Electronic pop group
Le Tigre is a feminist electronic band that has always mixed thought-provoking politics with their unique brand of pop. The trio was founded by Kathleen Hanna, best known for her work in the seminal riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, a description that has followed her seemingly everywhere. Le Tigre has made a name for itself, not only as a group with something to say, but also for the panache with which they say it. The group's live shows have displayed a style and flair unique to the band, including video and slick stage choreography that complement their music. "Their fun, fabulous mix of feminism, punk, soul and electro-pop combines video images, political rants, shambly sound collages, customised fashion and girl-power energy," wrote Gail O'Hara in the London Times.
Credit for the success of successive generations of female independent rock bands can be given in large part to Hanna, according to Hillary Frey, reporter for The Nation. "It's hard to imagine bands like Sleater-Kinney, the Butchies, the Donnas and countless others—including Le Tigre—existing without the earlier work of Bikini Kill."
While still in college, Hanna was originally encouraged by feminist writer-activist Kathy Acker to form a band. Acker told her that "no one goes to spoken word shows! You should get in a band." Hanna formed a band called Amy Carter, and then started Bikini Kill in 1991.
After the demise of Bikini Kill in 1998, Hanna began working on her own music, and initially conceived of Le Tigre as the live backing band for her solo work. The band's first members included Fateman, who introduced herself to Hanna at a Bikini Kill show by giving her one of the 'zines she was producing, and Sadie Benning, a filmmaker whom Hanna had met while still in Bikini Kill. At the time, Hanna was living in Washingon, while Fateman and Benning were based in New York City. Hanna decided to make the move to the East Coast, and after her move, the band gained momentum. "The only goal we really had was to do what felt right and, you know, have fun with learning and experimenting," Fateman explained in an interview with the Orange County Register.
"The punk-electronic three-piece Le Tigre never fail to baffle with the brazen ease with which they merge a feminist-left politics with consummate chic and childlike glee," wrote Emma Field in the London Independent. And Frey wrote, "If ever there was a band for young feminists, Le Tigre is it."
Benning left the group after completing Le Tigre's self-released debut recording. Samson, who was helping the band as a projectionist during its live performances, was recruited to replace Benning in the fall of 2000. All three women were active in independent media apart from Le Tigre, and continued to have projects in addition to the band.
For 2002's Feminist Sweepstakes, the band worked on their songwriting and continued to refine their live performances. "Le Tigre songs meld dance, garage, and digital genres," wrote Rachel Greene in Artforum International. Greene observed that the band's live show "exalts dancing and values immediacy." The Boston Herald even went so far as to call Le Tigre "the greatest living punk-rock band," and enthused that Hanna is "possibly the only great punk bandleader of her generation."
Michael Galluci, writing in All Music Guide, was less enthused about Feminist Sweepstakes. "Kathleen Hanna is no less radical, but her politically charged agenda sounds a bit callous and simple…. The political outline is just a side effect. And Hanna straddles the line between cheeky and obnoxious throughout. It's certainly her lack of humor that makes this an arduous listen; it's her punk sensibilities that keep it at least interesting. She's fierce and committed in a way that hundreds of her rock-rap foes aren't."
The band continues to be noted for its pro-feminist, pro-queer political stance, both individually and collectively. In an interview with Pop Matters, Hanna said it shouldn't be difficult for people to believe that artists are interested in political discourse. "Well, we're citizens…. That's what we're here for. We're here to say what we think."
Le Tigre faced a few obstacles in the years following the release of Feminist Sweepstakes, and saw many of their plans fall through. Notable among them, Mr. Lady closed in June of 2004, leaving them label-less. The Lollapalooza tour was cancelled, leaving a hole in their touring schedule. Le Tigre began working on a new album, This Island, and ultimately signed with Universal to complete the project that same year.
For the Record …
Members include Sadie Benning (joined group, 1998, left group, 1999), guitar, vocals, songwriter; Johanna Fateman (original member), guitar, vocals, songwriter, keyboards; Kathleen Hanna (founding member), guitar, vocals, songwriter; JD Samson (joined group, 1999), vocals, guitar, songwriter.
