Prologue: Smashing times
Miss K says:
Some of you will have read this before. Never mind. The story will run to its thrilling conclusion this time, hopefully without interruption. I'm also particularly pleased to be able to include comments and corrections from bandmembers Mona and Luis, as well as other interested parties, this time round. I hope you find the story of five tranny punks on the verge of chaos as interesting as it I found it to live through. Now, (*swirly timey wimey effect*) join me as we travel back to 1994 and begin again the Six Inch Killaz story...
I arrived late as usual. Before I joined, Six Inch Killaz had been around a few months and even had their Stu Sutcliffe in the shape of Medway legend, writer, artist, musician and tranny, Sexton Ming, who was pencilled in as the Killaz'
second guitarist and third vocalist drummer.
Already in the band were unstable young man, Luis Hatred on bass (whose idea the band's name was, based on a line from a track by Ice Cube) and my good friend Mona Compleine, guitarist and witty lyricist who was the musical heartbeat of the band. They were joined one drunken night by Holly and Jasmine, two beautiful girls about town who frequented London's Way Out Club and who couldn't, well, sing, but when you look that good, who cares?
The mission? To make glorious, trashy, drink-n-drug-fuelled punk rock. Who could resist it?
Well, Sexton, for a start. I'm not sure whether he ever turned up for a practise or not. But Sexton Ming was an ex-Killa almost before the thing started.
If anyone's interested in the Sexton Ming connection, that was just something (Minty and Smashing's) Matthew Glamorre suggested. I think I'd met Sexton before or at least we had mutual friends. He came along to York Way and we talked to him, but we wanted him to play drums, and he wasn't interested.
Now, the simplicity of the Killaz' musical format meant that two guitarists weren't strictly necessary, but I think Mona had in mind a big, double-barrelled fuzzed up guitar sound to go with the shouty twin vocal attack.
So this is where I come in. At that time, I was beginning my first proper job as a design junior at one of London's first Internet companies and just starting to come out as a tranny. This would be back in 1995. Mona and I had known each other from the world of small press comics and zines and we'd occasionally meet up for a drink or two and it was on one of these occasions, over a game of pool at the Tufnell Park Tavern, that she mentioned the band to me.
I'm not sure if before that afternoon, Mona knew I was a guitarist. The details are fuzzy, but by the end, we'd agreed that I'd come along to their next gig to see if I wanted to join up.
This was to be at Smashing! at Eve's Club on Regent Street. London was awash with decadent mixed nights back then. Trannies were everywhere and I think the tranny superclub Kinky Gerlinky at the Empire, Leicester Square was still around at that time. The point is trannies and drag were extremely out (as in in) at the time in London. It was actually trendy.
(This was something Six Inch Killaz were concerned about, but more on that later.)
But anyway Smashing! was one of those places from around that time which got a genuinely mixed crowd: gay-straight-boy-girl-trannie-fetish-indie-dance, it all came down. It was put together by Matthew Glamorre, Leigh Bowery associate, ex Blitz-kid and founder of the bizarre theatrical art rock band Minty who featured Bowery on lead vocals.
The Killaz had played at Smashing! once before (the band's second time out, I think, after a "dry" run at the Way Out Club talent night) and had caused outrage and hilarity, Luis hurling dog food into the audience and spraying people at the front with
blood er.. ketchup, which Jasmine promptly drunkenly slipped over on. Still they were asked back by Glamorre, who understood the power of controversy well enough.
So forewarned, I stood near the back and witnessed the most crappy, shambolic, irritating and yet exhilarating ten minutes of noise I'd ever heard. Mona's guitar was so loud that it annihilated the bass, drum machine, Holly and Jasmine's atonal shouting and the eardrums of those unfortunate to be standing within her amp's sonic cone. Luis gave up half way through, sat down on stage, opened a couple of tins of tomatoes and proceeded to spray the audience with the contents. I think a couple of people attacked him (this would become a familiar, almost reassuring sight at Killaz gigs).
Yes I did squirt ketchup at the audience at the first two Smashing gigs (mixed with a bit of water in plastic squeezy bottles that worked as good as a water pistol), but I squirted some mayo at 'em as well. At the Cyberia gig (see next intalment - Miss K), I just settled for throwing some of the free doughnuts at the rotating ceiling fans.
Yet you could still just make out the songs, some of which seemed to be punky stuff reminiscent (in intent) of the Ramones, Voidoids, early punk rock and very New York. Holly and Jasmine looked fantastic, Luis was an eye-drawingly seething ball of anger and Mona propped up the backline with studious concentration, trying bravely (as the only real musician there) to hold it all together.
You heard about the Sex Pistols' early, legendary gigs in '76, or The Jesus and Mary Chain smashing things up again in '85. Call me deluded but I felt that another ten years on there was the hint of that kind of buzz about Six Inch Killaz. If we'd had any kind of luck, or been a fraction less crap, lazy and fucked up, I really think something might have happened.
