An Exclusive Interview with Johanna Fateman of Le Tigre

Johanna Fateman Tom Tom Magazine Le Tigre Woman Beatmaker Rebecca DeRosa
photo by John von Pamer

Tom Tom Magazine sits down with Johanna Fateman to ask her about the documentary Who Took the Bomp: Le Tigre on Tour directed by Kerthy Fix, which came out earlier this year. You can order your own copy here.

Tom Tom: How did you all decide to make this into a feature documentary rather than just a concert footage DVD for fans?

Johanna Fateman: At the start we were not thinking that this would be a feature documentary with a wider reach than our core audience of longtime fans. But Kerthy found potential in the April 2005 touring footage for something more, and feedback from an early screening of a very rough cut affirmed this. We all felt that with a bit more context created by interviews and archival material we could tell part of the Le Tigre story, hopefully in a way that would be of interest even to the uninitiated. So Kerthy made this a feature length project and it’s screened at a lot of festivals. We are thrilled.

TT: What sort of reactions and feedback have you been getting from people who’ve seen it?

JF: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It has been touching to see how Le Tigre has been missed, and how strongly our music is associated with a certain period of many peoples’ lives. And this understanding of our music as a soundtrack to personal histories has really made me reflect on our early days as a band. Our first record came out in 1999, the year of the Woodstock rapes, rap metal’s pop supremacy, Eminem’s “anger management tour,” etc. People were so hungry for cool music with radical content. And making that music was our mission. People are so thankful to us for that; it’s a real honor.

Also people tell us how funny the film is, and how funny the three of us as characters are. That’s a huge compliment. Sometimes I dwell on the hard stuff, the really demoralizing things that happened to us so I am glad that there’s a document of our live shows and some of the adventures and fun that we had.

TT: What do you think of the final product?

JF: Kerthy did an amazing job. And I am so happy that the source videotapes did not just languish in storage. I want to watch it in a couple of years with my daughter. I still feel too close to process to really know what to think.

TT: Why was Kerthy Fix the right director for this project?

JF: She is a true intellectual and operates from the gut. Her feminism is palpable, she understands everything, and she is a great filmmaker. I can’t wait to see what she does next. I love her.

TT: What kind of strides in feminism and progressive politics do you think film and music have made in the past decade? How can we as media makers improve our message or our delivery in order to inspire others or to make changes in society?

JF: I don’t see huge strides for feminism and progressive politics in film and music in the past decade. I don’t mean to be a huge downer or diminish the incredible accomplishments of certain artists and projects (in fact it would be a huge list if I were to start naming the compelling radical art and endeavors of recent years!). But I don’t see a change in the funding, opportunities, or larger cultural support for this work.

I’d like to see media makers set the bar higher for critical commentary, and refuse to engage in dehumanizing their subjects for the sake of appearing hip, edgy or getting a laugh. I see a lot of carelessly reinscribed misogyny and racism, and disturbingly, a lot of it targeting teen girls, in the so-called alternative press and feminist “blogosphere” coverage of celebrity culture, for example.

TT: Who do you think is continuing in Le Tigre’s footsteps either musically or politically?

JF: I think it’s hard for me, as part of Le Tigre, to understand what it means to follow in our footsteps. We were winging it. Our only consistent mission was to create space for something to happen – like physical space at a rock club for people to dance and meet up, or maybe intellectual space for radical ideas and pop impulses to mix (I guess we had specific aims for the internal content of songs too). All I can do is believe people when they cite us as an influence. That’s cool.

TT: How would you like Le Tigre to be remembered?

JF: I hope we’re remembered for our bravery and imagination.

TT: What projects are you working on now? What would you like to work on in the future?

JF: I do a lot of things. I write about art and culture, I own a hair salon in NYC’s West Village called Seagull Salon. My main creative focus right now is writing, co-writing, and producing songs for other artists. I hope you will hear more about that soon!

Interview by Rebecca DeRosa

Photo by John von Pamer


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