Hugs and Kisses #20: Huggy Bear

Better than turkey with a table of assholes: Hugs and Kisses #20 from Plan B publisher Everett True.

Hugs and Kisses

The Outbursts of Everett True

THIS WEEK: something not lying around on Everett’s desktop, something not to do with Billy Childish or antifolk. Next week, Animals And Men reunion gig, promise

Huggy Bear are far from being a lost band.

Their influence—even now, especially now—is all over the UK independent music scene. Before Huggy Bear and their Riot Grrrl brethren and sisterhood, women were a scarcity in bands, crazily, scarily. But the shockwaves of Huggy Bear’s three-year existence at the start of the Nineties are still being felt: it’s long been assimilated into alternative consciousness that (duh!) women are just as talented as men, that (duh!) the music industry is still being run along primarily patriarchal (sexist) lines…and for a lot of this, we have the Riot Grrrls to thank.

Here’s the thing: Riot Grrrl barely existed in the UK, at least in its original form. Sure, Huggy Bear had co-conspirators and prime movers (Mambo Taxi, Blood Sausage, Voodoo Queens, Linus, et al). Most of them, however, were simply bands that were playing similar-sized venues at the same time: but were also bands that were equally alienated by the patronising (male) attitude towards women playing rock music. Indeed, the idea of women playing music is still so alien to some critics that even in 2006-7 we see articles in the mainstream UK press about “The Rise And Rise Of The Indie Hottie” (female only, in The Word), and that bastion of all things revolutionary (sarcasm), NME considered it a talking point that a woman (Beth Ditto) topped their Cool List at the end of 2006. (What? Women weren’t previously allowed to be cool? Yet this was a story that ran and ran in the British press.)

The strange thing was that Huggy Bear’s musical template was hardly revolutionary. It was a relatively straightforward mix between the twee, non-macho, post-C86 bands such as Heavenly and The Field Mice, caught up in the DIY cassette and fanzine culture emanating from labels such as Calvin Johnson’s K Records, and Bristol, England’s Sarah Records, and the noise/pop experimentation of the sonic overlords/ladies Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth…with a little Fifties beat poetry thrown in. No, it wasn’t so much the music that was revolutionary, as what they did with it. Scratch that. Huggy Bear’s deliberately naïve, anti-societal approach to playing guitar—there is no right and wrong way to play guitar, to paint a picture, to view art—was revolutionary inasmuch as it challenged accepted mores, forced listeners to re-evaluate their entire approach to music.

Hell, Huggy Bear’s attitude wasn’t that ground-breaking, surely? In tandem with their US sister band Bikini Kill (and their fellow Olympian sister and brother bands, Bratmobile, Heavens To Betsy, Nation Of Ulysses, The HaloBenders, et al), all they were trying to point out was, a) the popular media doesn’t necessarily know best, b) men don’t necessarily know best and c) they didn’t necessarily know best either, but at least they were questioning. All Huggy Bear wanted (to paraphrase the lyrics from ‘Her Jazz’, the performance of which got them thrown out the studios of cult youth TV programme The Word in February 1993) was a little boy-girl revolution. “Face it,” screamed Niki. “You’re old and out-of-touch.

In a way, the act of declaring oneself a revolutionary is revolutionary in itself. Despite their musical leanings, Huggy Bear with their rudimentary anarcho-syndicalism, ideas of equal ‘prime movers’ (not leaders) and impassioned feminism had more in common with mischief-mongers and Government-baiters Crass than any of the toy rabbit-clutching bands that followed. One listen to the fury threatening to devour the songs alive on their Wiiija compilation Taking The Rough With The Smooch proves that.

People typecast the Riot Grrrls as man-haters, all: sullen and bitter lesbians. How could that be, when the leading British band actually contained two men, including one of their singers?

At the height of Riot Grrrl, and at a time when Huggy Bear and their fellow conspirators had cut off all contact with the UK music press, Bikini Kill got offered five pages and the front cover of the NME to put forth their views. They refused, rightly: realising that often it’s the means of communication that is the most important. Legend has it that Nude Records – home to swaggeringly crap Britpop darlings Suede – asked Huggy Bear to sign with them. “Yes, we’ll sign with you,” Jo from the band stated, “if you drop Suede.” She gave Sub Pop even shorter shrift.

Huggy Bear had a message; however confusing and ill-formulated their message was, it was one that demanded to be heard. It was a message that had to be heard on its own terms to matter. BOY-GIRL REVOLUTION NOW!

It’s not that difficult to understand, surely?

HUGS AND KISSES TOP 5
What Everett True listens to while he’s waiting for the plumber to call

1. NANCY WHITE, “It’s So Chic To Be Pregnant At Christmas” (from the Trikont compilation album Wish You Best Christmas Ever). I’m a sucker for a Christmas song that picks up where Tom Lehrer left off.

2. DOUBLE DEUCE, “Window” (from the Trikont compilation album Our Own Voices Vol 3) Originally taken from the Trikont new urban (anti-)folk compilation Sidewalk Songs & City Songs, the harmonies here are pure bliss.

3. ASOBI SEKSU, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” (forthcoming Dream Pop Universelle single). Ramones given the shoe-gazing treatment: just the fact that Asobi Seksu have recognised that the song is worthy of keeping alive endears them to me.

4. THE BOBBY McGEE’S, “Kafkaesque/Kafkan” (from the forthcoming Cherryade EP ‘S’Amuser Com des Fous’). Prime UK antifolk (note the lack of hyphen): a duet utilising mandolins, performed in gruff Scots male accent and twee female – and another classic anti-Christmas song.

5. WILD BILLY CHILDISH & THE BUFF MEDWAYS, “John The Revalator” (from the Damaged Goods album XFM Sessions). I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought this was about the best damn old school gospel cover I’ve heard all year.


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