I Was Him" (a song written by Ben Lee and originally recorded by his band Noise Addict about alternative rock heartthrob Evan Dando) on the KRS compilation Rock Stars Kill.
In 1994, Hanna appeared in the Sonic Youth video for "Bull in the Heather".
The first two Bikini Kill EPs were released on CD as the appropriately and very literally-titled The C.D. Version of the First Two Records in 1993. The band released two more full-length albums, Pussy Whipped in 1994 and Reject All American in 1996, and in 1998, Kill Rock Stars released Bikini Kill: The Singles, a collection of the group's seven inch and compilation tracks. Bikini Kill broke up on friendly terms around April 1998.
In 1991, the band spent a summer in Washington, D.C., where Hanna began collaborating with Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman and Jen Smith from the band Bratmobile on the zine Riot grrrl, which became a call to action for increased feminist activity and female involvement in the punk rock scene.
In a 2000 interview with Index Magazine, Hanna related:
Hanna also earlier stated:
In Portland, Oregon, Hanna began working with friend and zine editor Johanna Fateman on a live show for Julie Ruin. The collaboration resulted in the two briefly forming a band called The Troublemakers, named after a G. B. Jones film, which ended when Fateman relocated to New York City to attend art school.
2000-present: Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin:
Hanna joined Fateman on the East Coast, and with the addition of filmmaker Sadie Benning, they started another band called Le Tigre (French for The Tiger). This band continued to pursue a more electronic style of music similar to the sampler-driven sound Hanna had begun to explore with Julie Ruin.The band recorded for the Mr. Lady Records label, its first recording being the self-titled Le Tigre, which included the singles "Hot Topic" and "Deceptacon." After the first record, Sadie Benning left the band to be replaced by JD Samson for the follow-up CD Feminist Sweepstakes. When Mr. Lady Records closed down, the group switched labels to Universal Records for the 2004 release of This Island.
Le Tigre is currently on hiatus. Hanna left the band in 2005 due to personal health issues. She was later diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease. According to the Le Tigre website, during her time off from the band, Hanna has been volunteering as a band coach for the Willie Mae Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. She also taught an art class at NYU's grad school in the Fall 2007 semester and attended interior design classes.
In 2010, Hanna announced she was rebuilding her 1997 act Julie Ruin, turning it into a full band called "The Julie Ruin" with Kenny Mellman and Kathi Wilcox, and that they would be creating a new record. On November 20, Hanna DJed at the Museum of Modern Art, later joining the Raincoats on stage to cover the Slits' Vindictive. On December 11, at the Knitting Factory in New York City, The Julie Ruin played their first show. The group played Bikini Kill and Le Tigre songs and one new composition.
From 2010 to 2013, director Sini Anderson worked on a documentary on Kathleen Hanna titled "The Punk Singer", documenting her works from Bikini Kill to The Julie Ruin. It premiered at SXSW in 2013.
In June 2013, Julie Ruin released its first single, "Oh Come On". An album, Run Fast was released in September 2013 with the band going on tour.
The Julie Ruin cancelled the tour planned for May to September 2014, due to Hanna's Lyme disease condition deteriorating.
Role in feminism:
Kathleen Hanna is well known for being an outspoken radical feminist; many people often credit her for helping launch third-wave feminism when she helped create the riot grrrl punk movement. At Bikini Kill concerts, Hanna would encourage and enforce that women were to move to the front of the stage to avoid harassment from male concert goers. The "girls to the front" concept was symbolic in helping women feel comfortable at concerts and more welcome to participate.
In 1991, Hanna performed with Bikini Kill at the Abortion March in Washington, D.C. before the Planned Parenthood v. Casey trial. She has been a major pro-choice advocate and was quoted saying, "It's about women not dying in back-alley abortions, but it's also about women saying: 'My life is worth it, too. I deserve to have control over my life and my health care.' Imagine if a man was told, 'You can't make the decision to have a vasectomy.'"
A key feature to riot grrrl music was to empower and encourage women to appreciate each other and rise against oppressive patriarchy. Kathleen Hanna helped mold that central theme of third-wave feminism through her works and helped to keep the movement documented and alive through video, guarding her legacy in order to preserve the importance of the movement.
In popular culture:
Although she did so unintentionally, Hanna came up with the name for Nirvana's 1991 breakthrough single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit". She wrote "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Kurt Cobain's wall. At the time, Kurt was unaware that Kathleen was referring to a deodorant marketed specifically to young women, and thought that the phrase would anchor the song's theme.,
The NOFX song "Kill Rock Stars," from the album So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes, is written about Hanna, referencing her by name: "Kill the rockstars? How ironic, Kathleen. You've been crowned the newest queen." The song's title is a reference to riot grrrl record label Kill Rock Stars. In response, Hanna wrote "Deceptacon", included on Le Tigre's first album. "Your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor, I'll walk on it, I'll walk all over you" (referring to a NOFX song called "Linoleum").,
Performance artist and rapper Mykki Blanco featured Hanna on the track "A Moment with Kathleen" in his mixtape Gay Dog Food, in which he samples a recording from a moment after interacting with Kathleen.,
A fansite has speculated that Pinhead Gunpowder's song Kathleen is written about Hanna.,
In interviews, Hanna has been frank and willing to openly discuss her decision to have an abortion when she was younger, saying in one particular interview: "It was one of the first things I did on my own; I worked at McDonald's, raised the money and did it. I'm really, really passionate about pro-choice, because I wouldn't be here talking to you right now if I'd had a kid at 15." Hanna has expressed her belief that talking about her abortion will encourage other women to openly discuss the topic as well, helping to decrease the social stigma that often accompanies such discussion and also helping to sustain political momentum and further progress with regard to the pro-choice movement.
In The Punk Singer, released in 2013, Hanna revealed that she suffered from Lyme disease for six years before it was correctly diagnosed. In May 2014, it was announced that Hanna's Lyme disease condition had deteriorated, forcing her to enter a three month course of treatment and cancel live performances with her band The Julie Ruin.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license