This is Siouxsie and the Banshees / They are patient / They will win / In the end.
A WORLD DOMINATION BY 1984 SPECIAL / By Paul Morley.
Siouxsie is the frail-faced, tough-minded, strange-light-in-her-eyes voice/performer of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
When she was a little girl... "I was very lonely actually. The few friends I had were gypsies. When I was eight I tried to commit suicide to get noticed by my parents. I used to do things like fall on the floor upstairs so that they’d think I’d fallen downstairs, and I’d have bottles of pills in my hands. I’ve always felt on the outside, really."
She, like the rest of the group, admits to being a loner. They don’t really like people. A thing they have in common. Their reason for existing is to perform noise with meaning for people to share and benefit from. They could be the last "rock" group. The only "rock" group. They are not a "rock" group. They are twentieth century performers.
Friday night at the Nashville. An incongruous/traditional venue, it would seem, for Siouxsie and the Banshees. Isn’t anywhere? It is ‘an occasion’. Names/faces are scattered, to be noticed and not to be noticed, perhaps admiring the path of individualism. Wayne County, Billy Idol, Marianne Faithful, Andy Czezowski, Howard Pickup, Jordan and so on. It is a sell out. People straggle outside, hoping for admission. Some, absurdly, produce five pound notes in vain attempts at bribing the doorman. What is this?
Calm down and reflect on a bewildering reputation. It’s now 15 months since the Banshees in a spirited, impulsive shot of audience participation, went on stage at the 100 Club and set their precedent for the unique, shocking honest. That’s a dark, distant past, perhaps the only period that the Banshees actually felt that they belonged to something. Felt part of anything... a movement that pressed self-destruct early on, a movement whose successful ones were, with odd exception, the shrewdest, the most adaptable to the business as opposed to the most creative, challenging, changing and committed.
For their first ‘performance’ at the 100 Club the Banshees were Sid Vicious on drums, Marco (now in The Models) on guitar, Steve Havoc on bass, Siouxsie singing. In March/April of ‘77 a concentrated Siouxsie and the Banshees appeared, playing their first real gig at the Roxy, Siouxsie singing, Steve on bass, Kenny (who was one of the original ‘punks’) looking different, dancing around, on drums, P.P. Barnum on guitar. They were poor and unformulated, but intense. From about this period, they appear in Don Letts’ flicker-movie, bad-mouthing the owner of the Roxy, having small fun at others’ expense. About May they begin to move out into the provinces, speculative but never boring.
From there, the growth has been subdued and careful. P.P. Barnum left (he’s now formed Heroes), Martin was brought in. The group, as to be expected, have touched controversy, the result of frustration. There’s been a farcical fracas with the police, resulting in a Ł20 fine for Siouxsie, and the infamous spraying incident, "Sign Siouxsie and the Banshees." A few prestige gigs with Buzzcocks in Manchester and London, a So It Goes appearance, a John Peel session. No record deal, except the occasional futile one-off, and it’s only in the last few months that they gelled in any way as a considered, permanent group. And now?
Their development has happened away from the sub-culture acceleration. On the outside, taking the best from the inside. There is no rush. They are patient.
Quietly spoken, softly articulating methods and motives, patient in contrived conversation at interviewers’ misconceptions/hesitations, learning as much as the provoker. "It’s funny, now we’re starting to do interviews, we’ve just begun to understand what we’re doing, whereas before without doing interviews we never really thought about motives."
Having understood that, publicity - which, because of the mode of expression that the Banshees have superficially adopted, is achieved through exposure in the ‘rock press’ - is necessary for the Banshees to reach some kind of identifiable mass. Even fame! But more, too. Now that they have been caught - through no fault of their own except their obvious uniqueness and thus their prospective ‘hipness’, in the media persecuting/giggling myth - they must perpetuate jargon to denounce shamefully demoralising distortions through ignorant miscomprehension (Huh??? -Ed).
About these miscomprehensions, they are understandably sensitive. No bitterness/grudges. Hurt, puzzlement. For a group who leave such a huge question mark after their work, it is hard for them to take being so readily wrapped and dismissed, often as either "oh-a-girl, the-future-is-female. Great. Next" or a "ooh-nazism-nasty-destroy. Next".
