Kathleen Hanna

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Kathleen Hanna
Kathleen Hanna with Bikini Kill: January 17, 1996
Kathleen Hanna with Bikini Kill: January 17, 1996
Background information
Also known as Julie Ruin
Born 12 November 1968
Portland, Oregon, United States
Genre(s) Riot grrrl
Punk rock
Occupation(s) musician
Instrument(s) guitar, bass guitar, sampler, drums, drum machine
Years active 1990-Present
Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Julie Ruin

Kathleen Hanna (b. 12 November 1968) is an American musician, activist, and zine writer. She is the former lead singer of Bikini Kill (the 1990s) and feminist electro-punk band Le Tigre. In 1998, Hanna released a solo album under the name Julie Ruin. Hanna has contributed a great deal to the revival of feminism and is considered one of the leading icons of the '90s riot grrrl movement. She has collaborated with a wide variety of musicians, appearing on records with numerous artists, such as Atari Teenage Riot, Joan Jett, the Rickets, Green Day, Internal/External and Mike Watt.


  • 1 Life and Career
    • 1.1 Childhood
    • 1.2 College
    • 1.3 Bikini Kill
      • 1.3.1 Influence on Riot Grrrl
    • 1.4 Between bands
    • 1.5 Le Tigre
  • 2 Personal
    • 2.1 Relationship with other musicians
  • 4 In popular culture
  • 5 Discography
    • 5.1 Bikini Kill
      • 5.1.1 Albums
      • 5.1.2 Singles
      • 5.1.3 Compilations
    • 5.2 Julie Ruin
    • 5.3 Le Tigre
      • 5.3.1 Full-Length Albums
      • 5.3.2 Singles and EPs
    • 5.4 Miscellaneous
  • 6 Bibliography
    • 6.1 Fanzines
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Life and Career


Born in Portland, Oregon, Kathleen Hanna's family moved to Calverton, Maryland in 1971. This was followed by a series of moves due to her father changing occupations, which continued until Hanna's parents got a divorce while she was in high school. Hanna first became interested in feminism around the age of nine, after her mother took her to a rally in Washington D.C. where feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke. Though it would be several years until she would become the outspoken feminist she is today, the event clearly left an impression on Hanna. In a 2000 interview with BUST magazine, Hanna recalled:

My mom was a housewife, and wasn't somebody that people would think of as a feminist, and when Ms. magazine came out we were incredibly inspired by it. I used to cut pictures out of it and make posters that said "Girls can do anything", and stuff like that, and my mom was inspired to work at a basement of a church doing anti-domestic violence work. Then she took me to the Solidarity Day thing, and it was the first time I had ever been in a big crowd of women yelling, and it really made me want to do it forever. [1]

In the 2006 documentary, Don't Need You: the Herstory of Riot Grrrl, Hanna elaborates on the effect feminism had on her in childhood, recalling that her interest grew when her mother checked out a copy of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" from the library. Yet Hanna and her mother's involvement in the women's rights movement had to be done quietly in the years before her parents' divorce, due to her father's disapproval. [2]


Hanna attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the late 1980s, where she studied photography. Determined to support herself, Hanna began working as a burlesque dancer during this time. She also participated in the burgeoning art scene in Olympia during these years, doing spoken-word performances which addressed sexism and violence against women, issues which she witnessed daily as she became involved with a domestic violence organization over the next two years.

Working with fellow Evergreen student and photographer Aaron Baush-Greene, Hanna set up a photo show featuring the pair's photography, which dealt with, respectively, sexism and AIDS. However, the school administrators took the photos down before they got the chance to be viewed, an act of censorship which prompted what Hanna refers to as her "first foray into activism"–the creation of an independent feminist art gallery called Reko Muse with friends Heidi Arbogast and Tammy Rae Carland. The three women then formed a band called Amy Carter, which put on shows before the art exhibitions.[3]

Hanna later started another band, Viva Knievel, which toured the United States for two months before disbanding. Upon returning to Olympia, Hanna began collaborating with fellow Evergreen student and punk zinester Tobi Vail after seeing a performance of The Go Team, (a band made up of Vail, Billy Karren, and Calvin Johnson) and recognizing Vail as the mastermind behind the fanzine Jigsaw, which Hanna greatly admired.

Bikini Kill

Hanna and Tobi Vail's first collaboration was a zine called Revolution Girl Style Now. This led to a later zine titled Bikini Kill, a response to sexism in the punk rock scene, written with fellow Evergreen student and friend Kathi Wilcox. The three women decided to form a band to personify their ideals and recruited Vail’s bandmate Karren as the fourth member, naming the band after their zine.

