Chicks on Speed
Chicks on Speed
The Berlin, Germany-based trio Chicks on Speed emerged on the electroclash scene in the late 1990s. Never claiming grandiose musical ambitions or even an ability to play their instruments, the band started simply as a tongue-in-cheek art-school project, but its multinational trio of women quickly gained a cult following for their remixes and covers, and for the bizarre stage outfits they sewed themselves. The three Chicks, noted Paper 's Jennifer Maerz, mix "stark, robotic beats and bubbly, post-disco dance numbers with lyrics about feminist fashion politics and glamour girls alike."
The Chicks coalesced around the Munich Academy of Art scene in the mid-1990s, but their sole German member is Kiki Moorse. Alex Murray-Leslie left Sydney, Australia, to study art in Munich, where she met Melissa Logan, a native of New York. Moorse had a background in fashion magazines, but was part of the art-school scene, and soon the three became friends. The band's origins date to a multimedia art project they conceived for a nonexistent musical group they dubbed "Chicks on Speed," and they first devised the The Box Set, which included a tape, a record made from cardboard, a poster, a badge, and a t-shirt. They also delivered a spoof performance in which they pretended to be DJs, but producers in the audience liked it enough to encourage them to make music in earnest.
At the time, the Chicks' energies were spread thin around Munich. They ran an underground bar called "Seppi," and liked to engage in another art project they called the trading post. As Moorse explained to Weekend Australian writer Annabel McGilvray, she and the other two women ventured out on to Munich streets with "our personal possessions and swapped them. Things like our passport, some earrings one of us got from a boyfriend. And people really got into it and went home and brought stuff back, and it was real bartering.... Our goal was to communicate with people and prompt people to question the capitalist system a little, and bring it down to a more personal level and see what happens." The group also re-created the stunt for German television cameras.
Not surprisingly, the band's first single released in Germany was titled "I Wanna be a DJ, Baby." It was followed by "Warm Leatherette," a cover of the Grace Jones classic, and a string of other releases whose raw, decidedly un-slick sound caught on in Munich and elsewhere. They also put out some B-52's covers. In 2000, finding Munich too conservative for their tastes, the trio packed up and moved to Germany's capital. "Berlin is really the only place where it is still possible for people to do their own thing, their crazy ideas," Moorse told Maddy Costa of the London Guardian. "The city supports the arts a lot.... And there are great audiences here. In Munich, the moment you had a gathering of people, the police would come."
From the start, the Chicks have been candid about their musical abilities, or lack thereof. Never claiming to be actual musicians, they admit to relying heavily on the studio production process to craft the final sound. "We have an idea for a text and a general idea about the music," Moorse told Time journalist Benjamin Nugent, "and then the producers finish it." They issued three LPs in 2000, two on their own label: Chicks on Speed Will Save Us All!, The Re-Releases of the Un-Releases, and Monsters Rule This World. "Steeped in the influence of both avant-garde '70s new-wave bands and slick '90s techno," Nugent wrote, "they have created an irresistible sound, in which synthesizers, samples and drum machines collide with catchy rock hooks and English lyrics that are half sung and half spoken."
An American tour in the spring of 2001 introduced the group to a wider audience, and they also had a hit back home with "Kaltes Klares Wasser," a cover of a song by an early-1980s all-female German punk band called Malaria. The song stayed on the charts for three months. Back in Berlin, they returned to their various art and music projects, including another label and a line of clothing sold on their website. They began to gain a certain amount of art world credibility in Berlin's thriving scene, and even the fashion establishment began to take notice. They worked with designer Jeremy Scott, who designed a stage uniform for them. They liked the new overalls, Murray-Leslie told journalist Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times. "They are much slicker and more perfect than they would have been if we had made them ourselves," she told the paper. "One of the benefits of collaborating with someone in a different discipline is they push your creativity in directions you wouldn't normally go. If we had made the overalls they would have looked like Teletubby clothes."
In 2003 the Chicks released their fourth LP, 99 Cents, which featured a cover of the Tom-Tom Club's "Wordy Rappinghood." The Tom-Tom Club was an early-1980s side project from members of the seminal art-rock band the Talking Heads, and the link was not lost on London Observer critic Emma Warren. "The Chicks are direct descendants of Talking Heads' art-rock aesthetic," she noted, "but swap funky bass guitars and outsized suits for purposefully cheap sounding electronic pop, scrawled art, and home-made clothes." Other tracks on 99 Cents included "We Don't Play Guitars," "Sell-Out," and "Shick Shaving," but Warren declared that its "title track is the kind of liberating electro-pop mayhem that suggests everyone should move to Berlin without delay."
For their 2003 record, the band even shot a video at a prestigious New York City gallery, with Murray-Leslie describing the visual concept to Maerz in Paper as "a Chicks on Speed factory sort of thing, with slaves ... It relates to the idea of exploiting people to make luxury goods." Further blurring the line between conceptual art and consumer culture, they put out a book in 2003 titled It's a Project, with the help of a respected art publisher, Booth-Clibborn Editions. Known for their frank statements on socio-economic topics, the band members have been scathing in their denunciations of contemporary culture. "We are in a capitalist system and we all know that," Murray-Leslie told Costa. "But we're taking away the greed factor, and creating more competition to companies like Starbucks, which have cannibalised everything.... We're saying to young people that you can do your own record label, do your own gallery, do your own whatever and not rely on the big institutions."
For the Record . . .
Members include Melissa Logan (born c. 1971, in the United States); Kiki Moorse (born c. 1968, in Germany); Alex Murray-Leslie (born c. 1971, in Australia).
Group formed in Munich, Germany, 1997; released first single, Euro Trash Girl, on their own label, Go Records, 1998; released first LP, Chicks on Speed Will Save Us All!, on Chicks on Speed Records, 2000; relocated to Berlin, Germany, c. 2000; made first U.S. tour, spring 2001; released 99 Cents, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Chicks on Speed, Rosenthalerstrasse 3, 10119 Berlin, Germany. Website— Chicks on Speed Official Website: http://www.chicksonspeed.com.
"Euro Trash Girl," Go, 1998; reissued, K, 2001.
"Mind Your Own Business," Go, 1999.
"Chix 52," Chicks on Speed, 2000.
"Fashion Rules," EFA, 2002.
"We Don't Play Guitars," EMI, 2003.
Smash Metal (EP), Go, 1998.
Glamour Girl (EP), EFA, 1999.
Chicks on Speed Will Save Us All!, Chicks on Speed, 2000.
The Re-Releases of the Un-Releases, K, 2000.
Monsters Rule This World, Chicks on Speed, 2000.
99 Cents, EFA, 2003.
Financial Times, January 24, 2004, p. 8.
Guardian (London, England), October 17, 2003, p. 12.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 21, 2002.
Observer (London, England), October 19, 2003, p. 54.
Paper, February 2003.
Time, January 15, 2001, p. 130.
Weekend Australian (Sydney, Australia), January 8, 2000, p. O3.
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