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Festivals 2015

The Julie Ruin's Burger-a-Go-Go Set Was a Safe Space for Women, On Stage and Off

Kathleen Hanna brought the girls to the front for her Burger-a-Go-Go performance.

by Bryn Lovitt
07 September 2015, 9:00am


Photo by Alice Baxley

Discovering Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill is a rite of passage for every teenage girl with a punk rock pulse. Ask any first wave, second wave, or Tumblr wave riot grrrl and brace yourself for some serious idol worship. Basically, the fandom is real as fuck. The Julie Ruin is Kathleen's latest incarnation of the 1991 riot grrrl manifesto—a feminist call-to-arms that voiced the massive gender inequality and mistreatment of women at punk rock shows. But even twenty years after Kathleen Hanna first wrote slut across her chest in lipstick and for a moment turned the punk rock patriarchy upside down, the blatant sexism towards female bands is still an issue. Last night at the second annual Burger-a-Go-Go, an all-girls all-day festival thrown by SoCal's cult cassette label Burger Records, The Julie Ruin brought a new generation of girls to the front, but I'm still struck by one particular exchange from the crowd.

As Kathleen takes the stage in a polka-dotted mini dress and a pony tail high as half the kids in the crowd, the audience erupts into screams and "I love you, Kathleen"s. I watch from backstage and stare out into the pit. I'm used to seeing Katheen from the front, as a face on a poster I hung in my room. But behind her I see hundreds of girls. Girls both in the front and literally in front of her. I can see their eyes pooling as this beacon of girl power grabs the mic. One of the few guys in the first row calls out "You're so sexy!" with a booming cis-bro bravado. In the process of delivering this most important message, he interrupts and pushes the girl next to him who took the matter straight to Kathleen.

"Do you see what he just did?" the girl asked, looking directly at Kathleen. The way she's speaking feels like a plea. Like please tell me that you, Katheen Hanna, just saw this man push and interrupt me at your show. The intimacy of the moment felt strangely cinematic from backstage and I'm sure that few other people even saw this happen. Sure, he was probably drunk and trying to be funny, but that doesn't lessen the irony of a teenage girl feeling spoken over by a dude at a Kathleen Hanna concert. Of course, the tiny punk singer addressed the issue immediately. "What happened?" Hanna asks, giving the girl in the crowd a chance to explain.

"I tried to say something and he interrupted and pushed me out of the way to say you're sexy!" She's tall and blonde, glasses knocked slightly off kilter.

"Can we get security on this, please?" the former Bikini Kill-er instructs the venue. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on out there, but no one should ever, e-v-e-r have to feel uncomfortable at a rock show." And that's when she said the words that inadvertantly explained the entire festival. "Whoever you are, move to the back."

Photo by Alice Baxley

Move to the back. Burger-a-Go-Go is not some re-vamped, man-hating, Lillth Fair. Boys can come. Boys should absolutely come! Several bands on the day-long bill even had male members. But this celebration of women in music isn't about its lack of men. Just this time, they're in the back. It's not about picking one over the other or pitting girls vs. boys. That's just digging an even deeper hole, something that the dudes in charge of Burger Records know and understand. They didn't throw this festival as a reaction to male-dominated line-ups. Speaking of the festival in a Noisey interview earlier this year, Burger Records label co-founder Sean Bohrman said, "We just have a ton of girl bands on our label and it made sense to give them their own show. It shouldn't be so shocking to do something like this."

It's condescending for people to be shocked by an all-girl festival. When they can stop gawking at the idea that girls can play in a band, we might be able to move forward and out of the rut. I'm not talking about #FEMINISM, or Taylor Swift's selfie squad. Like riot grrrl did, the Burger-a-Go-Go exists in the fringes, because that's where women in punk are often pushed. I'm backstage, watching from the side as Kathleen and the Julie Ruin tear into a song called "Girls Like Us." There's one instance when Kathleen turns around and looks at the the huddle of people standing behind her. From every single angle, she's in front of me. This isn't a riot, and it's certainly not a lecture. It's one girl standing in front of a thousand others saying "Watch me shred, because it's fucking fun to be a girl."

Bryn Lovitt will always be a Bikini Kill fan grrrl. Follow her on Twitter.