Six Inch Killaz - 10 years since the break up
As usual I publish this, the final instalment of the Six Inch Killaz story, in the sure and certain knowledge that my memory gets hazier day by day. So if anyone has any recollections, contradictions or embellishments from over ten years ago, I will, as in past instalments, add them. So email me!
26th December 09: comments from Luis and additions from me.
Part 9: End Times Roll
As 1998 turned to autumn there was a sense that thigs were gathering pace for us. We were slowly gaining attention, as were our Kitsch Bitch stablemates, Cheetahs, with whom we were still intending to produce a split 7" single as our joint debut release.
Kitsch Bitch, the club itself, was spreading like a subversive infection through London and was about to make the leap into the 'mainstream' by moving into that grand old dame of London drag cabarets, Madam JoJos, in Soho. Nowadays JoJos is a proper rock and club venue, but back then it really was a glitzy old "La Cage Aux Folles" style tranny burlesque floorshow theatre. Again, it was Kitsch Bitch that helped start that transition. Rob, Wendy and all the others, they were so ahead of it.
But as things around us progressed and sped up, at the same time, our disintegration as a group that I described last time continued. What was happening was kind of exciting and fun, but it was spoiled by the fact that we weren't enjoying it all together any more.
A case in point was our first and, it turned out, only gig outside of London.
OK, it wasn't anywhere spectacular, musically resonant or exotic. It was Swindon, Wiltshire, which is about as far from the dark heart of the rock n roll universe as you could probably imagine.
But this was an adventure for us. There'd been vague talk of playing out of London before. Edinburgh Festival had been mooted once, as well as, somewhat implausibly, talk of being invited to guest at the annual Wigstock drag fest in New York City (imagine that!) But it was a struggle enough just getting all five of us across London for a rehearsal. So any jaunts outside the city had seemed like a bit of a feverdream.
But, it had to happen one day and, given the timing of things, the opportunity naturally came via The Cheetahs, who were preparing to go on their first national tour, supporting Swindon band Xavier Hark. The first night would be at Level 3, a fairly large club venue in the West Country town and the promoters asked us to play the middle slot of a bill opened by Cheetahs, who, unlike us, were accompanied by the trappings of a "proper" rock band, with full height speaker stacks, drumkit and the like to cart round. So of course they had the obligatory white van in which to drive their gear. The plan was that they'd ride up front and we'd sit in the back with the backline. All five of us.
This seems hilarious in hindsight. Five highly strung trannies in various stages of dress and make up, bent double in the back of a blacked out, windowless and badly sprung old Ford Transit van, trying to find space in between lots and lots of very hard and bulky backline. A couple of hours later down the M4, our initial sense of adventure had rapidly worn off. We were all aching, stiff and in thoroughly bad moods by the time we arrived at Level 3. Vodka and coke and alcopops, quickly, were the only solution.
We started to soundcheck, with no idea what the night would be like. Six Inch Killaz were in foreign territory. Quite literally anything could happen. The rules were out of the window, London was 80 miles back East and night was falling. How exciting!
Now, if you've been keeping up, you know by now how our gigs would go. Usually, the punters were horrified. They'd turn up expecting some sort of glammy, post-ironic drag queen version of the Spice Girls to point and snigger at. What they'd get was five atonal trannies, most of them quite angry, making a deeply un-ironic, punishing and painfully loud noise to a primitive, relentless electronic beat. Punk Rock! Yes! On rare occasions, a really good crowd would get into this and go absolutely nuts, but normally the reaction was fear, loathing and GETMEOUTTAHERE!!
The weird thing about Swindon?
No fucking reaction at all. Cheetahs open up with their habitual, superloud, super-angry set. No reaction. We stagger on after them and start playing our punishing, eardrum annihilating drone. The audience stand around, talking, smoking, drifting to the bar and back, laughing at each others' jokes and basically being unaffected in any way by the magnificent and beautiful car crash that's going on onstage.
It was like being a normal support band. That had never happened before. We drove back up to London in sullen, puzzled silence. Somewhere in Buckinghamshire we pulled over for coffee and sarnies in a midnight service station.
Everyone there looked terrified of us. Ah. Better...
A few days later Mona showed us an hilarious preview piece for the gig from a local Swindon newspaper that someone had photocopied:
I mean, did they even realise we were trannies? If so, whoever wrote the preview carefully decided to omit that part. I love their description of Cheetahs, probably Britain's most incendiary and dangerous punk rock band at the time as a "fun group".
The whole slightly breathless tone though is what really makes me crack up; the insistence on making sure the reader clearly understands, without a particle of doubt, that it's all a bit of "fun", "mad", "quirky", "wacky" and "wild"!
