Unfortunately, Bikini Kill’s story ended in total burnout. Fiercely committed to punk’s do-it-yourself ethos, the band became a cipher with no support system. No manager. No booking agent. Not even a roadie.
“We didn’t have the best interpersonal communication skills,” Hanna says. “When you galvanize against what feels like a hostile exterior, you end up not talking to each other.”
Everything finally crumbled in 1997 when Hanna and Wilcox fled Olympia in a U-Haul cargo van, Hanna’s cat riding in a crate between the two front seats. Wilcox hopped out in D.C., where she was dating Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Hanna drove south to Durham, N.C., where she would move in with friends and take job doing data entry.
She left one of the most influential rock bands in America with $400.
After the breakup
If life in Bikini Kill was interminably tough, life after Bikini Kill was briefly devastating.
“I cried for like a year,” Hanna says of the break-up. “I just felt like I lost my family and my band at the same time and I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
Wilcox, however, was eager for anonymity. She chopped off her peroxide-blonde locks, started walking dogs in D.C. and eventually took a day job where only a few colleagues had ever heard of Bikini Kill — in the newsroom of the Washington Post, where she worked until 2006.
(I first met Wilcox when I was hired by the Post in 2001. More disclosure: Svenonius is a friend and MacKaye is a mentor who released my old band’s recordings on his label.)
Hanna, meantime, was quickly drawn back into the warmth of the spotlight. In 1998, she formed the acclaimed electro-pop trio Le Tigre in New York where she now lives with her husband, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
Wilcox now lives in New York, too, and has joined Hanna’s new band, the Julie Ruin, an extension of Hanna’s old solo project of the same name. They’ve recorded an album they hope to drop next year. Vail and Karren live in Olympia, and all four are still in touch, having recently launched an eponymous label to get the Bikini Kill discography back in circulation.
“A lot of our band was just survival,” Wilcox says. “It was exhausting. So when we broke up, it took us years to re-fortify. . . . Now, we can finally say, ‘Yeah, what we did was important and we’re really proud of it.’ And we can keep it in print.”
As for Bikini Kill’s Washington, D.C., it’s hardly recognizable.
When the band arrived in the nation’s capital, there were two women in the Senate. In January, there will be 20. Last year, Washington saw its lowest murder rate since 1963. MacKaye, Svenonius and Toomey are still in town, still deep in music, but Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses and Tsunami are all long gone. The old d.c. space is even longer gone.
Today, it’s a Starbucks.
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