Grrrls on film
“Somehow I come across as this sex symbol wastoid.” Former Le Tigre star JD Samson comes to Dublin
‘ITHINK WE ALL feel sad about a lot of the band, in general. . . Watching it back it feels like yesterday, but we look younger. . . I think there’s definitely for me this sadness that I’m older, that we’re all older.” JD Samson is sitting in a makeshift dressing room in Block T, the studio, gallery and performance space in Smithfield, Dublin, reminiscing about Le Tigre. The band ran from the cusp of the 21st century to 2007, and acted as an epilogue to the riot grrrl movement, a scene in which Le Tigre’s frontwoman Kathleen Hanna was instrumental.
It’s an odd period of reflection for Samson, often described as “that chick with the moustache”. Although Le Tigre’s legacy is weighing heavily on her mind with the release of Who Took the Bomp? a documentary of Le Tigre on tour that will screen at next weekend’s GAZE film festival in Dublin, Samson is at a new chapter of her career.
Her new band MEN will perform at a notfor-profit queer music gathering called Frighten the Horses, and afterwards, Samson DJs at the gay synth night, Mother. One to one, Samson is quite serious. Softly spoken and sweet, she has that North American inflection that makes most sentences sound like a question. The singsong high-school linguistics peppered with “likes” is at odds with her intelligent, philosophical thoughts on the band, archiving femi- nist history and trying to find a space for her own writing in the music scene today.
What’s easy to forget about Le Tigre, perhaps because their political statements and lyrics were so emphatic, was the quality of the music. In many ways, they were groundbreaking electronic musicians and the merging of drum machines, guitars, samples, keyboards, and beats formed the basis of so much we listen to today, from CSS to Chicks On Speed, Gossip to LCD Soundsystem. Not to mention the killer tunes they produced like Deceptacon and Hot Topic, or the Samson-penned Viz that deals with gender-queer
“Bands like The Gossip, they’re very political, but they’re not really saying anything specific in their songs”
visibility. The film was made over five years of touring and features encounters with Slipknot in Australia, Japanese fans, and, most enjoyably, live performances. The band and their motivations are put in a new light.
“I think one of the interesting things about the movie is that it really shows how much comedy and our overall sense of humour kind of helped us get through hard times being a feminist band,” Samson says. “I think people think of us as being this really political band and that we were so mad all the time, but we actually had a really fun time and made jokes out of everything and mostly at our expense, I think . . . That definitely comes across in the movie.”
There are some poignant moments, like when the band have to decide whether or not to let a magazine run a full page while refusing to include the word “lesbian”. And some funny moments too, like when her bandmates refer to her as “the secret Justin Timberlake of the band”.
Samson’s not sure about her representation: “Somehow I come across as this sex symbol wastoid; drinking and smoking weed and talking about sex,” she laughs, “and I feel it kind of makes me look like. . .” she strug- gles for a comparison. Lil’ Wayne? “Yeah! I think it’s just compared to Jo and Kathleen though!”
MEN is a different animal to Le Tigre. The energy is still there, and their debut album
Talk About Body is highly accomplished and fun, with tracks like Simultaneously, Credit
Card Babies along with Antony Hegarty’s contribution to Who Am I To Feel So Free asserting Samson’s prowess as a lyricist and songwriter.
The live shows have been well received, but Samson has concerns about where her artistic contributions fit in at the moment. “I think a lot of the music that’s coming out right now is devoid of political content, but also devoid of sentimentality. I think that, for me, that’s really hard, because that’s what I make. It’s really interesting to go on tour right now with songs that are political and sentimental, because I don’t feel that there’s the same kind of response as there was 10 years ago.”
She shifts in her chair: “I don’t want to get depressed over it or anything but, for example, on this next record that we’re writing, I need to think about opening that up a little bit and looking at ways to appeal to what’s happening now.
“You think of bands like The Gossip, they’re very political, but they’re not really saying anything specific in their songs. And they have a lot of love songs, and yes, that is queer, and who she [Beth Ditto] is speaking to is not necessarily a man, but I think it’s open-ended and anyone can relate to it. I think in Le Tigre there wasn’t that stress of people not being able to relate. There were straight people at our shows singing along to queer ideas and feminist ideas, but I don’t see that same kind of interest right now for sure.”
For a songwriter whose music bounces around joyfully and often with blatant political and social messages, it’s hard to see whereMEN can fit in at a time when minimalism is highly valued. But it’s their difference that’s making the quality of their music stand out.
“I do think that we’re almost at this place that is so ‘post’ that we’re almost dumbing it down. We’re in a really minimal time too. With dance music it’s just like you can go into a club and hear one drum sound for 30 seconds and nothing else and people are really into it. Bands like The xx are so minimal and there’s hardly anything going on, and that’s what’s popular.
“I think it’s interesting, because I’m into minimalist art and seeing what that gives us, but there weren’t many feminists ever in the minimalist art community! I think it’s kind of an interesting place for feminism, because most of the time feminists have too much to say to be minimal.”
Like the energy of MEN, Le Tigre still bristle with electricity on screen. Segments from what turned out to be their last show are interspersed throughout the film, and Samson relives that concert as if they were yesterday.
“It’s really intense. The feeling on stage that night was just so incredible, and you can see during the film when we’re playing that show the audience is going insane. It’s fucking crazy, everyone is freaking out. And I just remember giving so much effort to that performance that night and I think that feeling that I had inside myself was really powerful and something that made me feel really strong. I think about that a lot.”
Before the last tune, Samson and Hanna hugged, knowing it was the last song they’d ever blast out.
Thankfully, it hasn’t been Samson’s last hurrah.
plus the GAZE LGBT FILM FESTIVAL: what to watch
FATEMA N A JOHANN
Women Art Revolution
Archive Screening: Boys On Film
Break My Fall