Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Girl Monster' compiled by Chicks on Speed

Three and a half hours, over sixty tracks by over sixty artists – reviewing Girl Monster is like wrestling a bear. But Chicks on Speed, its curators, are trying to sum up a scene – or maybe less a scene than a mindset or an aesthetic – and that takes time. The only comparable compilation I've heard in recent times is the freak-folk/psych/improv/drone almanac Gold Leaf Branches, on Brad Rose's Digitalis label, which I could never quite get a grip on either. Girl Monster is mostly what you might call electropunk – the shouty, grimy drum-machine pop made by bands like Le Tigre, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed themselves – plus detours into post-punk (old and new), some pseudo-hip-hop, and lots of odd bleepy freak-out performance art.

The accusation of 'positive discrimination' is frequently levelled at bands like Chicks on Speed – in other words, that double standards are operating because, it's claimed, these bands are so inept that if they were men, or even just women who didn't make such a fuss of their nth-wave feminism, no one would ever have let them put a record out. I used to have some sympathy with this argument, but listening to Girl Monster, I've realised that its proponents are actually sitting on their very own double standard: not between men and women, but between guitars and electronics. Ever since the seventies, we've been used to rock bands who couldn't play their instruments – rock bands, often, where that was the whole point: who'd want to stay at home mastering the suspended 7th when there are girls (and dealers) to chase? But we still, unfairly, expect music made on computers to really sound like it was made on computers – we expect sheen, poise, intricacy. We expect an autistic attention to detail. (This despite, for example, the brilliant ramshackleness of much early hardcore and jungle.) What I'm saying is, the level of technical incompetence on Girl Monster is certainly no greater than on the average hardcore punk compilation, but it seems more of an issue for reasons of genre. Punk takes many forms.

So positive discrimination isn't necessarily operating. But that doesn't mean, of course, that I actually have to enjoy this stuff. And to tell the truth, I don't, any more than I'd enjoy three CDs of conventional hardcore punk: it's just too rudimentary, too snotty, too attention-seeking. (And what is the point of Kevin Blechdom?) Inevitably, though, the range of quality here is vast, which means there are some gems. For example, Girl Monster gives a lot of props to the scene's mother goddesses – there are great tracks from the seventies by Delta 5, the Slits, the Raincoats, Lilliput, and other Original Gangstas of girl post-punk, plus recent remix work by Siouxsie Sioux and the Slits' Ari Up. I could list some other random highlights but I don't see the point: there's not a single song that you could call representative.

In the end, this compilation does just about win the prized Dummy Blog seal of approval. (Don't laugh, I can make or break a record. Seriously. I can BREAK YOU.) Maybe you'll have more fun with it than I did – maybe you've got more punk or feminism or both in your blood than I do. But even if you don't take it off your shelf very often, it's still just so invigorating to hear a lot of brash girls try to fuck shit up for three hours. (Also, it comes with lavish liner notes: lots of collages by Chicks on Speed themselves and some little essays on feminism in pop, which you can fold out into two awesome posters for your wall.) When she she gave away a Fender to a girl in the audience on each date on her 1998 tour of Australia, Courtney Love used to say 'Play it loud and don't give it to your boyfriend!' She should have been giving out 808's.

6/10

Released 2/10 on Chicks On Speed Records

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