The Swindon gig - no reaction? I thought that was cause there was no audience! With the exception of the Cheetahs, and Pauline and Pearl, there were about half a dozen people at most...
Miss K says:
As far as I recall, it was pretty empty when Cheetahs kicked off but people drifted in, presumably to see Xavier Hark, during our set so that by the time we finished, it was, if not 'busy', at least respectable...
No future for you?
No rest though after all the wacky fun, as, for the first time we were playing two nights consecutively. So it was a hungover and tired Six Inch Killaz who trudged up The Mall to the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) rather too early on a crisp October Saturday afternoon to soundcheck for the mixed media Cinergy club night.
Generally, during 1998, we were very well rehearsed for us, and I remember that we played most of the gigs very well. This evening, when we again shared the stage with "variety" acts, was no exception. We played really well to a half full ICA theatre, a pretty big hall for us and, for me, there was a feeling that we were somehow suddenly getting noticeably better quite quickly despite Jasmine's continued unpredictability and general downward spiral.
The most memorable aspect of this night though wasn't, however, directly related to our performance, though it happened during it. Sometime during our set, a fire alarm went off and the whole of the ICA was evacuated into the Mall. We had to wait quite a while in the autumn chill outside, while the fire brigade turned up to investigate. There was a lot of mutual interest between Jasmine and some of the firemen...
Pauline took some good photos that night. Here's a selection. I particularly like Jasmine's "Access All Areas" knickers and the amazing photo of me and a striding Holly onstage.
We continued to work hard in the rehearsal studio, exercising our muscle memory prior to the two final gigs of the year, both upcoming just over a month later. The first was a high profile queercore gig supporting Pansy Division, the US West Coast alt/punk rockers who would be sure to draw a big mixed crowd to The Garage. A few days later we were to headline the first night of Kitsch Bitch's new night at Madam JoJos, Night of a Thousand Sluts, supported by Cheetahs.
(It's really impossible to overstress how much we were being supported by our association with Cheetahs and the Kitsch Bitch (dis)organisation at this time.)
So, it seemed that we'd made up our minds that this pair of gigs was to be the breakthrough. I'm not quite sure how this happened and I don't really recall any specific planning, though maybe we all felt that the last few gigs had all been pretty good. We were approaching a year since we'd recommenced following the Wayne "management" débacle and it was about time I guess.
We started a promotional campaign to try and get as many press and labels to them as possible. Mona prepared "fuck shit up", the best and most eloquent press release ever written, while i designed a nifty invite in the shape of the sort of prostitute card that you'd find plastered all over the insides of London phone boxes back then. These duly went out to a large contact list we scraped together with Kitsch Bitch and Rob Cheetah's assistance.
The Kitsch Bitch gig was to be the showcase for us, the Pansy Division support our warmup for that. We really didn't know it, but it was now or never. Our future hung on the outcome of these next two gigs.
Death by 1,000 Sluts
Madam JoJos, if you've never been there, is a rather beautiful old drag bar, now more of an all-purpose nightclub and venue, in the heart of Soho. It harkens back to the days when the area was dominated by the sex industry and still carries a dilapidated, seedy, gilt, black and red glamour that reminds you of its past glories.
The layout is rather strange. You go down a dingy stairwell and come out to a narrow bar area which gets really crowded. There are dimly lit booths and a passage to the loos to the right side. Push further through past the long-ish bar and you come out to a balcony overlooking a dancefloor on two sides. The DJ booth and sound desk is tucked to the right side of this balcony, which also connects to the stage on that side. The left side leads to the backstage area and part of this is sometimes roped off as a VIP area when posher bands are playing.
It's quite a way down from the balcony to the dancefloor, probably the height of a tall person. The back of the room is dominated by a wide, curved stage which is at the same level as the balcony. So when you're down on the dancefloor, where the sound is the best, you really need to crane your neck to see the performers. Consequently, it's one of those venues where less "involved" attendees tend to gather on the balcony level, sipping drinks, smoking (back then) and chatting as the performers work it onstage and the dedicated audience jump around below.
It's hardly changed since I first went there many years ago and it's still one of my favourite venues - well worth a visit. It's currently home to the excellent White Heat night, which brings consistently great new music to the venue every Tuesday. And, just for us lot, Trannyshack (every Wednesday) has recently moved there too, from Soho Revue Bar next door. The light burns on.
