POP BANDS DREAM of fans, punk bands believe in The Kids; in the gears of the star-maker machinery always the twain shall meet, at which point you often wind up fucked from all sides. Glasgow, Scotland's pissed-off synth-pop/riot-punk trio Bis has experienced all this in hyper-speed. One day in 1993 they were "mainstream" teens buying their first Bikini Kill single because "it had a nice sleeve." A few hundred days and a bunch of their own riot-grrrl-inspired singles later they were the first Glasgow indie band ever to play (twice) on the BBC's Top of the Pops, the U.K. equivalent of American Bandstand meets Solid Gold. So now they're reacting--to a bona fide British hype frenzy, Japanese record sales topping 100,000, and various U.S. rave reviews, along with persecution from punk purists back home.
Over the phone from New York, keyboardist/singer Manda Rin (age 20) dismisses all this in one word: "fucked." "People are like, 'Oh yer sellin' out,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, we're selling records.' Like that's really selling out. We got on Top of the Pops. We got our crappie little gear into the shop. The first-ever little independent label from Glasgow got its name on the TV screen--and I thought that was an amazing thing to do. People think cuz we're on TV we don't need support anymore, but we do! We value everyone's support! Everyone's opinion is important!"
Liam Gallagher will never say that. Yet it's still easy to understand why punk purists, and old fans, might be a bit skeptical about the ascension of Bis. The self-proclaimed "sweet shop avengerz" go at punk, from X-Ray Spex to Sleater-Kinney, as something no less fun, and only a bit more political, than say, Transvision Vamp or Bananarama, bands whose "total girl power" Manda has loved since she was 9. On their album cover art they appear as three manga drawings (done by Manda) with fake names. (Sci-Fi Steven (18) and John Disco (21), both on guitar, round out the trio.) On stage they all hop around like ninnies, while four drum machines and a preprogrammed bass cut out the rhythmic middle men.
Their records follow suit. Bis's classic punk anthem, "Kill Yr Boyfriend," from their ingenious mini-LP This Is Teen-C Power, is the first riot-grrrl send-up to make room for a boy-sung rejoinder ("Kill my girlfriend!"). On this summer's full-length debut, The New Transistor Heroes, they load preteenish yawls against pop stars, rollerblade zeroes (do they have these people in Scotland?), and poseurs of all sizes on top of the most toy-like anthems imaginable, stoking a mean critique of pop from inside the diaspora, not unlike those of their friends Cibo Matto and Atari Teenage Riot.
In America this staunch sense of high-concept disposability has earned them the rock-critic tag "cutie pop," a distinction Manda despises ("c'mon, that's just plain stupid"). In England, chart success has made them sort of an indie-land anti-Spice Girls--just as brash, just as fun, but with a major difference. "We have a purpose. They're there to be looked at by boys. I'd rather be looked at by a girl, to be honest. I mean I can't say I don't like their music, because I'll admit it, it's kinda catchy. But I'm not gonna be goin' out and buyin' a push up bra. Know what I mean?" (Jon Dolan)
Bis performs Sunday at the 7th Street Entry. All ages. Doors at 3 p.m.
SPIRITS WERE HIGH and the house was packed at the 1997 Minnesota Music Awards at First Avenue last Thursday--after which Barbara Cohen and Jonny Lang's mom both went home with a lot of bronze. Cohen picked up the the esteemed Artist of the Year award as well as the Best Female Vocalist prize. Cohen's and Paul Robb's band Brother Sun Sister Moon meanwhile continued their mad streak of acclaim, winning Minnies for Best Pop Recording and Best Electronica Recording for The Great Game. Lang, on the other hand, snared both Male Vocalist and Blues Artist, plus the Blues Recording and Major Label Recording prizes (for Lie to Me) and Song of the Year (for the title track). Sukpatch nabbed the New Artist award, but unfortunately were not able to perform (perhaps they were revising their plans to leave town...). Cameo-wise, a rumored Babes in Toyland vocal performance of "We Are Family," backed by The Sensational Joint Chiefs, never happened, though both bands played separately. And host Robyne Robinson lent an unprecedented glamour to the affair with three elaborate costume changes. Why don't they let her do that on the Channel 9 News?
It was a great show, but we noted a couple of problems with this year's nomination and voting process. The first is that a handful of albums nominated for awards were technically ineligible, since they fell outside of the ballot year of April 1, 1996 to March 31, 1997. This applies to April 1997 full-length releases from Polara, The Jayhawks, Flipp and Magnatone, as well as The Honeydogs' older Everything, I Bet You--which won Best Americana Recording in 1996 and somehow won Best Rock Recording in 1997. Now, we're not suggesting the Honeydogs should be deprived of their award, since they did make the vote. But in the future, the Minnesota Music Academy should enlist a fact-checker as anal as this writer--which they assure us they will. And those other bands' records (none of which won anything) should still be considered eligible next year.
Of course, grumbling about the MMA is a popular spectator sport. Which brings us to complaint number two: the fact that just more than 10 percent of the MMA's 250-person membership voted on the final ballot. You can't legitimately kvetch that Jonny Lang should have received a nomination for Artist of the Year (as if commercial success necessarily equals artistic merit) if you didn't help in the public nomination process. I mean, politics is one thing, but if people feel so jaded and powerless these days that we can't even be bothered to participate in something as simple, fun, and community-minded as the Minnesota Music Awards, we're in a pretty sorry state (pun intended). So if you care enough to complain, and you're not already an MMA member, you might start with the MMA info line at 229-3121. Obviously, the more people who sign up, the more meaningful the awards--and other Minnesota music functions--will be. (Simon Peter Groebner)
THE MMA CEREMONY was also the last local appearance of radio personality Shawn Stewart. On Thursday, Shawn ends her 13 years in the Twin Cities and departs for greener pastures in Philadelphia, where she's accepted the position of assistant music director at WXPN--an adventurous, noncommercial pop station at the University of Pennsylvania. Stewart says her new radio home shares a "similar synergy" with her late employer REV 105, and has nearly as strong a reputation.
Still, she finds it hard to leave Minneapolis. "I only wanted to work at one other radio station," she says, "and it was this one. It was magical the way it happened." She'll also be co-producing their World Cafe program, an intelligent daily pop program syndicated by our own Public Radio International. (Yet it's not broadcast in the Twin Cities; how lame is that?) No word yet on whether her acclaimed Moonlight Meditations show will reincarnate, but there's been some talk about producing an online version sometime in the near future.
We couldn't let this Minnesotan original depart without some farewell words of wisdom, about the REV 105 experience and beyond. "This has been an amazing lesson in supporting something that you love," she says. "So be choosy consumers. It's important in America right now; this is a really decisive time in that individuals have to support smaller businesses, or everywhere you look and turn is going to be The Gap and Starbucks and that's all. The more individuals that have voices, the louder our community will sing." (Groebner)
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