The Private Investigations of
Interview by pHinn / pHinnWeb
December 1, 2001 - Le Tigre are Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill), Johanna Fateman and JD Samson from New York City. They have just released their new album, Feminist Sweepstakes, for Chicks on Speed Records. Directing their music for the "feminists and queers", as they put it, Le Tigre's radical post-electro/post-Riot Grrrl/post-punk/post-art mutations provoke and raise questions about political, cultural and gender issues -- among all -- being at same time also fun and energetic as hell. Les Tigresses shared some of their ideas with pHinnWeb through the Net.
- So what's happening now in the lives of Le Tigre?
Kathleen: We're recouping, regrouping, doing our remix record, planning our stage show and hanging out with friends and family as much as possible.
- Do you have any role models or other people who have influenced you?
Johanna: I think I'm more influenced by the people we meet and work with than any distant icons. Right now we are putting together a remix record of dance versions of some of our songs and so we've been connecting with female producers. Reid Speed (NYC 2-step DJ) and Analog Tara (house producer) are working on tracks for us, so I've been really inspired by talking with them about their home studio set-ups, etc.
- And any current acts which would particularly impress you, or feel are on the same wavelength with you?
Kathleen: Kiki and Herb. They are a cabaret team here in New York. Their upcoming Christmas show is called There's A Stranger In the Manger. Need I say more?
- How about your previous live performances and tours? Best and worst experiences? Any interesting gig stories or anecdotes?
Kathleen: The weirdest show I ever played was with my former band Bikini Kill at CBGB's during which I barfed in my own mouth and had to eat it during a song, and then had my tampon fall out into my underwear and was forced to toss it off stage discreetly (lest the kids think it was feminist performance art). Also it felt like a piece of poop hitting me as I danced... Maybe that's too much information?
- How did you get to know Chicks on Speed, and how has it been to deal with the Chix?
We caught their act somewhere in Germany and thought they were really cool, especially when they pulled out their sweater shaver!
- Do you plan making any music together too?
Only if the sweater shaver can be involved.
- What exactly are "feminist sweepstakes"?
JD: The idea came to us when pondering the idea of what a feminist Easter basket may look like. We began planning a basket of goodies that would be a prize that could be won by an unsuspecting record buyer. Soon enough, after bouncing the word sweepstakes around, we looked up 'sweepstakes' in the dictionary and there was instant gratification. A sweepstakes is a contest in which the members of the contest put together their own (be it money or objects, etc.) in order to come out with a large winning of some sort for the prize winner. For us, the feminist sweepstakes is the life we live as feminists (for one) every feminist gives her/his own to the rest of the community, and each person then is able to have the collective power of feminism itself. And number two, each song then becomes a prize for each willing/winning listener.
- How have the 11th September terrorist strikes affected your lives and work in New York? And what do you see are its general reverbations on cultural life and political activism in America?
Johanna: Of course there is constant anxiety that the "unthinkable" will occur again, and there is no way to prepare for every possible scenario. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, and then the anthrax panic, absolutely everyone has been effected.
For example, the militarization of daily life through the presence of the National Guard in the city is very strange and unsettling. The sense of security that Americans have always taken for granted is gone, and we feel that our civil liberties are in jeopardy as well. Also we see the repressive, "patriotic" support of this war as a huge blow to the efforts of the anti-globalization movement in our country, and there is a general turn toward conservatism in the name of national "unity."
- It must be a nightmare for you when now in the aftermath Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush have virtually become American national heroes...?
Johanna: Yes, and now that Mike Bloomberg (the Conservative candidate endorsed by Giuliani) has won the mayoral race in New York City, we have to assume that New Yorkers are suffering from a kind of post-traumatic political amnesia... Giuliani governed New York City with a fascistic support of the police department even in the face of indisputable acts of racist brutality and misconduct. His campaign against "quality of life" crimes has consistently targeted poor and non-white people. He has been instrumental in the closing of gay bars and all-ages dance clubs.
- What is your take on the war in Afghanistan? On the one side, the US acting again as the world police and having their revenge on the innocent civilians of poor areas; and on the other side the Taliban with their extreme religious fundamentalism and the brutality against women...? What to make of all this?
Johanna: It's a difficult time to find an encouraging way to answer this question. At the moment we are all struggling with the devastation of New York City (our home) following September 11, and now, most urgently, we are protesting the U.S. war in Afghanistan. You're right, there is certainly no "side" to take in a war between two right-wing, repressive regimes (the U.S. vs. the Taliban/Al Qaeda). And now the international public is discovering another tragic truth: that a victory for the Northern Alliance will most put corrupt and dictatorial warlords in power (who also have terrible histories of human rights violations). Within the U.S. this military campaign is popularly supported, and a deeper analysis of the issues of the Middle East has been rejected almost entirely by the public. So this is our focus right now -- to educate ourselves and our community about the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Islamic world, the oil interests of multi-national corporations, etc.
