Katie Harkin remembers the empowering influence of Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out
Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out
Kill Rock Stars
Original Release Date: 8 April 1997
I was busy finishing my last year of primary school when Dig Me Out originally came out. It’s unlikely I would’ve heard it back then – even if it had been playing on Yorkshire’s radio stations.
In fact, I didn’t discover Sleater-Kinney’s music until I was a teenager, among the clacking CD racks of a Leeds city centre record shop. I would dig through the crates after school, eagerly searching for sounds that lit up my brain more than the readily available, jockish nu metal and the grim post-Britpop material which would soon be dubbed ‘landfill indie’. One day I picked up a flyer with the name Sleater-Kinney on it. But it wasn’t for a show of theirs. Rather, their name was nestled among a list of bands aimed at attracting girls like myself to join a gig-going group organised by a local feminist collective. Teenage social anxiety meant that I only went to one show with that group, but I pored exhaustively through the list they distributed. Each record by the bands cited on the flyer was a new release to me, causing reverberation that crested as it reached me, despite the distance of space and time.
Before the advent of shuffling playlists, these kind of tip-offs enabled felt like an exciting network of whispers guiding me to bolstering volume. This is what led me to Dig Me Out. Everything the album contained appealed to me. The songs felt truly punk, but never formulaic. Instead, they were alchemic – cool and hard one moment, hot and molten the next. Even the essential knowledge that this was a group of three women – Janet Weiss, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein – appealed to me in my isolation as the only girl at my school who played in a band.
Dig Me Out continued to lead me at 22, when I got the opportunity to turn over my favourite records in search of producers who I hoped might work on my music. The name of John Goodmanson, Dig Me Out’s producer, was at the top of my list. I admired his rare ability to combine a live feeling with the creative possibilities of studio recording, something that grabbed me from the first time I heard Sleater-Kinney’s song Heart Factory, even if I couldn’t articulate it until later. John produced my old band Sky Larkin’s debut album The Golden Spike, which was released in 2009. And five years later, I had the best shock of my life when Sleater-Kinney asked me to join their live band as an extra multi-instrumentalist.
Over time I have come to believe that, if you don’t see yourself reflected in the world, you can use popular culture as a kind of scaffolding. It’s especially true when you’re younger, while your identity is still emerging, and Sleater-Kinney were part of the scaffold that I built for myself as a teen. Now, a decade after first discovering them, I wondered about pulling the scaffold apart to try and look at it objectively, and to attempt to do justice to the opportunity I had been afforded. I wondered – if I started to dismantle the scaffolding, would the house would stay standing?
After the first show I played with Sleater-Kinney, I was genuinely speechless. I didn’t play every song, and the experience of switching between being in the show and watching the show felt like jumping on and off a moving freight train.
Playing with a band I admired so much has been a unique challenge, one that I’ve come to treasure. It’s felt like my fandom has been given 3D glasses and presented in glorious technicolour. Whilst on tour with the band, I didn’t play on the songs they chose to play from Dig Me Out, so I got to watch them being performed repeatedly, and to bear witness to each crowd’s reaction to them. It has been wild and often moving to see this music re-ignited up-close with the addition of 20 years of band chemistry. The first notes of each song still light the fuse for me every time.
Katie Harkin is currently recording new solo material, and she will appear on the forthcoming Waxahatchee record