Bikini Kill played at the Sydney Opera House on Monday, 13th March. Joseph Earp reviews.
Some musicians aren’t invited to play the Sydney Opera House. They’re invited to fight against it. Bikini Kill are such a band, which is something lead singer Kathleen Hanna noted numerous times during their set, in between blasts of raucous, compact punk.
First she called out those online who had suggested the band were not worthy of playing the historic venue. Then she said the whole set-up made her feel like an actor in a musical or a participant in a storytelling session. Most succinctly, when someone in the crowd suggested Bikini Kill “deserved” to play the venue, she shot back that actually, the audience deserved it.
Bikini Kill – ‘Double Dare Ya’
Certainly, the world class venue should have space for bands like Bikini Kill, who took an unnamed, underrepresented feeling that coursed through the late nineteen-eighties and named and represented it. A song like ‘Rebel Girl’, which finished the night, says much more about the spirit of our time than the classical music that usually fills the Opera House sails, and the band spent their hour or so onstage proving their astonishing skills. Their lean, furious guitar lines. Those lyrics. Hanna’s voice.
Community is key to Bikini Kill, and certainly that sense of thronging community was spread throughout the audience, most joyously in the faces of young people. There were teenagers there, and a number of parents who’d brought their children. And yet what a thing it would have been to be in a venue that allowed us to dance; that allowed for the kind of boisterous, sing-along that ‘Rebel Girl’ was clearly designed for.
Bikini Kill were born in grunge venues, and their message has echoed far beyond those spaces, influencing art and design as well as music and politics. But their set was calling out for a certain kind of atmosphere, and although the band fought the House, and largely won, there was division where there should only have been inclusion.
It wasn’t, as Hanna pointed out, a division between her and the audience. At one point, she noted, emotionally, that the lyrics of the songs had been changed to be more inclusive and to move away from the sense that Hanna was yelling at anyone in the room. But it was division of the most literal, basic kind: bloody seats.