LE TIGRE (Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson, and Johanna Fateman) formed as an obstinately hopeful, even joyous, post-riot grrrl project in New York City in 1999—when Rudy Giuliani was mayor and regressive hipster irony (à la VICE Magazine) ruled. Abandoning traditional punk instrumentation, the band paired drum-machine beats and looped 8-bit samples with the simplest, serrated guitar riffs and call-and-response vocals to write the songs on their first, self-titled album. Released late that year, they conceived of it as music “for the party after the protest.”
Though rage had its place in Le Tigre, the band, with celebratory songs such as “Hot Topic”—a shout-out to queer and feminist artistic inspirations (from David Wojnarowicz and Lorraine O’Grady to Catherine Opie and Vaginal Davis)—was a departure for Kathleen; she was best known as the singer of Bikini Kill, whose fans found feminist catharsis in her scorching vocals. “Deceptacon,” the lead track of Le Tigre’s debut, was perhaps an aesthetic bridge between that seductive register of rage and her new band’s dancefloor ambitions. As the critic Sasha Geffen wrote, reflecting in 2019 on the endurance of the song as an underground club classic and radical rallying cry, “Le Tigre’s strategy of layering fierce punk vocals over electronic whimsy crystallized into what came to be known as electroclash, a brief but bright-burning aughts microgenre that cleared open space for groundbreaking artists like Alice Glass and Grimes.”
The members of Le Tigre, with their backgrounds in visual art and writing, shared a vision for multimedia performance, touring with a slide projector in their early days. Video soon became a key component of their live show (it still is), and they found themselves in a loose network of like-minded artist-musicians—such as Tracy + the Plastics, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed—who paired conceptually-driven performances with a DIY electronic sound.
Le Tigre’s follow-up EP From the Desk of Mr. Lady, released in January of 2001, was maybe more raggedly experimental. It included the stuttering collage “They Want Us to Make a Symphony out of the Sound of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues” and “Bang! Bang!”—a response to recent racist police killings in New York—whose earnest urgency balanced the more sardonic commentary of other tracks. The deadpan “Get Off the Internet!” and its companion treatise on online discourse “Yr Critique” describe the moment’s activist malaise, while “Mediocrity Rules,” takes aim at a male archetype in the band’s indie orbit. (With its “Yabba dabba dabba dude” outro, the song found its way into a Fruity Pebbles commercial, to the band’s perverse glee.) In a shift, Johanna’s voice stepped to the front on the last three songs mentioned, and in the coming years, her rhythmic delivery and lyrics were featured even more.
JD emerged as a force on the full-length Feminist Sweepstakes (which came out the next October) with her heartthrob persona stealing the spotlight in the campy/sultry “Well Well Well.” She sings co-lead, in unison with Johanna, on “F.Y.R.,” a sarcastic and despairing litany of political disappointments in the Bush II era. And—in a way that resonated profoundly with Le Tigre’s audiences—the particulars of her personal experience are brought to the fore on the album. Memories of a queer childhood echo in the quiet bridge of “Keep on Living,” and in “On Guard,” a song about street harassment, Kathleen’s livid indictment of the “forever beauty pageant I’m always in” is complemented by JD’s shouting refrain of the bad-faith question perennially thrown at her: Are you a girl or a boy?
For Le Tigre’s 2004 This Island, their first (and only) major-label release, samplers and sequencers were swapped for Pro Tools, and the lo-res, minimalist punk, electronic aesthetics of earlier recordings were incorporated into a bigger sound. But, despite the differences from their previous work, the album continues to develop the band’s major themes: protest (“New Kicks”), political disgust (“Seconds”), underdog vindication (“My Art”), queer culture (“Viz”), friendship (“This Island”), and feminist exhilaration (“On the Verge” and “After Dark”). For Le Tigre, the album represented the culmination of their overarching experiment in some ways. It was a difficult, but natural place to stop. Their last year or so together is chronicled—through verité and performance footage—in the 2010 documentary Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour, directed by Kerthy Fix.
The band’s final show—until their reunion performance for the This Ain’t No Picnic festival at the Rose Bowl in August, seventeen years later—was on September 24, 2005, at the Operation Ceasefire concert at Washington Monument in Washington DC, where they joined a coalition of artists calling for an end to the U.S. war in Iraq.
Recently, Kathleen has been touring with Bikini Kill, running Tees 4 Togo (which sells artist-designed T-shirts to fund the non-profit organization Peace Sisters), and writing a book. JD has a full-time teaching position (as Assistant Arts Professor and Area Head of Performance at The Clive Davis Institute at NYU/Tisch), performs with CRICKETS, and tours with the original live score for the film 32 Sounds, directed by Sam Green. Johanna is an author and art critic who writes regularly for the “Goings on About Town” section of the New Yorker and for 4Columns; she is a contributing editor of Artforum.
