Musicians have a unique relationship with mutual aid. As concerts and tours were canceled (and continue to be, as the pandemic enters an endemic phase), musicians needed ways to stay solvent without their chief source of income. At the same time, the ability to make and share music has long been used as a carrot to encourage fundraising for causes that benefit some of the same communities as mutual aid.
Erica Dawn Lyle is no stranger to mutual aid and its connection to music. Along with being a musician, Lyle is a writer and artist who came of age in the South Florida punk scene, documenting the connections between punk and its inherent activism and anarchism in the zine Scam.
“It was very clear to me from a very early age that if I wanted any sort of interesting or resistant or vibrant culture to happen that I was going to have to make it myself with the people around me, because it was not presented on the menu of the mainstream society there,” Lyle says.
So when Bikini Kill — the legendary riot grrrl pioneers she had joined in 2019 — canceled its 2020 tour dates, Lyle decided to take advantage of the situation and tap into the spirit of cooperation that existed at the beginning of the pandemic. She teamed with producer and Bikini Kill drum tech Vice Cooler on a collection of songs that they’d ask other musicians to sing on. Signing up collaborators was easy; finishing the project amid fraught times was not.
“People would be like, ‘Yeah, I totally want to do this,’ and then they’d be like, ‘Oh, the National Guard is in front of my house, there are protests going on, there’s tear gas everywhere. … Can I put off the deadline?’ ” Lyle says. “Or, ‘The sky is black with wildfire smoke this month, and I can’t breathe, let alone sing, so maybe I can try again in October.’ ”
Eventually, the chaos died down and the contributions poured in, spanning generations of women in punk, from Alice Bag and Kim Gordon to Kathleen Hanna and Kelley Deal to Katie Alice Greer and the Linda Lindas. All proceeds from the resulting compilation, “Land Trust,” go directly to Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, a grass-roots organization that seeks to connect farmers who are Indigenous people and people of color to land.
“Their approach is so materially tangible and direct. They are literally acquiring land and setting up collectively,” Lyle says. “I was excited about the idea of making a record that would materially benefit people so directly: Every dollar that goes toward this record is literally going to purchase land for someone.”
Oct. 14 at 8:30 p.m. at the Runaway, 3523 12th St. NE. therunawaydc.com. $15.