New Music Friday: Kathleen Hanna shouts back at street harassment on The Julie Ruin’s new album

The Julie Ruin, courtesy of Facebook.
The Julie Ruin, courtesy of Facebook.

Part of being a woman in New York City, especially in the summertime, is dealing with a veritable Greek chorus of pick up lines. People process this phenomenon in different ways. Just take this beautiful poem I wrote, for example:

Hey, sexy! SEXY!

Why you walking away? Bitch.

I’s tryna be nice.

Some women write haiku to process their experiences with street harassment, while others address it through music — especially raw, powerful, female-fronted music, like the kind legendary riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna makes. Extra bonus points if said music is catchy as hell and fun to dance to, like the kind she makes with her latest band, The Julie Ruin. Their second album, Hit Reset, drops today, and it totally rips. 

In case you didn’t know, Kathleen Hanna is kind of a big deal. She was a key player of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s as the lead singer of lady punk stalwart Bikini Kill. Then she moved in a more electro-direction (say that three times fast) with electro punk outfit Le Tigre.

Le Tigre is a quintessentially New York band (just listen to this ode to public transportation); collaborator JD Samson is a staple of Brooklyn’s LGBTQ community and hosts regular the Brooklyn parties PAT and Scissor Sundays. But over the past few years, Hanna — who lives in Manhattan with her husband, Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys — has been doing something different. She’s moved from the grunge-laden girl punk of Bikini Kill to the electro-infused dance punk that is Le Tigre and found a happy medium in The Julie Ruin, which reflects a lot of New York too: The song “Kids in NY” on their last album, Run Fast, has lyrics that speak directly to us, about “making feminist fanzines in Bushwick right now,” and how ‘it’s so expensive now they have to get hardcore.”

One of the best songs off of Hit Reset, “Be Nice,” shows Hanna screeching through her responses to unwanted attention, like street harassment (it’s more fun to listen to than a haiku too). And on “I’m Done,” she screams about online harassment in the form of internet trolling. Plus, in the video for the track, courtesy of director and contemporary artist Laura Parnes, Hanna shows off some of my favorite things: really great awkward dance moves, bad green screen action and a rad jacket.

She’s been hailed as one of Yoko Ono’s “most brilliant inheritors” due to both women’s incorporation of primal grunts, screams, and pure emotion in their music. Plus, they both use said music to process the feminine experience. Hanna has always written about her personal life, shedding light on important issues like sexual abuse, sexism, and violence, but on Hit Reset, she gets more personal than ever, speaking up about her abusive father. She told Rolling Stone:

“I definitely sang about domestic violence, family violence and bad dads, but I’ve never sung exactly about my dad. On Hit Reset, there’s a lyric that’s ‘drunk from a mug shaped like a breast,’ and my dad really did drink his coffee out of a mug with a breast – out of the nipple. I saw that every morning, like, what a great message to give to your daughter. We really did have deer hooves hanging on the wall with guns. It’s not a good feeling to live with a violent alcoholic and have so many guns around. It was a really scary family that I grew up in – it’s been really hard to say stuff about my family because everyone’s still alive. I really wanted to wait until that wasn’t the case, but my life won’t wait.”

And though the new record is more personal for Hanna than ever before, she says that musically, it was more of a group effort:

“We’re really into using everything we have available to us,” she told Rolling Stone. “In New York everyone has other jobs to do, so we’d try to utilize our time really wisely.”

It goes to show that for creative types in New York, multitasking is essential. Even when you hit the big time.

I know I’ve focused on Kathleen Hanna, because she’s cool as hell, but obviously she’s not the only member of The Julie Ruin — plus, she has great taste in multi-talented bandmates. Kenny Mellman is a keyboard player and cabaret performer, most notably the other half of Justin Vivian Bond’s drag cabaret duo Kiki and Herb.

When he’s not playing the drums for The Julie Ruin, or working as a filmmaker, Carmine Covelli is also a cabaret performer, playing the drums for cabaret/comedy star Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments. Both of those cabaret acts can be seen regularly at Joe’s Pub. Guitarist Sara Landeau is a writer and educator, and bass player Kathi Wilcox was also involved in Bikini Kill, both the band and the zine.

Be sure to listen to Hit Reset right now. It’s fantastic. And check them out at Panorama on July 23.

Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music, and the occasional haiku, follow her on Twitter. And to pitch for New Music Friday, email Lilly at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com. 

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