10 August 2008

Huggy Bear - Taking the Rough With The Smooch

Huggy Bear - Taking the Rough

Label: Wiiija Records
Year of Release: 1993

Whilst the British music scene has generally been in rude health since the sixties (provided you know where to look), it has been bed-ridden with minor ailments at some brief points in history. 1993, for example, was not a good year - all eyes were looking across the pond towards the Grunge scene in Seattle, and the scene in this country appeared to consist of little more than bog-standard greasy haired indie bands chopping out three minute punk-inspired songs in pubs around Camden Town, and the odd above average dance track. I was only twenty years of age in 1993, but I can still remember feeling completely bored shitless and feeling absolutely desperate for something interesting to come along. The Stone Roses were AWOL, Suede's first album was patchier than people seemed to be claiming, and I'd watched (The) Verve live in a pub in North London before they got signed and found them tediously excessive.

An awful lot of hardcore indie kids hung all their hopes on to Huggy Bear, a Brighton based Riot Grrrl band who managed to get on The Word and hurl abuse at the moronic presenter Terry Christian, promoted female-only gigs, and refused to speak to the mainstream media (even when the NME begged them to). At any other time, it's likely they would have been left to their own devices, shouting out their manifestos in the appropriate fanzines - but at this point in the early nineties, a lot of journalists and gig goers were absolutely desperate for something to rise up out of the underground and threaten the stagnant state of British music.

Huggy Bear weren't it, obviously, and by the time the words "Britpop" were first coined, it was almost as if they'd never existed - but that shouldn't be so surprising. The British media and music industry have always traditionally loved bands who launch themselves by spouting off against its conservative nature, provided they don't actually mean it, or are content as soon as they are swallowed into its belly. Rebellion is expected of rock bands, but Huggy Bear's kicking against the sexual inequalities within the business probably felt far too close to home. The music industry remains one of the most sexist employers in the world, but it tends to get a little defensive and jumpy when it's reminded of the fact (and if you think I'm joking, try being in a band with any female members and dealing with A&R men and music journalists).

Far apart from the above, Huggy Bear were also obviously ramshackle, punk-influenced and messy, as this compilation of singles, EP tracks and B-sides proves. As I have always maintained, the rougher side of indie will never last in the mainstream for long, but in The Bear's case, that doesn't mean to say there aren't countless gems to enjoy. "Herjazz", to my mind, is still one of the best proper "indie" singles that's ever been released, combining something primitively funky to buzzing guitars and obsessive sloganeering. Unlike a great deal of the "smash the system" vinyl which swamped the market in 1993, it actually sounds spontaneous, edgy, and 100% genuine. "Pansy Twist" is also brilliant for much the same set of reasons.

Alongside those, however, is some questionable poetry, and some tracks which sound like a bog standard punk-garage band spouting (and indeed shouting) pretentious lyrics. To this day, I've never quite been able to work out what the hell "Sizzlemeet" is actually about - "in a gravy of envy they're descending", indeed. Still, in their brief career they managed to highlight the inequalities of both society and the music business, liven up the dull post-pub dumbfest "The Word", and leave a mark which probably still remains to an extent. I've met numerous female musicians since who argue they might not have picked up an instrument and got involved with rock music had it not been for Huggy Bear, and the slurry of women in rock bands which emerged through the nineties may well have been the result of life being easier for them in HB's wake. It's impossible to prove or quantify that statement, of course, but I'm happy to stand by it, even if much of the below compilation is admittedly patchy. As an historical document, however, I think it's worthy. Perhaps somebody might even attempt something similar soon - although it's harder to see how the mainstream media would give a band like this airtime or a voice in these cautious, conservative times.

1. Dissthentic Penetration
2. Sizzlemeet
3. Shaved Pussy Poetry
4. Pansy Twist
5. Concrete Life
6. Pro No From Now
7. Prayer
8. Herjazz
9. Teen Tighterns
10. Derwin
11. No Sleep
12. Carn't Kiss


Paperback Tourist said...

1993 off the top of my head: Bjork (adopted English) 'Debut', Tindersticks 1st, Auteurs 1st, Stereolab 'French Disko', PJ Harvey 'Rid of Me', Radiohead 'Creep', Saint Etienne 'So Tough', Supergrass formed, Blur 'Modern Life is Rubbish', Slowdive 'Slouvaki', Underworld ', 'Very' Pet Shop Boys (their greatest album), Pulp 'Lipgloss', Elastica 'Stutter', Suede's first three singles. Sounds alright to me.

