Friday, 26 June 2015

Never Too Late | Prolapse review extra

I'm in the bar of the Hope & Ruin, Brighton with writer Lucy Cage and Andrea Feldman, mamma of the 90s fanzine Warped Reality. Andrea now lives back home in the States but she used to work for the brilliant independent label Too Pure (who first released P. J. Harvey and hosted the infamous Sausage Machine club, my local at the time). Her fanzine covered some class acts: Throwing Muses, Lida Husik and of course, Prolapse. Warped Reality loved Prolapse: released a split flexi disc: 

Also settled at our table is Mick Derrick, vocalist with Prolapse. It's been 16 years but I recognise him - a curious, sharp, easily humoured mind, down to earth manner, the Scottish accent.  Tour manager, Tony Fisher (normally with Art Trip And The Static Sound) is outside having a fag and the rest of the band are milling about. Also here, two of support act Slum Of Legs, grinning, ready (Maria, violinist and Kate, guitarist). I am here to do an interview and review for Louder Than War - thought I would make myself useful - but it's just all too lush to pay attention. It's too perfect: friends, smiles, pints, seaside air, the adorable TEDs (see last post) supporting Prolapse, one of my favourite live bands ever, and the chance to catch up with much talked-about Slum Of Legs

The story goes that Prolapse formed in the summer of 1991 under a table at Leicester Polytechnic's (Now DeMontfort University) Friday night disco, "With the aim of being the most depressing band ever". (Wiki) Well, that didn't happen. For all the organised chaos, looped groves and thrash guitar, Prolapse crafted some superb pop songs and earned a cult following for their live set, particularly for the nervous tension within songs, and the performances of Linda Steelyard and Mick Derrick. 

They released umpteen EPs and four albums, all reaching critical acclaim, and disbanded in 1999. They made pop songs an art (there is a story about the making of this video in the review below). 

In early 2015 the band announced a series of headline shows in addition to support slots with Mogwai. The first, at Manchester’s Roadhouse on 28th May, was performed 16 years to the day since their last. This show is hosted by independent promoter Tobi Blackman, a supporter is Mark E Smith. 

This review originally appeared in Louder Than War

THE words razorblades, slash, chaffing, headless and psychotic feature heavily tonight. We’re in for a good one.

It is very rare that you get to reference tonight’s headliners Prolapse (1991-1999) when describing a band but I have been using it all year when writing about the trio The Ethical Debating Society. There is something about the vocal clashes and narratives, between vocalists/guitarists Kris and Tegan, that begs for the comparisons, none more so than in “Razor Party”. The driving, hardcore drumbeat is the bass, on a promise, the guitars bring the scream in songs like “Cover Up” or “Kill You Last”.  It’s a riot of pop-punk: a cut and paste of politics, sarcasm, freedom, relationships. This gig coincides with the launch of the debut album “New Sense” and there’s a queue of people who came for the bands they know (Slum Of Legs and Prolapse) buying it from the merchandise stall.

Buzz, buzz, buzz, Slum Of Legs, buzz, buzz, buzz. This is their hometown and they have the hot support gig. They don’t write set lists, just announce the songs but in the excitement I seem to have wiped my notes and song titles on my phone. All that’s left is: squeeeeeee. It’s the musicality meets riot grrrl or queer-punk mentality that makes this special. There are six of them up there making merry and it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s the violin, keyboards and wierdy stylophone, the vocalist’s boldness and brilliance, that’s bringing the party atmosphere. Why has nobody thought to make a Huggy Bear meets The Levellers combo before?

It is not about the return of Prolapse, who had critical and radio success for nearly ten years with noisy pop songs like “Pull thru’ Barker”, part of tonight’s encore, and the let-it-all-out ones like “Headless In A Beat Motel”, (even Louder Than War’s John Robb worked on two of the four albums). It’s a celebration, which started because Mogwai wondered if they’d like to support them in the summer, in the UK. This band of seven are now scattered all over Europe so it’s also rare for them to be able to be in the same place, at the same time.

