Living in the age of "American Idol," it's tempting to dismiss any act
that even hints at being a manufactured pop phenomenon. But just because
a group was plotted out on paper before anyone sang a note doesn't mean
it's automatically bogus.
The Petri dish creation of England's Pipettes was one of the biggest
buzzes at the South by Southwest Music Conference last March, though as
many listeners walked away scoffing as were won over by the charmingly
retro girl-group revival act. Count me in the latter camp.
Yes, the cooed harmonies of the three polka-dot-sporting front women,
the matching yellow tank tops of their backing band the Cassettes and
the bad-boy-obsessed pop tunes are all supremely shticky. But they are
also irresistible, especially when the Pipettes deliver them with a
wink, a nod and a heaping dose of irrepressible enthusiasm.
"People in the States that we've performed in front of so far are
slightly more up for it and more relaxed about just having a good time,"
Becki Pipette (a k a RiotBecki or Rebecca Stephens) recently told
Philadelphia's City Paper. And why shouldn't we? This country was home
to the best of the original girl groups -- from the Shirelles to the
Ronettes and the Shangri-Las to the Crystals -- and no one was unduly
worried about authenticity then.
The Pipettes were the brainchild of guitarist Monster Bobby (Robert
Barry), who was doing DJ gigs in 2003 when he noticed that the biggest
response came whenever he spun a single by one of those '60s girl
groups. Joining up with singer, poet and photographer Julia Clark-Lowes
(who honed the look and wrote some of the early songs before leaving to
concentrate on her other band, the Indelicates) and taking a page from
the promotional antics of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty (the cheeky
Brits behind '80s pop provocateurs the KLF), Barry cast the Pipettes
from among friends in the Brighton music scene, eventually finalizing
the lineup with Becki, Gwenno (former Welsh-language electro-pop artist
Gwen Saunders) and Rosay (Rose Dougall), all of whom use the stage
surname "Pipette" in the style of the Ramones.
"Actually, it wasn't until Julia and Bobby asked me to join the band
that I really started researching girl bands," Becki added in her chat
with City Paper. "[They] made me this compilation CD and I suddenly
realized how many of these songs I knew without knowing the names of
these girl bands and how prevalent it had actually been in my growing
up, and my love, actually, for girl bands in the '80s, like Bananarama
and the Go-Go's."
Indeed, there's as much Bananarama in the Pipettes as there is
Ronettes, along with the postmodern addition of a slightly more
liberated and self-empowered feminist perspective. "We are the
Pipettes / And we've got no regrets," the girls sing. "If you
haven't noticed yet / We're the prettiest girls you've ever met / We are
the Pipettes / We will drop you in our nets / When you're crying in your
bed / You'll hope we haven't finished with you yet."
That manifesto/theme song appeared as the title track of the group's
first album, which was first released in the U.K. last July. "We Are the
Pipettes" isn't due to be released in the U.S. until August, though many
indie-rock fans have already download the disc, and Interscope Records
has just issued a buzz-building EP, "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me," with
four tracks offering ample evidence of the group's allure.
The Pipettes remain undaunted by charges that it's all an act. "You
always get positive and negative reaction to what you do," Gwenno said
in an interview with the Web site MusicOMH.com. "It's quite funny
when people don't take us seriously, really, because they haven't
understood the concept of what we're trying to do."
And that goal is...? "Popular music just seems to be disappearing
into this horrible abyss," Becki said, "and we're trying to claw it
WITH SMOOSH, MONSTER BOBBY
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• Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
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