Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Twee

Twee is punk for people who aren't really all that "punk"; it takes the DIY, anyone-can-start-a-band mentality but leaves out the in-your-face confrontational attitude. It's subversion lies in it's aggressive sweetness, spooning sugar down its listeners throats and seeing who pukes first.

Like with punk, musical ability and vocal talent aren't priorities. Albums were recorded on four-tracks in bedrooms, and there are definitely moments where the music sounds overtly fragile, like it could fall apart at any second. While these aren't exactly new ideas now, at the time it was a pretty radical way of doing things. Taking their inspiration from 1960's bubblegum and girl groups, these bands became their own popstars.

While the punk scene at the time valued masculinity, twee wasn't afraid to celebrate the "girly". Fueled by zine-culture and tape-trading, it deconstructed punks' gender roles with gentle confrontation.

Most people trace the roots of twee back to the mid-1980's, particularly 1986, when NME released a cassette compilation called C-86, which has now become synonymous with twee, and something I'd definitely recommend tracking down if you're interested in this scene.

As this is a "beginners guide" though, I'll stick to recommending a few essential bands and labels that I personally think provide a good introduction to "twee":

Best known to none-popgeeks for their songs "Molly's Lips" and "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam", which Nirvana famously covered. Unfortunately, this Glasgow-based duo didn't receive much recognition while they were still together.

A Glasgow band who became known for their lazy melodies, they were among the bands featured on C-86.

Made up of six teenagers from West Bromwich, their single "Pristine Christine" was the first release from Bristol's Sarah Records, and serves as a perfect introduction to the label and the scene in general.

Formed in 1986 by two heavily-Pastels-inspired girls from Oxford who took their bandname from a celebrity they made up. Making use of handy brothers and boyfriends to fill out the band, they set about combining girl-group harmonies against a loose, punky backdrop.

Staying true to the DIY attitude, Beat Happening's earliest recordings sound suspiciously like they included a boombox and some pots and pans. By the time their 1988 album, Jamboree, was released, they'd to hone their sound into the perfect balance of childhood sweetness and the dark vulnerability that runs alongside that. If audiences hated them, frontman Calvin Johnson would respond by throwing them candy.

Taking their name from a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, this was the first band of Rose Melberg.With their signature punky-instrumentals mixed with lyrics about crushes and heartbreaks. They're sometimes loosely associated with riot grrrl, partly because their first release was a split 7-inch with Bratmobile. Sadly, they only existed for about a year.

A sort-of reincarnation of Talulah Gosh, with an almost identical line-up. The guitars were tighter, while the songs remained just as catchy; it's not easy to make a concept record about rape sound danceable. Twee kids hearts exploded when the band was joined by Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson on the track "C is the Heavenly Option."

Made up of Tiger Trap's Rose Melberg, and Jen Sbragia, The Softies combined two electric-acoustic guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies to create a dreamy, rainy-day-sad-girl vibe; they're possibly the saddest and sweetest group to have ever existed.

Named by NME as the second greatest indie label of all time, Sarah was a Bristol-based record label and fanzine, run by Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd. They regularly released seven-inch singles in hand-assembled packages. When they reached the catalogue number SARAH100, they celebrated by throwing a party on a boat and shutting the label down in August 1995.

An American label co-run by Calvin Johnson and Candace Pederson, nearly every American twee band/musician released something on this label!

In October 1994, Slumberland released a compilation titled Why Popstars Can't Dance. It's a solid compilation that works well at demonstrating just how diverse twee can be; Lorelai's fuzzy shoegazing sits comfortably alongside the lo-fi Honeybunch.

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