But, enough of what's going on there today. You want to know how the gig went. The week of the gig, we were in pretty high spirits after the highly successful gig supporting Pansy Division at the Garage the previous Saturday, 7th November. The Garage was probably the biggest place we'd played apart from the festivals back in 1996 and it was packed out with a mixed audience keen to get their queercore kicks. Lots of friends were there and we'd had a great time and played really well. It sounds perverse, considering I've spent much of this series saying how poor we were at actually playing, but I honestly think we were at the peak of our abilities at this point as a live band. At one point, I broke a string, and as if rehearsed, Mona and Luis slid into an improvised rendition of Booker T, the Velvet Underground instrumental. We'd never been so good, or felt so cool onstage.
The audience reception was uniformly very positive and we got a lot of congratulations afterwards. The night was only marred by a drunken Jasmine throwing another strop about cash afterwards and disappearing into the cold Highbury night, not to be seen again. Mona and I went to the Way Out afterwards for a couple of hours.
So, as a band, we were pretty much at peak condition for the Madam JoJos gig the following Wednesday. A couple days before, Mona told us that someone from Creation Records (Oasis, Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain) had been in touch to ask for a spot on the guest list. It really felt like it was going to happen at last.
For the gig, we paid unusual attention to detail. As well as being rehearsed to the nth degree, we did unaccustomed things (for us), like agreeing what to wear beforehand so we looked like a 'group' (or like a 'gang', as I like to describe us) onstage. As you can see form the pictures at the top of this chapter, it was all blacks, greys and reds. We looked great. We all went out flyering for a couple of days beforehand. Again this is the sort of effort that we'd never expend normally - Luis excepted. The gig was documented by a photographer who we'd got hold of through a work friend of mine. She took the great colour onstage shots, and the even better backstage ones, which have a genuine punk rock grime to them.
Miss K says (Sunday 15th Nov 2009):
I've been writing this concluding chapter for a few weeks now, on and off and find myself currently suffering from H1N1 (swine flu). My temperature's been high (38+) for the last two nights and the Tamiflu is doing weird things to me - I spent most of last night not being able to sleep because I was convinced that small creatures were trying to unscrew and run away with my right foot. The only way to stop them was to stamp it (the detached, runaway foot) when they'd got to the bedroom door, 10ft away, upon which point it would snap back and reattach to my ankle. This went on literally non stop from 2am to 5am.
I just wanted to assure you that this massing delirium in no way affects the weird trajectory of certain aspects of the story's imminent conclusion. No sir. This is whappen!
So where were we? Ah yes, Madam JoJos. The make or break gig...
I mean, the gig wasn't bad. You know, we played OK. It was busy and we were quite adored by the audience. But it was just a bit flat. We all felt it afterwards. A sense of oh, was that it?
Plenty of people were positive afterwards. But it wasn't the breakthrough we'd kind of almost been expecting. No executive from "Big Nads Records" came backstage and shoved contracts and pens in our hands and bags of cocaine up our arses.
Actually, until we finished playing, it was quite tame for a Kitsch Bitch night. Of course, it got mental afterwards once we all relaxed. We all got drunk and danced, partied and had a great fucking time. It was the only way to dispel the feeling of dullness that had pervaded our show. The feeling that, somehow, in the heat of the moment, we'd stayed a bit within ourselves.
That we'd been a bit nice.
A bit shit, really...
She calls angels
Like a juggernaut crawling uphill, we limped over the finish line in the following few months. At this point I think we all kinda knew it was over.
Jasmine failed to turn up to practices in the New Year of 1999 and was aggressive, hostile and defensive when confronted about her shitness. The heroin had changed her beyond recognition from the warm, funny, barking mad whore we'd known into a brittle, angry, volatile mess around whom the atmosphere changed, like a toxic cloud.
I actually don't even remember how or exactly when we sacked her. Bad, I know. Maybe we arranged a meeting but she pre-empted us by leaving before that. All I know is her influence had become so malign that we couldn't conceive of carrying on with her. It was unhealthy. I'm sure Luis or Mona will remind me how it happened. I've even spoken to them about it recently, but the facts seem to refuse to stay in my head. The whole area around Jasmine's exit from Six Inch Killaz is painful for me to deal with, even now. I know some of the others feel the same.
Jasmine leaving - don't you remember? We called a meeting at a bar (it used to be a cinema) on the Holloway Road and sacked her there! we were expecting fireworks, but she took it silently - no reaction, really... Still, we got away from her as quick as possible, in the belief that she might still explode...
Miss K says:
Hmmm. That would be The Coronet on Holloway Rd. That stirs a very vague memory. But it might just be a one that your recollection implanted in me, if you get my drift.
The worst parts of it, though, happened long after we broke up really. This is all out of sequence, but I want to cover it here and get it out of the way before I talk about the final end.
