Since the mid-Seventies, hardcore British music has been linked to messages of rebellion. But if you think the multiracial quartet Skunk Anansie is upholding traditions established by the Sex Pistols and the Clash, lead singer Skin suggests you think again. "We don't do any of that bollocks, to be quite honest," she asserts. "We're not interested in hitting anyone over the head with cliches or anything."
Rather, Skin and the rest of the Skunks (guitarist Ace, bassist Cass Lewis and drummer Mark Richardson) prefer to clobber listeners with brutal guitar riffs, growling lyrics and an amalgam of hard rock, funk and reggae. But while Skin, an outspoken lesbian from the rough London borough of Brixton, argues that Skunk Anansie is decidedly anti-preachy, the eleven tracks on Paranoid and Sunburnt, the act's debut disc, energetically dissect everything from prejudice and sexism to religion and music-industry shenanigans. "Our songs are political only in the sense that being from the U.K., you can't ignore politics," she hedges. "Because we're working-class London kids, those issues are going to come up."
Skunk Anansie came to life in January 1994, rising from the ashes of several underground bands on the London music scene. "We used to play in the same places and all got quite a big following locally," recalls Skin, a woman who's been known to perform with the phrase "Clit Rock" scrawled across her forehead. "It was just a big underground scene where a lot of indie bands would get together and play. We were all mates, so when our bands dissolved, we had a lot in common and decided to form a new band."
The outfit found success quickly: The four played their first gig after two months of woodshedding, and ten shows later they were signed by the British label One Little Indian (shortly thereafter, Epic inked them in the States). Skin contends that she was not surprised by the group's rapid rise: "When we got Skunk Anansie together, we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We didn't care about any scenes or any fashions or what anyone else was doing. We knew what we wanted to do and just made sure that our live show was as energetic as we all wanted it to be." As a result, she continues, people "either get it or they don't."
Among those who got it was director Kathryn Bigelow, who asked Skunk Anansie to appear in a riotous, end-of-the-millennium party scene in her latest project, this fall's Ralph Fiennes vehicle Strange Days. "She just saw us as a band that summed up what would be happening musically in four or five years' time," Skin announces. "She had Pantera in there first and actually reshot the end of the movie to put us in there instead. It was very enjoyable to do." Bigelow also included two Anansie singles on the movie's soundtrack and asked the players to contribute to its score. Icelandic chanteuse Bjork is also a Skunk Anansie admirer; she asked the musicians to cut an alternative version of her single "Army of Me," for which Bjork rerecorded her vocals.
Not everyone has been so supportive, however. For instance, the Brits in the band Blur, known for their bashing of Oasis, have likened the Skunk Anansie sound to that of Iron Maiden. "People have called us racists," Skin adds. "It doesn't matter what you are, how you try to be and how you try to push your music in different directions. You're still always a stereotype to some people, because they want to keep you down and stop you from doing what you're doing."
Skin finds questions about race particularly annoying. "It makes me yawn, to be quite honest," she confesses. "I knew that kind of crap was going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to avoid it."
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The best response to these attacks, Skin believes, is Paranoid and Sunburnt, a disc clearly based on the players' experiences--and more powerful as a result. In "Intellectualize My Blackness," "100 Ways to Be a Good Girl" and "Selling Jesus" (the CD's first single), Skunk Anansie confronts and dissects the issues that affect them in day-to-day life. "There's an initial idea that's written about that's personal," Skin says, "but there is much in it that others can relate to."
And for those who can't? "We can be quite aggressive and don't really take any shit," Skin warns. "We're not the kind of band that people are comfortable dissing."
Skunk Anansie, with For Love Not Lisa and Space Hog. 8 p.m. Saturday, November 18, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $3-$6, 322-2308 or 830-