Headed by former Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin is a part of the Riot Grrrl punk scene that began in the early 1990s, saw a slight decline in the last decade, and slowly regained traction in the current decade with albums by Perfect Pussy, Sleater Kinney, and T-Rexstasy garnering a great deal of attention. Perhaps a result of increased awareness of feminism on the internet, or the imminent threat posed towards women in the United States by a certain presidential candidate, the resurgence of Riot Grrrl and feminist punk music reads as an extremely necessary musical trend. Through the use of modern production techniques, feminist lyrical themes, and highly contrasting punk sounds, The Julie Ruin accomplish a punk aesthetic that continues the tradition of addressing social issues with a contemporary sound.
Lyrically, Hit Reset ranges from short, ironic lines such as “make a kickstarter for your heart,” to more poignant statements such as that of “Mr. So and So,” which serves as a criticism of male fans of the Riot Grrrl scene. Hanna begins by painting a hyperbolic picture of a man jumping out of a plane “in a parachute that says girls rule with a sleater kinney shirt on.” This supposed supporter of feminism then reveals that he likes female bands because it’s a turn on for him. Although the man is trying to be a fan of the band and feminism, he ends up taking up space in a movement dedicated to women without listening to the women in the scene first. As a male, I see this as an important message about checking my own male privilege when approaching the topic of feminism or female-created music. Feminism is not created for my benefit and although I believe it is an important movement, I must be careful to avoid speaking out of turn. I can be a fan of this band (and any Riot Grrrl band) but I must avoid placing my opinion above that of a woman or other oppressed gender group.
Despite being composed of a lot of quick-hitting tunes, Hit Reset explores a great deal of different sounds making for an intriguing contemporary sonic experience. Bikini Kill thrived on rough lo-fi rock tunes with cutting messages, but the shift towards more modern production techniques help move Hanna’s vocals into the modern musical landscape. “I Decide” takes on a droning sound conception with pulsing guitars complementing an eerie vocal melody. On “Be Nice” the muse of Hanna is an electronic voice effect that manipulates her words sometimes serving more as a sound effect than a vocal melody. Towards the end of the album, the songs become quick-hitting jabs with bright synths making for more dance-centered vibe. “I’m Done” features a punchy synth with a fun-loving melody around each chorus bringing the song to new heights.
Punk never really left, but there’s something special about this particular re-incarnation as a feminist from the 1990s has returned to speak about some of the issues that still face the movement today. Feminism may be surrounded by slightly less stigma today, but there is still a lot of issues to be addressed. Also, musically speaking, Hanna still has it. Hearing her vocals is never going to be unnecessary.