Monday, November 28, 2022

London queercore 1995: Vaseline, Up to the Elbow, Sick of it All

'Vaseline zine' started out in 1995 'for gay people who love indie and alternative music and want to rage against the scene'. They put on club nights including at the Bell in Kings Cross (later the Cross Bar, today the Big Chill). The period saw a flourishing of 'queercore', riot grrrl and LGBTQ+ indie clubs and bands in the UK - including Sister George, Mouthfull,  Bandit Queen and Sapphic Sluts. 

Vaseline, no. 2 1995 'rage against the scene' - with review of PJ Harvey at Kentish Town Forum, May  1995

Vaseline no.2 (May 1995) mentions that 'Popstarz is a new weekly gay indie night' opening at at Paradise Club with 'indie-pop downstairs and 70s discos and trash upstairs'. Not sure where the Paradise Club was (don't think this was the Paradise Bar in New Cross) but Popstarz went on to be a massive club night moving to the Scala in Kings Cross and continuing for 20 years at various locations. Its founder Simon Hobart died in 2005 (see Remembering Popstarz)

from Vaseline no.5

'Mouthfull' interview from issue 7

My friend Katy Watson DJ'd  at the time at Up to the Elbow, a club night started by the band Mouthful, and then started another night Sick of it All. Here's her brief account of the scene, from an interview I did with her:

'I’ve played music with a few people over the years but we never got it together to be a performing band.  I did try to start a band with my old flatmate Rosanne but it didn’t work out. She had been in a band called The Sluts from Outer Space. We had a very nice drummer we used to rehearse with, I was well into her.

I used to DJ in a couple of gay punky clubs, that was lots of fun. It gives you a focus for lots of record buying, so lots of shopping in Rough Trade. It was very nice doing it, having the motivation to check out lots of new records and you can justify buying them and also I was writing reviews of them for Bad Attitude. 

At first I played music in a sort of indie gay club - Up to the Elbow (the world’s worst name). That had quite an indie music policy, I put in my punky classics as well, like Iggy Pop and New York Dolls. The club was in Islington and sometimes at The Bell, an alternative gay pub in Kings Cross.

 And then after that I bonded a bit with these two gay punks called Rick and Satoshi and we did our own club very positively called Sick of It All (that was Rick’s gloomy American approach to things!). That was more punky than indie sort of gay stuff.  We didn’t do that many nights of it, but it was lots of fun. We had trouble fixing a venue, it was in a different place every time - we did one night at 121 Railton Road, the anarchist centre. Another one we did upstairs in a funny little club place off Warren Street with gold lame curtains and velvet chairs, it was a bit too smart for us..

 It was around the period of riot grrrl with bands like Bikini Kill. We went to two or three Bikini Kill gigs, and hung out with the band including Kathleen Hanna. She’s a very good self-promoter, so we interviewed her for Bad Attitude and she hung out with us in the squat that I was living in at the time. Tribe8, another US queercore band, also came and stayed in Brixton.  It was a very happening time for gay punky/indie bands and female punky/indie bands – the whole riot grrrl thing. We were being very cool and punky with our dyed hair and squatty lifestyle and all that sort of thing'

[notes: you can see Rosanne Rabinowitz in the great Rebel Dykes movie and the Sluts from Outer Space feature on the soundtrack; Katy's Brixon squat where Kathleen Hanna once stayed was at 2 Saltoun Road; I remember meeting San Francisco band Tribe8 in Brixton, in someone's house in Josephine Avenue around this time]

Katy (right) on her way to see Bikini Kill

Good to see some mentions of some of these nights in Vaseline. It seems that the first Sick of it All was at Sol's Bar near Warren Street in July 1995

Sick of it All's first night - 'The philosophy of the club seemed to be 'fuck the common denominator' and the atmosphere was reminiscent of Up to the Elbow. DJs Rik and Katie careered their way through punk, queercore and harder edged indie music, while Satoshi added the je ne sais quoi' (Vaseline no. 5).

The 'punk party extravaganzathon in a huge Brixton squat' in October 1995 was presumably the night at the (not particulary huge!) 121 Centre in Railton Road, Brixton. Katy was involved with the feminist paper Bad Attitude which had an office upstairs at 121.