Bikini Kill soon became part of the seminal Olympia, Washington music scene of the early 1990’s, which was characterized by political awareness, a strong artistic do-it-yourself ethic, and an emphasis on local collaboration and support.

The band's first release for the Kill Rock Stars label was a self-titled EP produced by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. Bikini Kill then toured the UK, recording a split LP with UK band Huggy Bear. This tour was filmed and the band was interviewed by Lucy Thane for her documentary, It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The UK. Upon returning to the U.S., the band began working with Joan Jett, who produced their single, "New Radio/Rebel Girl". After the release of this record, Kathleen began co-writing some songs with Joan for her new album.

At the same time Kathleen produced several solo pieces for the Kill Rock Stars "Wordcore" series of recordings, including the 7" single "Rockstar" and the song "I Wish I Was Him" (a Ben Lee cover about alternative rock heartthrob Evan Dando) on the KRS compilation Rock Stars Kill. She was also in the band called Suture with Sharon Cheslow and Dug E. Bird.

The first two Bikini Kill EPs were released on CD as the appropriately titled The CD Version of the First Two Records in 1992. The band released two more full-length albums, Pussy Whipped in 1994 and Reject All American in 1996, and in 1998, Kill Rock Stars released Bikini Kill: The Singles, a collection of the group's seven inch and compilation tracks. Bikini Kill broke up on friendly terms around April 1998.

Influence on Riot Grrrl

In 1991, the band spent a summer in Washington, D.C., where Hanna began collaborating with Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman from the band Bratmobile on the zine riot grrrl, which became a call to action for increased feminist activity and female involvement in the punk rock scene. In a 2000 interview with Index Magazine, Hanna relates:

We wanted to start a magazine, and Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman from the band Bratmobile had started a little fanzine called Riot Grrrl and we were writing little things for it. I'd always wanted to start a big magazine with really cool, smart writing in it, and I wanted to see if the other punk girls in D.C. that I was meeting were interested in that. So I called a meeting and found a space for it, and it just turned into this sort of consciousness-raising thing. I realized really quickly that a magazine wasn't the way to go. People wanted to be having shows, and teaching each other how to play music, and writing fanzines, so that started happening. It got some press attention, and girls in other places would be like "I wanna do that. I wanna start one of those."

Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and zines like Jigsaw and Girl Germs helped define the movement that came to be called Riot Grrrl.

Kathleen Hanna on the cover of the British zine Riot Grrrl!!!.
Kathleen Hanna on the cover of the British zine Riot Grrrl!!!.

Between bands

Post-Bikini Kill, Hanna moved to Durham, North Carolina, home of Mr. Lady records, which was run by her close friend Tammy Rae Carland. Hanna began a series of projects, the first of which was The Fakes, in which she enlisted the help of Rachel Carns of The Need. The resulting CD, Real Fiction was released on Chainsaw Records.

Her next project, Julie Ruin was a sampler-driven lo-fi electronic project recorded in the closet of Hanna's Olympia apartment using only a sampler, a drum machine and an 8-track recorder. It was released on the Kill Rock Stars label.

Le Tigre

In Portland, Oregon Hanna began working with friend and zine editor Johanna Fateman on a live show for Julie Ruin. The collaboration eventually resulted in the two briefly forming a band called The Troublemakers, named after a G.B. Jones film, which ended when Fateman relocated to New York City to attend art school.

However, Hanna soon joined Fateman on the East Coast and with the addition of filmmaker Sadie Benning, they started another band, this time called Le Tigre. This band continued to pursue a more electronic style of music similar to the sampler-driven sound Hanna had begun to explore with Julie Ruin. The band began recording records for the Mr. Lady Records label, the first being the self-titled Le Tigre, which included the single "Hot Topic" and "Deceptacon." After the first record, Sadie Benning left the band and JD Samson joined before the follow-up CD Feminist Sweepstakes was released. When Mr. Lady Records closed down, the group switched labels to Universal Records for the 2004 release of This Island. Le Tigre toured the United States once in 2005 and again in 2006 with a small tour of Europe afterwards. They also released two remixed albums before announcing their break up in January of 2007.


Hanna is married to Adam Horovitz, better known as King Ad-Rock of the legendary hip hop group the Beastie Boys.

Hanna is bisexual, stating in a 1991 interview: "I do like boys, I like girls too..."[4]

She has at least two tattoos, one around her ankle and a large black heart on her right upper-arm. The latter is a cover-up of a tattoo she had during the early years of Bikini Kill, a heart with a banner that read "Daddy." This was likely meant to be ironic, seeing as Hanna has stated in interviews she does not have much contact with her father.

