God Save the Beauty Queen

COME ON, BABY, let's fantasize. Close your eyes. Now let's imagine that there's this very strange, very intriguing woman. And let's suppose that like all the strange, intriguing women who populate our fantasies, this one has a fetish: She has a thing for Berlin's music. No, no: You're thinking of the L.A. pop band Berlin who sang "Take My Breath Away" in Top Gun while Tom Cruise resuscitated Kelly McGillis with some lewd CPR. What I mean is that our kinky chick loves the German metropolis where she--along with other strange, intriguing women--makes innovative techno music that could reduce intelligent audiophiles to slobbering doofuses.

For the sake of this story, we could give our Anonymistress a Bond-girl alias. Let's call her Acid Maria. Or Miss Kitten. Or Peaches. No, wait! (You're salivating...) Let's imagine that this musical Ms. Right is instead three fantasy women, a techno-centric Charlie's Angels who make giant collages of "Boob Monsters," design video montages for their concerts, and often scream, "We don't play fucking guitars!" Let's call this triple-headed art-rock goddess Chicks on Speed. And then let's realize that we're all a bunch of sick individuals for worshiping such plastic idols as these.

Like any false god, Chicks on Speed stand prepared to be both venerated and disbelieved. The Berlin-based trio--which includes New Yorker Melissa Logan, Munich native Kiki Moorse, and Australian Alex Murray-Leslie--seem to derive a sadistic pleasure from tricking the public into believing that they are simply a figment of popular culture's imagination. It's easy to see how they work the charade: Their techno-synth/art-punk/digital-hardcore conceptual clamor is too kitschy and exaggerated to come from a "real" girl band. Let's call that a compliment.

COS originated with three art-school brats as a performance-art idea to transform themselves into a "fake band." On their debut Will Save Us All, they deadpanned B-52's covers, sang about Cindy Sherman, and twisted the function of a traditional band into a critique of the pop-music industry and consumer culture. Then suddenly, their song "Kaltes klares Wasser" hit the German charts at No. 16 and helped their "obscure" CDs start raking in the deutschemarks. Let's call that irony.

Or, as COS would say, call it optimism. "Irony is a great way to get at the cutting truth without getting depressed and jumping out the window," the Chicks explain to me in an e-mail correspondence. In this manner, they've taken their satirical slant into the mainstream. "We read the KLF manual How to Make a Number One [Hit] in 21 Days," they boast. "And for [the BBC's television program] Top of the Pops a few weeks ago, we did very trashy lip-synching."

Still, they're no karaoke puppets. The COS girls write some acerbic lyrics and serve as conceptual architects for their music (the actual labor is performed, in invisible-elf fashion, by electronic musicians like DJ Hell). Should this Jeff Koons-assembly-line approach not be sufficient to convince you of COS's artistry, they also sport their own line of lovely paper dresses.

"[The dresses] are for making yourself," they advise. "Or if you are lucky, you can rip them off of us at our show." Then perhaps you could play dress-up just like COS does. They play campy pop stars! They play warped beauty queens! And unless you count music samplers and mini-discs, the one thing they don't play is an instrument. But then again, neither do the girls in the Donnas. Let's call that rhetorical hyperbole.

Or should we? At times, it's difficult to know when COS is being serious. They're genuine about their love of fellow collage musicians Le Tigre. And they're sincere about supporting other female techno artists in Berlin: "We're also very excited that heaps and heaps of women are starting to do all these great inspirational projects!" But when they state that their aims are "to be a mass product, to go where Throbbing Gristle has never been before," one has to wonder what these strange, intriguing women are up to.

Then let's imagine another strange, intriguing woman. Let's call her Melissa. We'll pretend that she's the music editor at City Pages. And let's just suppose that she too sings campy songs, wears bizarre clothes, and screams a lot. Only she doesn't do it because she's an artist. She does it because she's a geek. Yet because Chicks on Speed will still let her interview them, and because their post-riot-grrrl cleverness makes her admire them, she feels compelled to write flip fantasies about them. Let's call that love.

 
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