Thursday, July 20, 2006

Marx Sisters

Vivien Goldman, a British journalist/musician writes for August's Wire about Chicks on Speed's gig at New York's MoMA on 24 June 2006:

"... seeing Chicks on Speed perform at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Effervescent, capricious and blessed with a Marx Sisters lunacy, the Chicks reminded me that some three decades had in fact passed since I first wrote about Women In Rock, back when a chick with a guitar was as noteworthy as quintuplets. (They hadn't yet invented IVF.)

The Chicks channelled the girly musicians I used to write about and sometimes also jam with, like The Slits, The Raincoats and Delta 5. Wearing a frothy skirt of multicoloured netting and what looked like rather painful black duct tape on her nipples, one Chick launched a programmed beat that seemed oddly familiar. Right before the vocals came in, I realised it was a speedier, electro take on Delta 5's agreeably stroppy vintage single, 'Mind Your Own Business'. Despite the shift in groove, Chicks on Speed stayed faithful to the original's insistent assurance. The expression had changed; but the rebel girl stance remained. It hit me like a drumroll that the change wasn't just in the drum pattern, but in our lives.

Chicks on Speed owned the stage with an assurance that also comes from knowing that, freaky and free as they are, their business operation is sound and functions independently. Their gig is viable. Most of the 70s/80s 'typical girls', including The Slits, Lora Logic and X-Ray Spex, were always marginalised as volatile novelties by the record industry.

While they played, the Chicks screened footage of themselves and friends cavorting naked on a rooftop, with the impish insouciance of a Dick Lester-era Beatles flick. Even in today's quite prudish New York, no MoMA guard came rushing to pull the plug. It was art, after all, and also an elated pagan, pan-sexual Bacchante frenzy flickering behind a giant sculpture by Rodin. At a moment when when pole dancers, strippers and hoes in general dominate so much hiphop discourse, without controlling the conversation, it was refreshing to see females get naked because they want to, filming themselves and controlling the use of their work. Definitely different from the reaction I got from my editor at Melody Maker when I rushed into his office in 1979 waving the first Slits album, Cut, with its sleeve of the trio naked and daubed in mud, and begged him to let me review it. The editor looked at the sleeve, blanched and gagged. "But they're so fat!" he finally exclaimed of the three regular-to-slender young women. "How could they do it?" Although they only got to make one more album, The Slits had clearly pressed a button marked ESCAPE -- and 30 years on, the door had swung open for Chicks on Speed. Their different drums marked a flightpath."

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