Tonight though, is the last headline slot in a small venue, probably ever and in vocalist Scottish Mick’s own words, they’re getting the hang of it again now – less sweat and more joy. Opener “Psychotic Now” is a perfect tease, coming out of one bass line, guitars building into what we know: driving rhythms, rock and roll melodies and Lindy Steelyard and Mick Derrick, both at odds with their vocals, yet together in the way of contrapuntal rhythms. (Love this band forever, who else makes you think of Bach as a reference point?) It’s also one for the Prolapse Massive, since “Psychotic Now” came as a split flexi disc with fanzine Warped Reality. In fact WR mamma, Andrea Feldman, has travelled from her hometown of Providence in the States for the tour and is standing right next to me at this very moment, although you never actually stand still at a Prolapse gig, it’s impossible not to catch the nervous tension. Linda rubs her hands together repeatedly, rocks back and forth, Mick paces and pokes, messes dangerously with the mike, stretching it’s wires, kicking about in a puddle of beer. The performance fascinates and entertains.

The pop songs are a pleasure, “Killing The Bland”, “Doorstep Rhythmic Bloc” and “TCR”. Mick talks about that stage of Prolapse and being in New York to shoot the video for “TCR”, clearing the streets of Manhattan, and no, he did not fall in love with his make up artist. The other songs tonight (“Flex”, “Slash”, “Government Of Spain”, “Visa For Violet and Van”) are like the demons inside you know you need to make friends with - being as the narrative and soundtrack are an antennae to the human condition, with piercing observation and affection – and the loop and groove of three guitars and bass, the relentless hardcore attitude to funky drumming, drags you into its tow.

Like good theatre, Prolapse don’t leave the crowd needing to be in their gang, or desperately wishing this was a comeback, just renewed enthusiasm and the strength required for waving our freak flags high.
Ngaire Ruth

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Don't Call Me Names | Why do bands hate labels?

We're out of the ghetto and over the wall, what's next? Plus two new Riot Grrrl and proud bands. 

Bands always moan about being given labels by the media: lo-fi, indie, punk, folk and the term Riot Grrrl is no exception.

Why do bands dislike the Riot Grrrl label?
The label Riot Grrrl has been used to categorise almost any dynamic woman or women on the stage – not just DIY outfits. But Riot Grrrl isn't just about girls, or women, it's a sound, an attitude; ultimately it's feminist to the very bone, which again does not mean women only.

Slipping the term into conversation to describe a sound, rather than the feminism revolution on which it was based, has ruined many an afternoon tea. But generally, sometimes musicians irk at the mention of the label, Riot Grrrl, because it is 20 years old and they think such a comparison means they are doing nothing new. 

Yes you are and GET BLOODY USED TO IT! Did Blur complain about being compared to The Kinks? No! If we don’t claim Riot Grrrl as a genre then it does not become part of the cannon. This is truly important.

  • It means more feminists in music (boys and girls).
  • It means more women writers in music criticism.
  • It means more women’s writing in music criticism.
  • It means we can stop writing reference books that catch up on forgotten women’s talent and art because they won't disappear in the first place. Instead, we can write essays and books which extend thinking. Such resources will give students in women's studies, journalism and media published theories to back up their arguments/point (evident over the last decade), and statistics (what needs to be done now/next), which can put pressure on change. 
  • And we still need to apply the RG manifesto using layman’s language, in little reviews or new's stories – see Kathleen Hanna | A feminist criterion or anything in this Blog  - takes a bow. (And how many of the next generation will be able to afford university even if they want to?) 

Exit | Riot Grrrl and proud
A celebration of two new DIY bands channelling the spirit of Riot Grrrl

The Ethical Debating Society
Starting from the viewpoint that every genre is a tradition (Billy Childish/Peter Dale)) the trio The Ethical Debating Society (Tegan & Martin, guitars, Elli, drums) believe that you shouldn’t be egotistical and reject labels, in their case Riot Grrrl, punk, indie, or reference points (Prolapse, Nirvana, Huggy Bear), thinking that you are doing something completely new, because what’s actually new is the energy: fresh, biting, sincere, cute. And the themes: politics, snapshots, cut and paste, sardonic, relationships. The debut album (released 22nd June) is called New Sense , Odd Box Records, geddit? 

