In 2010, Hanna was filmed for most of the year by filmmaker Sini Anderson. The result was last year’s Rock Doc The Punk Singer, a film chronicling Hanna, the Bikini Kill/Le Tigre frontwoman who played a massive part in bringing the riot grrrl movement to life. Using a combination of interviews and archival footage, Anderson takes us through Hanna’s early tumultuous childhood, foray into spoken word performance art, and onward to her career as the raddest, baddest punk feminist the 90’s had ever seen.
What’s so awing about Hanna was her ability to create something out of nothing. Feeling the need to perform from a very young age, she danced, she did poetry, she screamed into microphones, she led a revolution. Feminism aside (but not to discredit it), she had something to say bubbling under her surface and she found like-minded people to share ideas with in constructive, powerful ways. Not only did she tear up stages wherever she went (she even beckoned female fans to come to the front of the stage to protect them from moshing and the scene itself), but she and her circle created zines as well about whatever issues, feminist or not, were grinding their gears. How many of us just ever get off the couch or off our computers for three goddamn seconds to do something meaningful to us…to the world? It’s fucking inspiring to watch.
Her rise in the underground scene and later, on stages and at politically-charged performances in Washington D.C. naturally garnered much media attention. After multiple media frenzies and misquotations, Hanna and her first band Bikini Kill went on an entire media blackout, refusing to do interviews that would only fuel the already male-dominated hegemony of the press.
Helping recount Hanna’s life story is the punk singer herself, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Joan Jett, Adam Horovitz (her husband, of Beastie Boys fame), and plenty more including many of her Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin bandmates. Hanna herself even recounts her friendship with one Kurt Cobain, which proved to be both motivational and rousing for the both of them (Did you know Hanna coined the phrase “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? The more you know!)
Hanna’s later struggles, including the decline of Le Tigre and more, are all outlined in Anderson’s eye-opening documentary about one of the most important activists, singers and feminists of the 90’s, who deplorably isn’t even a household name. If you are a music fan, or a lover of the era – punk, grunge, rock, or otherwise – you must see The Punk Singer. If you are a female fan, it’s even more imperative that you see it. Though Hanna may have never reached Nirvana-level fame, her stamp on the scene is raw, evocative, and indisputable.
The Punk Singer is currently available for streaming on Netflix.
After quite some time away from the stage, Hanna formed a new band called The Julie Ruin. Their first album dropped last year and this is my favorite track: