Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tender Trap "Step One" (Fortuna Pop!) (part two)

Sorry about that. Where were we ? Ah yes. "Step One", the new(ish) single from Tender Trap, is... oh, but can we crave your indulgence just one more time ?

If you remember, "Step One" came out just as Pussy Riot were convicted and sent down. Now we'll just have to agree to disagree about Pussy Riot's music: I must vouch that I think it's a fine racket. Which makes just me and Everett True (mind you, he goes on to spoil it by suggesting that the nonplussingly-overhyped "Ill Manors" may be better: Simon Reynolds is much closer to the mark on that one).
 
But whatever you think about Pussy Riot's songs, their charade of a trial was madness (and we say this as self-confessed Russophiles, in thrall to a fabulous, fascinating country with an incredible history and a tapestry of enviable literary and musical tradition). It's worth reading the judgment in full and trying to guess what century it belongs in: at times, it's positively unhinged. Take this, for example:

"The court does find a religious hatred motive in the actions of the defendants by way of them being feminists who consider men and women to be equal... Orthodox Christianity, and Catholic Christianity and other denominations do not agree with feminism and their own values are not in line with feminists.

In a modern society relations between various nationalities and between religious denominations must be based on mutual respect and equality and idea that one political movement can be superior to another gives root to perspective hatred between various opinions."

Wow. That is total mentalism on any level (and, yes, we know that the last paragraph reflects reasoning used to fashion some of our own "respect"-based laws). It's also no surprise that the case engendered a familiarly unsympathetic response from the usual misogynistic blowhards on message boards in our own, "civilised" country, who seem to regard any reference to feminism, in any form, with such strange fear (we in our indie-pop bubble are far from immune to this, as many a response to Clare's more strident contributions to the Sarah fanzines proved all too vividly, while the complacent and unhelpful responses of many to this modest but well-meaning experiment show how far we have to go, some of the point-missing surely being wilful).
 
Aside from the nonsense of Putin's power politics, an intriguing sideshow to the Pussy Riot episode has been seeing Kathleen Hanna et al resurface in the media, and renewed interest - however fleeting - in the Riot Grrrl phenomenon. For we're of the age to remember Riot Grrrl pitting boy against boy and girl against boy and girl against girl in toilet venues across the UK and US, and to remember it with relish, and to treasure the way it felt to protest and be excited and to be angry, and to rail at each other just as we railed at wider society. In many ways, it was a second coming of the fanzine culture, too. In issue 4 of Jigsaw, Kathleen Hanna wrote:
 
"I don't know what this means anymore than anyone... only what it means to me, Standing proud and saying "I don't know who I am, I wanna know more, I am not afraid to say things matter to me""
 
and hey, that may not seem the most erudite quotation to pick, but to me that admission of vulnerability and the attendant uncertainty helps better *explain* the appeal of riot grrrl... that it was about DISCOVERY *not* just didacticism... much as accusations of the latter were constantly levelled at its exponents, and on this side of the water, at the Huggy Nation that had totemic UK combo Huggy Bear at its epicentre.

We saw Huggy Bear play a few times back then, but our favourite was probably a night at the Jericho Tavern twenty years ago, possibly supporting the Pastels, when as we recalled here,

"the band started ganging up on a member of the audience who'd been singing "boy / girl revolution" along to "her jazz", carpeting him in no uncertain terms for failing to recognise that the band was actually calling for "girl / boy revolution"..."
 
At the time, the incident - the Huggies abandoning the song halfway through so that they could berate their audience properly - seemed totally in keeping with the nature of the beast, and added to the tension and the *fire* of that movement, however briefly that conflagration flickered in any kind of sustained media spotlight. It's a fire we could really do with now: after all, we're now firmly ensconced in a world where feminism has been critically sidelined in favour of the more nebulous and free market-friendly "girl power", a gift handed down from high by those obvious successors to the suffragette movement, the Spice Girls (as an aside, for seven brief days the phrase "Girl Power" belonged to Shampoo instead: their song of that name had teased the hit parade for a week before the Spice Girls made their chart bow). By 2012, the fact that no female artists ever wear more than their underwear on MTV is seen not only as a given, but as some kind of positive empowerment issue. Which nearly reminds us of the great Even As We Speak "swimwear in the video" debate, but better not go there now.
 
What has any of this got to do with Tender Trap, you ask ? Well, for a start, Dame Amelia Fletcher doesn't get enough attention for her part in fanning the flames of riot grrrl. We're not suggesting a direct lineage from "Where's The Cougar, Matey", say, to the Huggy Nation, although as Simon Reynolds acknowledges in "Bring The Noise", the C86 / "cutie" scene did help pave the way for the grrrls. But it seems clear that Amelia was, however unwittingly, something of an agente provocateur in uniting the US and UK riot grrrl scenes: see Pete Dale's fine treatise, "Anyone Can Do It", for more on this. 
 
We remember, too, with no little fondness, how Amelia joined with Huggy Bear on Channel 4's "The Word" one Friday night for a cracking performance that prompted one of our housemates to remark, in the classical tradition, "that's not music, that's just noise" and stomp off in a huff. (Huggy Bear's first ever gig, of course, was supporting Heavenly, with both bands going on to record for Wiiija, too). And Heavenly's drummer Mathew Fletcher (r.i.p) acknowledged the US grrrls, covering Bratmobile's "Panik" for the Bugbear's sole LP (to bring things back to Ms Hanna, but also to the personal, our 1990s compilation tapes would invariably put another track from that album, the rather un-Heavenlyish "I Like Violence", alongside Bikini Kill's equally lively - and self-explanatory - single, "I Like Fucking").

*Sigh*. This all makes sense in our heads, it just loses a certain something when we try to put it in linear form. It's just that... well, we've got the sleevenotes to Huggy Bear's "Her Jazz" 7" in front of us...

"IMMEDIATE NOW POSSIBILITY:- truck loads of girl groups and girl-boy groups ready to riot to the sound of their own desire... turning history into herstory, challenging dull, restrictive conceptions of difference. Transforming noise friction into a precise beat critique."

At the time, that applied to Heavenly as much as Huggy Bear, and for us it still applies to Tender Trap, a band who continue to fly in the face of macho pop tradition. Not so much with their music - for the idea that indie-pop is somehow 'girly' is as old as the hills and as wrong as wrongness itself - but in lyrics that cut dead the somewhat passive depiction of female protagonists that you find elsewhere in indiedom (you know, the unfailingly high percentage of songs that portray the girl one-dimensionally as either unattainable object of desire, or cruel bringer of undeserved heartbreak, or both). And that's something to be cherished.

Which brings us back to "Step One".

2 comments:

J D Brown said...

If we're charting the etymology of 'Girl Power' then surely we have to cite Helen Love's excellent Formula One Racing Girls from 1993, long before The Spice Girls were even thought of.

"I got my Huggy Bear T-Shirt on, Girl Power"

moscow olympic said...

Thanks - that's a good point and nicely links indie-pop, riot grrl AND the all-pervading "girl power" meme.

For me, the first group to ooze girl power were probably Cookie Crew - not that they ever used the term!

But then, that probably rather shows my age...

Cheers,