But that's all to come. And by the end of that warm May evening, I was the fifth member of the Killaz.
Wow - I have no memory of the 2nd Smashing gig other than it was a disaster and I was amazed that you were still interested in joining, after seeing us! I sort of remember trying to hide behind something to avoid getting splattered with tomatoes. The bass was quiet because Luis didn't have an amp and was playing through the PA.
Miss K says:
The head said "this is awful", the heart said "this is the most exciting thing imaginable". The heart won, and I hope the heart continues to win as long as I breathe.
I was the DJ and founder promoter of Smashing and remember the six inch killaz gig with glee and more than a little thrill. It was FANTASTIC, one of my all time favourite nights. I always felt you were set for world domination...there's still time !!!!
Part 1: Meet the band
Bus number 10 used to be one of the longest routes you could take - it started up at Archway in North London, went down through Kings Cross, Bloomsbury and up Oxford Street, past Hyde Park and Kensington and eventually all the way to Hammersmith, way out West. Long route, though they've kinda spoilt my story by splitting it into two now - it only goes to Kings Cross. The 390 goes the rest of the way up to Archway.
So, get the number 10 (or rather the 390, now) north from Kings Cross, and the very first stop on York Way will deposit you on the corner of Copenhagen Street. Cross the road and you'll see a little parade of shops - a worker's cafe, a launderette, an off license and general store. Behind it is a block of flats, that looks pretty new and nice. This is York Way Court and this is sort of where we used to practise.
I say sort of because when we practised there and Holly and Jasmine, our two singers, lived there, there was nothing pretty, new or nice about it. To get into their flat, you had to scurry through the scabby, rubbish strewed car park with scary shadows on every corner, towards the huddle of big steel bins by a stairwell smelling of piss. Into the stairwell and up two flights and you'd be at the flat. Jasmine would be on the phone, Holly would greet you with a cheery "'ello, lady!", Luis would be spouting off at length about something and Mona would be sitting reading or fiddling with equipment, maybe smoking the odd fag.
(This grubby York Way Court was knocked down and replaced by the nice version in 2000, a year or so after Six Inch Killax finished.)
Holly and Jasmine's flat was pretty amazing. Just about every single patch of wall, from bog to living room was covered in torn out pictures from magazines. Pictures of beautiful boys and girls looking down from every surface. The place just dripped with fading gorgeousness. Apart from the fashion shots, punk rock pix (especially Deborah Harry) featured prominently. Holly, Six Inch Killaz' wonderful, friendly, mumsy blonde singer, was kind of obsessed with Debbie Harry and she was, I guess one of our icons, so it made sense that she'd look down on us as we practised.
It's always a little strange finding your way into a band which has been together a while. This was the second time for me. You feel you have to do enough to earn the others' trust while not doing too much to stick out and break the equilibrium. Also, while I knew Mona pretty well, and Holly and Jasmine were friendly enough, Luis was pretty terrifying.
Luis Hatred was a fair bit younger than us all, in his teens still, and he was definitely a little unstable. He came from a weird background - his parents had him when they were already pretty old, and his dad, I seem to recall, was some kind of big British fascist figure and Luis done growed up a little bit "touched".
Luis was pretty much rock 'n' roll personified. In a way he was like a distilled version of the band. To start with, you kind of imagine that he's like some sort of amusing, harmless caricature of a rock and roll kid, self harming, smack smoking, Electric Eels obsessed and almost completely out of control. Like a caricature until you suddenly realise it's all completely real for him. Not ironic in any way. Whoa. To a nice, well-brought up middle class tranny like me, that was kind of scary to start with.
But once you realise he's for real, then you either run away screaming or step up and get on. That's what I mean when I say he was like the band. People expected us to be funny and ironic rather than awful and terrifying. See? You had to take us the way we were. We weren't some sort of happy, ironic drag version of The Spice Girls.
So there was Luis, who'd just started taking Premarin to make his boobs grow, and Jasmine, who was frequently interrupted by phone calls from gentleman clients, and Holly, sitting good naturedly on the sofa, and Mona with the musical ideas. And Dr Rhythm.
Oh yeah, Dr Rhythm, the beating heart of Six Inch Killaz.
It was a tiny little drum machine that produced a big, monotonous, relentless, machine-gun drum sound when amplified. I think it was popular with early hip hop and electro artists. We kind of only used it as we couldn't find a drummer (or rather we couldn't be bothered to find a drummer) but it really contributed something to our sound. A relentlessness, like I mentioned earlier.
Particularly because I don't think Mona had a manual, so she never really worked out how to program patterns, or to start and stop it onstage without running over to it and frantically mashing the stop button at the end of a song. So four bars of drum machine at the beginning and end of songs became kind of a trademark sound, for a start.
