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Chicks on Speed
B2 Club 
By Hugh McGregor
When music critics attempt to define the Chicks on Speed they tend to obfuscate their way round a spectacular array of pretentious adjectives. A cursory survey of past reviews leads to the conclusion that the Chicks proffer a musical melange perhaps best described as ‘avant-garde industrial splurge postmodern feminist electropunk’. That the Chicks have affected such an idiosyncratic style is understandable given their eclectic history: formed at a Munich art school, the cosmopolitan triumvirate of Alex Murray-Leslie (Aussie), Kiki Moorse (German) and Melissa Logan (Yank) originally ran an underground bar, providing a sanctuary for those foreigners and Teutons of an artistic bent who wished to escape the strictures of the conservative Bavarian scene. Alex explains this project in terms of a feeling sometimes common to expats of all descriptions: “We came together because we all felt a bit insecure in Munich, a bit like freaks. By creating the bar and an insular group we were able to create our own identity within Munich”. The bar developed into a media art collective, which then began producing ‘fake music’ as a mechanism for publicising its projects - from clothes and comics to paintings. Ironically, the fake music enjoyed more success than the rest of the project, and the Chicks have since ridden a wave of hype to such heady heights as NME singles of the week and supporting the Chili Peppers in front of audiences of 100,000.

The last time I saw a Chicks gig they were in fact playing to a huge Hyde Park crowd as warm-up for the Chilis. It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to predict that the Chicks’ unstructured mess of bleeps and fuzzy breakbeats overlaid with screeching sloganeering wouldn’t go down too well with an audience that had forked out to see ‘Under the Bridge’. From my vantage point in the scrum-like queue for the beer tent I watched the crowd’s reaction evolve from ignorant indifference to outright aggressive derision. The Chicks died a horrible, embarrassing death on stage that afternoon; pelted with insults and latterly projectiles (I hope the yellow liquid in those pint glasses was beer), they left the stage humiliated. When asked about this concert Kiki shakes her head: “Hyde Park wasn’t a great gig for us” she says, somewhat understatedly.

I get the impression that tonight’s gig in B2 might be a different matter however. The presence of plenty of asymmetrical haircuts and ironic sweatbands in the crowd points towards the Chicks having a more friendly audience to perform to. “We had a great time when we played in Moscow last year”, points out Alex, “the crowd got really involved – someone even got up on stage and lifted up Kiki’s skirt!”

From the start of the gig it’s apparent that the Chicks are at their best and most comprehensible playing smaller venues. The challenging music is enjoyed by an arty crowd who seem well versed with the band’s work, shouting along with most of the lyrics to their unapologetic anthem ‘We Don’t Play Guitars’. Close up it’s possible to appreciate the aesthetic governing the Chicks’ combination of music with the short films, photos and abstract images they blast onto a giant screen behind the stage. In short the Chicks should be approached as a complete media package – it’s really not just about the music. Alex agrees with this analysis “it’s very important to us to be seen as artists; we try to take all the different strands of the creative arts and pull them together”. Personally I’m unconvinced that they achieve such an ambitious aim, but they certainly make an interesting change from the usual formulaic package record companies churn out. If you’re of an artistic and/or pretentious persuasion then I’d certainly recommend the Chicks to you. If not, best to keep ‘Californication’ on your stereo.

05.05.05
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