Rather than produce a simple list of the bands we think deserve your attention in 2005, Londonist is going that little bit further for you. Below is the first in a short series of articles on the gems you should be aware of.
The Pipettes are after your feet. Specifically, your dancing feet. Armed with an attitude that abhors the "dull indie scene" and gigs where people "stand and watch and stroke their beards", The Pipettes are here to inject fun into your life. The word fun popped up a lot during our conversation, which took place before their support slot to The Magic Numbers last year, and fun is most certainly what The Pipettes experience is. It's melodic and energetic, it puts a smile on your face, and it harks back to a simpler time when you were allowed to like pop music because it wasn't being written by committee or computer: a time when the likes of the Shangri-Las ruled the world.
Boredom and the Monster
The Pipettes were formed in the early part of 2004 out of boredom. Boredom of bands who can't be bothered to connect with their audience; of audiences who stand at gigs waiting to be impressed; of music that forgot to be fun. The key player in the formation of The Pipettes and the sound and dance experience is the guitarist Monster Bobby. He recruited friends and friends of friends in and around the Brighton music scene, who were sold on the concept of The Pipettes rather than the music.
In their short history, The Pipettes have played over 50 gigs, including headlining an unsigned bands showcase at the ICA at the end of August 2004. Studio time has been limited, with live performances taking precedence, but The Pipettes intend to hone their recording skills to make sure they're more comfortable with it. In the studio this month, a limited 7" single (I Like A Boy in Uniform/It Hurts To See You Dance So Well) will be released soon. Interest is such that the single will also be released in the US and in Germany. A three-track EP on the Transgressive Records label is also in the pipeline, due out in March. (Pipettes aficionados will be pleased to know the EP will contain ABC, Judy and Simon Says.)
Physics and Chemistry
Six people (plus occasional guest members) make up The Pipettes. When playing gigs, the boys come out in cardigans, the girls wear polka dot dresses and it's like the set of Happy Days. The live experience is undoubtedly dominated by 'the girls', Becki, Rose and Julia.
This can partly be explained by physics and the stage space available to The Pipettes in the size of venues they're currently playing. But there's also chemistry involved, with the girls' choreographed dance moves and general charm siphoning all attention their way. With song titles and lyrics like "He don't care about XTC" and "Dirty mind, don't know what you’re gonna find", the more excitable and attentive gig goer is inevitably drawn to pay attention to a visual, aural and post-feminist treat.
The girls talk about how they "want people to dance and feel happy" at their gigs and, in a sense, the music follows the concept. The music that so obviously influences The Pipettes sound – The Shangri-Las being the prime example – is uncomplicated yet still musically strong and, yes, fun.
The idea that 'the girls' are The Pipettes is reinforced by the 'Who are the Pipettes?' section on the website showing only information on Becki, Rose and Julia, and the fact that they're the ones made available for the interview, with the other band members seemingly too shy (or unwilling) to speak to Londonist. With the 50s and 60s influenced-sounds, and the explicit mention in the Manifesto (about which more later), it would be easy to make the link to the controlling Phil Spector and the girl bands he produced, and think that there was some controlling svengali hiding in the background. However, it would be a foolish man who tried to dictate to three such lively and intelligent minds.
More than photogenic fluff
Rose and Julia are classically-trained musicians, and both can play the keyboards, having started to learn the piano in early childhood since they were 8 and 6, respectively. Becki's the only one in the band who doesn't play an instrument but her role is no less important, as she choreographs the dance moves which are a major part of the Pipettes package. (If you take issue with the importance accorded to choreography in music, then you should be sitting at home listening to angst rock, not going to gigs.)
Clearly these girls are more than mere photogenic fluff for the cameras and the epithet of 'girl band' that is sometimes applied to The Pipettes could be insulting, were it not for the fact that the girls use the term themselves in a positive way. It's like they have the 'girl power' of the Spice Girls (albeit in a non-cringeworthy way) but with musical talent to back it up, along with indie credibility. (Although, it has to be said, that there were occasional pop diamonds in the Spice Girls output.)
The girls have come from different places as far as their influences are concerned. Becki ('RiotBecki' on the website) is more of a punk and lo-fi grrrl, name-checking the likes of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. In Becki's mind there’s no incompatibility with her influences and what The Pipettes are doing, citing (that word again) "fun and a sense of energy" as the common factor. Julia's into musicals, Rose mentions folk music, and the other band members have their hip-hop and emo influences.
Magic and Energy
So how on earth do you square all those influences with The Pipettes sound? And how do you answer that nagging doubt at the back of the mind that the girl group thing is fun but has limited shelf-life?
The answer comes in the form of the Manifesto, the gist of which is that pop music isn't dirty and is just as valid as punk. If you trace the history of pop music back to the Phil Spector era, the Manifesto says, pop was "real music that was important and valuable and serious and worth caring about." Music is music, whether it's pop, punk, hip-hop or lo-fi, and the important thing is that it has "magic and energy", not what pigeonhole it belongs to.
The Pipettes may have different records in their collection, but what they share is a love of music. The Phil Spector sound is a starting point but a further analysis reveals the Manifesto to be an astute piece of writing that gives The Pipettes licence to roam wherever they want musically.
Those with a keen ear for these things will already notice the other musical references beneath the 60s girl group veneer. The Manifesto talks about the influence of "Philly soul, of afrobeat, disco, glam rock, riot grrrl, dance pop, R'n'B and, in the other direction, of doo wop, Broadway, the radio hits of the thirties and forties, music hall, the European folk tradition" and it's here you start to realise that far from being a one-trick pony concept band, The Pipettes have the knowledge and skill to be whatever they want, whenever it suits them.
The Pipettes are after your hearts and minds, not just your feet. You'd be well advised to hitch a ride. Not only will you have fun, you might even learn something.
The Pipettes support The Go! Team at the 100 Club on 20th January (tickets sold out though) before touring with them around the country in February.
The band also play charity gigs in aid of the Tsunami charities on 22nd January at the Brighton Pavilion Theatre and, closer to home, on 25th January, at the Marquee club in Leicester Square. The Caves support at the Marquee, entry is £5 and there'll be collections at the gig. All the door money, bar-take - basically, everything - goes to charity, so be generous!
The Pipettes have very kindly offered a couple of copies of their very special and very limited Christmas CD to our readers. To enter, all you have to do is e-mail us with the answer to the following question:
On which label will The Pipettes release a three-track EP in March?
Update: Competition now closed. The winners of the Christmas CD were Holly Holmes and Martin Hills.
The Pipettes official website - this is your starting point for information.
- our review of the Pipettes when they supported The Magic Numbers at the Borderline last year.
Photo credit: Marc Beatty