To get my timeline straight, I've been looking through some very old email archives and have found one from Mona dated 4th October 2000, about a year and a half after the group split up, which, among other things, has a section beginning:
(this part is pretty fucked, so brace yourself, there are no jokes)
Mona had just heard from Luis (after about a year and a half without any contact since the final split) that Jasmine was dead. It had happened from an overdose in February of 2000. Pauline, Luis' partner and formerly very close to Jsamine, would later inform us that it was actually:
septicaemia caused by a dirty needle.
Neither Mona nor I knew how to deal with this adequately. I was in the middle of a long, painful and complicated illness at the time, and wrote back a (in retrospect hilariously moany) email going into my troubles in detail, and avoiding mentioning Jasmine at all, before writing:
I felt strange when I read it, like it's resonating in a disconnected part of my brain or something. Like you I took a long time coming to terms with the split - like I cut off a limb or something. Now hearing this seems like inevitable - like a capstone.
We gradually grew used to the idea of Jasmine being dead, over a period of time. We even began to write warmly of her on our various new web-based outlets. Then in July 2006, I got another email from Mona, with the title:
Weird email (disturbing Killaz content)
This was obviously a considerable time after Six Inch Killaz split in 1999. I'd even had time to be in a totally different, almost successful band with a four year career in between, and, ironically, was just about to launch my current band Deathline, which was a return in a way to the lo-fi Killaz aesthetic.
To be honest, the email Mona sent was so weird that I have trouble believing it even now, over three years later. It was even weirder as Mona had had an email client crash while typing it, and so had sent me a screen shot of the frozen email window rather than the email itself.
I read it with a cold sense of disconnection and dread.
Mona was relaying the gist of a telephone call from Pauline / Luis.
I can't really go into the details, but the contents of the call amounted to evidence that Jasmine had been, at some point certainly well after her reported death, still alive somewhere. The contact wasn't directly from or via Jasmine. As far as we know, if she's still alive, she's content to appear dead to us.
In 2006, Pauline and I received an email from a friend (of Jasmine and myself, though I couldn't really remember who they were) in which he said that J had returned home to Wrexham. This friend had met up with Jasmine, who had broken the junk habit, but hit the bottle as a result. (Something which commonly happens to ex-junkies.) Unsurprisingly, Jasmine had been a bitch to be with, and the guy hadn't seen her since.
On breaking the news, I remember Holly and Pearl took it with a weary resignation - almost as if they'd been expecting it.
Mona, I remember, was deeply disturbed. Pauline cried buckets. As for me, the shock was tremendous. Remember that I'd lived with Jasmine, and we had, in a way, been very close. Though in the end, Jasmine succeeded in driving myself and Pauline away, just as she had done all her other friends. And Pauline and I persevered, suffering Jasmine's tantrums and rip-offs for quite some time, before finally admitting defeat.
Even now, I find myself, on a clear night, looking out of the window and thinking, "she's out there, somewhere." Dear G*d, it sounds like something out of a movie! Hardly surprising, though; when I think of the things Jasmine said and did, I find myself asking, "what was Jasmine thinking? What was happening inside her head?"
Pauline, who with the exception of Holly, knew Jasmine longer than any of us, genuinely believes that Jasmine was not completely sane, not to mention slightly retarded.
The whole thing was too weird, too 'soap opera' to do anything about. For a while we didn't even talk about it. It actually feels odd writing about it now, to be honest, but I feel like I need to be plain about it.
Because despite everything that's happened since, I really enjoyed being with Jasmine when she was, well, not "straight", but when she wasn't totally fucked. Even towards the end, she was still writing fragments of lovely songs. We co-wrote Six Inch Killaz' final song, actually, in autumn 1998, just before the end, when I found one of her scraps of lyrics one day at the Essex Road flat we all hated and took it home.
The next week, I'd written the music for "She Calls Angels". This was the last thing that Six Inch Killaz recorded. Actually it was only me, on guitar and voice, laying down a demo on Mona's four track in October 1998 for Jasmine to learn. Mona added the rather pretty toy piano years later.
LISTEN: She Calls Angels
The lyrics would probably have been reworked a bit as I'm clearly struggling to fit some of Jasmine's lines into the metre. But it's an appropriately velveteen moment of a song, full of regret and fading glamour.
- She Calls Angels (Jasmine / Miss K) 2.20 4 track demo recorded at Essex Road, Oct 1998
Copyright Control © 1994 - 2009 Six Inch Killaz.
We never did perform or even rehearse that song. The end came too soon afterwards.
