There are not too many musicians who can also be considered demi-professors of academic theory, but Kathleen Hanna is one of them. Since her days in Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, she’s been probably the biggest proponent, educator, and symbol of riot grrrl, a ideology that refocused feminism in a specifically insurgent but playful way, Emma Goldman filtered through Ari Up. And lately Hanna has been spending some time paying respect to other ladies and archiving that movement, donating her papers and tour fliers and set lists to NYU to establish The Riot Grrrl Collection at Fales Library. This Saturday night at MOMA, she’s DJing right before a performance by The Raincoats, a legendary post-punk band of girls from England’s 1970s scene. They’re getting together to celebrate MOMA’s exhibition Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, a selection of works by female artists. We spoke with her about The Raincoats, The Slits, Lesley Gore, and the importance of remembering the ladies.
When did you come across the Raincoats and what was your first love for them like?
I think my first knowledge of them was from Tobi Vail, the drummer in Bikini Kill. She made me a mixtape with one of their songs on it and I was like, Woah what is this?! It was the ’90s and I was listening to stuff like L7 and Lunachicks and Hole and it was just a totally different thing. Not, you know, standard verse chorus verse and it was weird. And it was women doing something weird which was even more remarkable because there’s that whole thing that you have to be really proficient at your instruments and sing a certain way and prove how good you are and what a good song writer you are. And The Raincoats just seem to turn that on its head like, We’re just going to do what we want. So that was definitely inspirational to all of us.
And there was a whole community of weirdo ladies, too. The Raincoats toured with Kleenex, there were The Slits. Was that something you thought about a lot when you were trying to develop a community in the early ’90s?
The Slits were really influential to us. You know, the sound of The Raincoats and the attitude of the Slits were really influential. We heard this interview with The Slits, where instead of answering boring questions in a standard way — questions like, What’s it like to be a woman in music? — they had a tape-recorder and they were playing back witch laughter noises. It was like, Actually I don’t have to speak back to total idiots in a rational manner, I can just use nonsense and make it entertaining for myself. So I started to think that using nonsense and non-linear thought is the way to deal with how messed up the world is.
Who else influenced you in the early days?
Lyrically, Jean Smith from Mecca Normal. She was really poetic and had feminist ideas at the core of a lot of her songs and she wasn’t ashamed of it. She wrote a song about street harassment and the male gaze, and she played at a feminist art gallery that my friend and I started. And when I saw her, I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold. But sonically I was into Black Flag and Rites of Spring.
Do you still listen to that kind of music? Do you always come back to it?
I listen to a lot of French pop and stuff. And I wonder if it’s like an age thing or what. But I like instrumental. I like a lot of Latin music. I think my taste has changed. I love this band Fool’s Gold. They reference Ethiopian music.