She cites Times Square, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, Over the Edge, Poison, Born in Flames and The Boys in the Band as some of her favorite movies.[5]

Relationship with other musicians

She has collaborated with Juliana Lueking, Atari Teenage Riot, Comet Gain, Joan Jett, The Rickets, Green Day, Metal Church, Mike Watt, Helter Skillet, Internal/External, Yoko Ono, and she appeared as a dancer in Sonic Youth's "Bull in the Heather" music video.

She was once involved with Dave Grohl of Scream and Nirvana, back when Nirvana was still an independent Olympia band. Tobi Vail was going out with her friend and collaborator Kurt Cobain at the time, and the Bikini Kill/Nirvana couples hung out together for a few months, skateboarding and indulging in occasional acts of vandalism.[6] It was during one of these nights that Hanna had spray-painted "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" on one of Cobain's walls, inspiring the title of their hit song. She was later punched by Courtney Love backstage during the Lollapalooza tour on 4 July 1995. Courtney has a history of attacking friends of Kurt from his days in the Olympia indie-punk scene, including Calvin Johnson, Mary Lou Lord, and even Kurt's mother Wendy O'Connor.[7]

"Kathleen was a big influence on him too," says Ian Dickson of Earth about his old friend, Kurt Cobain. "Imagine if you had two superheros, one 'good' and the other 'bad'. That's Kathleen and Courtney. Kathleen embodies all these feminist ideas and has always been very consistent. Courtney adopted a lot of her agenda and used it to become famous. Kurt was tremendously attracted to Kathleen's ideas because he loved the underdog."[6]


  • "Art revolves around creating something that isn’t there." – Under the Radar, Issue 7[8]
  • "You learn that the only way to get rock-star power as a girl is to be a groupie and bare your breasts and get chosen for the night. We learn that the only way to get anywhere is through men. And it's a lie." – Ms. Magazine, 2000[9]
  • "I always thought Bikini Kill had a good sense of humor, too. I think the stereotype about feminists having no sense of humor played into that whole mythology that we weren't a fun band and we weren't fun people and our music didn't have a lot of humor in it. If you go back and listen to it, I'm doing all these characters and I'm being sarcastic and mocking different forms of masculinity that are obnoxious. I don't know. It seems like a laugh riot to me." – 'Feminist, Fun, and Feisty' by Gina Vivinetto, Times Pop Music Critic, 2004[10]
  • "If your best friend gets it, that's all that matters."[11]
  • "The whole idea [of riot grrrl] was that women and girls could define what it meant and that there are a million different ways to be feminist or womanist or to be pro-woman or anti-misogyny and that it's not one person can decide that. We didn't want to be a corporation with a mission statement. I think that was an interesting strategy. People are still defining it for themselves." – Le Tigre Says, Womanrock Magazine, 2003
  • "Don't freak out cuz the jigsaw is laying on the floor and it's not all the way done and has been laying there for 4 whole hours now, resist the freak out. You will get to it..it's all part of the process." – Jigsaw Fanzine, #4[12]
  • "I don't need to convince men that feminism is important, that just isn't a goal of mine. I can't even have that conversation, of whether or not it's important, because if someone asks me that they're my mortal enemy and I don't want to have a conversation with them until they grow-up." – Glasgow Women's Library, 2000[13]
  • "Thirteen-year-old girls don't write me letters that end up in the trashcan -- I fucking read 'em, you know what I mean?...That's when the music or the writing works: when they feel inspired by something I did, or my band did, or a friend of mine did, and then they do something and I feel totally inspired back. It's not just like I create this product and they consume it." – GRRRL TALK: Kathleen Hanna Resurfaces as Julie Ruin, September 1998[14]
  • "I love the part of music, that it can take you over and you can trust it…I want to make music that, when women listen to it, they can be inside themselves again. To make dance music is even better, because then they can be dancing together, with other women feeling inside of themselves." – Verve, 2001[15]

In popular culture

  • She was mentioned recently in an episode of The L Word. A group of friends are playing celebrity at a dinner party, when the character Shane selects her name. Most of the lesbians seem to know it's her from the description, "Le Tigre, and Julie Ruin, Bikini Kill", yet the straight people at the party have no clue who she is. This results in the character of Alice joking, "Oh, she just pretty much started the whole riot grrrl music scene, but hey...", which leaves one straight man asking, "What's the riot grrrl music scene?" This is an allusion to Hanna's cult-following within the queer community.[16]
  • The Pinhead Gunpowder song "Kathleen" was written about her.
  • In the popular teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You, a list of bands is read, and Bikini Kill is one of them. Julia Stiles's character is a fan of them.
  • In the Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary episode, Kathleen Hanna can be spotted in a pan shot of the audience sitting next to Ad-Rock.


