PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Barnes
What You Do for Love
The track, What You Do for Love, is available via:
5th July, 2019
I have not got a lot on today…
and, rather than put out a lot of work, I thought it would be good to consider a few great artists and things happening in music right now. That might sound pretty vague but I mean I want to take a bit of time to ponder the new single from Skunk Anansie. There is a lot to cover when we think of the band because they have been on the scene for so long. I want to discuss their legacy and why they are a favourite band of mine; why Skin is a particularly inspiring figure and why she is a role model to many; why bands like Skunk Anansie will remain in the heart and how they are compelling newcomers – a bit where they might head next and what is in their future. I have been checking out Skunk Anansie and their movements recently and, sort of coming between their gig plans and excitement is a story involving them and Stormzy. We all know Stormzy was the first black rapper to headline Glastonbury – and he did so last weekend in true style! There was a lot of anticipation when Stormzy was announced as the headliner and many wondered whether he would be able to pull off such a huge gig. By all accounts, he smashed it and the dust has just about settled. There was a bit of an error on his part when he claimed he was the first black British artist to headline Glastonbury. Sky explains more:
“Ahead of his history-making Glastonbury set, Stormzy was understandably proud to share its significance with the world.
However, while he is the first black British male solo performer and rapper to headline the festival's famous Pyramid Stage, he actually got it wrong when he said he was the first black British artist - as Skin, the frontwoman of 1990s rock band Skunk Anansie, has pointed out.
Skunk Anansie, famous for hits including Weak, Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) and Brazen (Weep), were Glastonbury headliners in 1999, along with REM and Manic Street Preachers.
After realising his error, Croydon-born Stormzy, real name Michael Omari, has now apologised to the singer for his mistake.
He tweeted: "Skin from the band Skunk Anansie was actually the first black artist to headline glasto she done it with her band in 1999 no disrespect intended and MASSIVE salute to you - my apologies! @skinskinny."
She wrote: "Sorry Stormzy but we beat you to it in 1999! 20 years ago! And while we're on topic, I was the first black Woman too! @beyonce Wishing you an awesome nite tho, Kill it! You're amazing and we're all very proud. ps. Real question is why it took 20 years!"
It is only write Skin corrected him and, as the lead of Skunk Anansie, she was the first black British headliner – the first black woman to do so, too. I think things between Stormzy and Skunk Anansie are okay and, to be fair, it was an honest mistake. It is great that Stormzy made history but one wonders whether festivals like Glastonbury are doing enough to put black artists higher up the bill. Certainly, strong black artists like Lizzo, Janelle Monáe; Dave, Stormzy and Janet Jackson provided these incredible sets and newcomers like Grace Carter showed they were definitely worthy of greater exposure. I guess there is still a problem in music regarding race and whether black artists are given the credit they deserve. Modern icons such as Beyoncé have helped pave the way but there is still so much to do. I looked at that Twitter interaction between Stormzy and Skin and it sort of struck me how few black artists have headlined festivals. Skin was the first black woman to headline back in 1999 but, apart from Beyoncé a few years back, there has been a surfeit of black women appearing as a headliner. The same can be said for the men. Both Skin and Stormzy are pioneers, in a way, because they have helped raise awareness and open eyes. I have mentioned a few brilliant black artists but, to be fair, there are so many more who could headline a major festival.
