Formed in London, England, in February of 1994, Skunk Anansie—named after the black and white striped animal (two of the band members are black, while the other two are white) and a spider predominately featured in Jamaican folklore—became known as the perfect metal/punk outfit to represent the future of rock music. From the moment the group released their hit debut album, Paranoid and Sunburnt, the music industry and rock fans immediately recognized that Skunk Anansie, described as Grace Jones meets Rage Against the Machine, had an electrifying and unique sound unlike any rock band heard before. Even critics who disliked the music agreed that Skunk Anansie was truly different. The group’s spectrum—which includes hints of R&B, pop, soul, and funk—mixes electronicatinged heavy metal guitar with the energy of punk. Their diverse influences range from Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Public Enemy, Living Colour, Black Sabbath, and PJ Harvey. Skunk Anansie’s live shows have been described as ferocious, dynamic, mad, and angry.
Members include Ace, guitar; Cass Lewis, bass; Mark Richardson, drums; Skin (born Deborah Dyer at Brixton, London, England), vocals.
Formed in February of 1994; signed with One Little Indian Records, July 1994; released debut album, Paranoid and Sunburnt, 1995; signed with Epic Records and released Stoosh, 1997; released Post Orgasmic Chill, 1997.
Addresses: Home —London, England. Record company —Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York City, NY 10022-3211.
The group’s lead singer Skin (born Deborah Dyer) propelled Skunk Anansie’s acclaim and notoriety with her dangerous, yet exhilarating persona. Most critics agreed that Skin was the most visually striking front person to come along since David Bowie’s incarnation of Ziggy Stardust. Melody Maker, in comments included at the One Little Indian website, once said, “if, as Sly Stone once said, everybody is a star, Skin is a solar system….” The first black woman known to ever front a metal rock group in a scene still dominated by long-haired white men, Skin, a stunning six-foot-tall, openly bisexual woman, at times sang with the harshness of artists like Courtney Love (of the group Hole) or punk rocker Johnny Rotten, while maintaining the ability to shift to the vocal range and purity embraced by Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.
Skin formed the London-based quartet after attending a furniture design course at Teesside Polytechnic in Middlesborough, England. From there, she moved back to London and started meeting local musicians. Although Skin shelved her first band, which she considered too rock-oriented, she retained the services of bass player Cass Louis, and started rehearsing as Skunk Anansie. Guitarist Ace and drummer Mark Richardson were also added to the lineup. By July of 1994, the group signed their first contract with the independent label One Little Indian after company executive Rick Lennox attended their second gig. Soon thereafter, the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) Radio One Evening Session program picked up on the band, and for the first time in British music history, the broadcasting company recorded Skunk Anansie’s first single, the anti-racist “Little Baby Swastikkka.” For a time, the song was exclusively aired on Radio One and used as a competition giveaway, then made available by mail order only. Two more singles followed: the controversial “Selling Jesus” and “I Can Dream,” which appeared on the British top 40 list.
In the meantime, the group toured with the rock bands Therapy? and Senser and collaborated with singer Björk for her “Army of Me” single, before recording their debut album, 1995’s Paranoid and Sunburnt. Produced by Sylvia Massey (who also records for musicians such as Tool and Prince) and Skunk Anansie, and mixed by Andy Wallace (who worked with Nirvana, Faith No More, Jeff Buckley, and Bad Religion), the 11-track collection ranged from heavy rock to emotional ballads delivered by Skin with style, grit, and conviction. The album, which eventually went multi-platinum, illustrated Skin’s scalding voice in songs like “Intellectualize My Blackness,” an attack on manipulative liberals, as well as her versatility on “100 Ways to Be a Good Girl,” a tender meditation about emotional abuse, and the softer “Charity.” Already a well-known group across Europe, the band then took their eclectic music and frenetic stage show to the United States.
In 1997 Skunk Anansie signed with a major label, Epic Records, and released their follow-up album, the harder-edged Stoosh, a West Indian term meaning crisp. “It’s a complimentary term,” bassist Lewis, also of African ancestry, told Kendall Morgan in the Dallas Morning News during the group’s tour with punk rock god Henry Rollins that year. “Stoosh [the word] is almost like someone that appreciates the finer things in life, but they come from the streets. It’s pretty dangerous. It’s when you’re just massive and large.” Like the debut album, Stoosh continued to promote the group’s social commentary, but Lewis was quick to point out that Skunk Anansie’s stands are not as political as the messages of other rock bands. “Our politics are a natural stance. It’s not that we’ve got to be political. It’s social commentary, really. We’re not political like Rage Against the Machine—no one’s got a degree in political science. The things that Skin writes about are common views,” he reassured Morgan.
Stoosh includes unrestrained metal rock tracks, both musically and lyrically, such as “Yes, It’s (expletive) Political” and “We Love Your Apathy.” Notwithstanding, Skin showed off her formidable vocals and the group’s softer side with ballads like “She’s My Heroine” and “Infidelity (Only You),” as well as with the pop-structured “Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good).” Like their debut, Skunk Anansie’s second album, produced by Garth Richardson, went multi-platinum. In addition, MTV (Music Television) nominated the group in September of 1997 for best rock act and for best live act, although the awards went to other artists. The same year, the British music magazine Karrang! named Skunk Anansie best British band and top live act.
Skunk Anansie returned in the spring of 1999 with the release of Post Orgasmic Skill, destined to earn accolades as well. “The demon diva’s vocal performances on Skunk Anansie’s third and finest album are utterly transfixing and not a little disquieting,” noted David Veitch in the Calgary Sun. “Her bandmates, finely attuned to Skin’s wild mood swings, make the transition from high-intensity guitar riffing and hammer-fisted drumming to shimmering, string-sweetened loveliness seem effortless and perfectly natural.”
Continuing to branch out from mainstream music, the group further widened the space between pounding guitar electronica and soulful pop. Tracks such as the spleen-venting “On My Hotel TV” displayed the group’s ability to hold their own against any heavy metal band, while “Tracy’s Flaw” and “You’ll Follow Me Down” exposed Skin’s vulnerability. The group showed even more stylistic diversity on Post Orgasmic Chill. For example, the album’s opening song entitled “Charlie Big Potato” was reminiscent of the Led Zeppelin classic “Kasmir.” With three successful albums to their credit and a major label contract, Skunk Anansie appeared to have no plans of slowing, or quieting, down.
Paranoid and Sunburnt, One Little Indian/Epic, 1995.
Stoosh, Epic, 1997.
Post Orgasmic Chill, Epic, 1999.
musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Business Wire, September 17, 1997.
Calgary Sun, August 22, 1999, p. 46.
Daily Telegraph, March 20, 1999.
Dallas Morning News, June 13, 1997, p. 35.
Independent, August 22, 1997, p. 2; March 20, 1999, p. 13.
Independent on Sunday, December 1, 1996, p. 16.
Jerusalem Post, August 5,1997, p. 08; May 11,1999, p. 11.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 5, 1995, p. 02F.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 26,1997, p. 04E; August 19, 1999, p. 26.
Time, October 16, 1995, p. 103.
Voice, April 7, 1997, p. 30.
“Skunk Anansie,” One Little Indian website,http://www.indian.co.uk (September 5, 1999).
“Skunk Anansie Discography-Biography,” Yahoo! Music,http://www.musicfinder.yahoo.com (Septembers, 1999).
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