Manchester, England-based electronic band Sneaker Pimps mixes melodic, electronic pop with flowing vocals. A Pollstar reviewer commented, "There's something eerily fascinating about the Sneaker Pimps' music. Their songs have a lurid edge—something that turns the listener into a voyeur. The band reveals the bruised underbelly of the whole trip-hop electronica stereotype without giving away their own secrets."
The band was formed by Chris Corner and Liam Howe, who grew up together in the 1980s in the English town of Hartlepool, and their friend Nick Drake. The three shared a love of the music of Shirley Bassey and Kraftwerk, and in 1992 they began recording their own early efforts to make music on an eight-track machine in Howe's bedroom in Hartlepool. Howe told Isaac Josephson in Rolling Stone, "The most interesting thing about Hartlepool is that in the 19th century, the inhabitants hung a monkey because they thought it was a French spy."
Their early work resulted in the Soul of Indiscretion LP, which later became known as "trip-hop" for its combination of beats and acoustic sound. The group produced the same sound on another EP, F.R.I.S.K.
In 1993 Corner and Howe, calling themselves Line of Flight, released an EP album, World as a Cone, on the Clean Up label. However, they were not satisfied with their sound, and wanted to produce music that incorporated vocals with their spacey, instrumental sound. A friend, Ian Pickering, wrote lyrics for them, and they wrote songs that would eventually become the Sneaker Pimps' first album, Becoming X. Josephson described their sound as "a catchy fusion of pop, trip-hop and blues." He added, "The album shifts seamlessly between fuzz guitar and crisp, roots blues riffs, all laced with a tawdry electronic sludge … fat bass and Dayton's babydoll vocals," and commented that the Pimps "have managed to produce some of the most accessible trip-hop to date."
They decided that their sound suited a female vocalist best, and when they heard Kelli Dayton singing in a pub, they knew they had found the sound they were looking for. They convinced her to join them, and Sneaker Pimps was born. Secretly, none of them thought the union would last, but they were all willing to give it a try.
Their first single, "Tesko Suicide," featured their trip-hop sound, with lyrics advocating the sale of "suicide kits" in a UK grocery-store chain. According to the group's bio on the One Little Indian Records website, critic Stephen Dalton wrote, "If you can't find it in your heart to love such brilliantly stupid, stupidly brilliant pop stars, the joke's on you."
Becoming X was released in 1996, and it was not expected to sell well; it was viewed as a short-term project, a sort of experiment. The group expected to do many other short-term projects and did not expect widespread success from any of them. Wilson told a BBC interviewer, "At that time we thought it was going to be a one-off short project rather than a career."
In the meantime, they brought in other members: college friends Joe Wilson, who had designed the sleeves for Howe and Corner's earlier releases, and Dave Westlake, a drummer. In an interview on the University of Washington's Online Daily, Westlake told Kathryn McGrath, "There've been too many bands recently where you've got two guys with keyboards and a girl in front singing and a tape playing. We did want to get back to being a band." He summed up the band's sound as "basically the sound of five people arguing," because it incorporates threads from each person in the band. "That's how it sounds like different things all running together."
Against all their predictions, Becoming X became a huge hit, and they embarked on 18 months of touring. As the One Little Indian Records website described it, "The musical genre they had helped to introduce had become wallpaper, the soundtrack to every pizza café/cappuccino bar in the world. Sneaker Pimps had fallen into a genre trap and only drastic action could help them escape."
After the Becoming X tour, seeking a fresh angle and a new sound, they moved their studio from northeastern England to London. They recorded Splinter in 1998, and in 1989 founded their own label, Splinter Records. Among other acts, they recorded Robots in Disguise, Trash Money, and Servant, as well as Placebo and Natalie Imbruglia.
In 2002, they went to France, where they recorded Bloodsport, following it with a 12-country tour of Europe in the spring of 2001. Before the band recorded Bloodsport, Kelli Dayton left the band, changing her name to Kelli Ali to pursue a solo career. Chris Corner took her place, providing vocals for this album. They told David Jack Browning in Toxic Universe that this was actually the band's original intention: "We originally did the demos with Chris singing on the songs. We recorded them with Kelli and it sounded right with her on those songs." Of the album, Browning wrote, "These musicians use machines to tell stories through pulses and beats more than rising scales and falsettos that were never meant to be. Corner's voice adds just the right flavor to the mix."
One unexpected result of the band's success was that it became harder for the members to maintain friendships with people back home. Corner told Josephson, "You're gone so much. Things change. People think that you've changed. They think you can't relate to them anymore, and they become quite bitter about your success." Howe added, "You don't realize how stupid you look until you get into a group of normal people. Our hair is dyed stupid colors, and we wear silly shirts and sunglasses…. You think 'My god! I've been consumed by this madness.'" After Bloodsport, the members of the band decided to pursue other projects.
Becoming X, Clean Up, 1996.
Becoming Remixed, Virgin, 1998.
Splinter, Clean Up, 1999.
Bloodsport, Tommy Boy, 2002.
For the Record …
Members include Chris Corner (guitar, vocals), Kelli Dayton (vocals), Liam Howe (instrumentals), Dave Westlake (drums), Joe Wilson (instrumentals).
Formed in 1996, released Becoming X, 1996; released Becoming Remixed, 1998; released Splinter, 1999; released Bloodsport, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—One Little Indian Records, 34 Trinity Crescent, London SW17 7AE, U.K.
"Bloodsport," Toxic Universe, June 8, 2002, http://www.toxicuniverse.com/review.php?rid+10003322 (November 14, 2006).
"IAMX," Remix, October 1, 2006, http://www.remixmag.com/artists/remix/iamx/ (November 14, 2006).
"Interviews: Whisperin' and Hollerin'," Infinite Star, July, 2002; http://www.infinitestar.co.uk/whisperinandhollerin_interview.html (November 14, 2006).
"Joe Wilson, Musician,"BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blast/music/peoplein/joe_wilson.shtml (November 14, 2006).
One Little Indian Records Web Site, http://www.indian.co.uk/sneakerpimps/ (November 14, 2006).
"Sneaker Pimps," Pollstar, http://www.pollstar.com/news/viewhotstar.pl?Artist=SNEPIMR (November 14, 2006).
"Sneaker Pimps Become X," Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/sneakerpimps/articles/story/5922276/sneaker_pimps/ (November 14, 2006).
University of Washington Online Daily, http://www.archives.thedaily.washington.edu/1997/051597/051597/SneakPimps.html (November 14, 2006).
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