Le Tigre Raise the Stakes

Le Tigre Raise the Stakes
"It's about time a feminist group got a little love from the mainstream," says Kathleen Hanna, defending Le Tigre's move to a major label. "It made sense on a lot of levels, and all of our friends and close fans have been incredibly supportive."

From indie riot grrrl radical with '90s punks Bikini Kill to major electro-punk agitator with Le Tigre (est. 1999), Hanna has changed her tune in some respects, and given the opportunity to expand her band's audience, she and her cohorts Johanna Fateman and J.D. Samson eagerly hopped aboard Strummer/Universal, home to the Rapture and the Mars Volta. Le Tigre's first two LPs, Le Tigre and Feminist Sweepstakes, and their EPs, From the Desk of Mr. Lady and Remix, were released by Mr. Lady, a modest indie label founded in 1996 by Tammy Rae Carland and the Butchies' Kaia Wilson. Based in Durham, North Carolina, the label supported a slew of female, feminist and/or queer acts such as Tami Hart and Electrelane before folding last June.

With Mr. Lady down for the count, Le Tigre had to take time out from songwriting and activism to find the right manager and the right label. The ladies eventually scored a reasonable contract with Universal, who have just released Le Tigre's third LP, This Island, as well as a distribution deal with Touch & Go for the band's back catalogue, reissued in August (with ample bonuses) by their own imprint, Le Tigre Records.

"Signing to a major didn't make us rich by any means," says Hanna, adding that being full-time musicians in New York City essentially necessitated their deal with Telus, who are using Le Tigre's dance floor doozy "Deceptacon" in a current ad campaign. "Having bills to pay is a fact of our lives and sometimes we have to do weird shit to keep the band financially afloat."

Also, on an admittedly selfish level, Hanna hopes her new status will offer an escape from the indie tour circuit and, less selfishly, facilitate support for worthy causes and expose her radical politics to a new generation.
"I've played the same clubs for 15 or 16 years now and I feel like I'm trapped in a loop," she says. "We'd also like to hold a press conference and have someone come, and we'd like to play a benefit concert that could really help a huge non-profit."

Feminist and queer politics have fuelled Le Tigre's fire since the band's debut album, in which they celebrated progressive agitators and activists ("Hot Topic") and criticised their city's controversial mayor, Rudolph Giuliani ("My My Metrocard"). Hanna's personal politics haven't changed much over the years, but her tone and target audience have evolved with her music.

"In Bikini Kill, I wrote a lot of songs directed at some imaginary asshole guy that I had a bunch of shit to say to, and now most of our songs are directed to women and queers. It's more about being a part of an amazing community that already exists than trying to change anyone's mind."

Conversely, as the Iraq war became an imminent threat in early 2003, the trio aimed their energy at a very real "asshole guy" by joining Bands Against Bush — a concert-mounting, zine-making initiative launched by Hanna's ex-Bikini Kill band-mate Tobi Vail — and hitting the streets to protest the war. New York's "The World Says No to War" march, one of many held across the globe on February 15, 2003, was captured for one of Le Tigre's new songs, "New Kicks."

"Anti-war songs are always gonna be in vogue," states Hanna. "It's not our responsibility to document stuff like this, we just like the cinematic quality that collage songs bring to our records — we had a similar song called ‘Dykemarch 2000' on Feminist Sweepstakes — and it fits in perfectly with our idea that music can celebrate activism in an interesting way."

As this magazine reaches stands across Canada, the November 2 U.S. presidential election will be a wrap (or will it?), but whether or not W. wins, "Seconds" stands as Le Tigre's furious snapshot of the Bush administration. What Hanna calls the USA's "ultra-right political climate" influenced several songs on the record, but rather than compartmentalise lyrical themes, the band weaves the personal and the political on songs like "Viz," Samson's take on butch lesbian visibility, and the title track, "This Island," Fateman's view of life in New York during wartime.

"We have the privilege of not having fighter planes flying over our houses and bombing us every day, but war is still a part of our lives," says Hanna. "Feeling alienated by your government colours everything that you do, and knowing that people are being murdered in your name is an intensely personal experience."