by Michael Goldberg
Monday October 15, 2001
Le Tigre, Erase Errata: The Noise Of Revolution
New albums from two post-riot grrrl bands demand your attention.
On the back cover of Le Tigre's Feminist Sweepstakes are cartoon-style drawings of the tools of a revolution: a video camera and a Xerox machine; a typewriter and a telephone; a Rolodex and a skateboard; a stack of tapes, including albums by Tribe 8 and Missy Elliot, and some periodicals, including a book called "Lesbian Ethics." There's a baseball hat with the female symbol, and a rainbow descending from it, and a can of paint. There's a package of ramen noodles and a cupcake, and what I think is an iMac. There's a pair of scissors and some glue, a synthesizer and an inexpensive multitrack digital recorder.
With these tools you could make and print a zine, or record an album. You could make a movie, or make contact. With these cheap tools you could make art without compromise. With some of these tools, Le Tigre do exactly that.
I can only imagine that by the end of the pivotal riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna felt she had said all that could be said using guitar/bass/drums/vocals punk instrumentation. In a way, Sleater-Kinney had taken the torch and run with it, though I'm sure that had nothing to do with the group disbanding.
"They Genuinely Care"
After her cool Julie Ruin solo album, Hanna wasn't going to make music anymore, according to an interview she did with Chris Nelson that appeared in the July/August issue of Punk Planet. But after her friends at Mr. Lady asked her, Hanna changed her mind. "I don't know if I ever would have put out another record as long as I lived if it weren't for their label," Hanna said, speaking about Mr. Lady, formed by Kaia Wilson and Tammy Rae Carland in 1997. "I feel like they genuinely care about the stuff I make and wanna see it go somewhere. They want it to get into the hands of people.
"That's a really important feeling for me to have when I was like, should I still do music? Should I get a job? What should I do? To be like, oh, Tammy and Kaia are starting this label, it was like Oh! I should put something out because I wanna be involved in that!... That really inspired me to do Le Tigre, because it was like we're all doing something together. It wasn't this thing of like, I'm gonna go off in my weird little corner and make something and then have to find some label to put it out. It was like my friends were supportive and loving about what I did."
The Le Tigre sound is made using inexpensive instruments: synthesizers, samples, drum machines, female voices. You get the feeling anyone could make this music or rather, any women with talent and good ideas. Most of the beats make me wanna dance, but there are sinister melody lines that underline the seriousness of some of the lyrics. As in life, there are moments of high drama and moments that will make you smile. One of the messages I take away from Feminist Sweepstakes is this: There are many things wrong in this world, but that doesn't mean that we can't have fun, make love, dance, even as we try to deal with some of those problems. Think of this as a kind of riot grrrl dance sound minimal, infectious, subversive. "Tomorrow we fight so let's have fun tonight," goes a line in "TGIF."
The trio take on a range of subjects, touching on feminist politics ("F.Y.R.") and inertia ("Much Finer"), the desire to come together and dance ("LT Tour Theme") and making art on one's own terms ("My Art" ). One of my favorites is "Much Finer." Beginning with what sounds like sampled guitar noise, it seduces with a chorus you just have to hear, a call and response in which Hanna asks "Do you wanna stay in bed all day?" and female voices respond "Yeah!" and she asks "Do you remember feeling any other way?" and they respond "No!"
Not A TV
The tiny drawing of a pile of cassette tapes on the back of Feminist Sweepstakes includes one tape labeled "erase errata." You could easily miss it, but that would be your mistake. Erase Errata are a San Francisco-based female quartet whose debut album, "Other Animals," was released this year on the New Jersey-based Troubleman Unlimited punk label.
For me, the entry point to "Other Animals" is the 10th track, a furious, intense piece of jagged punk that I believe is titled "How to Tell Yourself From A Television." (My confusion comes from the fact that there's a line at the end of the 10th track "I can't tell myself from the TV" even though the song title appears as the ninth listing on the album cover.) The singer (and trumpet player), who identifies herself on the album simply as Jenny, asks the question: "Who holds that key?" The others respond: "I do I do I do...."
Erase Errata make a harsh music. They sound like they've declared war. Some lyrics that appear in the liner notes under the heading "sworn test mony": "We are the streets/ We are the concrete enemy/ We are the reasons for the gated communities."
Listening to their brilliant album, I hear these reference points: riot grrrl punk; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band; perhaps the Gang of Four and some of the late-'70s/early-'80s English punk bands; LiLiPut. But don't get the wrong idea. Erase Errata don't actually sound like those influences.
Erase Errata's music is a furious howl. I hear women not willing to give an inch. This is uncompromising music. It makes me think of the paintings of the late Russian artist Natalia Goncharova, particularly one titled "Pillars of Salt" that I saw in the exhibit "Amazons of the Avant-Garde" at the Guggenheim Museum in New York last fall.
The timing of these albums Feminist Sweepstakes and "Other Animals" is eerie. As I listened to them, I saw images broadcast by CNN of women in Afghanistan. The way women in that country are treated is barbarous. Women there can only leave their homes accompanied by a male relative. They are not allowed to work. Their bodies and faces must be totally concealed when in public. The windows of their homes are supposed to be painted black, by order of the Taliban.