One might wonder why a band such as Le Tigre would release a documentary about its tour days six years after the band’s members have already happily moved on to other things. And yet that is exactly what the band has done. In conjunction with filmmaker Kerthy Fix, Le Tigre has released Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour (Oscilloscope Laboratories).
The film probably doesn’t reveal anything about this iconic group that its longtime fans don’t already know. For those who were never familiar with Le Tigre, it serves as an illuminating window into the final days of one of the most iconic bands of the girl power movement. It touches on all of the issues that Le Tigre grappled with in its music, from feminism and LGBT activism to riot-grrrl culture and its evolution, to the trials of being an all-female band on tour in an often-hostile America.
And what an America it is. An America where a queer, feminist, electro-punk band can go on tour and still play shows where rowdy male patrons yell at them to take their clothes off on stage. An America where the same band walks into an interview at a radio station, and instead of talking about the members’ work and their music, they are asked to speak about Kurt Cobain (whom singer Kathleen Hanna knew when she lived in Seattle). As Hanna puts it in one of the film’s interviews, “They didn’t even bother to Wikipedia us.”
All of this might be depressing were it not for the weird, goofy, fun-loving spirit of Hanna, Johanna Fateman and JD Samson. Though serious about their music and their politics, the three women show an incredible ability to laugh at anything, particularly the things that stand in the way of the world they are trying to build. That humor is infectious, and it presents itself not only in their bizarre onstage costumes and choreography (that JD describes as “the West End meets jazzercise”), but also in the faux-instructional exercise video they film on tour, their in-band competition to see who can get a photo with tour-mates Slipknot first, and JD’s self-deprecating reading of a Japanese article about the group.
And then there’s the live footage. The incredible energy of Le Tigre’s shows is captivating, even six years later, even on film. And aside from pure entertainment value, that’s why Who Took The Bomp? is an important film. For someone like me, who was still in grade school when Hanna was starting riot-grrrl in the ‘90s, watching this documentary was an eye-opening experience. While other bands eschewed politics, Le Tigre embraced them wholly, shoved them in your face, and wouldn’t shut up. “Most of my career has been being a gateway drug for feminism,” Hanna said at a Q&A that followed the film screening at New York’s Ace Hotel. That shows in the film and the music.
So back to the initial question—why make a film about it now? Le Tigre’s last show was in 2005, and all three bandmates have parted ways to work on other projects. Hanna is in a new band, the Julie Ruin, as is Samson (who founded MEN), and Fateman is running a hair salon. Hanna admits in the film that she has a fear of erasure, and later said that after failing to document the riot-grrrl movement, she saw Who Took The Bomp? as a way to archive Le Tigre and make sure future generations of female artists could build on the work that she and her former bandmates did.