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Huggy Bear & Riot Girl

The sound of my love will kill you

If I mention Huggy Bear what’s your first reaction? Cartoon Riot Grrrrl boy-hating joke band? Thanks to the NME, it’s the reaction of the majority of people and if you’ve dismissed Huggy Bear you’re missing out on some of the most vital and vibrant records ever made. I think Huggy Bear are my favourite band of all time, in terms of the whole. The music, the style, the personality, the packaging, the inspiration. Huggy Bear changed my life and I’ll never forget them.

When I first heard Huggy Bear I was fifteen and living in a coastal fishing village in the north of Scotland. I think Her Jazz was the first song I heard and it was like nothing on earth to me. It was girls being loud, angry and sassy. At the same time the Melody Maker was doing some cool articles on HB and riot girl and I sent off for Ablaze! fanzine. It was my first fanzine and I was enthralled by Karren’s descriptions of HB and the Nation of Ulysses:

“They’re not just singing about the fucking girl boy boy girl revolution, they’re having these insane arguments in their songs. She’s telling him, she’s telling him, and she’s so tough I wish she could tell it better with her great teeth with her brilliant shining knives”.

That was the greatest thing about Huggy Bear – the argument between Niki and Chris. He shouted and she screamed – it was the sound of pure hate, the sound of two people stuck in a room getting on eachothers’ nerves until all hell breaks loose. Huggy Bear songs were always edgy and brittle like they were going to break apart in a mess of shards.

I bought all the Huggy Bear records from then on – which meant searching out mail order places and dicovering the thrill of new records in the post, something I still get way over-excited about.

I got Her Jazz and the previous single Kiss Curl and fell in love totally. They were like these supercool alien kids to me with their put-downs and poetry. Niki’s angel snarl and Chris’ ranting, the schoolgirl shouting and explosive shuddering jerky dance guitars. And the record sleeves with their detailed enthusing of action and ideas.

They played on The Word, Channel 4’s late-night celebration of the weird and tasteless. Niki in a bright red bob, Jo with her bubble shades and Chris dancing like he knew it was the greatest song on earth. Afterwards they heckled against the sexist features and got kicked out of the studio. It was one of the greatest televisual moments ever.

My favourite Huggy Bear recording is a tape I made of a John Peel session when Radio One was making the switch to FM. It was kind of like Channel 5 then – some places had appalling reception and I was unlucky enough to live in one of them. I taped the four songs and the songs fizzed and crackled and faded in and out, suffocated by the hiss. But it sounds so fantastic – the sort of thing you could never recreate in a recording studio. Niki is spitting and the guitars are squalling. It’s perfect.

Their final release in the UK was also their first full length album, ‘Weaponry Listens To Love’. At the time the NME scoffed derisively that Huggy Bear were trying to sound like Fugazi. Like that was a bad thing! It was the best thing they could have done – to lose the blatant in-your-face taunting and instead concentrate on subtle ferocity and whispered threats, sex and confusion, sabotage and hardcore. If Her Jazz was a public slap in the face, Weaponry was a voice in the darkness, filling your head with evil threats and disconcerting nightmares. It’s so claustrophobic and seething with tales of deceit and distrust and hate.

Huggy Bear split soon after and scattered themselves into new projects of music and writing but you could never really keep your eye on them and their whereabouts are pretty much unknown. But they never felt the need to be worshipped or put on any pedestal – they did what they had to do and finished when they wanted to.

“We had our own future plan.What strengths these feeble arms hold. We were peerless. We didn’t pull back from what we found difficult, or that shocked or upset us. We didn’t fear the disapproval of friends, associates or idols” – Niki

Revolution Girl Style

The idea of Riot Girl stemmed from Dischord and K, community orientated record labels with independent principles, and bands like Bikini Kill and the Nation of Ulysses. Riot Girl just had a new slant – they wanted to inspire girls to get involved in underground music – to form bands, to write fanzines, to start their own record labels, to meet up and make friends. Hardly revolutionary man-hating stuff but for girls like me, stuck in the back of beyond, it was life-changing. Linus sent me some literature and put me in touch with girls in my area, opened my eyes to the idea that instead of complaining that nothing was happening you could get out there and do it yourself. I started to buy fanzines and write fanzines and go to see bands in Aberdeen and became interested in politics and doing things independently.

The NME likes to talk about how it killed Riot Girl – like hell it did! What they failed to realise was that Riot Girl was a long-term plan, about changing the way people go about things, about inspiration and ideas. Proving you could do it, giving you the confidence to do things yourself, to do things your own way and to build networks of like-minded people who would offer help and support.

And when Huggy Bear split up it wasn’t the end of Riot Girl – there were thousand of people passing on their inpirations. Think of bis and what they inspired – a whole new DIY emphasis of small independent labels, fanzines, only playing gigs without age restrictions. And all of bis [the boys as well] totally inspired by Riot Girl. Or take Slampt – one of the most hard-working, fiercely independent labels, dedicated to documenting their local music community and producing one of the most thought-provoking, questioning fanzines in the UK. And then they in turn have inspired labels like Gringo who are managing to bridge the gap between the ‘indie pop’ bis/chemikal underground side and the Dischord/hardcore scene side. Riot Girl didn’t invent these ideas – they just put a new slant on it – made it more accessible to girls. Sure, it had it’s faults but Riot Girl inspired and politicised and the influence can still be felt strongly today.

Huggy Bear discography:

Rubbing the Impossible to Burst 12″ [1992, Wiiija]
Kiss Curl for the Kid’s Lib Guerrillas 7″ [1992, Wiiija]
Her Jazz 7″ [1993, Wiiija]
Our Troubled Youth [1993, Catcall] split LP w/ Bikini Kill
Don’t Die 7″ [1993. Wiiija]
Taking the Rough with the Smooch 10″ [1993, Time Bomb] compilation of last 3 singles
Long Distance Lovers 7″ [1993, Gravity]
Main Squeeze CD [1994, Fellaheen]
Weaponry Listens to Love LP [1994, Wiiija]