I never tried to programme the drum machine because it was easier that way, we could never lose our place if it was just the same beat over n over.
Miss K says:
Haha, that's funny cos I remember we still managed to lose our way on songs like Schizoid (a song from '98).
Anyway the musical shortcomings of our drum machine were pretty much academic when you consider that neither of our beautiful vocalists could sing. If I had to put money on it, I'd say that Jasmine, rest her soul, was the worse of the two. They were an interesting combination.
Jasmine was a really nice person. I got on with her from the beginning and we wrote a fair few songs together later on. But her whole world was fucked up.
She was basically a whore, and as Mona points out, "she used to say the band was her only option for a way out". She definitely had a hustler's attitude (I remember her always running around after gigs, vodka in hand, shouting "where's me fuckin' money" - for drugs, I guess) and her fabulous looks were I suppose her only real asset. She definitely had more presence on stage and was more upfront than Holly, who could hold a tune better but wasn't the frontman in the same way that Jasmine was. Jasmine had more... sass. Holly was big and blonde and beautiful. They were a great duo. But, singing? Not their strength.
Plus, Luis could only play in a very rudimentary fashion due to his massively long nails, and my technique and equipment were so basic that any noise I made was utterly disgusting and unnecessary.
I used this crappy old Korean guitar called a Vulcan, which had been smashed up so many times that the electrics were always breaking and had to be soldered back in place (often just before stage time, which was... fun), and my amp was a Laney Mighty Fifty, which was not at all mighty and was so broken that you could only play it with the gain turned all the way up. Revolting mess of noise, but it suited the early sonics of the Killaz. Also, it was very light, which was handy when you had to lug it up some slippery club steps wearing stilettoes.
So, the first few times we practised I quickly became aware of the musical quallities of our band. I think at that stage they had a four or five songs and two covers. As I recall, Luis hadn't started writing yet, so the music would mostly have been written by Mona Compleine.
Mona's a great musician and writer. There was a fantastic throwaway punk ethos about her tunes. Not just basic three chord stompers either, but more complex stuff, with stop starts, and choppy bits and surf intros. I was actually really pleased with the songs when Mona played them through and I could actually hear them. Also, easy to learn.
Songs in the set early on included the bonkers Wonderful, which featured one of Luis' stream of consciousness raps, Shoot to Kill, Teenage Whores (inspired by real life, of course), Too Bad, and a great combined cover version of Blondie's Rip Her To Shreds and the Velvets' Sister Ray. We all liked the CBGBs and Max's scene and loved The Velvet Underground, so it was a natural mix.
One that really stood out (and which became one of the standards of our set) was Trashola, which anyone who saw us live would probably remember if they heard it again, it was so catchy. It was pretty much a template for one type of Six Inch Killaz song, list poems chock full of pop culture and trash references matched with a fast three chord structure, with a stop in the middle and a madly catchy tune.
I think it's one of the best songs we did. We all had a turn writing lyrics but I think Mona easily wrote the best ones, including this one. Judge for yourself:
LISTEN: Trashola / other early stuff
This version of Trashola was recorded at Toe Rag studios a year or so later, in 1996. Dr. Rhythm was having a bad day, hence the relatively puny drum sound in this mix. Also a couple more of the early songs, recorded at various times during the Killaz' lifetime. Be warned, sound quality is ULTRA lo-fi :)
- Trashola (Mona C) 1.51 recorded at Toe Rag, Dec 1996. Engineered by Liam Watson
- Too Bad (Mona C) 1.33 4 track demo recorded at Chrissy Valentine Jeep's, July 1995
- Rip Her to Shreds / Sister Ray (Harry/Stein/VU) 5.40 4 track demo recorded at York Way Court, Feb 1998
Tracks 1 and 2 Copyright Control © 1994 - 2008 Six Inch Killaz.
So to summarise, we couldn't play, we couldn't sing, and we were too lazy to practice and get any better. Things were looking up...
Now to find some gigs!
Wow - I admire your objectivity here! It's a miracle how we ever learned any songs with all that going on. It was v slow progress, but we kept it going somehow. The funny thing is that at this point I was thinking "hey, yeah - this is starting to sound pretty good!" Luis was very enthusiastic, he was really the driving force.
Miss K says:
I'm always surprised how good the early stuff sounds. My current favourite is the recording of Too Bad I posted above. It's absolutely fucking brutal isn't it?
I just remember feeling frustrated by my lack of ability at the time, and I was always like: "if only Jasmine could sing a *little* more in tune"... Maybe unfair.
Yeah, Luis definitely kept it going. Like you said in that Flipside interview we did in 1999 (something like) "Luis brought the band into being by sheer force of will alone". He was frighteningly driven.
OK, next time, the Killaz go cyberpunk, try being pub rockers and we make our first television appearance. If anyone has comments, corrections, photos, videos, and other mementoes or additions, please mail them to me for inclusion!
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