Next year is Glastonbury’s fiftieth and I do wonder we will see another black artist headline the Pyramid Stage. Maybe Beyoncé will return or we will see Stevie Wonder play; perhaps Lizzo will be promoted and get to headline or there might be a new act that gets the same sort of platform as Stormzy. In any case, there is a real issue I think regarding black artists and a relative lack of support. This is something I want to cover in more detail at a later date but I think it is interesting to see Stormzy and Skin, without knowing it, discuss race and how rare it is to see a black artist headline. I will talk more about it in time but I do think more needs to be done to facility greater racial balance. Before I come to look at Skunk Anansie’s latest track, I want to raise a few other points. I have been following Skunk Anansie since they started out in 1994 and, right now, they are touring Europe to celebrate twenty-five years together. Albums such as Paranoid & Surnburnt (1995), Stoosh (1996) and Post Orgasmic Chill (1999) followed me through my school years and I was awakened to this wonderful band. I especially love Post Orgasmic Chill because tracks such as Charlie Big Potato and Lately were huge tracks. Listen to the early work of Skunk Anansie and it still sounds so fresh and exciting. I think the band were a bit of a revelation in the 1990s because, when they arrived, Britpop was still raging. They offered something alternative and harder-hitting for those who wanted to experience a more thrilling and visceral form of music. Of course, emotion and vulnerability was always part of Skunk Anansie’s make-up and they have continued that to this day. I was especially captivated by Skunk Anansie because they were mixing Alternative sounds of America with British Pop and making it sound so natural and effortless. With a strong, black female leading the band, one could not help but notice this band that were inspiring others and captivating a generation.
Some might say that is a strong statement but there was so much love out there for Skunk Anansie. There is still that affection and, the fact they are embarking on this anniversary tour shows there is so much love out there for them still. I think, when Skunk Anansie arrived in the 1990s, they helped bring Britrock more to the fore and gave guidance to a lot of bands coming through at the time. Now, we listen back and there is such a rich catalogue of material that, as I said, sounds completely wonderful and original. I can listen to albums like Stoosh now and I am taken back to a great time but I also listen to music now and wonder whether there is anyone quite like Skunk Anansie. For sure, there are many bands who have been inspired by Skunk Anansie and have followed them closely but, at a time when there is still too much Pop and not enough proper Rock around, I feel Skunk Anansie play an important role. We are in a difficult time right now and, whilst great Post-Punk bands such as IDLES and Fontaines D.C. are providing some release and guidance, I do think there is a place for bands like Skunk Anansie – those who can provide political anger but also emotional outpouring. There is a definite gap in the market and the fact that we have the original band still putting out music will, I feel, compel bands in the underground to come through. Skunk Anansie are Skin (lead vocals, guitar), Cass (bass, guitar and backing vocals); Ace (guitar, backing vocals) and Mark Richardson (drums and percussion) but, to me, Skin is the standout member. That is no disrespect to the rest of the band but I find Skin utterly engrossing and fascinating. At a time when there are not that many black women at the forefront, she is someone who is still talking about imbalance and the need for change.
I do feel things need to change in the industry as a whole and it is great we have artists like Skin opening up and laying it down. I will bring in an interview she conducted this year with VICE where she discussed her sexuality, twenty-five years of Skunk Anansie and her relationship with anger through music:
“Skin – and her signature rasp, as blared out of many a CD player – is punk not only through her words, but in her very presence. As an openly queer black woman heading a band that thrived in the whiteness of the 90s English rock scene, she stirred up a cocktail of vulnerability, anger and a refusal to conform that spoke to her fans across age groups and time zones.
When you look back at 25 years of Skunk Anansie, which challenges are you most proud of overcoming as a band?
I think that the most challenging thing about being in a band, a rock band in particular, is maintaining it. There are moments when you’re having hit singles, but then when you don’t have an album out you almost disappear to people, you know?
If I stop and think about the most successful thing we’ve done, it would be able to maintain success over a 25-year period, even though we, for eight years, weren’t even on tour. We’re still here! And very few bands from the 90s are still relevant, making music, still liked and all those kind of things. Most British bands that came out in the 90s don’t exist anymore. Or if they do, they exist in a way that I find really cheesy and nostalgic.
There’s been a lot of different labels given to your sexuality over the years. How do you identify?
It moves. Sexuality really moves. At one point I was very bisexual: one minute I was with a guy, the other minute I was with a girl. Now I feel much more lesbian, because I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for two years. But guys are still cute; I still fancy them. I see myself as queer, because I think sexuality is much more fluid. I feel like I don’t need to sexually identify with one thing or the other anymore. The term ‘queer’ is much more honest and gives me some space to manoeuvre. If I say I’m bisexual then that’s me defined. if I’m say I’m a lesbian then, “what are you doing snogging that guy?” I feel like I’m not entrapping myself if I just say I’m queer.
What’s your relationship with anger in your music?
