Monday, 12 October 2015

Oliver: Silverfish - Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal (29 December 1991)

"Are you afraid of me?"

Good question and a highly pertinent one for the time as well.  The early 90s was an incredibly fertile time for angry, aggro-ey female fronted bands.  For a brief moment, it seemed as though they could take the world, riding on a wave of feminist energy at the very time when it seemed the liberal consensus was going to win through in a post Cold War/pre millennial world.  These bands had manifestos, were not going to be manipulated by the music industry (though many of them still were), didn't give a fuck about any rules or anti-rules they were expected to play by, given that the punk sound many of them were using had been absorbed by the industry during the 80s and they all rocked like bastards.  They were any music loving misogynist's worst nightmare.  To hear them thundering out of your speakers was to feel one's balls being held up ready for the emasculating chop of the knife.

Dear God, how we could do with many of them around now....

From the day in September 1977 that The Slits walked into a BBC studio, armed with untuned guitars and two chords between them, and walked out of it having recorded a session which Peel would spend the rest of his life lauding as one of the best ever recorded for his programme, many of these bands found a home at the John Peel Show.  In the course of this blog, I've heard examples I've liked (HoleMudwimin), examples I haven't got on with (Babes in Toyland) and I'm still waiting to hear some of the key 90s bands in this style (Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear).

Many of the bands followed a template: guitars set to loud, bass set to thunderous, drums set to tribal, vocals set to abrasive.  Silverfish maintain the standard with this insanely catchy piece of head bludgeoning.  It's a remarkable track because it doesn't really say or do much; there aren't any harmonic surprises; lyrically there's nothing here to make even John Power lose sleep; it's all very verse/chorus/verse/chorus relentless but.... what a chorus.  It became a T-shirt slogan at the time and in just four words, it served up one of the great feminist anthems.

I say that the lyrics to Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal don't stand up to great scrutiny, but I forgot to mention the "Are you afraid of me?" refrain.  In their different ways, Silverfish, Hole, Huggy Bear and the rest often posed that question in their music, approach, politics.  Sometimes as a direct question, other times as a direct challenge.   They were more than just bands, they were a threat. To your prejudices, to your views, to your desires.  The video for the song makes this thought more explicit, but when I first heard it, it took me to a mental place in which Lesley Rankine had me hog-tied and ready to take the butt-plug.  It's the sound of womankind, poised over the supine form of man kind and mocking the stupid, chauvinistic pigs of the male species.  And when the music's this forceful and superb, I for one feel ready to have the collar fitted and be led by the nose.  Perhaps it's a strong woman thing, a sense that the world would be less fucked up if we let women take care of all the important stuff.  But then I see Theresa May and the thought flies into the ether to expire in disgust.

From a retrospective point of view, the likes of Silverfish were ancient history by the time I started listening to contemporary music in the mid-90s.  I loved Elastica, Echobelly, the post-shoegaze Lush, I even enjoyed some of Sleeper's stuff.  Peel also played these bands over the ensuing years, but I can't help sympathising with those who would have looked at how female fronted rock had gone in the space of four years and wondered how they ended up with Dale Winton.

Never mind - time for one more rousing chorus.  Sing up, Peelie!

"Hips. Tits. Lits. Pow- I can't even say it!"  - John Peel 29 December 1991.

Video courtesy of Jzzzzzzz

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