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In March 2020, with Bikini Kill’s anticipated reunion tour canceled, the band’s touring guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle and drum tech Vice Cooler were wondering how to be useful. A longtime participant in punk communities, Lyle—also an arts critic, author, filmmaker, organizer, free improvising guitarist, and publisher of SCAM zine—was quarantined at her home in upstate New York as an early-pandemic spirit of mutual aid amplified throughout culture.

“People were trying to figure out how to help each other,” Lyle said. “I thought: All the musicians are home right now. It would probably be easy for us to do something quickly—because everybody, everywhere, is trying to find a way to help.”

She reached out to the L.A.-based Cooler—multi-instrumentalist, photographer, video director, producer for Peaches and Ladytron, and touring drummer of The Raincoats—with the spark of an idea for a digital album to generate funds. Working from their respective bedroom-studios, Lyle and Cooler devised a remote process of recording near-complete songs as a guitar-drum duo, before reaching out to an array of guest vocalists in their extended community to contribute original lyrics and to sing. “It was like an anchor during that really difficult era,” Lyle said.

What resulted is a uniquely collaborative album, Benefit for NEFOC, which doubles as a staggering survey of contemporary feminist punk across generations—including legends from punk’s dawn as well as newly emergent voices. A mix of industrial, art-rock, post-punk, and beyond, it finds germinal punk icons like The Raincoats, Kim Gordon, and Alice Bag alongside younger artists who they’ve inspired over several decades. All profits will benefit the grassroots organization Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC), which buys farmland and puts it into Indigenous, Black, and Brown hands.

Across 16 blazing, high-octane tracks bolstered by Cooler’s expert pop production, the music of Benefit for NEFOC is guided by spirits of improvisation and ingenuity, and the album plays like an energetic antidote to the era of restless ennui that spawned it. “This is the very, very rare benefit album where no one just sent in some crappy B-side,” said Kathleen Hanna, who features on the highlight “Mirrorball.” “All the songs are fucking great and the performers really put their hearts into it. It’s a testament to Erica and Vice doing a phenomenal job bringing people together.”

That includes the garage-pop daydreaming of acclaimed author and artist Brontez Purnell, the signature spiky poise of D.C.’s Christina Billotte (Slant 6, Casual Dots, Quix*o*tic), and new wave anthems from the likes of Glasgow’s Rachel Aggs (Trash Kit, Shopping) and former Priests vocalist-turned-avant pop firebrand Katie Alice Greer. Sometimes the record’s cross-generational conversation happens within a single track, like the ripper from ascendant teen quartet the Linda Lindas, which also features Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox, or a collaboration between New York experimental punk trio Palberta and Raincoats violinist Anne Wood. Other contributors include Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, the Breeders’ Kelley Deal, and Phoebe Bridgers bassist Emily Retsas, who served as a third core member of the recording process alongside Lyle and Cooler. “It became this all-ages show for feminist rockers,” Lyle added.

Benefit for NEFOC feels like a fitting outgrowth of that paused 2020 Bikini Kill tour. Those shows were themselves inspired testaments to community across time, space, and a common purpose of empowerment through art. Lyle has also noted that Bikini Kill represents to her a recent history of grassroots self-organizing among women. “My background is in political organizing besides being in punk rock, and I saw this as an organizing project,” she said of the album.

Punk icon Alice Bag, who in 2019 opened the first Bikini Kill show in over two decades, wrote about NEFOC’s ethos on her song “Soul Fire Farm.” “I feel really lucky to have been invited to participate in this benefit record,” Bag said. “I was moved by [NEFOC’s] respect for the land and the ways in which they turn the process of farming into an empowering experience that nourishes both mind and body.” (It was through Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, N.Y. that Lyle and Cooler were connected with NEFOC.

Among the surge of mutual aid projects in June 2020, Lyle was particularly inspired by G.L.I.T.S. Inc’s crowdfunded purchase of two buildings as housing for trans people of color in New York City. “I thought, this is permanent, this is really going to last,” Lyle reflected. “What I’ve seen in my lifetime of being involved in subculture and activism is that we’ve lost access to all space through gentrification and displacement. It’s so hard to organize or make change the way we live now, where everybody’s so far flung throughout cities. It’s difficult to have cultural spaces we can hold onto for more than six months.”

“On a farm you have food, you have meeting space, chill out space, potential employment—the ownership of land makes all of these things possible,” Lyle said. “The land becomes collectively owned. Buying land is a good thing for folks, and practically no farm land in the U.S. [2 to 5%] is owned by people of color.” NEFOC is working to change that. (A matching donor is confirmed for this fundraiser.)

A sense of imagining new horizons manifested in the creation of the music itself. “There was a bit of thinking, these are people it would be a dream to play with, so let’s make a record with all of our favorite people and see what happens,” Lyle said. “The world’s cracked in half now, so anything is possible.”

ABOUT NEFOC
NEFOC is an Indigenous and POC-led grassroots organization that seeks to connect POC farmers to land to grow healthy foods and medicines for our communities. We plan to accomplish this by acquiring and returning land to Indigenous nations and respectfully connecting Black, Asian, and Latinx and other POC farmers and land stewards to land while centering and respecting Indigenous sovereignty.  nefoclandtrust.org

Current Release

Erica Dawn Lyle & Vice Cooler
LAND TRUST: Benefit For North East Farmers Of Color
(Self-Released)
Street Date: June 3, 2022
https://ericadawnlylevicecooler.bandcamp.com/

Track List:

1. Decoder Ring (Featuring Katie Alice Greer)
2. Lost In Thought (Featuring The Linda Lindas)
3. Mirrorball (Featuring Kathleen Hanna)
4. Debt Collector (Featuring Kim Gordon)
5. Soul Fire Farm (Featuring Alice Bag, Emily Retsas)
6. The Immortals (Featuring Brontez Purnell)
7. Can’t Fight Me (Featuring AH MER AH SU)
8. Agave (Featuring Raincoats)
9. Break A Window (Featuring Rachel Aggs, Emily Retsas)
10. Flashes Of Knowing (Featuring Christina Billotte)
11. Cracks In The Ceiling (Featuring Ali Carter, Emily Retsas)
12. Star Fuck (Featuring Louisahhh)
13. Bodies (Featuring Kelley Deal, Emily Retsas, Sarah Register)
14. PS Forever (Featuring Satomi Matsuzaki)
15. Never Was (Featuring Ivy Jeanne, Mike Watt)
16. Hearing Myself Again (Featuring Palberta, Emily Retsas, Anne Wood)

Photos (click for hi-res)

photo credits: (1) Album Cover Art (2) Kathleen Hanna by Jason Frank Rotherberg (3) Kim Gordon by David Black (4) The Linda Lindas by Zen Sekizawa (5) Vice Cooler and Erica Dawn Lyle by Midnight Piper Forman