Not a bang, a whimper
Mona tried hard to end it when we sacked Jasmine in early 1999 but Luis convinced us that it was worth carrying on as a four piece. Having willed the band into being, I just don't think he was ready to let it fall apart.
We started rehearsing again in the spring, but to me it felt leaden and hard work. Having said that, Holly stepped up admirably to being the solo front-tranny, though there were some songs like Schizoid that she couldn't do. Luis sang that one and more while Mona sang New York, I think.
It kind of hung together just long enough for us to headline another gig at Madam JoJos for Kitsch Bitch, on April 8th 1999. All I remember about this one is that we did an interview backstage with Flipside, the punk zine. It's a really good interview and makes us sound exciting, new, passionate and funny.
Which is so ironic as we were pretty much clapped out and on our last legs.
(I'm planning a big appendix of things that didn't quite fit in the main part of the story, and I'll publish a full transcript of the interview there. It's good and kind of encapsulates whet we felt we were about).
And then that was pretty much it. When the interview was published later in 1999, we'd already split. We met a month or two later at Holly and Pearl's flat on Holloway Road. This time, Luis gave in, with only a small fight.
Six Inch Killaz was over.
Miss K says:
Apart from the corrections and additions above, Luis also emailed me a long, passionate and eloquent statement of his position on the breakup of Six Inch Killaz. Rather than interrupt the flow here, I'll include it in full in the appendices which will follow early in 2010.
Epilogue: All or nothing
I always re-read the previous parts of this story before writing the new one, as a spark to aid my memory more than anything else. One thing I wrote in the very first instalment struck me ths time:
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.
The thing is though, there's no fucking way anything could have happened.
The crapness, the laziness and the fuckedupness were so much part of Six Inch Killaz' collective DNA that for anything "to have happened" would have been a betrayal of what we were. The path we followed, with all the blind alleys, mistakes, false hopes, and glorious, glorious mess, even the bizarre and protracted ending, were the only way our story could have panned out.
Objectively, and being brutally honest, we were clearly a pretty average band who wrote good songs and had a certain throwaway something about us. Subjectively though, at times, I thought we were the greatest thing that ever lived; at other times, I despaired and wished I'd never joined. But I never felt indifferent. Why? Because I liken being in Six Inch Killaz to being in a gang. We ruled. We were untouchable when we had it going on, and we felt invincible. Nothing can beat that. You were in or you were nothing.
After the band broke up, I found it impossible to contemplate doing anything else musically. It had drained me emotionally and I honestly thought I would never play seriously again, especially as this coincided with a dark period of my life when, as I mentioned earlier, I was seriously ill and in many ways, my existence felt like it was falling apart. I didn't talk to Mona, with whom I'd been a close friend, for over a year. It dislocated me that much.
But by the end of 2001, I was better and able to pick up the guitar again and I joined Electric Shocks as lead guitarist. This was a far less emotionally complex arrangement for me and a little more critically and commercially successful. We made some music of which I'm really proud. But it never felt so personal or vital to me as Six Inch Killaz. Perhaps that was important.
It was just lots of fun, as is current band Deathline, which I formed with Jennie from Electric Shocks after we broke that band up in late 2005.
There are a few Six Inch Killaz loose ends to tie up. In early 2002, Mona and I got together on my insistence to record a version of our song New York, which had somehow never got recorded in any form. It's not a great recording - I totally ballsed up my lead part - but it survives now at least.
Kitsch Bitch carried on for another year or so till they, in their own opinion, became too mainstream and stopped. Rob and Wendy broke up and Rob got involved in some messy legal wranglings over the Underground space they were running in Shoreditch. Eventually, Cheetahs moved to the US and became LA based band The King Cheetah. They did us the great honour of writing and recording a song about us.
Mona, or Simon Murphy, and I are still good friends. After the end of the Killaz, Simon played in a scattering of queer lo-fi bands like The Lesbian and Gay Movement and The 123s. He now makes musical instruments and effects boxes and performs solo experimental music using them, as well as occasionally performing with the improvisational music collective, A Band.
Holly, as far as I know, still lives with Pearl and two chihuahuas on Holloway Road. I occasionally bump into her, though it's actually been a while now.
Luis lives with Pauline in White City. He almost died from a brain abcess a few years ago and he's now primarily a visual artist. You can get to all his stuff via his website. We re-established contact a few years ago, but only met again this May, when he came to see Deathline play. Simon / Mona was there too.
It was something of a cautious reunion, almost exactly ten years after the end of Six Inch Killaz and it happily allows me to bring the curtain down on our story. It feels like it's taken almost as long to write.
I hope you've enjoyed it.
comments powered by Disqus