Le Tigre described themselves perhaps better than anyone when they sang, "For the ladies, and the fags, yeah / We're the band with the roller-skate jams," on their 2001 album, Feminist Sweepstakes.
If that was a mere position statement, the New York-based electro-punk trio's follow-up release and major-label debut, This Island, is a super-charged and deliriously catchy call to arms for anyone dissatisfied with the country's direction. They'll perform 7 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Emerson Theater, with Electrelane and Be Your Own Pet. It's Le Tigre's first show in Indianapolis since an intimate 2001 concert at the now-defunct Festivilla.
Take "New Kicks," the album's first single. On Feb. 15, 2003, Le Tigre - JD Samson, Johanna Fateman and former Bikini Kill sound rioter Kathleen Hanna - marched with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to protest the looming Iraq war. Samson recorded many of the chants and sounds from that day, and the band set them to a beatific soundtrack that merits no explanation.
"It was an incredible feeling to have that song come together because we had this instrumental track that we didn't know what to do with," Fateman said during a recent phone interview. "So there is a sense of something magical happening. Somehow, rhythmically, it works. Why would things people said at a march lock to the groove of a song? That was amazing."
So, too, do many of the other edgy dance-offs on This Island. Workouts like "On the Verge" and "TKO" boast monstrous beats and asseverating choruses built to wreck or embolden, while Fateman fronts the twitchy, metal-riffing "Don't Drink Poison." Other tracks calm the proceedings, like the languid, after-hours chill of "Tell You Now," produced by former Cars singer Ric Ocasek.
Recent political and social events have only spurred Le Tigre to speak louder for their convictions. Hanna runs roughshod through the sweaty and streaking "Seconds," a transparently anti-Bush epigram, where at one point she sneers, "You've had a nice ride that's for sure / Better thank your brain-dead clientele / For all the money that you'll spend in hell."
And more than two years after that fateful protest march, Le Tigre's resolve against the war has only strengthened.
"I think it's absolutely disgraceful what a mess the Bush administration has made in Iraq," Fateman said. "Now there's talk even from Republicans that it's time to put a timeline on it, an exit plan, which I think is great. The United States should get the hell out of Iraq. But it's really hard to argue we're leaving with things improved for the majority of Iraqi people. It's total chaos and people still live under the threat of violence. It's just a real shame."
It's not just the current administration's foreign policy that galls Le Tigre. The trio sees policy decisions and simple bureaucratic subterfuge from the last five years as striking serious damage to the country's infrastructure. For that matter, the last two presidential elections go beyond merely getting young people involved: It's getting everyone to believe they play an important role in the governing process.
"What's come out of the last two elections is a basic mistrust of the American democratic process," Fateman said. "I believe people think their votes don't count, so it's hard to generate a huge amount of enthusiasm about voting as a way to accomplish social change and political change when there's no confidence that the votes are counted."
Along with possessing more cogent content to mirror the times, This Island glides, floats and stings with a production slicker than their previous CDs, including their eponymous 1999 self-titled debut. Part of the credit goes to album co-producer Nicholas Sansano, known for his work with such luminaries as Sonic Youth and Public Enemy. But This Island also marks the most collaborative effort yet between these outspoken feminists.
"(This) process was seamless because of the way we were using Pro Tools together and the way we were able to exchange files and pick up where the others had left off," Fateman said. "Each person working at their own apartment, in their own home studio, and then being able to pass off a hard drive to the next person - that was really revolutionary to our collaborative process."
This Island also more openly lays bare the inner workings of Le Tigre over past outings. For instance, on "Viz," Samson sings frankly about her experience as a butch lesbian while also celebrating the intimacy and closeness of the gay community. Fateman agrees it is a more personal record, but can't exactly pinpoint why.
"It could have to do with working privately in home studios and feeling safe to experiment with different contents," she said. "Or maybe it's just evolving as songwriters."
Le Tigre prominently display their beliefs and lifestyle in their music. But more than just bringing radical feminism to the mainstream, they want to dispel the notion that political music can't also be fun. Tucked into the synth-slinky, buzzsawed lifestyle declarations on This Island is an equally bombshelled and reggae-smooth cover of The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited." Its exclamation of "I'm about to lose control and I think I like it" is the perfect counterbalance to the rest of the album's weighty subject matter.
It also translates to the stage. Expect such elements as plenty of drum machine madness, campy keyboards, matching outfits and choreographed dance moves at a Le Tigre love-in.
"From the start, we've wanted to break a stereotype about political music, that in order to be serious and to have meaningful content it has to be solemn or discordant or angry," Fateman said. "We are angry and we are serious about those things, but at the same time we are making music for our community, and we treat the performances as a celebration and a party."
For more information: www.letigreworld.com