Bikini Kill formed its own record label this year with the intention of reissuing its entire catalog, piece by piece. Item No. 1 is the band’s debut, self-titled EP, originally released 20 years ago. If you’re not familiar with Bikini Kill as a band, let’s catch you up to speed. Formed in 1990 in Olympia, WA, Bikini Kill was at the forefront of the feminist punk movement riot grrrl, whose goals included bringing representation to women in the scene and creating an open forum for the discussion of gender-related issues that were otherwise ignored in music.
The EP consists of six powerful, raucous songs that will shock your ears at the simple tap of the play button. Tobi Vail wails on the drums with an unkempt style that wouldn’t fit anywhere else—not completely on beat, a little messy, hard and fast. Kathleen Hanna screams and shouts lyrics contesting society’s norm and the misrepresentation of women in music, while Billy Karren powers driving guitar riffs and Kathi Wilcox strums a quick bass tempo.
The EP opens with “Double Dare Ya,” a song that challenges girls to be themselves and do what they want, and segues into a more melodic album core with songs like “Carnival” and “Feels Blind.” That’s not to say there aren’t hardcore songs sprinkled in between, with “Liar” and “Suck My Left One” allowing the members of Bikini Kill to show their true colors. The final song, titled “Thurston Hearts The Who [Live],” opens with the spoken words of excerpts from Vail and Hanna’s zines, and the title pokes fun at the fact that bands weren’t “cool” until Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore started going to the live shows.
The EP as a whole has a very loose sound to it, a rough, almost unfinished product. You can hear the nerves and the band’s inexperience throughout each song, because, as Hanna told CMJ, this was the first time many of them had even been in a recording studio. Produced by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, the Bikini Kill EP almost never came to be: MacKaye caught wind that the band didn’t like the end result, but the EP was released the following year. The EP is messy, unpolished—even though it’s a reissue, there was no remastering or tweaking of the tracks. But it’s a perfect freeze frame of a time when a bunch of young women were pissed off and punching down the idea that they were pushovers. It’s an exercise in raw power, and that’s why it’s still so influential 20 years later.