Bikini Kill


  • Revolution Girl Style Now! self-released cassette (1991)
  • Bikini Kill (EP) on Kill Rock Stars (1991)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah split LP with Huggy Bear on Catcall Records in the UK, Kill Rock Stars in the US (1993)
  • Pussy Whipped on Kill Rock Stars (1994)
  • Reject All American on Kill Rock Stars (1996)


  • New Radio/Rebel Girl 7" single on Kill Rock Stars (1993)
  • The Anti-Pleasure Dissertation Single on Kill Rock Stars (1994)
  • I Like Fucking/I Hate Danger 7" single on Kill Rock Stars (1995)


  • Kill Rock Stars on Kill Rock Stars LP/CD (1991)
  • Throw: The YoYo Studio Compilation on YoYo Records (1991)
  • "Daddy's Lil' Girl" on Give Me Back LP, Ebullition Records (1991)
  • "Suck My Left One" on There's A Dyke In The Pit, Outpunk Records (1992)
  • Bikini Kill: The Singles (1998)

Julie Ruin

  • Julie Ruin on Kill Rock Stars (1997)

Le Tigre

Full-Length Albums

  • Le Tigre on Mr. Lady (1999)
  • Feminist Sweepstakes on Mr. Lady (2001)
  • This Island on Universal (2004)

Singles and EPs

  • Hot Topic (1999)
  • From the Desk of Mr. Lady EP (2001)
  • Remix (2003)
  • Standing In The Way Of Control 12" split EP with The Gossip on Kill Rock Stars
  • This Island Remixes Volume 1 EP, Chicks On Speed Records
  • This Island Remixes Volume 2EP, Chicks On Speed Records


  • Real Fiction, The Fakes, Kill Rock Stars
  • Inside Out, Internal External, K Records
  • Featuring..., Internal External, K Records
  • Rock Star / Mean (wordcore v. 1) as Kathleen Hanna and Slim Moon, Kill Rock Stars[17]
  • Rock Stars Kill, includes Hanna's "I Wish I Was Him", Various Artists, Kill Rock Stars
  • Ball Hog or Tug Boat? LP/CD "Heatbeat"-Mike Watt
  • Decomposition 00, Suture, Kill Rock Stars, 1991
  • Suture!, Suture, Kill Rock Stars, 1992
  • Realistes, Comet Gain, Hanna featured on the track "Ripped-Up Suit"



  • Bikini Kill #1, #2
  • Jigsaw #5, #5.5
  • April Fools Day
  • My life with Evan Dando: Popstar
  • The Kathleen Hanna newsletter
  • Le Tigre zine/tour program
  1. ^ http://medlem.spray.se/aboutkathleen/bust.html
  2. ^ ["Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl", 2006, Kerri Koch]
  3. ^ http://www.letigreworld.com/sweepstakes/html_site/fact/khfacts.html
  4. ^ http://www.angelfire.com/mn/newpuritanreview/Archives/BikiniKill.html
  5. ^ Le Tigre official site - our favorite things section
  6. ^ a b Nirvana: the True Story by Everett True
  7. ^ [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
  8. ^ http://undertheradarmag.com/bonus_protest.html
  9. ^ http://www.msmagazine.com/aug00/shesays.html
  10. ^ http://medlem.spray.se/aboutkathleen/in7.html
  11. ^ http://medlem.spray.se/aboutkathleen/quotes.html
  12. ^ http://medlem.spray.se/aboutkathleen/jigsaw.html
  13. ^ Quotation from 2000 interview with Glasgow Women's Library
  14. ^ http://weeklywire.com/ww/09-28-98/boston_music_2.html
  15. ^ http://www.drivingvotes.org/blogs/coleen/archives/000235.shtml
  16. ^ The L Word clip
  17. ^ http://www.salon.com/audio/2000/10/05/hanna/
  • Salon.com audio Rock Star mp3
  • Kathleen's Herstory from the Le Tigre site
  • Two interviews with Hanna on the NPR show Fresh Air: one from 2000, and one from 2001.
  • Kathleen Hanna at the Notable Names Database
  • Kathleen Hannna at the Internet Movie Database
  • Kathleen Hanna site
  • Kathleen Hanna article in Ms. Magazine
  • Kathleen Interview by Hilary Frey
  • Salon.com Audio with "Rockstar" mp3 [8]
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