Having just finished Viv Albertine‘s wonderful autobiography Clothes, Music, Boys and listening to The Slits for the first time in ages, women in rock music was at the forefront of one’s mind. Therefore, heading down into the bunkeresque cellar of Manchester’s Soup Kitchen (by the way, the upstairs doesn’t resemble anything like a soup kitchen: long beer hall benches stretch from side-to-side and there’s a vinyl-spinning DJ near the door), the prospect of seeing Mary Timony’s Ex Hex seemed very appropriate.
Timony was a primary figure within riot grrrl and the early-’90s American indie scene: one that was infused by left-wing theory and feminist thinking. She’s best known for her work with Autoclave and Helium, before forming the riot grrrl supergroup Wild Flag alongside Sleater-Kinney‘s Carrie Brownstein in 2010. She’d worked with Brownstein previously as part of The Spells, too, and her solo recordings varied from delicate flutes and mandolins (2000’s Mountains) to the 2005 solo album that the band takes its name from and is more akin to the heavier sounding ’90s output she’s associated with. This evening she’s joined by drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright.
Princess are tonight’s support. From Dublin, there’s a sort of refreshing, almost naive politeness about them on-stage: lots of gracious thank yous throughout and an amusing if confusing moment where someone shouts out “what’s that last one called?” and for lead singer Liam to reply “What’s Your Name? No, that’s the name of the track!” They’re very good, mind, bringing with them a Sonic Youth, ’80s alt edge with a sort of dream/indie pop sheen. There’s lots of energy about them; certainly they are a good fit for tonight and they go down very well.
Ex Hex mean business from the off, with no messing about. Don’t Wanna Lose from last year’s very well-received full-length debut Rips is raw and somewhat brooding, with Timony’s guitar ripping through the audience and Harris’ drumming bringing everything together in an irresistibly and unashamedly rock ‘n’ roll package. On the right of the stage, bassist Wright has a compelling and, dare one say it, sultry swagger about her; her confidence is enthralling and seductive. There’s passion and charisma in spades. Hard to take your eyes off her.
All this comes through particularly during “a song for all the beasts” – aka Beast, also from Rips. Here, Timony’s riffs are unashamedly big, bold and wonderfully catchy. Coupled with Harris’ drumming and Wright’s frenetic bass playing, it’s impossible not to succumb to this: when played live it has that sort of Parquet Courts-cum-classic garage rock/punk appeal to it. It’s stripped-back, basic, straightforward and it rocks hard. Dead good.
Radio On carries this on further; there’s something enjoyably Suzi Quattro about this one, its simplicity (must only be about three or four chords used) adding to its charm and appeal. This is before War Paint, which is certainly the best song of the evening: Wright’s bass is unapologetically brash, while Timony just lets rip with riff after riff. “I got no time for cool kids,” sings Timony.
That line is quite telling. This isn’t music that’s trying hard to be cool or fancy or indie. Quite the contrary: it almost doesn’t give a shit. It’s unambiguous and direct. It’s done with such vigour and fun. Yes, fun! This rocks harder than most of the stuff around. It certainly contrasts with most – if not all – of what Timony has done in her career. Helium and the like this is not.
Viv would be proud: after all, she rather led the way for bands like Ex Hex, to prove that gender shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to picking up a guitar. This isn’t riot grrrl but, in some ways, perhaps it is.