MUSIC THAT TIME FORGOT: 1997
In 1996, Bis, 'the first unsigned band to play Top Of The Pops', seemed like unfeasibly young pop stars aged between 17 and 19. They wrote fanzines and encouraged everyone who followed them to write their own zines and start their own bands. As a kind of umbrella situationist ethic with which to guide people, they invented their own 'movement': Teen-C.
Teen-C was intended as a kind of youth-empowering manual for living. It mainly involved liking sweets, hairgrips and Japanese comics, and being, y'know, underground. Bis tried to add some insurrectionary glamour to justify the sugar, and imported some elements of Riot Grrl's righteous rhetoric. Journalists publicly picked them to pieces.
Teen-C spawned one band: Dweeb. Dweeb looked and sounded identical to Bis - but were better-looking and less political.
Teen-C didn't really exist, but its ideals had already been fermenting in bedrooms across the UK. The movement's membership couldn't have been any more than the number of people who bought 'Catsuit City' by Kenickie (pressing: 500), but practically all of those people were actively involved in its creation in forming or putting on bands, in scrawling fanzines. All of those people were teenagers and the vast majority of them were girls.
The scene lasted roughly between mid-1996 and mid-1998. It existed, tangibly, in the overlap between three documented pseudo-scenes: Teen-C, Bratpop, and the nebulous 'Glitter Scene'. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to name it '1997'.
'Bratpop' saw NME lasso teenagers Bis, Symposium, Kenickie, Snug and Midget into what they perceived to be some kind of junior league Britpop. It was a crap name, and with a couple of exceptions it was mostly crap music.
'The Glitter Scene' existed almost solely in the badly-photocopied, glitter-sprinkled pages of fanzines like Abuse Yr Friends, R*E*P*E*A*T and Quirk. More girls, more keyboards, more glamour. Its de facto leaders were Disco Pistol an average band armed with all the bravura of a hurricane. The glitter scene's godhead were Kenickie, a band who having already completed their A-levels were practically geriatric.
In the overlap of these three scenes, in 1997, there was a flurry of seven inches and demos from bands that mostly never released anything else: Agebaby, Charlie's Angels, Cheetara, Disco, Disco Pistol, Gel, Girlfrendo, Helen Love, Mogul, Period Pains, The Pin-Ups, Pink Kross, Velodrome 2000, VyVyan and Xerox Girls to name just a few.
1997 began in 1993. 1997's grandmothers were two Plumstead schoolgirls called Jacqui and Carrie. They wrote a Manic Street Preachers fanzine, Last Exit, and infamously lezzed up in the video for 'Little Baby Nothing'. In 1993, Bob Stanley released a record they made. Shampoo became inevitably massive in Japan, invented girl power and made-up brilliant songs about bunking off school and being bored.
Shampoo were the absolute antithesis of the authenticity-prizing boyrock known as Britpop, and they were absolutely amazing.
What 1997 represented was a do-it-yourself pop music. It sounded shambolic and lo-fi because any music sounds shambolic when you've only been playing your instruments for a few months. Period Pains were fucking 13! The only music they knew was Kenickie and Bis and the songs their mates made up.
1997 became proper pop when Kenickie released 'Punka' in 1996 a bitchslap to the more-lo fi-than-thou posing of Bis and the hipsters who slated them for leaving zero-funds indie Slampt, setting up with EMI. Charlie's Angels covered Take That and toured as support to Ant & Dec, and another Byker Grove pop spin-off Crush, featuring Donna Air were an honorary 1997 group, with their brilliantly irreverent 'Jellyhead' hit. There just wasn't a shred of strummy indie in Helen Love.
The bands were either all girls or girl-dominated, and pop is an innately female artform, if only because teenage girls don't usually have the hang-ups about music that teenage boys have. And like pop, and unlike Riot Grrl, femininity here was normalised. In 1997 we probably weren't aware enough of actual gender issues for gender to be an issue, other than of journalists who kept asking Kenickie "What's it like being a girl in a band?" WTF?
It wasn't twee, either. You can't really be twee when you're 16 it's an entirely grown-up, indie, and mostly male construct; a faux-naïve regression based in nostalgia.
Public schoolgirls Period Pains snarled about wanting a pony, hating the Spice Girls, and giving 17-year-old boys blowjobs in the park; Xerox Girls sang about their stupid trendy mates turning into goths ("Fuck off back to the Slimelight with your stupid, ugly, lank of piss boyfriend you poxy little CUNT"); Cheetara covered Kenickie's 'Come Out 2Nite' the most heartbreaking song about going out and getting pissed with your mates ever, because, as Simon Price commented, it was like the end scene from Grease when they're all singing and you just know now school's over they're never gonna see each other again. The end of the world, practically.
1997 ended in mid-1998, for a whole bunch of reasons. The sheer number of releases in 12 months had made the style an established meme, to the point of cliche.
Disco Pistol got signed and disappeared. Charlie's Angels, similarly, were lured away by Malcolm McLaren, with 'big plans' for them that never materialised. Spice Girls sven gali Simon Fuller cribbed the 1997 style, snapping up a school-age Dudley band, who he launched as 21st Century Girls. Period Pains briefly the best band in the whole world put out a loathsome, homophobic rant called 'Ex-Boyfriend', which completely crushed their 'punk' credibility.
Some zines had big hopes for Chicks, but their Gunsmith Cats-referencing lyrics were almost committee-designed 1997 cliches. The label they were on transpired to be a pseudo-independent, an imprint of a major looking to make something marketable out of the loose ends and glorious half ideas left by the scores of 1997 bands who only existed to make one decent song and stick it out on a compilation like Snakebite City.
Lifelong best mates Kenickie split acrimoniously into two.
Perhaps the biggest dividing factor, though, was simply university. The 1980 kids made new friends, and started growing up.
In 2007, ten years later, we're grown up and we've got jobs. 1997 left no discernable legacy. There are traces of it Help She Can't Swim are totally a 1997 band grown up and got really fucking angry. Disco Pistol starlet Mira Manga recently re-emerged with a new band, The Duloks, and Kieron Gillen's Phonogram comic is an unashamed loveletter to 1997. But in 2007 incredibly there are almost no girls playing in indie bands.
This was the last stand of fanzines, before the internet made everything faster and better but more far away. It wasn't important to anyone, except a lonely 16-year-old boy in the North of England, and the network of 499 other kids who wrote fanzines, started nights, formed bands whose flyers and zines would literally explode on my mum's doormat every week cos they were filled to bursting with glitter hearts 'n' stars.
It's hard to summarise how exciting that felt when you're 26. I can only leave it in the words of an anonymous band ad I just found in the collage sleevenotes to the ...And The Rest Is History compilation, 1997's Nuggets:
"Guitar and bassist needed. Teenagers only. Influences: Bis, Pistols, Kenickie, 1997, excitement, speed, boredom, sex and revolutions. 0171 4852078."
Bis are reforming this month. I'll see you there.
by Unpop, http://www.myspace.com/unpopunpop