They have indeed been mistreated, through, admittedly, as regards ‘Nazism’, initial lack of forethought. They wore swastikas. There were stiff-armed salutes. Their lushly subversive, brutally sensual words and the rhythmic/anthemic noise they create to form an undoubted teutonic heaviness didn’t help.
"But always with any sort of politics, which is why we haven’t got any, you get extremists, and once you get extremists you get people doing great things and terrible things... for every following of some sort you get followers who distort things. If people don’t understand things, they should say so. There’s too much pride. We don’t understand."
And yet, despite disruptions/distortions... despite the fact that they have no record deal... despite, paramountly, ignorance, Siouxsie and the Banshees find themselves in an almost enviable position.
Siouxsie is, according to the NME poll, the fourteenth most popular singer in the world. They hold the house record at the Vortex. They sold out The Nashville two nights running. They have made no commitment sacrifices, no compromises, and they feel comfortable that what they’re saying is necessary.
"Things have to go on. We’re trying to show that it does not have to be pop punk next, it doesn’t have to be the same old rock’n’roll riffs. We don’t like trends. We formed initially because we felt we had something of our own to say. What was happening was lacking in certain aspects - it needed a different point of view, a variant on things, but with the same attack, impact."
Off on a variant... not like anyone else. Is it this different way of doing things/saying things/playing things that has attracted this curious following? Is there sympathy with the Banshees? A common recognition of the need for individual regeneration, the realisation that men must suffer to know joy, some genuine concern as to when a nihilism becomes a barbarism? Is there admiration/appreciation of the way that Siouxsie and the Banshees have conclusively shown the amount of expression/variation possible utilising unorthodox and minimal techniques?
Or is it just hip to like them, for numerous reasons? Is it easy to jump up and down to them? Are they the new trend? "Well, there’s the girl thing... there’s a lot of people who’ve latched onto us because of the... because they’ve understood things that aren’t there... like being labelled Nazis, things like that... many of the audience don’t understand, but that’s irrelevant as long as they get the feel that we’re doing something different... we probably don’t understand ourselves completely."
Whatever the reasons, genuine or misplaced, for their popularity, it exists, and their presence and power in performance probably propels enough feel for an audience to intuitively grasp that they’re not absorbing run-of-the-mill music/noise. It is almost hypnotic, an unfortunate association. Uninhibited, precise noise with very few reference points. Clean, perversely addictive, with more than an ounce of freedom. Unconventional in form, but no way inaccessible. Structured noise. Do they view themselves as musicians? An emphatic ‘no’.
"As non-musicians. Sound innovators." A comprehensible term? " It’s an interesting... interesting noises... certain songs that rely on the drum beat... some relying on voice... some on guitar... experimenting, not just using a voice to say baby, baby... it’s making different sounds with what you’ve got. We go out of our way not to be musicians... we don’t rehearse until our fingers bleed.
"We can play rock’n’roll, but we ignore it, shove it in a corner. We don’t see ourselves in the same context as rock’n’roll groups. We’re out on a limb. It is dangerous, but it excites us, makes it worthwhile."
Visually, the group set no principles. Concentration from the three musicians. Instinctive bodily maneuvering from Siouxsie. Snapped, harsh, asexual, she wears shorts/short skirts for freedom of movement. She is nicknamed ‘android’ by the group. Her make-up, which eerily transforms her wistful, wistful pale face into the hard lined clown-tragedian, is the one concession to the audience. Her voice is staggered. No orthodox fluid melodies, but clipped, forced lines, sharply falling and rising, forming careful, idiosyncratic ‘hooks’.
She displays no exhaustion, exhilaration, amusement, frustration, or any of those other colourful sideshows that performers often find in themselves. In the early days there was little nervousness when she got on stage. Now, she gets very nervous. "Maybe it’s because there’s a lot more emotion put into what we’re doing now... when you just get up there like we used to the emotion that comes up... you’re not realising it..." Emotion? "Passion... it’s just emotion full stop. There’s no other words. It’s just one thing."
