The Julie Ruin with Special Guests 24/05/2015
Sun 24th May 2015
£12 adv + booking fee
Kathleen Hanna, former frontwoman of femme-punk band Bikini Kill and electro-pop trio Le Tigre, has been away from the stage for quite some time. And, with the reissue of the Bikini Kill back catalogue and recent biopic The Punk Singer, you could have been forgiven for thinking that she has been too busy crafting her legacy to make new music, instead documenting her career and further cementing her status as Riot Grrrl icon. Except that Hanna has never tried to be an icon – she has described herself as ‘more of a singing social worker’ – and she has defiantly snarled her way back onto the stage with a new band, a debut album and an international tour.
The Julie Ruin started life in 1997 as an eponymous solo album of raw, sample-heavy recordings, released by Hanna during the hiatus between the end of Bikini Kill and the inception of Le Tigre. Seventeen years later, and joining her to flesh out the bones of that original lo-fi material are Carmine Covelli, Sara Landeau, Kathi Wilcox and Kenny Mellman (of drag duo Kiki and Herb).
The band released their debut album, Run Fast, last year. Many of the elements of The Julie Ruin will be instantly familiar to long-time fans of Hanna’s music: the clap-clap cheerleader chants and disco synths of Le Tigre, the shrill, call-to-action yelps of Bikini Kill. In some ways it’s the rowdy, subversive pop that devotees will long for. It’s no doubt thanks in part to Mellman’s influence – he provides songwriting, vocals and cabaret keyboards – that The Julie Ruin have a modern, danceable sound that is distinctly theirs. This is no nostalgia-fuelled revival.
There are more melancholy themes present now too. Hanna’s recent absence from the music scene is due in part to her ongoing struggle to come to terms with a debilitating chronic illness, finally diagnosed as late-progressed Lyme disease in 2010, and this informs much of the lyrical content of an album that isn’t afraid to confront themes of ageing, the passage of time, even euthanasia.
Hanna has said that she originally created Julie Ruin as a stronger alter ego at a time when her world was in flux. Her decision to revive the character, this time with help, came at a point when she desperately needed to reconnect with her artistic self. The result is provocative, self-affirming and personal. Hanna’s still fighting, and she’s brought reinforcements.