Bikini Kill was an American punk rock band formed in Olympia, Washington in October 1990. The group consisted of singer and songwriter Kathleen Hanna, guitarist Billy Karren, bassist Kathi Wilcox, and drummer Tobi Vail. The band is widely considered to be the pioneer of the riot grrrl movement, and was notorious for its radical feminist lyrics and fiery performances. Their music is characteristically abrasive and hardcore-influenced. After two full-length albums, several EPs and two compilations, they disbanded in 1997.
While occasionally collaborating with high-profile acts such as Nirvana and Joan Jett, Bikini Kill was well known for shunning major labels and the mainstream rock press.
Bikini Kill formed in Olympia, Washington, in October 1990, by Kathleen Hanna (vocals), Billy Karren (guitar), Kathi Wilcox (bass), and Tobi Vail (drums). Hanna, Vail, and Wilcox met during college at the Evergreen College in Washington. They began working together on a fanzine called Bikini Kill and, with the addition of former Go Team guitarist Billy Karren, formed a band of the same name. The band wrote songs together and encouraged a female-centric environment at their shows, urging women to come to the front of the stage and handing out lyric sheets to them. Hanna would also dive into the crowd to personally remove male hecklers. Such male concertgoers would often verbally and physically assault Hanna during shows when the tickets were still inexpensive and easily procured. However, the band's reach included large male audiences as well as young women.
Fellow riot grrrl musician Lois Maffeo originally adopted Bikini Kill as a band name, inspired by the 1967 B-movie The Million Eyes of Sumuru. She and her friend Margaret Doherty used the name for a one-off performance in the late 1980s where they donned faux fur punk cave girl costumes. Vail liked the name and appropriated it after Maffeo settled on the band name Cradle Robbers.
After an independent demo cassette, Revolution Girl Style Now!, Bikini Kill released the Bikini Kill EP on the indie label Kill Rock Stars. Produced by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, the album began to establish the band's audience. The band's debut album, Pussy Whipped, was released in September 1993. Bikini Kill toured in London, England to begin working with Huggy Bear, releasing a joint recording together and touring the UK. The tour was the subject of a documentary film by Lucy Thane entitled It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The U.K. Upon their return to the United States, the band began working with Joan Jett of The Runaways, whose music Hanna described as an early example of the Riot Grrrl aesthetic. Jett produced the single "New Radio"/"Rebel Girl" for the band.
By the following year, Riot Grrrl was receiving constant attention in the media, and Bikini Kill were increasingly referred to as pioneers of the movement. Hanna called for a "media blackout" amongst Riot Grrrls, as they felt the band and the movement were being misrepresented by the media.
The band's final album, Reject All American, was released in 1996. After the band's breakup in 1997, a compilation of singles recorded between 1993 and 1995 was released in 1998 under the name The Singles.
During the summer of 1992, the band The Frumpies was formed by Karren, Wilcox, Vail, and Molly Neuman of Bratmobile, and toured as late as the early 2000s along with a similar Italian punk rock band Dada Swing.
Vail, notorious for her numerous side projects and being in several bands at a time, later resurfaced in a band called Spider and the Webs, and she is now playing with The Old Haunts. Kathi Wilcox plays in the Casual Dots, and Billy Karren is in Ghost Mom. Hanna first contributed to an LP as a member of The Fakes, and then turned to more dance-based New wave music (with similar feminist lyrical themes) on her solo debut, Julie Ruin. She then became a member of the political new wave outfit Le Tigre. After Le Tigre broke up, Hanna became the front woman of a band named after her solo project, The Julie Ruin.
Bikini Kill is recognized as an influence by Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, Jack Off Jill, Mika Miko, and many others. Mike Park (of Skankin' Pickle, The Chinkees, The Bruce Lee Band, and founder of Asian Man Records) has a song about the band titled "Tobi Vail 4 President" on the album Beans & Toast from his acoustic solo project. J Church's album Prophylaxis features a song called "Why I Liked Bikini Kill", a response to criticisms of the band and their message. Music journalist Steve Palopoli has described the song as addressing an "unspecified critic of Kathleen Hanna". Hanna credits American artist and performance legend Karen Finley as her major influence.
Bikini Kill's song "Rebel Girl" is number 445 in Blender's The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born.