Vaseline no. 7

Flyer for Sick of it All at 121 Centre, Brixton, 21 October 1995
'A one off punk party for homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals, fags, dykes, and their special "friends" ("gays" admitted at discretion of management)'

I went to a couple of  'Up to the Elbow' nights with Katy on the decks at the Bell (I saw Bandit Queen and the Frantic Spiders) and downstairs at Freedom in Wardour Street. Of the latter I noted at the time (January 1995) that I went  'to 'Up to the Elbow', the queercore club where Katy (DJ KT) does her stuff. It had moved from the Bell (which has been bought by the Mean Fiddler for heterosexualisation) to the Freedom Cafe in Soho. There were a couple of good bands playing - Mouthfull who were a bit Nirvana-like but did a great punkified version of 2 Unlimted's No Limits and Flinch who were more in the Pixies/Throwing Muses mould'.

Katy Watson (1966-2008)

See also:

[thank to MayDay Rooms archive, whose display of Vaseline zines at the radical bookfair at the Barbican library set me off down this wormhole. The bookfair was part of Quiet Revolutions: A Celebration of Radical Bookshops, 26 November 2022]

[updated September 2023 with Sick of it All flyers found at 56a Info Shop]

Monday, November 21, 2022

Skins and Scum: Rene Matić and Simeon Barclay at South London Gallery

Rene Matić's exhibition 'upon this rock' at the South London Gallery features their very moving film 'Many Rivers' about their father, growing up through family trauma and the care system to be a black skinhead in Peterborough. Jimmy Cliff's song plays over the credits just in case you haven't got a lump in your throat by that point.

Richard Allen novels and a Peterborough scarf among the memorabilia

Matić takes their 'departure point from dance and music movements such as Northern soul, Ska and 2-Tone, using them as sites to queer and re-imagine the intimacies between West Indian and white working-class culture in Britain'. In particular they reference the 'Skinhead movement, which originally emerged in the mid-1960s as a cultural exchange between Caribbean and white working-class communities' (source: South London Gallery).

A wall of crucifixes feature a model of Rene Matić's father and references the familiar image of the crucified skinhead.

There are parallels with another exhibition at the South London Gallery's other site on the other side of Peckham Road: Simeon Barclay's 'In the name of the father'. Here too a black artist explores themes of exclusion and masculinity with a nod to late 70s/early 80s British working class culture. In this case the references include the 1979 movie 'Scum', set in a brutal Borstal. Barclay's work includes a puppet of Ray Winstone's Carlin character in the film, offset against a puppet of the artist in a 1970s Elton John duck costume.

Guard dogs and a fenced off sign for Huddersfield nighclub Johnnys - reportedly hard to get into for young people like Barclay - also feature.

Exhibitions continue until 27 November 2022

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Suzi Quatro and AC/DC: punk rockers in Australia 1974/75

I don't think anyone who knows 1970s UK pop culture would argue with the fact that Suzi Quatro was one of the leather clad pop rockers who prepared the ground for punk. Still was surprized to see her being mentioned in relation to punk as far back as 1974 in the Australian press on the occasion of her touring there:

'She looks like the leader of a motorcycle gang, but pretty like the girls who run with the pack ought to look. She's 23, dresses all in skin-tight leather zippered down to her waist, off stage as well, but usually adds a shirt under the leather suit. Her eyes look out soft and warm from photographs. In real life Suzi Quatro is tough, but still soft underneath.

She's from Detroit, and in this country that says a lot. A harsh city, "Motor City," with the highest crime rate in the U.S.A., it is the birthplace of punk rock, the MC5 (Motor City 5, a once famous rock group.) Suzi continues the image though she does complain that "people who've only heard my voice expect me to be about 6 feet tall." In fact she's five feet. Wearing a small star tattooed on her right wrist, she explains, "I got the star four years ago 'cause that's what I wanted to be'  (Australian Women's Weekly, th May 1974).

From searching on the great Trove newspaper archive this seems to be the first reference to 'punk rock' in an Australian newspaper, earlier even than a 1975 mention of 'top punk rockers' AC/DC.

Interestingly, the AC/DC gig in question at the Harmonie German Club in Canberra took place on 7 November 1975, one day after the first Sex Pistols gig at Central St Martins art college in London.

Canberra Times, 7 November 1975