How NOT to write about music – 79. Bikini Kill


Ten Things I learned watching Bikini Kill play Brixton Academy last night.

    1. I miss my community. I have never really known what my community is, am aware that it is continually shifting, but I miss it still. I cannot live up to expectations. When I posted on Facebook last night how I was shocked to find myself in Brixton against the odds, I was surprised at how many friends took it for granted I would be there. Well, duh – right? No duh. I try to never take anything for granted. I did not know I would be in Brixton last night (nerves, isolation, loneliness). At midday, I did not know that a few hours later I would be dancing next to Jon Slade in the aisles at the Brixton fucking Academy to the sight of Tobi Vail bopping at the mic. More than my community, I miss my friends. I have never known who my friends are, just that they continually shift and disappear. When one of Jon’s super-cool friends remarked last night how I would be enjoying myself later, I retorted that I was already enjoying myself. It was true. The stuff people take most for granted – being able to converse, laugh, relax – that’s the stuff I view as most special right now.
    2. I want to be tempted, led astray.
    3. I had forgotten quite how punk Bikini Kill are. By punk, I mean Washington D.C hardcore lifestyle of course. I mean invigorating, acerbic, pummeling, relentless, politically charged, short and sharp, the kids, a powerful back beat, dancing. By punk, I mean female empowerment – a good crowd of good people – because only females and trans are the true punks. I mean songs like ‘New Radio’ and ‘Reject All American’ and Tobi Vail in THOSE SHADES dancing cool and unafraid left right across the stage, dancing like each and every one of us out here, the living embodiment of rock’n’roll. By punk, I mean the way you looked at that man try to force his way into your personal space. By punk, I mean that story I told about how I am unable to sleep at night, restless, relentless, nervously anticipating Friday morning 10am to roll around when the bin men shatter the serenity of our street and yet I never hear them because I am long gone to work. By punk, I mean challenge, distortion, a refusal to stay still. By punk, I mean the speeches Kathleen gives in between songs – and the way she dances when songs are playing – acerbic and sharp, painfully self-aware and sad and inspirational and funny. By punk, I mean YOU.
    4. We all need a safe space.
    5. Of course that first night sold out in minutes. Bikini Kill long ago attained the status of legendary band from another era. It strikes me that – in terms of impact – early Bikini Kill shows are similar to the first Ramones gigs. Small crowds, intensive touring, but everywhere they played another five, 10, 20 bands sprang up. Shock waves, resonating into the future.
    6. Even in 2019, I am given over to self-mythologising. Much merriment was had as myself and Jon discussed the origins of the controversial choice of photograph used for the original Melody Maker Riot Grrrl cover, culled from a Re:Search book that held pride of place on the living room mantelpiece of the Brighton house that I shared with Jon and Jo (and also featured in the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer). The one where Jo and I would stay up till five am arguing about feminist doctrine. Much of this is of course self-mythologising because I cannot remember any of it.
    7. The thrill of hearing motherfucking Bikini Kill performing live a song they wrote, specifically inspired by yourself – whether sarcastic, caustic or ironic (bearing in mind what happened shortly after) – cannot be underestimated. My new friends thought I was kidding when I said I’d be leaving shortly afterwards. How could I not though? How could anything else this year match that?
    8. It’s good to have fun. This may seem apparent to you but trust me, to me it is not.
    9. I miss Billy. (The new guitarist seems cool though, obv.)
    10. Yeah, hello? Hello? We’re still here. And we’re growing louder and louder, more and more visible with each passing year. Not that I have ever known who my community is.

Here is some further context and detail.

How NOT to write about music – 13. Kate Nash (part two)

Yesterday Was Forever

The process. This is what we are here to talk about today. The process.

If  I was to write a review of the 2018 Kate Nash album Yesterday Was Forever – and it seems unlikely at this stage, I mean why would I? – this is what I would do. Brainstorm, take notes. Collect my scattered impressions of the music and its surrounding context into some form of list which I would then check off as I start to write the piece. Usually I do not even do this as the list forms and takes shape as I am writing… but I am trying to document the process here.

(Remember the first rule of writing? If you don’t feel like writing, write anyway.)

  • Personal. I like it. A lot. It’s chipper, it’s buoyant, it is shot through with a pleasing streak of self-loathing, She (knowingly?) references Jonathan Richman (on ‘My Little Alien’), and Orange Juice and Courtney Love (on ‘Life In Pink’), the song during which her voice has been sped up a bpm or 10, having the unnerving effect of making her sound a little Chipmunk-esque. Like all the best singers, now I think about it.
  • Observation, detail. It’s her fourth. It feels like she (quite deliberately?) is turning her back on her Award-winning, pop chart storming, past and is returning back to the fanzine cut-and-paste feel-the-joins culture that has inspired her. She is the fanzine pop queen. Kickstarter-funded (for real).
  • Note to self: find out other facts and details to help score my authority from press release/Guardian review and so forth.
  • Theme.  Erratic, but delightfully so. Veers between many different palettes, pop and otherwise, although right now the inclusion of ‘My Little Alien’ justifies everything. Lightweight, but not as an insult. She is herself, like Drew Barrymore (to quote a Bis lyric). She instinctively understands her audience because she is her own audience (list examples from ‘Today’ and perhaps one other song).
  • Special mention, to the self-descriptive panic attack outing on ‘Musical Theatre’. Her voice plaintive, calling. Challenging. Demonstrative. Fearful. These are my own observations but I just checked on Wikipedia (the first refuge of the scoundrel) and it states, “Nash openly confirmed that she has obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety and is an advocate for raising awareness for the importance of mental health. ‘Musical Theatre’ is Nash’s personal interpretation of struggling with mental health”. Good to have verification. (Sample lyric: “I can’t remember ‘A-B-C’ correctly.”)
  • Note to self. Find a source that is not Wikipedia to back up this focal point.
  • She is herself. I know I have used this line before, but this is one of the many reasons I like Kate Nash so much. She is not afraid to take chances and fall flat on her face, if need be.
  • Reception. The Guardian (see above) calls her pop music “slightly stale” but perhaps I enjoy slightly stale. Jesus. We can’t all be Father John Misty. As Drowned In Sound puts it (I will rephrase this), “whimsical, playful, experimental and wildly fun”. I would shy away from calling this honest or authentic, because I am not a great believer of either within performance, but…

And then I would grab a couple of mugs of coffee and write the review.

But, like I said earlier, who the fuck is going to be interested?