A highlight of the year was seeing Le Tigre at Brooklyn Steel in their first tour in 18 years. Their first record came out when I was in high school, so I was fully ready to indulge in my teen-girl feelings (which, when it comes to matters of Le Tigre, are remarkably similar to my adult-woman feelings). At first I wasn’t going to buy any merch, but after seeing a few people in the audience rocking the tank, I knew I needed to get it. I loved it the most because it’s such a cheeky take on the viral Prada and Loewe tank tops that have been all the rage lately—another way to bridge my teen-girl with my adult self.
And take a band like Le Tigre – Kathleen Hanna’s brilliant 90s riot grrl band whose MO was always to “write political pop songs and be the dance party after the protest”. They feel just as, if not more, vital today as they did back then (their debut album in 1999 featured the line “Oh, fuck Giuliani! He’s such a fucking jerk!” – how’s that for prescient?).
“We were originally asked to headline a festival that would take place just months before the 2020 election,” JD Samson of the band tells me. “We hadn’t toured since the Bush era, and it felt especially timely for us to rekindle our anti-right wing chants for our fans and anyone else that wanted to join in.”
“Unfortunately, COVID shifted our timeline and the event ended up taking place in 2022. In the process of working on the show, we reconnected with the work and realised how relevant the music was – and how much fun we had working together – and have felt connected to those intentions since.” Their recent show at the Troxy in London was a joyful celebration – a reminder they’d reached whole new audiences while they were away and that the need for fun, defiant protest feels just as, if not more, pressing than it did when they formed the band.
“The trio tore through classics like “Deceptacon” and “TKO” as though no time had passed, with Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson, and Johanna Fateman each dressed in vibrantly colorful outfits that gleamed under the light show. Hanna and Samson split banter duty, with Hanna giving especially impassioned speeches deriding oppression and urging the audience to take action against it wherever they can.”
On the face of it, rage and joy are not an easy aesthetic fit. Rage is engaged, rope-veined; joy is free and light – frivolous, even. And yet the collected works of musical activist Kathleen Hanna – across three bands: 1990s punk outfit Bikini Kill, her electronic bedroom pop project the Julie Ruin, and Le Tigre, a multimedia collaboration alongside Johanna Fateman (mostly guitar) and JD Samson (mostly synths) – dance along the tightrope between fury and fun.
“The band are full of energy that doesn’t let up, whether playing and dancing to electro bops or guitar-heavy rock offerings. Hanna gives her trademark shrill screech throughout – a subversive, self-consciously feminine expression of punk”
“With Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna had led a band that challenged and changed the gender dynamics of punk rock. Then came Le Tigre. Hanna says that their MO was to “write political pop songs and be the dance party after the protest.” And their debut in 1999 delivered: it’s a record that’s clever and political but not too clever and political to get in the way of having fun: these are shouty, exhilarating songs, charged with a DIY spirit using drum machines, samplers, turntables and also a sense of discovery, celebration and solidarity. “Deceptacon” remains an indie dance-floor filler and “My My Metrocard” has the lines ““Oh, fuck Giuliani! He’s such a fucking jerk!”. What’s not to love?”
Kathleen Hanna’s Feminist Party Band Le Tigre reunite: ‘It’s depressing our lyrics are still relevant 20 years later’
Most bands wring their hands over whether to reunite or not, but for Le Tigre it was easy. The impetus was a festival in Pasadena, Los Angeles, in 2022. “It was three miles from my house,” says frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, laughing. “I was like: ‘I want to do this because I can cruise down the hill and go to the festival and all my friends can come.’” Then they concluded that the rehearsals for the festival – done over video call, and in LA and New York where bandmates Johanna Fateman and JD Samson live – shouldn’t be wasted. They announced a full tour, their first since 2005, which hits the UK in June.
“Last year, Le Tigre performed together for the first time in over a decade at the This Ain’t No Picnic festival in Los Angeles. Today, the dance-punk trio — which is made up of Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson, and Johanna Fateman — has announced their first full-scale tour in 18 years, which will kick off in May and continue on through the summer. It includes stops at multiple Primavera-associated events and at Mosswood Meltdown Festival, which is hosted by John Waters.”
“Le Tigre have announced their first North American tour dates since 2005. The shows take place in the spring and summer. Check out the full list of dates below.”
“Electro-punk outfit will kick off a global trek in May”
“The Mosswood Meltdown returns to Oakland’s Mosswood Park on July 1 & 2. They’ve announced the initial lineup, which is headlined by Le Tigre, and making it even more electroclash are their old friends Gravy Train!!! (featuring Seth “Hunx” Bogart) who are reuniting for their only 2022/2023 show. The initial lineup also includes rare performances by Tina & The Total Babes, The Rondelles, and Quintron & Miss Pussycat, with more to be announced soon”
While songs like “Fake French” and “Well Well Well” glide between rap and post-punk influences, Hanna’s lyrics on “FYR.” feel ever more prescient in a post- Roe v. Wade America. In one of the cheekier references to the film Psycho, Hannah sings: “One step forward, five steps back/ One cool record in the year of rock-rap/ Yeah we got all the power/ getting stabbed in the shower/ And we got equal rights on ladies’ night”
The New York Times
Never one known for her eagerness to submit to interviews, Kathleen Hanna was happy, she admitted on a recent afternoon, to be talking to anybody at all.