Anger is very good for you, it’s a very powerful thing. Aggression isn’t. You can be angry and it can be quite forceful, because we’re living in a world that needs anger to get things done. You need to rile people up and get them angry to get things done. That’s the intellectual use of passion. But when people just get aggressive and violent, I feel like you’ve lost.
I’ve always tried to use anger as a positive force – it gives you a bit of a shiver up your spine when you read certain things and think, ‘That’s not right.’ I never go, ‘That’s not right, I’m going to write a song about it’ – that’s not really how I roll. Things just come out spontaneously, and as a consequence, they come out in your voice, in the right way. When you are truly angry about something and a song comes out of it, it’s really powerful and useful”.
I think Skunk Anansie have changed through the years and some can say that their modern material is a little calmer and not quite as fired as their earlier work. That is a natural progression I think but there is still plenty of grit and emotion at the heart. Skin has not changed a lot (thankfully) and I am so glad Skunk Anansie are still playing together. So many bands who have been playing for so long split up or they take long breaks but, whilst they did take time out between 1999 and 2010, it seems like the band are solid and continuing on. They are such an important part of my early listening experiences and I think the band will carry on motivating the new generation and inspiring those coming through. I shall move on to reviewing What You Do for Love in a minute but I amazed there is so much love out there for Skin and the guys. It is not surprising but, often, when a band has been performing together for years, the attention fades after a while. Skunk Anansie have retained followers who were with them in the 1990s but they are picking up new fans and have this great mix of generations at their gigs.
Skunk Anansie are a great band who helped change the landscape in the 1990s and, twenty-five years since their formation, I can hear their essence in others. Skunk Anansie are touring with Allusinlove and this is a band who takes guidance from Skunk Anansie. There are many more bands around who take inspiration from Skunk Anansie and that is humbling to see. I think Skunk Anansie have many more years left in them and, although they are slightly different to the band we knew back in the 1990s, their core principles and sounds remain true. If they were to change too much then they would risk alienating fans but I do think the band have kept a lot of that rawness but are bringing in new maturity and themes. It has been a little while since we saw any album action. 2016’s Anarchytecture was the last album from them and I do wonder whether they have plans for a new album. I believe there are plans to release an album to mark twenty-five years of Skunk Anansie but, going forward, has that provided them fresh impetus? I am excited to see where they head and what their future holds. Right now, What You Do for Love is out and people are it is a pretty great track. It took me a few listens to adjust because, recently, I have been looking back and checking out the early albums from Skunk Anansie. There is that unmistakable Skin-led energy and physicality but there are new shades and colours, as I said, in their current work. That is a good thing because it shows the band are moving forward and not willing to trade on their past glories. It is about time I got down to reviewing their latest track because it is corking and shows that there is still nobody in music quite like them.
I have mentioned how the latest Skunk Anansie slice is less feral and wild than their classic work but, to be fair to them, the opening stages are pretty intense. The guitars squall and the percussion charges and it is clear that the band mean business. In terms of sound, there is actually a little bit of the Pixies and a sort of Grunge tone; a slight reworking of their Britrock/Alternative sound. When Skin comes to the microphone, she talks about someone in her life that, perhaps, is causing a bit of trouble. She asks them to step into her life; a life where they hold nothing but fire. It seems like the heroine has fire and rage in her heart and something has caused a bit of a rift. Her face is unfazed and there is no blame on Skin’s shoulders but there is still a sense of aggression and upset inside of her. It is interesting unpicking the words and trying to decode the background to the song. There is a sense of desperation biting and it appears this love is struggling. Whether it is based on personal experiences or comes from a slight sense of detachment, one cannot deny the conviction in Skin’s voice. She is presenting all these troubled visions and emotions and it looks like she is going through something quite rough right now. The chorus refers to this person and what they are doing for love. It seems like the two are on different pages and have different interpretations of what love is. There is a lack of trust and breakdown in communications. As the song progresses, Skin talks about someone trying to see the world from different sides; see things from his and her perspective. It got me wondering whether Skunk Anansie are talking less about a personal relationship and more about something wider. The band have always had a political mind and been conscious of the world around me – it got me thinking whether What You Do for Love is more an observation of the world right now and how change needs to happen.
