Le Tigre was the first band to ever make me resent being straight. I mean, I’d hated sports and cargo shorts for years, but the first time I ever saw Le Tigre was the first time I was ever like, “Shit, why can’t I just like cock? Or, ya know, have a vag?” And for that, I am forever grateful.
It was 2002 in Washington DC. It was a time when it was still badass to be queer (before it was something that you did for the Grammys or bought on a tri-blend T-shirt). I was at The (new) Black Cat (riot grrrl’s most seminal space on the East Coast), which was filled beyond capacity with the region’s hippest dykes, fags, and other sexual delinquents. It was opening night of their Feminist Sweepstakes tour. What proceeded was possibly still the most fun counter spectacle that I’ve ever experienced: a dance party for 800 who no one else wanted to dance with, an art show for those who don’t grasp the meaning of “art,” and pop music for those who hate pop music.
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour, out this Tuesday (June 7th) on DVD from Oscilloscope, captures the beautiful spectacle that is Le Tigre… well, sort of. As usual, the cameras seem to have caught the aftermath of the revolution. Le Tigre began in 1998, spawned from the live backing band of the Kathleen Hanna (riot grrrl godmother and former lead singer of Bikini Kill) project, Julie Ruin. The group also included Miranda July-collaborator Johanna Fateman and visual artist Sadie Benning, for a holy trinity of “underground electro feminist performance artists.” In 2001 JD Samson (currently fronting MEN and the most beautiful poster-grrrl for Butchness on the planet) replaced Benning, but never lessened the holiness of said trinity. Le Tigre spent the better part of a decade using their electro punk to make feminist rhetoric danceable to the most intellectually inclined of the world’s disenfranchised youth.
So I may have not technically been (or am) gay (as much as that irks me), but I certainly felt far more of a kinship with these ladies, their fans, and all of the greats that they introduced me to (James Baldwin, The Slits, David Wojnarowicz, etc.) than anyone at my highschool or on cable television. I felt an affinity toward these people. Not only because they were also aliens, but because we were pissed off every time we opened our eyes and we knew that we were right to be. We knew that it was the world, not us, that’s totally crazy.
In Who Took the Bomp? director Kerthy Fix covers the band from 2004-2005, touring behind This Island, their last LP and first on a major label, which could be considered “Le Tigre Light.” …Still, it does show how a group of angsty extremists (as sad as it is that they would be considered “extreme”) appropriated ’80s pop to imbue mass audiences with second-wave feminism… and that’s pretty fucking cool.
Fix documents the band sightseeing and performing across the globe. It also includes countless poignant political rants about the band’s own coverage in the media in hotel rooms and the backs of cabs (quite a bit like D.A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back, come to think of it).
The most entertaining portions of the film come from Le Tigre’s live show: carefully choreographed punk, along the lines of the cheer squad of Simone de Beauvoir High. In fact, the highlight of the movie comes about 13 minutes in, during the climax of “Keep on Livin’” with JD’s Judith-Butler-award-winning diatribe (if only there was such an award).
(Warning: Spoiler alert and anyone especially sentimental may find themselves misty-eyed by the end of this paragraph.)
However, the most significant moments come from the band interviews, which prove that not only are Le Tigre legitimate revolutionaries, but that they knew exactly what they were doing. In a particularly “ten ton truck”-of-a-comment, Kathleen Hanna addresses her purpose as an artist: “I was trying to be the person that I would have wanted to be there for me.”