Princess of the Voodoo Beat – Anjali Bhatia and her Voodoo Queens

voodooqueens

Ramshackle.

Shambolic.

Riotous.

Riot grrrls.

Girl power.

Spiky.

Angry.

Hilarious.

Playful.

It was very difficult to see or hear music that wasn’t, in some way or another, attached to the Britpop scene/sound/era during its peak years between 1994-97…it was everywhere.  Top of the Pops, the charts, the Chart Show (and not just on indie week), the NME, the Melody Maker, Select, the news, newspapers, television, films.  Turn around any corner, in any town, on any day and the chances are you would bump into a kid in a skinny t-shirt, a pair of Samba’s and a “Parklife” tour t-shirt.

“…man shall not live by bread alone…”

(Matthew 4:4, King James Bible)

Other things were happening of course…it was just a bit difficult to find it or, more accurately, to find the time for it.

One of the things that did slip through to me was Riot Grrrl.

An intoxicating blend of indie rock, punk, politics, feminism and sexual politics it was a scene designed to irritate…almost everyone.  These were not bands who were interested in finding favour with the “establishment”, whether that was the media, the music press, other musicians or record labels.  These were people who were angry…no, these were people who were furious about the personal, the political, the public and the private.  These were people with things to say and the fuel of blind rage to give them the strength to say them.

The original US bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney soon inspired a small clutch of UK bands to pick up their guitars and then use them to play a similar brand of punk-pop or to whack some drunken “geezer” over the top of his noggin at a gig for sexually harassing women.  Sometimes they would be inspired to do both things within the same moment.

The gig experience can be a fabulous thing…thrilling, visceral, uplifting, healing.  It can also be a fantastically awful experience; tall men standing in front of people who are smaller than they are and thus obstructing their view instead of just saying “Hey, do you want to stand in front of me?  I can still see!”, drunken men (and I am sorry brethren but it is ALWAYS men) shouting incoherently and throwing full, or partially full, plastic beakers filled with booze (or worse) into the crowd, the stench of farts (I’m going to go full radical feminist and blame this on men too) and then those obnoxious people (of both genders) who talk ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE GIG.  Now all of those problems affect both men and women but they are mainly experienced by the female of the species and they have the added burden of some awful gut Lord marching into their space in order to grope, grab, grind against and, if we are being honest, sexually harass and assault women because…well, just because.

The riot grrrl movement said a great big “NO” to all of that and set about trying to create a scene where women could feel safe, where they could hear other women’s voices and where they could see people who looked like them on stage.

That all sounds very serious.

It was.

I think it probably still is.

Ask your female friends about it…I don’t think you will like what they have to say.

The Voodoo Queens were as furious, as indignant, as militant as any of their British or American counterparts but, crucially, they added a pinch of wit, a spoonful of funny and a hint of being willing to embrace pop music.  That meant that they had what it takes to reach a wider audience and so change minds and attitudes along the way.

Their debut single “Supermodel Superficial” exhibited everything that would see them worm their way into my heart.  It was 1993 and the New Wave of New Wave hadn’t exactly set the world on fire and what would come to be known as Britpop was no more than a twinkle in the minds eye of Stuart Maconie at Select magazine.  Into that pop soil Cornershop had arrived with “Elvis Sex Change” (a record that everyone should own) and “Supermodel Superficial” seemed to have something in common with it…an anger, a very modern version and vision of Britishness and a sense of humour.

“I don’t give a shit, if I’m not hip

No, I haven’t got…legs that reach the sky

And I don’t, painfully, wonder why

It’s not my aim in life

To possess a Paris lip smile

Or to dream of a shallow, supermodel lifestyle

Supermodel (do you hear me?)

Superficial”

That, my friends, is quite the way to introduce yourself to a world obsessed with physical appearance, gender roles and that deifies women who walk up and down catwalks wearing clothes they didn’t design and that, in all likelihood, they don’t actually like.

Follow up “Kenuwee Head” was equally acidic, taking pot shots at celebrity culture and the vacuous responses to utterly mundane events like Keanu Reeves cutting his hair!  It was a riot of punk bluster and lyrics so smart they could have been made on Savile Row.

Eventually, in 1994, we got the debut album “Chocolate Revenge”.

Timing is everything in pop music and, sadly, for the Voodoo Queens they arrived at exactly the moment the entire world had decided to embrace the giddy, silly, technicolor wonders of Britpop.

Everyone wanted to cut down on their pork life.

Everyone wanted a wonderwall.

Nobody was looking back in anger.

Nobody could imagine the world without them.

Their was no home for a Voodoo Queen.

That, and I really cannot overstate this, is a tragedy.

“Chocolate Revenge” is an album that should be required listening…

No, wait.

“Chocolate Revenge” is an album that should be compulsory listening for…everyone.

It’s hilarious in places, especially in the song titles…”I’m Not Bitter (I Just Want to Kill You)”, “Shopping Girl Maniac”, “My Favourite Handbag”, “You’re Dumped”.  It has things to say about race, sexual politics, politics, love, relationships, life and goodness knows what else besides.

You could wait a long time to hear something as urgent, as righteous, as amusing, as clever and as ace as “Chocolate Revenge” or you could just go ahead and listen to “Chocolate Revenge” right now then pray to whatever God you might believe in to get them back together.  Oh…if you don’t believe in any God you could always just write a letter to Santa and see if he could help out, Christmas is ages away and he will probably be glad of the chance to do something before it all kicks off again.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/6AKBYVyTTICVVvujliA3c4

 

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