The lyrics, to start, sort of steer you towards something personal and isolated; a sort of tension in a relationship that is threatening to bubble to the surface. As things move on, I sort of feel like something bigger is in focus. Maybe Skin is talking about love in general and how we all need to be more cooperative and sensitive. Maybe she is referring to the anger out in the world and how people in power have the chance to alter the world for good – and they are doing things to serve themselves and not the people. Everyone will have their own interpretations regarding the lyrical meaning but, to me, there is a mix of personal struggle and a call for action. It seems like the heroine is facing a bit of a challenging relationship and there are clichés flying all over the place. Rather than take time away and cool things down, she is asking for communication and wants things to be different. The band is still pretty impressive after all of these years and, whilst that sounds a bit harsh, bands that have been playing for as long as Skunk Anansie often soften and change their sound. It is a relief to hear plenty of force and meat in the bones of Skunk Anansie. This bodes well for the future and, if they have more material coming, I wonder whether it will sound similar to What You Do for Love. The chorus has a great heat and catchiness and the band are tight and focused throughout. I love how Skin’s voice has got a little huskier through the years and she sounds incredible. The driving force behind the band, she puts so much life and passion into the performance. The more you listen to What You Do for Love, the more you uncover. My interpretation changed from the first listen to the second and my perceptions changed. I shall end the review there but I would urge people to check out the new Skunk Anansie track. Those who are expecting something like Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) might be disappointed but, in truth, the band has not altered that radically. At a time when we do need a bit of anger in music, it is pleasing to see Skunk Anansie have not reined things in and have gone all acoustic! The band are touring and gathering great reviews and I do hope there is more material coming from them in time. After twenty-five years on the scene, the band are still going strong and have that closeness that comes through in the music.
Skunk Anansie are in Europe at the moment and, with fans across the continent flocking to see them, it seems like there is so much passion and love available for the band. They have so many loyal supporters but fresh faces are discovering their music and are keen to see the band in the flesh. I know that there are a few more dates on the tour and you can keep updated if you head to Skunk Anansie’s social media pages. It seems like, from the photos and tweets, the band are having a great time and they are vibing off the crowds. The band still sounds tight and potent and it makes me wonder where they head from here. They are celebrating twenty-five years together and there are a lot of fans who are seeing them because of their past material. It is evident there is a lot of affection within the band and I have been wondering whether more studio albums will arrive. I mentioned earlier how there are few bands like Skunk Anansie and the band are very much a source of influence for many. They were a huge part of my teenage years and it was a revelation hearing their music for the first time. Their 1995 debut was an awakening to me and I was hooked by their incredible songs; they dug into the skin and stayed in the head. Naturally, the music scene has evolved and changed a lot since they were first around but I still think there is a general absence of bands who sound like Skunk Anansie. We do have Post-Punk bands and some great Pop-Punk acts but what about the sort of sound Skunk Anansie put out into the world? Maybe the band are true originals and it is never a good idea to speculate.
I have spoken a lot about the band but, as a role model, Skin is still hugely important. Apart from commenting on Stormzy’s tweet and bringing race at musical festivals to the fore, she is this incredibly strong and compelling lead that has inspired so many artists. I should leave things there and let you get about your day but, if you can, check out What You Do for Love and follow Skunk Anansie closely. I know the band are busy with touring at the moment but, when they are off the road, that will give them chance to plot their next move and decide what they want to do. Many will want another album but, actually, re-releasing some of their big albums on vinyl might be a good idea. It is definitely a fertile time for Skunk Anansie and I wish them all the very best. They are a terrific band who, twenty-five years after they came onto the scene, are still exciting and utterly wonderful. If you can see them perform live then do so but, as there is new material out, have a listen but also check back on their older material. It makes for terrific listening and will definitely open your eyes. I shall leave it there but, as I have shown in this review, Skunk Anansie are a very special musical force. They have been going for twenty-five years now and, let’s hope they will keep powering on…
FOR many more years yet.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Christine Goodwin
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