Brit Pop Girls

Alex Needham
David Bailey

British music fans are notorious for their love of shiny novelty over authenticity and longevity. Build ’em up, knock ’em down is famously their style. Right now, the U.K. is undergoing one of its periodic sea changes in taste. From the coastal town of Blackpool to the streets of South London and beyond, a new kind of musical alchemy is occurring, as a wave of young, individualistic women have holed up in their bedrooms experimenting with synthesizers and computers, and emerged as outsize pop stars. These days, everyone seems to have an opinion on the new army of synth-toting female electro acts such as La Roux and Little Boots. Which is your favorite? How can you get a quiff as great as La Roux’s, or a Tenori-on, the high-tech Japanese light-up contraption that Little Boots plays? Where did they all come from? And why now?

That last question has a lot to do with the overload of mediocre guitar bands that have come out of Britain in the last couple of years (witheringly known in the press as “landfill indie”). Women have also been inspired by the examples of artists like Peaches and Amy Winehouse, who have shown that you don’t need to soften your edges or join a band (or otherwise acquire a pair of testicles) to reach a wider audience. Then there is the reanimated underground dance scene, where Italo-disco revivalists such as Heartbreak and innovative pop production teams like Xenomania are expanding the palette of modern pop.

In the early ’80s, the bright, glamorous New Romantics emerged from the ashes of post-punk, and groups like Culture Club, The Human League, and Duran Duran became international superstars. It’s easy to imagine something similar happening now: Lady Gaga, the American counterpart to this new legion of British “synth chicks” (as one newspaper dubbed them), has dominated the U.K. charts this year, and La Roux seems poised to do the same on the other side of the Atlantic. Not only has her song “In For the Kill,” been inescapable on the British airwaves this summer (thanks in part to its sparse synth backing and helium-sucking falsetto vocal), but America hasn’t seen red hair combined with that kind of icy froideur since Annie Lennox and Boy George landed on the front of Rolling Stone in 1983. Grab your styling mousse and get ready for another invasion. Here come the girls. . .

CHARLI XCX
FULL NAME: Charlotte Aitchison. “The XCX really stands for ‘kiss Charli kiss’ which is unbelievably crap.”

AGE: 17.

PROVENANCE: Hertfordshire.

SOUND: Pouty raps, fuzzy basslines.

INTERVIEW: How long have you been making music?
CHARLI XCX: I started writing my own things when I was about 8. I used to try to bully my friends into imitating the Spice Girls on the playground. Then I realized, Oh god, my career’s going nowhere, so I looked in the Yellow Pages and phoned up the first cheap studio that I found and started recording.
INTERVIEW: What’s your song “I Wanna Be Darth Vader” about?
CHARLI XCX: Well, last night on Britain’s Got Talent, there was this absolute twat dancing to
Michael Jackson in a Darth Vader suit, which put me off a bit, but I used to think Darth Vader was really sexy—the mask, the voice, the heavy breathing, and the way that his cape whooshes when he walks.
INTERVIEW: What’s your grand plan?
CHARLI XCX: Well, there are a huge amount of girls out at the minute and they’re all great, but I feel like I could take them all on. I like Lady Gaga’s music and I think her fashion is great, but I saw her on a chat show and I wanted to punch her in the face. I kind of like La Roux, but her voice sometimes really annoys me. That said, I recently noticed that I’ve been doing really high notes in my songs, and I’m like, Oh no, here it comes. I’m going to turn into La Roux. And I’ve just gotten a massively short haircut with a huge fringe. Next I’ll be going ginger.

Photo: Catsuit: Pam Hogg. Ring: Solange Azagury-Partridge. Fragrance: Magnifique by Lancome Paris.

Listen to tracks and get tour dates at her MySpace page.

LITTLE BOOTS
FULL NAME: Victoria Hesketh.

AGE: 25.

PROVENANCE: Blackpool.

SOUND: DIY electro blues.

INTERVIEW: Your name is the English translation of Caligula. Have you ever seen the film?
LITTLE BOOTS: No, but I’ve heard it’s quite dark. The name was a nickname from a friend because I’m very small, and I’ve got little feet. She’d just seen the film, though, so that was on her mind.
INTERVIEW: You’re from Blackpool, a seaside town in the North of England. What would you recommend for a visiting New Yorker to do there?
LITTLE BOOTS: Go up the tower, get some fish and chips, see the illuminations, go to the theme park, have a walk by the sea, and go for a ride on a donkey—you don’t get them in New York City.
INTERVIEW: Why did you cover “Love Kills”?
LITTLE BOOTS: Because I’m a big fan of Giorgio Moroder and Freddie Mercury, and I was quite amazed that a song existed by both of them that I’d never heard. [sudden sound of siren] Sorry about that—I’m out trying to buy hangers for my ever-expanding wardrobe. I have to multitask when I’m doing phone interviews, otherwise I’d never get anything done.
INTERVIEW:Do you feel like you’re in competition with La Roux after she had such a big hit?
LITTLE BOOTS: No, it’s not a competition. She’s got brilliant songs. I’m just happy there’s good music being made that’s got ideas and is exciting. It’s not about who sells the most records—well, maybe it is to the record companies, but we’re just two young girls doing what we love.

Photo: Little Boots in London, June 2009. Dress: Balmain. Fragrance: Insolence by Guerlain Paris.

Listen to tracks and get tour dates at her MySpace page.

LA ROUX
FULL NAME: Elly Jackson

AGE: 21.

PROVENANCE: South London.

SOUND: Steely electro.

INTERVIEW: Ben Langmaid, the other half of La Roux, doesn’t do any press or promotion. What does he look like?
LA ROUX: He’s bald. He’s got a round head, brown eyes, a little bit of stubble, and a nice big grin on his face most of the time.
INTERVIEW: How old is he?
LA ROUX: Older than me.
INTERVIEW: Is it true you signed your record deal wearing a T-shirt that said I am a cunt?
LA ROUX: It just said cunt. That’s my favorite word. My best friend had been to Glastonbury, and she saw this T-shirt and bought it for me. I’d never normally wear it out of the house, but I hadn’t done any washing and I was like, fuck it. The people at the label thought it was funny.
INTERVIEW: Are you bothered that your name isn’t grammatically correct French? It should be Le Roux or La Rousse . . .
LA ROUX: No, I think it’s quite cool. Because I’m so androgynous anyway, it works better.
Depeche Mode doesn’t mean anything, nor does Eurythmics. Band names aren’t supposed to mean anything. I wanted something that wasn’t English, and you couldn’t get more English than “Elly Jackson.”
INTERVIEW: Have you noticed anyone copying your quiff?
LA ROUX: A few people at gigs. One girl at a gig in Leeds had it spot-on. I use this really strong volumizing mousse called Osis Plus by Schwarzkopf. Then there’s some spray I use, called L’Oréal Elnett, and some wax, which is Aveda men’s grooming clay. It takes about 10 minutes to get right.

Photo: La Roux in London, June 2009. Jacket: Poltock & Walsh Fragrance: Zen by Shiseido.

Listen to tracks and get tour dates at her MySpace page.

MPHO
FULL NAME: Mpho Skeef [pronounced mmm-poh].

AGE: “You don’t ask a lady her age.”

PROVENANCE: Brixton, South London.

SOUND: Soulful vocals over angular guitar licks.

INTERVIEW: What’s your most vivid childhood memory?
MPHO: I was born in South Africa and came to London when I was about 4, so I have vivid memories from that period. Feeling the difference in temperature—it really struck me that people didn’t go out without shoes on.
INTERVIEW: When did you start making music?
MPHO: When I was 14. I have very musical parents. My biological father was a successful singer in South Africa. He’s called Sipho Mabuse. And then my stepdad [Eugene Skeef] does a lot of work with the London Sinfonietta and Philharmonic.
INTERVIEW: Your single, “Box N Locks,” criticizes people who pigeonhole music, and features the line “A Friday night in Brixton don’t sound too far from a Friday night in Leeds.” But I’ve lived in both places, and I reckon it does.
MPHO: [laughs] It’s more the point that in each place, young people are out having a good time. If the only difference is the music—that there’s more hip-hop being played in Brixton or something—then, really, what’s the difference?
INTERVIEW: I’d say the women in Leeds wear much scantier outfits. Where do you get your fashion sense from?
MPHO: The same place I get my music sense from. I think fashion is an amazing art form. I love couture, but I also love going into a vintage store and picking something up and knowing that if
I pin it here and taper it there, I can make my own designer creat

Photo: MPHO in London, June 2009. Jacket: Hussein Chalayan. T-shirt: Chanel. Fragrance: Chance eau Fraîche by Chanel. Cosmetics: dior, including Diorshow Mascara. Hair products: Leonor Greyl. | Hair for all artists: Johnnie Sapong/Jed Root, Inc. | Makeup for all artists: Ashley Ward/CLM.

Listen to tracks and get tour dates at her MySpace page.

LADYHAWKE
FULL NAME: Phillipa “Pip” Brown.

AGE: 30.

PROVENANCE: East London, via Wellington, New Zealand.

SOUND: Retro power pop.

INTERVIEW: A recent newspaper column in the U.K. suggested that all young Brits should emigrate to New Zealand. Do you agree?
LADYHAWKE: Well, there’s a worldwide recession and New Zealand is feeling the effects, too. But for some reason, flight prices are really cheap.
I definitely recommend going.
INTERVIEW: What do you do when you get homesick? Skype?
LADYHAWKE: I do. My mum’s hilarious on Skype. She gets really excited, then she’ll call my stepdad over and they’ll just be looking at me. I’m like, “Well, say something then!”
INTERVIEW: Would you describe yourself as a synthesizer whiz?
LADYHAWKE: Definitely not. I’m more of a whiz on the guitar and drums. I hear certain sounds in my head, and I find it easy to translate them into synth sounds, but I’m not really -technically -minded.
INTERVIEW: Is it true you only wear men’s clothes?
LADYHAWKE: I wear non-gender-specific clothes. I just look silly in girls’ clothes. I’m quite tall, and they’re never the right cut for me—T-shirts and stuff are always too low-cut or too short. I’ve worn boys’ clothes forever because girls’ stuff never felt right for me.
INTERVIEW: Is it true you’re a big boozer?
LADYHAWKE: Not in the sense that it’s a problem! But I do enjoy a beer. And a shot of vodka with some apple juice is what loosens me up before I go onstage, because I get really nervous. I wish I could say it was something more healthy, like Pilates.

Photo: Ladyhawke in London, June 2009. Parka: Dsquared² Vest: Alex Noble. Fragrance: She Wood by Dsquared².

Listen to tracks and get tour dates at her MySpace page.

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September 2014

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