Group formed, 1998; self-released a self-titled debut album, 1999; signed to independent label, Mr. Lady Records, re-released debut, 1999; Sadie Benning left group, 1999; JD Samson, projectionist/roadie joined band, 2000; the EP From the Desk of Mr. Lady released, 2001; Feminist Sweepstakes released, 2002; Mr. Lady ceased operations, June 2004; signed to Universal and released This Island, 2004; formed Le Tigre Records, solely for re-releasing back catalog, 2004.
Addresses: Management—Esther Creative Group, 59 W. 19th St., Ste. 4B, NY, NY 10011. Website—Le Tigre Official Website: http://www.letigreworld.com.
The band was criticized for signing to a major label, and for taking on a manager, which seemed to fly in the face of their do-it-yourself ethos. But Le Tigre was now too busy to attend to the details of both creating music and running a band. Hanna said in a 2004 interview in Venus magazine that the members "realized that we were working way too hard and getting not very much out of it. We were barely having enough money to pay rent and for all of the upkeep that it takes to basically run a small business." The group's decision to sign with Universal was not a rash one. The band was courted by several labels, and they looked carefully before signing. They also began their own label, Le Tigre Records, solely for the purpose of re-releasing their back catalog on an independent label.
Although the band was actively involved in the production of This Island, they used a co-producer, Nick Sansano, best known for his work with Sonic Youth and Public Enemy. Ric Ocasek (ex-The Cars) produced the track "Tell You Now" on the project, making him the first outsider enlisted to work with Le Tigre. Hanna explained, "Usually we do everything ourselves, especially because we're women, and I have a healthy dose of paranoia about men taking over things." But, she added, "He was actually the best choice because he was really cool and smart and down to earth. And he just had a lot of ideas about pop structure. We just don't think that way, like, how do you keep people engaged in a song? So he basically just taught us a lot about structure."
The first single from This Island was "New Kicks," a very political song that incorporated crowd chants and speeches from a 2004 peace march in New York into a dance song. Hanna said she is frequently frustrated that Le Tigre seems to be singled out for its beliefs, as if it were the only band engaged in politics. "Sometimes when we're out on the road, and we get asked so many political questions, I'm like, 'Why don't you ask the Foo Fighters these questions?,'" she told Rockpile.
Critics found the album refreshing, in no small part for its retro flair. "The sound is busier, with sophisticated and seamless beats and synths, while Hanna surrenders the mic in equal measure to her colleagues, wrote Field in her review of This Island. She added that the group also continues to "present a savvy challenge to a boy-rock-dominated mainstream."
Critic Margaret Coble, writing in The Advocate, said the band is "on a mission to subvert the indie versus major label dichotomy: They've cleverly attempted to remain faithful to their underground following—offering more of their typically outspoken, politically and emotionally charged DIY danceable punk—and at the same time offer a slicker, more dance floor-accessible (even radio-friendly) sound for mainstream ears, all in one 13-track album."
Le Tigre, self-released, 1999; reissued, Mr. Lady Records, 1999.
From the Desk of Mr. Lady (EP), Mr. Lady Records, 2001.
Feminist Sweepstakes, Mr. Lady Records, 2002.
This Island, Strummer/Universal, 2004.
The Advocate, October 26, 2004.
Artforum International, February 2003.
Boston Herald, September 1, 2002.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 23, 2002.
Independent (London, England), March 18, 2005.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 15, 2004.
Ms. Magazine, August-September 2000.
Nation, January 13, 2003.
Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), March 8, 2002.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), November 14, 2003.
Spin, October 2004.
Rockpile, November 2004.
Rolling Stone, November 2004.
Times (London, England), August 1, 2003.
Venus, Fall 2004.
"Don't You Stop: An Interview with Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/interviews/le-tigre-041006.shtml (April 13, 2005).
"Feminist Sweepstakes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 19, 2005).
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