'Masked People to the Front': Kathleen Hanna Talks Texas Politics Ahead of Dallas Bikini Kill Show

Bikini Kill is headin' to Dallas,  y'all.
Bikini Kill is headin' to Dallas, y'all. Debi Del Grande
Texas isn’t always kind to those who aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender men. In recent months, our politicians have virtually banned abortion and ramped up attacks on trans kids, drawing widespread condemnation and calls to boycott the state.

It’s the exact time that we need Bikini Kill the most. Luckily, the feminist music icons are heading to Dallas for a May 9 show at The Factory.

Speaking with the Observer days before embarking on an extensive tour, which spans dozens of cities and several countries over five months, musician Kathleen Hanna got candid about the band’s upcoming Texas dates. Bad state politics haven’t deterred her from flexing her frontwoman skills.

“I think we’re going to be thinking, ‘Thank God we’re here,’” she says. “Go where you’re needed.”

Bikini Kill formed in 1990 in Olympia, Washington. Through a heavy focus on DIY aesthetic, punk rock and unapologetic feminism, they spearheaded an all-out movement: riot grrrl. The band split up by the late '90s but eventually started playing again after a one-off gig in 2017.
In a way, Hanna’s prescient. She told Pitchfork in 2019 that the hearings for controversial Supreme Court nominee-turned-justice Brett Kavanaugh had been “horrifying,” adding: “I was thinking the whole time, ‘This is the end of legalized abortion.’”

As we now know, she wasn’t too far off. Led by Texas, states have chipped away at reproductive rights. And again led by Texas, states have restricted what lessons can be taught in public schools, especially when they touch on race, gender and sexuality.

Still, Hanna isn’t keen on punishing fans because of where they live, and she knows the Lone Star State isn’t a monolith.

“Texas isn’t all women-hating, trans-hating racist bigots,” Hanna says. “It’s also a lot of really interesting, awesome fucking progressive people.”

Much of what’s going on in the country is approaching a sort of “doomsday reality,” but Hanna’s not a total cynic. She’s excited about the future of activism. Awareness is spreading about LGBTQIA+ identities. When she was a kid, she says, there was a void of knowledge.

“Texas isn’t all women-hating, trans-hating racist bigots." – Kathleen Hanna

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Bikini Kill is at the top of many musicians' list of influences, but Hanna says she’s found inspiration in up-and-coming bands. She’s looking forward to doing a gig with Problem Patterns, which describes itself as an Irish “DIY/queerpunk” outfit, and also admires The Linda Lindas, a punk quartet comprising four adolescent girls.

The Linda Lindas went viral last year when they delivered a live rendition of their hard-hitting single “Racist, Sexist Boy” at the Los Angeles Public Library. Notably, the young drummer was wearing a Bikini Kill shirt.

These days, it’s trendy for people of other generations to make fun of one another, Hanna says. ("OK, boomer!" is now a common refrain.) On stage, she likes to look out and see rooms filled with music fans ranging in age from 14 to 65 or older.

“I’m happy we’re all in the same room together and being human,” she says, “and being like, ‘Look, we have things in common. We have so much to learn from each other.’”

At the time of our call, Hanna had been getting ready for tour, which aside from doing yoga, rehearsing and gargling with saltwater included compiling guest lists. And, of course, making decisions on COVID protocols.

Back in 2020, before the pandemic hit, Bikini Kill was slated for a Northwest tour. Hanna recalls she was upset after they had to cancel their shows, particularly two in Olympia that would have benefited homeless people. (They've since been rescheduled for this September.)

She’s glad to be on a stage again, connecting with a live audience that's gone through a lot of the same things over a stressful couple of years. Still, Hanna knows that the pandemic is active. She has concerns about staying healthy and making it to the next show.

Texas ranks somewhat low in terms of percentage of population that’s vaccinated against COVID-19, coming in at No. 30. Hanna’s also thinking ahead of her Texas gigs: Are people in the front row going to be masked?

Back in the ‘90s, Hanna popularized the phrase “girls to the front,” a call for men to step aside so that female fans could come forward. In Texas, she says, she might introduce a slight amendment to that tagline: “Masked people to the front!”

Doors for the May 9 Bikini Kill show open at 6:30 p.m. at The Factory, 2713 Canton St. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets, $39.99 - $65, are on sale now.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter