Having released ‘lost tracks’ compilation Data Panik Etcetera earlier this year, Glasgow trio Bis – comprised of Manda Rin, Sci-Fi Steven and John Disco – are marking two decades since they first appeared back in 1994.
The celebrations manifest with the release of Anthology – 20 Years Of Antiseptic Poetry, a 42-track ‘best of’ of sorts sporting new and live tracks alongside fan favourites. Deluxe editions of debut album The New Transistor Heroes and the follow-ups Social Dancing and Return To Central are slated to follow.
Zeroing in on the albums that influenced them most, Manda Rin and Sci-Fi Steven mined their record collections and memories for Bis’s This Music Made Me…
// MANDA RIN’S SELECTIONS
I first heard of the Slits in the very early days of bis when we were compared to them. I instantly trawled through record shops and found Cut, which featured the band covered in mud with very little clothing on. I was hooked.
I loved how this relatively young female band were exposing their angst, their passions, and their mix of musical influences which seemed to range from punk to reggae into this album. The Slits became as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols for many, and I can certainly see why. I liked how each member seemed to be contributing something different which is what I always wanted to do with bis.
I found a large poster of the sleeve which I had on my wall for years when I still lived with my parents. I think it confused them! ‘So Tough’ and ‘Instant Hit’ are such amazing songs.
While many amazing small US bands leading the feminist movement were getting their music, values and ideas released on small indie labels there wasn’t such a big outlet in the UK.
This is maybe why Huggy Bear stood out to me so much. I saw them play in Paisley in Scotland with Mambo Taxi (a small place not many bands ever play!) and were absolutely gobsmacked. With their ‘don’t give a shit’ attitude, they were everything I wanted to have the courage to do and I hadn’t seen anyone like that before.
They stayed on Wiiija records with some fantastic EPs after a big bidding war with major labels, which is exactly what bis did a few years later!
After getting the Ltd 7″ of Stutter and playing it to death I couldn’t wait for an album. Despite being released nearly 20 years ago this is an album I still adore and still play to this day. “Blue”, “Car Song”, and “Hold Me Now” are just a few stand out songs, and I liked this album so much I even bought the US vinyl for stand-by incase I wore it out! This band knew how to write the perfect indie song and Justine is one remarkably ingenious lady.
Bikini Kill are probably one of the best bands that have ever existed, and singer Kathleen Hanna overwhelmingly my biggest inspiration. Her stunning vocals are complimented by being such a strong individual. She’s had criticism beyond belief and many troubles to overcome, but has fought through everything. Bis got the privilege to play Glasgow, London and Ireland with them in 1996 and I was awe-stuck. I embarrassingly gave Kathleen a letter explaining what she meant to me too! In addition to Kathleen, Tobi and Kathi were influential with their fanzines and talents too. “Reject All American” and “False Start” are stand out songs of this album and good representation of exhibiting variation in styles on one album.
Without Singer Poly Styrene I’m convinced most of my favourite singers like Corin Tucker and Kathleen Hanna wouldn’t sound quite the same.
Again, it’s a band I only got into in my teens after bis comparisons, but a band that I’m sure will be talked about forever with influencing and guiding so many. Their mix of punk with strong melodies is one of my favourite concoctions, and something we certainly tried to do with bis in the early days.
Songs “Warrier in Woolworths” and “I can’t do anything” are constantly on my mix tapes.
// SCI-FI STEVEN’S SELECTIONS
I bought all the Devo LPs in a panic after hearing their cover of “Satisfaction” at work in the record shop, aged 18.
For some reason, this is the one I went back to time and time again. The whole of Side One is pretty much perfect, it was only much later I realised they were just a bunch of old demos tarted up and slowed down. “Blockhead” and “Swelling Itching Brain” were always my favourite songs, they had that transitional feel to them – still the strict song-structures of punk with a nauseous prediction of synth-pop.
Crucially, it also contains “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize” which is one of the best Devo “pop” songs there is.
Listening to it now, it’s weirdly lifeless and flat with none of the exhilaration of “Q: Are We Not Men..” but if we’re talking influences here then it’s still all about “Duty Now For The Future”, that in-between stage when synthesizers were still new and uncontrollable, when punk drummers tried to play disco. And “Triumph Of The Will” isn’t some kind of fascist endorsement, it’s just another twist on Devo’s favourite subject matter – masturbation.
I must’ve listened to this every day for a year between late 1992 and late 1993, only stopping because I’d finally heard Nation Of Ulysses and Huggy Bear.
I had heard Stereolab on John Peel’s show in early ’92 and decided that the label they were on, Too Pure, were my new favourite label and I would buy everything they released so when Moonshake released “Beautiful Pigeon” I dutifully responded. I knew absolutely nothing about them (turns out David was from The Wolfhounds and Margaret had been in Ultra Vivid Scene – too early for me!), but as soon as that first big chord kicked in, I was hooked.
Then it’s a massive left turn into Margaret’s downbeat vocals over big Bonham drums and snaking basslines before crashing back into the big chords of the chorus. A chorus that only happens ONCE in the whole song. You want it to, but it just doesn’t come back – cue repeat play after repeat play.
It’d be tough to spot the influence Eva Luna had on bis (actually, “Mugshot Heroine” could’ve come from “Return To Central”), but it’s an album all three of us know inside out and love. The only sad part of the tale is that we never got to see the “Eva Luna” line-up live – we got turned away from King Tut’s for being underage….
I was doing school work experience in May 1992 at The Apollo in Glasgow, a venue/rehearsal/recording complex which is now The Flying Duck club. One day, I saw these sharp-dressed, slick-backed hair handsome guys setting up. A few people told me I should hang about and this Nation Of Ulysses band would “blow my mind”. Maybe I had some important record filing to do, but for whatever reason I didn’t hang about. As they say these days – MASSIVE FAIL.
Someone had filmed a bit of the show, I watched and that was it. Hooked. Bought “Plays Pretty For Baby” first because nowhere had “13-Point Program To Destroy America”, it took me AGES to get that, so to me it is the definitive NOU document and while it might sound a racket to the uninitiated, it made me realise what I wanted to do with my music. Crucially, it was our introduction to the Dischord/Kill Rock Stars scene.
In one of those “sounds too cool to be true” stories, I was watching Channel 4 around 1987, aged 11, when the film of The The’s “Infected” album came on. I specifically remember the video for “Sweet Bird Of Truth” which encapsulated the paranoic coming-of-age I felt I was going through.
I saved up pocket money to buy the album and played it relentlessly, pretty much the only records I had in 1988 were New Order, The The and The Sugarcubes (and some old Adam Ant records – but that’s next). So I found out that there was another The The album, “Soul Mining” which I was only able to find on tape. I spent the summer of 1989 with it jammed in my walkman.
I used to skip past “This Is The Day” (too happy) but the hypnotic “I’ve Been Waiting For Tomorrow” and “Giant” I immediately adored. After skipping past “Perfect” (again, too happy), there were these weird little dark songs tacked on. “Mental Healing Process” and “Three Orange Kisses From Kazan” were full of mistakes and sounded unfinished. They were “demos” or whatever, but to my 12 year old ears, they were the doors to the underground.
Now, I’m not going to claim I’ve loved this since it came out when I was 3, but I have loved Adam Ant since “Prince charming” time (I have the Halloween pictures to prove it).
When Elastica came out and started quoting this album as an influence, I dug out my old Adam Ant records and realised I didn’t have it. Cue a difficult and lengthy hunt, finally getting hold of it somewhere in 1994. I was nothing like the tribal drums and make-up Ants I had grown up with. Songs like “Catholic Day” and “Family Of Noise” are definite bis influences – wonky pop songs with the off-beat hi-hats.
I tried programming the drumbeat of “The Idea” into the Roland R5 and that became “School Disco”, the first bis song that truly began to define our sound. XTC’s “Drums And Wires” would probably equally qualify as a massive song writing influence from the same era.
I saw him, and a couple of original Ants, play this live a while ago. He’s a truly one-off mentallist, but he gave this record to me.
Celebrating their 20th anniversary, Bis are releasing Anthology – 20 Years Of Antiseptic Poetry through Do Yourself In on 10 November 2014, with deluxe editions of The New Transistor Heroes, Social Dancing and Return To Central to follow. Bis play Glasgow Stereo on 9 January 2015, Leeds Belgrave Music Hall on 10 January and London’s Lexington on 11 January. Further information and tour dates can be found here.