TEDs: dragging the universal and their joint influences kicking and screaming  into the personal experience, try 'Cover Up' (about ecology) at Overblown. 

TED’s want to get women into music. They want to get 
ordinary people who don’t think they can be in a band to Just Do It. It’s music for all at this north London camp. They headline Powerlunches on 21st June and The Hope & Ruin, Brighton supporting Slum Of Legs + Prolapse Tuesday, 23rd June. 


Skating Polly
Another group that deserve faithful adoration and over the top encouragement is Skating Polly, who also embrace the Riot Grrrl label and recently supported Babes In Toyland on the UK tour - and made a big impact.

Photo from Kendalllacey
From Oklahoma, US, Deerhoof, Kate Nash and Flaming Lips are just a few of the cool bands who want Kelli and Peyton in their gang from a big list of cool bands  - endearing all with a fresh attitude and an articulate fury. The popular observation is that they are selling out venues they're not actually legally allowed to be in yet. 

Read Hannah Golightly's interview at  Collapseboard

Footnote: Please respond to call out for stats: June 6th Blog

Friday, 5 June 2015

Tomorrows Bands Today | unknown boy bands on covers of music press

Press coverage of women artists and bands in popular music

In 2012 Annie Gardiner made an art installation out of the gender balance on the covers of the NME over a 20 year collection for Ladyfest Bristol (see photo). It has had surges in interest every year since, and today she is talking about it with Susan O'Shea at Oxford Brookes University as part of the Consuming/Culture Conference (5th June 2015). (Also read Susan O'Shea's thesis: The Art Worlds of Punk Inspired Feminist Networks.)
On a thread in social media today, about this installation, a young woman has commented: Yeah, and how many of those on the cover are P. J. Harvey? 

That made me laugh. Also made me sad. I remember bringing P J Harvey to the reviews table and the following comment: another one of Ngaire's lesbians. It took three weeks of hassling before it was published - a tiny 300 words. 

Once she sold records she earned her place in the newspaper, but was that the case with boy bands, did they have to earn their place? 

Yes, the whole point of tomorrow's bands today is that they are unknown but how many unknown women bands got on the cover of the paper in proportion to the boyz?
  • How many boy bands got on the cover of the paper when they barely had produced anything worthwhile? Menswear instantly spring to mind. 
  • How many boy bands introduced a women vocalist in order to get on the front cover of a newspaper? 
  • What is happening now? 

We need stats! 
Send band names to: or here, in comments is good - then others can respond.

Women's writing in music publishing
Because writing about women in bands and women artists is related to both the ratio of women writers and the role expected of them, here is an amazing piece and useful tool for any media student - Women Writing Rights - in fact part of Innes Punessen's MA. It's a really careful, detailed account of her research, engaging in its own right which focuses on women's writing in the music press. It includes video interviews with myself, writer Andrew Mueller, Andy Prevezer, Warner's, and writer and course leader at Solent, Southampton, Martin James who wholly encourages this behaviour. 

I hate my middle class mum hair in this video and trying too hard behaviour which makes what I'm saying seem fickle and arrogant. I am used to asking the questions and teaching, which is altogether different because that 'reason you teach thing' takes over and all your skills are for the benefit of others - the focus isn't on you at all. I don't know whether these things in themselves are a product of being a woman - don't draw attention to yourself, nurture, OMG even excusing it (!) - it's likely. On arrival back to London I did find the hairdresser bullied me into this style - realising now that they made assumptions (I walked into the hairdresser and what they saw was a middle aged, middle class teacher/mum). I am back in my own body now. 

See also: We made a mess and we're not sorry Th' Hysterical Injury in this blog. Also Pushblog.