Their songs excoriated rape culture, their motto was ‘girls to the front’ – and they inspired Nirvana’s biggest hit. Now Bikini Kill are back with a mission still relevant in 2019
Bikini Kill never intended to reunite. “It wasn’t something that crossed my mind as a possibility or anything that I would want to do,” says drummer Tobi Vail. “Going back in time doesn’t make sense to me.” It wasn’t until 2017, two decades after they’d parted ways, that the pioneering riot grrrl band witnessed a model for doing it. They’d been asked to play a song at a New York event in honour of the Raincoats, prompted by a book about the London-based feminist punk group’s self-titled 1979 album. In that room, Vail witnessed a group often erased from the punk canon writing their own history.
“They were telling their story on their own terms,” recalls Vail. “There’s a power in seizing history. To me, that’s what being a band allows you to access. If we see historicisation as an institutional force, let’s be inclusive: let women’s voices in.” After that night, Bikini Kill watched as fans called their brief performance a “reunion”. It “felt right”, says Vail, so they decided to do more shows.