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No More Bad Future

I saw Bikini Kill play at Brixton Academy last week. The former music hall has a sloping floor, I had the distinct impression of nearly falling but not quite, tripped up by strangely apt gradients. I was too young to be an OG riot grrrl and way too into the Cro-Mags to ever find my way into its many reincarnations, so I can’t claim to have been as excited to see the reformed BKs as those for whom it meant the world, but it was invigorating. The novelty of seeing friends lit up against cavernous black sails was heart-warming.

Child’s Pose opened and they were well-practiced and poised, somehow their clatter-natter worked perfect on the huge stage. I always want pop blasted but they were contractually muted. I learnt all huge venues do this slow increase of volume, so as you creep up the bill, someone behind the desk cranks up the fader. Ridiculous. Maybe this is why I like radically quiet sounds like Young Marble Giants so much, how they transcend the requisite of volume as status. Sop’s yell sits like a low throat murmur between chords, playing with volume too, composed yet always contorted.

A two-hour set would be a real test of both concept and contract for any band, let alone this group so predicated on impact, the fast burn, the fury-as-weapon. Yet somehow Bikini Kill approached this gargantuan room and made it feel small, making accidental theatre out of their own unrehearsed banter and fallibility They came over like a sort of exquisite corpse variety act, dropping in anecdotes and chatting with us like excited but slightly scattered pals. There were a bunch of half charming half confusing monologues including garbled nods to the progress (or at least current norms) of gender politics since they last played London, some of which landed in my chest, some of which fluttered to the floor, namely “turning the woman sign sideways because times are changing.”

There were no neat one-liners from the band who once birthed some of feminist punks’ most enduring ones, perhaps intentionally. Our times do not require any further sloganeering! It looked like cool grown women chipping into something bigger, kicking back at pedestals they didn’t ask for. Women well-acquainted with thirst, just a shame the pints in here cost like six quid.

The alienating experience of crowds is almost a cliché to bring in, but I was left with the feeling that a punk gig’s best aspects just don’t scale well, that our mass is best left imagined. The fizzing in the air at this show is a testament to the fact that punk’s best ideas do, otherwise why would five thousand people feel so lifted watching a group made in basements long (mostly) before their time?

Herstories and theystories let us transmute linear time. Maybe it’s the punk part of punk that is a bad idea? Something shifted for me during Tobi’s songs. Through sheer force, I still felt the same chest-rending energy transfer as I still do watching every group where an enraged gal just lets her throat open and tears the roof off the room. When she shouted out “everyone from DIY Space for London” this escalated to looking at the ceiling and crying a bit because I am not immune to the power of having my work recognized.

Later, a song got undone by a technical glitch and instead of ignoring, smoothing it out, or otherwise frowning, Tobi calmly launched into a ten-directions-at-once band practice soapbox-style chat. There is a wild level of cool-girl confidence inherent in addressing five thousand people this way, even if in practice it was maybe only darkness. She spoke about Brechtian imperfections, stating how it’s totally okay that she “can’t really play the bass” and (crucially, cuz no one needs a humble genius) how she knows she is really, really, good at drums.

I’d have doubted that low-key sharing in the radical possibilities of making mistakes (and acknowledging your own skill) could translate to a room this large and dark, but they did it. All Cool Girls Break Down the Fourth Wall Now. Right at the end, for a nearly imperceptible moment, Kathleen fluffed the lyrics to Rebel Girl, carried away from the songs of the past to the energy of the now. Call it trite ‘n’ cheesy, but this felt like a full circle, squared. No, a hundred young teens will not form their own bands after this evening in the mobile network-branded palace, but only cuz those bands have already started through other more twenty nineteen impetuses. Everything can be fuel.

*

There was a healthy sort of fake secrecy for writing for Maximum in print and this is all a bit too bloody immediate by comparison. The slow unraveling of side-eyes and shit talk that is my stock in trade is, it’s entirely fair to say, not what the internet needs any more of! But here I am, far too close to the eyes and fickle minds of the ten thousand or so networked individuals claiming to be part of some type of imagined global “punk community” that has an entirely different scope, shape, and scale depending on where you are and who you ask. It was safer being fodder for your leaky bathroom floor, a dependable hate-read at best. But, hey. Let me get you comfortable and we can pretend like we’ve known each other for ten years or like we’re total strangers. Neither is true, babes, so it’s all the same to me.

*

I spent a lucid run of warm Spring days in Berlin on some strange self-reconnaissance mission, perhaps my first time in a semi-familiar city with no plan, beyond checking out an exhibition at the Gay Museum I’d been commissioned to write something about. This initiative called Objects of Desire is a sex-worker led project to preserve sex workers’ stories through archiving and exhibiting their artifacts and
narratives.

I borrowed a bike and rode around solo-slow-slow. Sticking my toes into hot grass, pleasing myself, playing with the line between invisible and invincible, romancing myself for fun. I rode the wrong way down Karl Marx Allee and no one stopped me and I laughed by myself in the rain. Trying to get right with feeling unseen in our age of hyper-visibility whilst savoring it, and feeling slightly guilty of the strange novelty of being able to move freely, no harassment, no language, no noise.

I marched through Schoneberg alongside sex workers protesting the “Prostitute’s Protection Act” that has forced STI testing and registration cards onto this already targeted and harassed community. Someone explained patiently to me why the march had chosen to avoid the well-known working street, symbolism taking second place to safety. At the event I watched a French performer piss into a tray of dry ice, letting it bloom onto my shoes as they spoke about the art of turning “the abject” into money. Piss into gold.

I bought a Petticoats single from Iffi at Static Shock who fed me the most deliciously delicate fragrant curry from a hob out the back. I remembered how I first learned about the Petticoats in Maximum via an interview Jess Scott did with Stef Petticoat. This reminded me that one of her other bands was called Fucked with Candles.

Later, I would miss my flight, lost in text messages instead of the time. I came back to the city and got back on my loanercycle, circling the monument to dead communist soldiers in Treptower park, playing chicken with the fried battery on my phone, letting the Photoautomat flash on my boobs for kicks, jangling a key in my pocket. Alive and unseen. No one is watching me, she hoped. No one is watching me, she feared.

Later that evening I wobbled off my bike under sharpening concrete right where a new jigsaw piece of spiralized Autobahn was being ever so efficiently built. I realized I’d wandered onto a closed construction site, the end of somewhere. I was lost, near dark, with 1%. Tasting hard fear and dust, I was scared for a second. I drank it in, taking the sudden onset of panic as a bittersweet reminder; perhaps I wasn’t invisible after all.