Before I went to the Julie Ruin concert at Thalia Hall last night, I was talking to a friend who told me about a group of high school girls whose class she'd addressed recently—and they had no idea who Kathleen Hanna or Bikini Kill were. It seemed impossible! How could these young people not know our hero, our leader, the woman who made it OK to talk about sexual assault and who spread the mantra "all girls to the front" to help protect us? When I was their age, if I hadn't had the words of the Riot Grrrl Manifesto running through my brain, I don't know if I'd be half the person I am today.
When the Julie Ruin played Pitchfork last year, I got to meet Hanna—well sort of. I was so floored by the power of her presence that I was unable to speak and all but frozen in place; thankfully a more lucid friend dragged me into a photo with my hero. I spent the next 30 minutes crying because I was so overwhelmed and so mad at myself for not being able to even squeak out the words "You changed my life." For me Hanna is the person who made it OK for girls to be powerful and loud and important. When she disappeared in 2005 to deal with her Lyme disease, I think everyone who felt like I do noticed a void in the universe—and maybe that void is why teenage girls today can have missed Hanna completely. So thank goodness that she's back and better than ever, bringing the girls to the front once again.
Courtesy Brianna Wellen
That's me in the sunglasses, with two friends and Kathleen Hanna at Pitchfork last year. Moments later I turned into a emotional puddle.
The Julie Ruin's brand-new second album, Hit Reset (Hardly Art), does just that. Though the music is more dance-punk than Bikini Kill, the record is full of spoken-word monologues about surviving abuse and inspirational personal revelations that make it feel like Hanna's truest return to the spirit of that beloved band. She was in full force at last night's Thalia Hall show, jumping around the stage with an energy I'd seen before only in videos from her beginnings in the early 90s. The previous two times she came to town with the Julie Ruin, she'd seemed to be smiling her way through an invisible pain, exhausted by her medical maladies. This time around there was no such fog, just pure joy.
The band—Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Carmine Covelli, and Sara Landeau—played nearly everything off the new record and a few songs from their 2013 album, Run Fast (Dischord). One of the greatest delights of the night was their cover of Courtney Barnett's "Pedestrian at Best." (Maybe they picked it up last summer when Barnett played Pitchfork.) It felt right at home in the Julie Ruin's set, testifying to Hanna's influence on modern female musicians.
Young women of Chicago: The Julie Ruin will be back in September for Riot Fest. I implore you to familiarize yourself with all of Hanna's bands by then, so you're properly able to enjoy the wise and empowered version of her that we're blessed with in our lives today.