Le Tigre leaves rock herstorians (and the emo boys who love them) wondering--just where do I stand in relation to LeTigre's axis of upheaval? Indeed, few bands lend themselves to high-brow theorizing quite so easily as this electro-tasered trio with the political beat you can rant to.
Le Tigre queenpin Kathleen Hanna foremothered the '90s "riot grrrl" movement, thanks to her Olympia-bred band Bikini Kill and fetching habit of scrawling feminist slogans on her midriff. LeTigre steers riot grrrl's brash music and feminist mayhem into the 21st century via crazy-quilt electronic beats, managing to be fun, fun, fun while dropping science, too. Yes, this is the kind of band serious-minded youngsters write college theses about.
With that in mind, we wish to support budding scholars by offering three topics for term papers on LeTigre. We even did some of the research for you, kids.
TOPIC: "Subcultural Modalities and the Sonic Civic Womb: The Radical Rock of Le Tigre as a Product of Portland, Oregon's Feminist Music Incubator."
BACKGROUND: Kathleen Hanna is a fine Portland export, born at Emanuel, educated at Lincoln and Grant High in the 1980s. However, her talent wasn't recognized during this formative period.
"I was in this play called The Mouse that Roared at Lincoln, and I had some really tiny part," Hanna says.1 "I didn't even have a line." Later, at the now-defunct Portland Civic Theater School, her resistance to authority reared its head. "My voice coach caught me smoking cigarettes on the street too many times, and I was booted from voice lessons. Smoking clove cigarettes, of all things."2
Oaks Park's roller rink had a strong influence on the young Hanna, reflected by the first track on Le Tigre's Feminist Sweepstakes, "LT Tour Theme." Its chorus--"For the ladies and the fags, yeah/ We're the band with the roller-skating jams"--speaks to Hanna's yearning for the rink near the foot of the Sellwood Bridge. "I miss roller-skating at Oaks Park on Sundays while they play the live pipe organ," she says.3
Hanna and bandmate Johanna Fateman met in Portland, where they lived together and formed a band. Fateman was a student at Reed College (she bailed in the middle of her second year) when she hooked up with Hanna.4
TOPIC: "Le Tigre vs. The Village People: The Liberation of Sexual Minorities within Western Culture's Patriarchial/Hierarchical Phallocratic Disco Inferno"
BACKGROUND: It can be argued that Le Tigre builds its political messages on the girders of '70s dance music. For example, the Village People seeped into middle America; now straight Republicans at wedding receptions across the land sing with glee about cruising for gay sex at the Y.5 To a certain degree, Le Tigre embodies this approach, but in an almost reverse form.
Many listeners come to Le T for the politics first and are then seduced by addictive hand claps and Nu Wave loops. Hanna says this response is inspiring. Could people dance to "My Metrocard" at bar mitzvahs? "That would be awesome," Hanna says. "I love that some people come more for the content, some people come more for the technique, some people come for the mishmash of it all. Sometimes all we ever get asked about is politics. So to have people come up to us and say 'I just love what it sounds like' is a refreshing thing."6
TOPIC: "The Riot Grrrl Remix Tease: On the Phenomenon of Instant Nostalgia Among Auto-Identified Left-Cultural Caste Groups"
BACKGROUND: It is not uncommon for musicians to mess with the contextual contrivance known as the "band bio." Le Tigre's most recent bio includes tantalizing hints that the group might be working on remixes of decade-old riot grrrl classics. A marketing ruse, or will a new version of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" soon keep clubs crunk?
Fateman admits, "Well, that was kind of a rhetorical device for our bio, but we actually are putting out a remix record of our own music."7 Hanna adds that there is a chance that this project will move from rhetorical to real, should Le T be contacted by sources who want to be remixed.
"I totally want to remake the songs and give them completely brand-new beats--just have the a cappella vocals and maintain some of the melody, but have these totally new awesome songs," Hanna says.8
Notes1 Interview with Caryn B. Brooks, Willamette Week, Jan. 16, 2002. Note: Culled from the break-the-ice part of conversation.
2 Ibid. Note: Also included discussion of singers whose raspy, clove cigarette-inflected voices worked. See Nina Simone.
4 For the record, Fateman says leaving Reed was the best thing for her. "I ended up going to art school in New York, which is what I should have been doing."
5 Interview with Caryn B. Brooks, Willamette Week, Jan. 16, 2002. Note: This stems from a long question from Brooks that, in retrospect, comes off as self-serving and pompous, which it was.
7 Ibid. Note: Brooks put in a request for Team Dresch's "Free Wheel" to be remixed. This suggestion was met with a positive response.
Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 225-5555 ext. 8811. 9 pm Wednesday, March 13. $12 advance, $14 door.