Burning Bright. (Music)

By Greene, Rachel | Artforum International, February 2003 | Go to article overview
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Burning Bright. (Music)


Greene, Rachel, Artforum International


FAMILIAR WITH HERM CHOREOGRAPH? Well, if you've ever attended a Le Tigre concert, choreographed by band member JD Samson, you've seen it. Herm (slang for androgynous queer) locates Samson and the boy-band-derivative moves one sees at Le Tigre shows--her tributes to how queer bodies negotiate the world. Equal parts dance style and critical intervention, Samson's choreography is just one element of a performance practice that reopens questions about community, fandom, feminism, queerness, and their conjunctions and differences, by drawing on staged spectacle, audience exuberance, and punk-derived dance tunes with sneaky samples and make-your-heart-swell lyrics ("for the ladies and the fags, yeah / we're the band with the roller-skate jams"). Le Tigre toured North America and Europe for six months last year, which was the culmination of a creative spurt for the trio, who have released three records since 2001.

Samson, Johanna Fateman, and Kathleen Hanna give Le Tigre a powerful stage presence, built on three distinct public personas familiar in part from past achievements. Hanna's earlier work is the best known: As lead singer of the legendary indie band Bikini Kill, she exploded her musical talents in the Pacific Northwest punk scene that took off in the early '90s. Bikini Kill juggled anger, alienation, hope, and humor with an honesty forged by lived experience and feminist defiance. Whereas many bands deployed these familiar indierock tropes almost editorially, Bikini Kill's music stood out as direct, expressive, and polemically present. During the '90s, Hanna quickly absorbed various musical techniques and devices like sampling and 4-track, which appear in her other projects--briefly in the Fakes' Real Fiction (Chainsaw Records, 1995), more substantially in her underrecognized solo project Julie Ruin (Kill Rock Stars, 1998), and now in full swing with Le Tigre. Fateman's pre-Tigre projects, 'zines like The Oppo site part 1 (1996) and Artaudmania (1997), applied punk forms of critical discourse to official culture and hold a singular place in 'zine history by virtue of their theoretical acuity and inclusion of art criticism in a genre typically dominated by autobiography and underground music. Samson, the youngest Tigre, butch and gorgeous, threatens to be the most interesting sex symbol in the music world. A founding member of Dykes Can Dance, a troupe that stages interventions at New York clubs, Samson shares music duties, makes art, and choreographs the stage show.

Le Tigre's expansive use of performance, feminist, and lesbian markers is crystallized on stage with "Hot Topic," a song/slide show honoring the band's inspirations that is conceptually akin to a hip-hop shout-out. Projected images of (or by) Valie Export, David Wojnarowicz, G.B. Jones, Jean Genet, Angela Davis, Aretha Franklin, et al.

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