Arts: Desperately seeking Siouxsie
She may have disbanded her Banshees, split with her record company and got married, but the queen of punk is back on the warpath.
Thursday 10 September 1998
They are in London to promote their latest incarnation as the Creatures - the band that started life as an experimental side project way back in 1981, when the Banshees were at their primitive best. At 41, Siouxsie looks surprisingly young and remarkably beautiful, yet slightly mumsy - a different creature to the spiky waif who rode the first shock wave of punk in bondage gear and swastika armband.
Still something of the old Siouxsie remains. Sat across the table with Budgie by her side, she's chatty enough, friendly even, only there is a certain steeliness about her. Even without the warpaint, she is prepared for combat. She doesn't really like interviews. The trouble with most journalists, she says pointedly, is they only see the surface. She read somewhere recently that she had swapped her wild-child persona for a life of domestic drudgery and that she was planning a family. She snorts: "I don't know where they get that bollocks from."
It is two years since Siouxsie announced that she was folding the Banshees "with dignity" - a barbed reference to the Sex Pistols, who were cashing in on the 20th anniversary of punk with their Filthy Lucre reunion tour.
"I didn't like the idea of it all turning into a nostalgia trip," she says. "With the Banshees it was very hard to get away from that. Maybe it was partly our fault, but a lot of it was other people's perceptions of what we were. And the whole anniversary of punk thing really compounded what I thought was wrong. I was so disillusioned. I remember thinking: `I don't want anything to do with this.' "
Few bands have been so shackled by their history as the Banshees. And few performers have been so personally haunted by the past as Siouxsie. With the obvious exception of Madonna, it is difficult to name another female pop icon of the past 20 years who has spawned so many adoring imitators. You still see them now - all those black-haired, black-eyed Siouxsies, ghostly reminders of a past she'd rather leave behind.
Do they bother her? She hesitates before answering. "It's flattering. But they'll grow out of it and find their own way of expressing themselves. That look came from having no money and enjoying dressing up. It was just a fun thing. It was never `my image'. Also, it was a reaction to when I was growing up, and women were supposed to be all blonde hair, gold suntan and pink lips. It was a real black-and-white opposite of what was considered attractive. I was kicking against something I found really oppressive."
In many ways she still is. She is angry at the way women in the music industry still tend to be judged on their looks rather than their talent and are expected to retire gracefully when they reach a certain age. "It's totally sexist. Nobody comments when Sting hits 40."
She's irritated at the way music is marketed. "Generally with new bands now there's a big campaign straight away. They become this product overnight. And then they only last for one album, or one single, and people wonder why. It's because they've been wrapped in clingfilm so quickly, there's no evolution, no development, no growth."
Among those artists she does admire are Radiohead, Portishead, "and PJ Harvey of course". She used to like Courtney Love, but not anymore. "I loved the first Hole album, but I really can't understand what she's done to herself now. All that cosmetic surgery and restyling, just to end up looking like Goldie Hawn. I don't get it."
There is no big marketing campaign surrounding the relaunch of the Creatures, and certainly no Versace photo shoots. Dropped by Polydor shortly after the Banshees split, they have their own label, Sioux Records. They manage themselves these days, and work a lot from home. No, they don't have anything so elaborate as a home studio - just Budgie's drum kit set up in the dining room and a dictaphone for keeping track of their ideas.
"It's very low-fi," Siouxsie explains. "It's just bits lying around. So it isn't a case of saying `I've got an idea, let's set things up' and then losing the moment. The whole way we work now is a lot more spontaneous than before. I wouldn't call it primal, exactly. It's just a lot less covered by embellishments."
It seems to suit them very well. The recent "Erasercut" EP found them retreading familiar ground with a renewed vigour. They have a single, "2nd Floor", out next month and are putting the finishing touches to an album, parts of which are on a par with anything they have ever done.
And they've been touring. Back in May they performed two sell-out gigs at the Garage, in Islington, north London. More recently, they toured America with John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground. In New York they performed the Velvets classic, "Venus in Furs", as an encore. "That song was made for Siouxsie to sing," Budgie says proudly. "Yeah," she agrees. "And not somebody singing it in a rollneck sweater." Budgie laughs and pretends to be shocked by her bitchiness - "Miaow!" She purrs and miaows back, scratching the air with her fingers.
It's an act they almost didn't pull off. There was a time, immediately after the break with Polydor, when they seriously considered calling it a day. "It was as if we didn't fit a particular category, so we weren't allowed to continue," Siouxsie recalls. "There was a point where I thought: `Oh well, I'll just pack up and open a flower shop or something.' "
Even recently, they had difficulty securing live bookings. "We were just dying to get out and play. We asked around, but there was a real resistance. The music promoters over here are governed by the corporate way of thinking, of tying in tour, album, tour, album.
"The response was: `When's your record due?' All of a sudden you are being told that you can't play because you are not promoting a record. I was so pissed off with that attitude. So, fingers firmly stuck up at them, we went ahead and did those shows at the Garage."
As well as proving that they could still cut it live, the shows marked a return to the intimacy of those early Banshees performances. It's the closest they get to a nostalgia trip. "It's been a long time," Siouxsie says wistfully. "I've missed that contact. With the Banshees, it developed into a situation where you went out on the road when you'd completed a record, and did some big production in a hall or a theatre. There was that distance. And I missed that feeling of starting again, of playing stuff that people don't know." Budgie nods in agreement.
This feeling of rejuvenation dominates their conversation, not least when they describe their plans to release a remix version of the new album. It sounds surprising at first, until you remember that the Banshees were one of the first non-dance bands to embrace the concept of the remix. And with the Creatures' sound relying so heavily on drums and percussion, it was only a matter of time before the world of dance music finally caught up with them.
There's another logic to it, too, something which makes this latest enterprise a natural extension of everything they've done. It's the spirit in which a lot of contemporary dance music is produced - people tucked away in their bedrooms, making records on their computers. It's the fact that, with a little bit of technology, "anyone can do it". To put it another way, the world the Creatures inhabit now is a lot like the one they first sprang from, a lot like punk.
The moment the words are out of my mouth, Siouxsie Sioux's eyes light up. "Yeah!" she says emphatically. "Brilliant! It's DIY. It's back to DIY. That's the key for me. DIY. Do it yourself, with as little interference as possible."
The Creatures play the University of London Union on Friday and Saturday; their single, `2nd Floor', is released on 5 October; Banshees And Other Creatures is the subject of `Rock Family Trees' on BBC2 on Saturday 25 September
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