Bikini Kill on Pussy Riot

Tobi Vail, drummer from the 90s riot grrrl band, on the current surge in all-girl protest movements and why the Pussy Riot trial is important

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As the world continues to push for a positive conclusion to the Pussy Riot trial, we decided to get in touch with Bikini Kill – the 90s American punk rock band who were penning radical lyrics and putting on fierce performances long before the Russians arrived on the scene. Eschewing big record labels and mainstream music press, Bikini Kill not only collaborated with the likes of Nirvana, Joan Jett and Fugazi, but also spearheaded the DIY riot grrrl movement. One of the few female punk bands who didn’t shy away from being ‘girl identified’, their drummer, Tobi Vail, actually invented the term ‘grrrl’ when her 'Jigsaw' fanzine took off in the late 80s. It was one of the first Northwestern punk zines to deal with the issue of gender inequality. As the band members prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of their first EP – on their own label, what else? – we asked Vail to comment on the case of their successors, Pussy Riot, currently on day 4 of their trial.

I think they [Pussy Riot] will prevail. I consider them to be a great success and inspiration. I am also a fan of their music and look forward to being able to hear more of it. They write fantastic, frenetic punk songs. It's truly invigorating

Dazed Digital: What do you think of the tactics Pussy Riot have used to demonstrate against the Russian government?
Tobi Vail:
Pussy Riot's method of protest hinges on anonymity. They have created a method of protest that is full of possibility and can be used globally, across international borders. Putin can jail individual members of the collective but how can he stop the potential for new members to join or keep the movement from spreading beyond Russia? This is their real super power. I think they will prevail. I consider them to be a great success and inspiration. I am also a fan of their music and look forward to being able to hear more of it. They write fantastic, frenetic punk songs. It's truly invigorating.

DD: Do you think what's happened to Pussy Riot will encourage people to fight against governmental decisions they don't agree with?
Tobi Vail: Pussy Riot have inspired people all over the world to engage in fierce, creative protest. The struggle for gender justice, LGBTQ rights and political transparency has a global dimension. The unjust arrests have created a moral basis for international solidarity. This will continue to grow stronger the longer they are imprisoned. There is no stopping Pussy Riot.

DD: What about the Ukrainian women’s rights group Femen… have you been following them?
Tobi Vail: I have seen their YouTube videos but I don't know much about them. I think that any protest movement worth supporting uses a variety of tactics. There is room for multiplicity and difference in political and cultural movements.

DD: It seems like there's been a surge in Riot grrrl type collectives at the moment, why do you think that is?
Tobi Vail: From my point of view, riot grrrl refers to a specific place and time when the mainstream paid attention to the intersection of DIY/punk culture and feminism for a second or two. Really this started in the 70s and 80s and continues today. Riot Grrrl was never considered a genre of music but now that term is used to describe a handful of bands from the early 90s rather than the political organising that happened within punk scenes or whatever, which can be confusing, but really the point is that feminism and punk have a long and complicated history that continues to the present day.

DD: If you had a message of support for the three women what would it be?
Tobi Vail: They know exactly what they are doing and how important and meaningful their actions have become to the world. They are fighting against patriarchy and authoritarianism. They believe in self-determination and freedom of speech. My message to them is one of total respect and moral solidarity.

DD: And how are you marking your 20th anniversary?
Tobi Vail: Bikini Kill Records is a way for us to document our work on our own terms. Our 25th anniversary will be in 2015 but the 20th anniversary of our first EP is this fall. We are working on a 20 year anniversary edition of that for our first reissue. We also plan to release our demo tape on vinyl, which has been out of print since 1992. You can keep in touch with the project HERE

Read more Dazed Digital pieces on the Pussy Riot trial HERE

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