Bikini Kill: In Accordance to Natural Law
uestion: what's better than working a lousy, minimum-wage job at the coolest record store in town? Answer: having a roommate who suffers through it and has no qualms about stealing from his employer, allowing all to reap the benefits of his drudgery. It was before the days of file-sharing, so any band we wanted to hear we'd have to wait for K— to bring home one day in his pile of advance CDs, vintage vinyl, and Xerox-wrapped 7"'s.
One day, one of the latter was Bikini Kill's "The Anti-Pleasure Dissertation". Now, we'd all heard of Bikini Kill, as had anyone who read a Sonic Youth interview around that time, and all had our own preconceived notions of what this Riot Grrrl stuff would sound like. I imagined tinny, half-assed punk rock, poorly played and recorded, sounding like the Sex Pistols with crappier amps and functioning mostly as a vehicle for humorless sloganeering.
Man, was I ever wrong. The first song came roaring out of the speakers and captivated us. The guitars were an impenetrable wall, dripping with sludge so thick it rendered the chords barely recognizable. The bass was deep enough to recall early PiL. The drums had the sort of density that made it seem like the tape was oversaturated on every snare shot. In short, all the best aspects of a good dirty lo-fi sound without any of the hissy, semi-audible shortcomings.
The song was a thundering anthem, descended straight from "Baba O'Reilly." Three chords, each one bashed once and allowed to simply ring out. Throw in a killer three-note riff at the end and you had a classic rock n' roll anthem in just under a minute, finished almost before you knew what was happening.
The lyrics managed to touch on most of Bikini Kill's standard themes: adolescent feminism ("All men are evil / Except my boyfriend"), indie pride ("I read it in a fanzine / It wasn't even a big dumb glossy magazine"), even a bit of self-aware introspection ("We contradicted ourselves / I guess we're all hypocrites"). But the vocals were the real shock. They were mostly just toneless yelling, but they sounded powerful and urgent. And, strangely enough, they barely sounded female, but were deep and androgynous, like a mid-range tenor.
The song became an instant favorite, and quickly ascended to the top of the rotation in the apartment, meaning it was played several times a day. One evening as I walked in the front door, K— announced he had made an amazing discovery that he couldn't wait to share.
"Dude, you know that Bikini Kill single?"
"Yeah, it's awesome."
"It's a 45. We've been listening to it at half-speed."
At first I didn't want to hear it at the proper speed, fearing it would spoil the magic, but eventually I broke down and gave it a shot. For one thing it was even shorter, obviously, now clocking in at around thirty seconds. The tempo changed from a deliberate pounding to an enthusiastic rush. The depth of tone in the instruments was diminished. And the vocalist was clearly female. It was good, in fact great, and by no means a letdown, but... just not quite as overwhelming. I found that I preferred it at the slower speed, and continued to listen to it that way.
I've just listened to it at regular speed for the first time in several years, and it holds up well, both as a snapshot of its era and as a timeless puck-rock anthem. But unfortunately I don't have the 7", so I haven't been able to hear it as I did the first time; the above description is from memory alone. No matter, it was powerful enough to leave a strong impression. Perhaps I'm romanticizing it in the soft focus of hindsight, but I don't think so. If you've got a copy, dig it out and give it a spin at 33 1/3. It's a whole new experience, believe me.
By: Bjorn Randolph
Published on: 2004-09-08