Paperback Tourist said...

Dust/Chemical Brothers begin remixing, Orbital 'brown album', Aphex Twin, Domino Records formed. I'm sure there's a thousand more.

23 Daves said...

I've had this argument before (although not with you, admittedly). I will agree that whilst most of what you've listed above is worthy of attention, it was, by and large, a rather dull year for a whole number of reasons. A listen to John Peel's Festive Fifty of 1993 is a much more trying experience than it would be for most other broadcasts, and towards the end you even get to hear John Peel sounding fed up - at one point he says "I don't know if 1994 is going to be much better, you know" in weary tones.

It was a dud year for me personally, so perhaps that does colour my judgement a bit - but still, I maintain that the gig scene was a deathly dull thing to experience at this point, largely consisting of half-arsed bands playing to half-filled rooms. I also always thought "Modern Life Is Rubbish" was way over-rated, but that's another story...

Paperback Tourist said...

I think the only gig I went to in 93 was Orbital/Aphex Twin, so you're probably right. I like about half of the Festive 50 that year (just had a check). Most of it is sub-par Fall tracks, grunge and a smattering of what I've listed above, as well as some crusty-dance-pop-hiphop crossover crap. Have Peel listeners ever had any taste? 'Modern Life is Rubbish' is a great album! It's got 'For Tomorrow' for one... I think of 1993 as exciting because so much was BREWING. It was like year zero for so many little things.

23 Daves said...

"For Tomorrow" is indeed brilliant... and I will concede that the Festive Fifty didn't always accurately reflect Peel's playlist.

It was definitely a year for things brewing, but I think you had to be in the know to pick up on a lot of that. As much as I loved "Caught By The Fuzz", I probably didn't realise that Supergrass were more than the next These Animal Men until I caught them live.

Also, if you do a quick scan on YouTube for Chart Show charts of 1993, you do get a sense of what was going on then - and the answer is, unfortunately, not a lot. We had Ace of Base, though...

Anonymous said...

I'm actually rather a fan of 1993 as it was the year I started DJ-ing, and so many tracks of that year have become seminal moments for me as a result.
I would agree that the UK music scene was a little stale, but there was a lot to love for me:
the earnest pre-Tubthumping Chumbawamba, who balanced worthiness with decent tunes for a single, cracking album; the slightly ahead of their time Senser; God Machines' Scenes From A Second Storey; Underworld's dubnobasswithmyheadman; and a hell of a lot of decent albums from the US, including two of my favourite albums of all time, The Afghan Whigs' Gentleman, and Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville (plus Star, Superjudge, Undertow, In On The Killtaker, Black Sunday, Siamese Dream, Enter The Wu-Tang - all albums I play to this day).

And, slightly more to the point, I loved Huggy Bear, having seen them support Sonic Youth & Pavement. My girlfriend's just recently got into them, and they do stand up pretty well now.
And Christ, no matter what you think of 1993, at least it was better than the last few years have been...

23 Daves said...

I'd take issue with that as well, actually - I don't think that the last few years have been the appalling trough in quality some people make out, it's been more a case of good material struggling to get mainstream recognition. I find myself gritting my teeth that brilliant albums don't sell more than a couple of thousand copies much more than I get frustrated that nothing's happening...

Although if we're talking about the Top 40, then yes, I'll take Ace of Base over The Wombats and their ilk any day.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I did mean the stuff that's currently considered indie by the mainstream, there certainly have been some great albums that have been utterly ignored by the public in the last few years.
What really bugs me is the likes of Scouting for Girls & The Hoosiers being called indie, when it's the lowest type of mor tosh.
That said, most of my favourite albums of the last few years have been American, and I'm struggling to think of UK bands that have released truly great albums. What am I forgetting?

23 Daves said...

Now you're asking - for what it's worth, I think Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon, Misty's Big Adventure, The Go! Team, The Bees, Von Sudenfed and The Fall have all released great albums, and behind them there's a long list of good albums which don't quite make the grade from people like Jarvis Cocker and Art Brut.

I get the impression that the focus is slowly drifting off the album as a coherent concept or package, though - a modern phenomenon I don't know if I like very much. There's also the issue of some of the better live bands just not having money to spend on creating a decent album, which is frustrating.