- You wrote a song called "Get Off The Internet". Don't you think, though, that the Net has also helped small communities and minorities to get together (especially from the viewpoint of small and distant countries like Finland). And how about the way of all sorts of civil activism in the Net?
Kathleen: Of course the Internet can be cool. It's a tool and all tools have the potential to be used in many different ways. What we were trying to say in that song, using "the Internet" as a metaphor, was that there is a big difference from critiquing everything endlessly into oblivion and actually getting out into the air and doing something. We're not anachronists, we use the Net every day and hook up with people we may never get to meet. It's more about using effective life-sustaining tools in healing ways instead of for self and group-destruction.
- And how do you think music and politics fit together? Isn't there always a danger that music becomes mere vehicle for the message, and stripped of the content, the music itself will be just an empty vessel, a prop without agit?
Kathleen: I look at it this way: Some guys jack off to pictures they secretly take of women shopping in grocery stores. I think that is a total invasion in every way and that it totally sucks, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna stop buying food and plant my own garden instead.
- What's the meaning of your visual arts background to your music; it seems, for example, all these British bands in rock and punk in the 60s and 70s had some sort of art school backgrounds -- can you relate to those?
Johanna: All the cool kids in art school don't make visual art, or they make some kind of visual art/performance hybrid that is difficult to institutionally accomodate. It's just a fact. Personally, I'm a feminist formalist painter, but I've been on strike since the 90s.
Kathleen: I love The Jam.
- What do you think of the traditional contradiction between (white, heterosexual, male-dominated) rock and the (electronic) dance music styles such as disco, which started as the music of minorities: blacks, Latinos, gays...?
Johanna: Well, rock music has its origins in African-American blues and has traditionally made superstars of white usurpers of black innovation (i.e. Elvis, the Beatles), so in this sense it seems parallel to some trajectories of electronic music history. When we turn the pages of URB magazine (which is the biggest electronic music magazine in the U.S.) we see picture after picture of white guys in windbreakers, who make "the music of minorities," as you say. I think you are right, though, that there is more diversity among electronic music producers and dance genres, and the influence of gay culture is indisputably crucial to club life.
Kathleen: This may be unrelated, but I sing this line in 'Deceptacon' that says "I can see yr disco disco dick is sucking my heart out of my mind," and I've always worried, that people thought I was being like one of those DISCO SUCKS people from the 70s! You know how in the 70s, when disco was hot, there was this whole DISCO SUCKS movement that formed with this undercurrent of white supremacy and the power running through it? Anyways, in that song I was actually quoting this industry guy, who once told me that I better get signed to a major label quick before Riot Grrrl was dead in the media, and all the bigwigs, who might sign me would just be off on something else like, "sucking themselves some disco dick," is, I believe the way the guy said it. Just saying.
- What do you think of this current "electro-punk" fad (where people put together as diverse acts as you, CoS, Peaches, Adult., Fischerspooner, and so on)?
Johanna: It seems like a journalistic/marketing construct more than anything else. But we like many of these bands.
- And there seems to be a recent wave of female artists (those mentioned above; also Miss Kittin, Lolita Storm and Nic Endo) doing a bit similar thing to you, combining (sometimes lo-fi) electro/techno sounds with vocals that are either aggressive, subversive, ironic, raunchy, thought-provoking or so on. In a way that could be called something a bit similar to the female punk and new wave acts of 1970s/80s, except they have now "machines" instead of guitars. What do you think is happening here?
Johanna: Cyborg identity seems to be a very compelling kind of self-determination for many women right now. I think this is a little different from gender transgressive new wave/punk of the 70s and 80s, although certainly there are aesthetic references to that era. For some reason, at the moment, women artists seem to struggling with the dilemma of performance within electronic music much more successfully than men. Perhaps we must toy with our own objectification and/or insert literal content (vocals) into our music, because we cannot afford to embrace the "faceless" potential of techno production after centuries of our cultural exclusion.
- Your current Top Ten?
JD: I'm not sure that we really have a collective Top Ten. We all really liked Missy Elliot's new CD. Hmmm... we are super-psyched on Peaches, Chicks on Speed, Electrelane, Stereo Total, Erase Errata...
- And how about Le Tigre's future plans?
JD: More than anything we want to perfect our live performance to be that which is completely out of control. We are interested in combining dance, performance art, video and slides into our live shows to create as many layers as we can for the audience to enjoy/ponder. But more importantly, we are thinking about our own private investigation team and television movie to go along with our real-life crime fighting. This year we will be touring for six weeks in Europe and for 4 in America.
- Your favourite question they never ask in interviews?
JD: I do believe that we wish that an interviewer would ask us in detail to explain our private investigation dreams. We sure would have a lot to say...
Copyright © (for the text) pHinnWeb 2001.