If the emotions of the group have toughened/flowered over the last few months, maybe in sub-conscious desire to communicate something blurred but precious and important, then so has the group’s overall intensity as performers. Weaknesses are gradually eradicated, the process of self-discovery.
"Now, we seem to have some sense of direction. Though we don’t know what it is... over the last year we haven’t got tangled. We have just kept a different way of doing things. We haven’t just gone out and done every gig that we’ve been offered. The best gigs are those when you go down really badly but you know you’ve done a good set... we don’t really need audience approval... the way we approach it, we’re out there and we’re putting on a show for ourselves and anyone who wants to put their hands in, well, they can.
"We’re not out to give everyone a ‘good time’, oh you can come onstage, you’re the same as us. It’s not like that, ‘cos we go on stage and it’s for us and if anyone wants to take something it’s up to them. We’re not going to impose anything on anyone, so in some respects it’s not entertainment. It’s entertainment for some people but it’s not mainstream entertainment.
"We’re very aware of coming across as pretentious and that’s one thing that we’re all scared of, so we’ve never actually said, this is art, this is that... we leave it all open, we don’t define anything so we can go back on ourselves like anyone else and find things that we didn’t see before. We don’t really like being tagged as anything, but it is inevitable that people have to tag something to understand it."
Of the Banshees’ performance, fifty percent is music/noise, fifty percent is words. Complementary, equally important. The words are of a strange language, derived from experience and observation, shilling vignettes of minor atrocities and gruesome indulgences, of frustration, of unrequited love. From the dark side of life, grinning, perverted, subversive; euphoria and depression, vision and pessimism mysteriously co-exist. The truth in ugliness. Striving to manufacture some semblance of order, of purposefulness, set against the absurdity and pointlessness of life. Their realism is vital, snatches of everyday life exaggerated for effect. No-one sings songs like these; there must be room for abrupt confrontation. "People live in a dreamworld".
Make Up To Break Up
Spots and warts and blemishes
and deep receding crevices
seem to disappear
when foundation’s on my face
when foundation’s on my face
Girls with eyes like swimming pools
are the ones that I despise
‘cos I need lots of colour
to hide my bloodshot eyes
to hide my bloodshot eyes
Now comes the break up from the
just like the devil’s rain
c... c... c... colours run insane.
Foundation starts to tremble
My nose a grotesque abstract
My mouth a gaping gap
My eyes are shooting blood
We’re all spastics
we’re all paralysed
cancer in the ears
cataract in the eyes
we’re all dismembered
we’re all in stitches
wrapped in bandages
stumble with crutches
I was washing up the dishes
minding my own business
when my string snapped
I had a relapse... a suburban relapse
Throw things at the neighbours
expose myself to strangers
kill myself or... you
now memory gets hazy
I think I must be crazy
But my strings snapped
I had a relapse... a suburban relapse.
Such abrasive, uncompromising language, and the way that it's presented, is not of the type that is liable to entice record companies to propose lucrative deals. The group realises this is important.
They have got as far as they can in terms of reaching people without records.
"We want to become successful because it would mean that people are confronting what we’re putting down on vinyl and paper... but if we are, we’d probably be successful for the wrong reasons, and that’s something we can’t avoid."
Problems facing the controversial/different/indefinable - "Everyday there’s a problem about having to compromise... everyday there’s a reporter wanting to interview just Siouxsie, take pictures of Siouxsie, getting across that it’s a backing band for Siouxsie. It’s not that at all. It’s a four-piece band... who supports us, who plays with us, it’s so hard when there’s not many we like... getting certain people in on the guest list, record company people... having to deal with the record company people because they’re so out of touch with things. In the end you have to explain yourself in the most basic, moronic way and that takes something away. Record companies aren’t there to help a band progress, that’s bullshit. They’re there to give the bands a little money and make as much money for themselves. They don’t care if a band falls by the wayside as long as they’ve made enough money out of them. We haven’t signed any record deals... we want commitment from a record company so that we can do what we want to do.
"We’ll win in the end. If we don’t let people get the better of us, influence us, like the establishment. As long as we can resist I think we’ll win in the end."