One can come across the most amazing things while randomly trolling Bandcamp. Tucked in anonymously among a million bad #EmoRevival bands there was the catalog of Blue Minkies. Ripped from consumer-grade cassette tapes, these funny, fast and furious tapes warbled and hissed their way into my heart right away. I had never heard of this band before, but I was immediately taken and found myself humming these melodies to myself for the rest of the day. I had to find out more. Who was this band, where where they from, why had they resurfaced now?
That first EP, There’s A Little Bit of Whore in Every One of Them, was ripped from an old cassette tape and while it wasn’t mastered or restored to crisp perfection, it was immediately addicting. Breathy chants of Betty Bontempy, Jonny 2Shoes and Jimmy Bullet lead to a simple organ, guitar, bass combo and a simple tap-tap drum part as all three band members confess their love for Helena, which wallops you upside the head and, like a pop Pavlov pooch, your hips are already swinging by the time the chorus come in. There’s an amazing naiveté in the songcraft in their first EP. Some songs almost sound closer to children’s television songs than pop anthems. Pop in style but punk in attitude (not Pop Punk as genre, no Ramones / Five Seconds of Summer here) in under seven minutes with nonsense lyrics “she don’t speak English she only speaks balloon,” and band poet Jimmy’s spoken word interludes and songs about being sick of boys and just wanting to be left alone. Pretty much universal themes from the teenage life experience canon. Even with what would normally be strikes against it, the release has got the same manic energy that finds yourself dancing in a bar with mismatched socks preparing a litany of excuses as to why you can’t go to work the next day.
Digging deeper through the releases, Blue Minkies fills out by dropping the drum machine and adding a fourth member (by force depending on who you ask) while the lyrics becomes a bit more sly, while still retaining an acerbic “sick of the world, specifically you”-vibe, though there’s no guarantee the next song won’t be pining for you in your absence. The songs afford them the opportunity to explore some of the spirit of 1977’s chanty fun bop, hints of the punkier side of electro-to-come, 2 Tone style ska, and songs about love and hate and how sometimes it’s the same thing. It’s jump up and dance jams. It’s pop. It’s punk. It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s disposable. It’s Pound Shop Pop.
We had to find out more about “Brighton’s best ever band” and thankfully Jonny 2Shoes was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
The short version; Blue Minkies (perhaps named for a cat, perhaps not) are a band out of Brighton, about an hour and a half south of London, that had came together in 1999 and by 2005 put together a collection of self-released music, founding a zine distro and making a few tours. Though they have attracted a cult following, they never made a huge impact outside of immediate circles when they were active. Their recent reunion (or rather, reactivation) seems to have come together as a lark and already includes a string of dates including playing Riots Not Diets, a feminist / queer club night in Brighton, and Indietracks, a festival devoted to trains and indie pop in the Midlands.
Blue Minkies were a band almost by default rather than design. Betty Bontempy and Jonny 2Shoes met in college and spent their time hanging out. “Mostly drinking gin and roller skating,” Jonny quipped. When Betty attended Brighton Crawl 1998 with Jimmy Bullet they decided three things; all the bands performing were a bit shit but it looked like fun and they could do better. Betty came back to London and informed Jonny that the three of them were now in a band. Although in separate cities, they made the band work by mailing demos to each other. “Actually, Jimmy would send us ideas and we would tell him they were rubbish and then tell him what we were going to do.” Jonny said. Eventually, Betty and Jonny moved to Brighton and the Blue Minkies became equal parts gang and band. Going out to gigs, dancing all night, then putting up stickers and flyers on the way home. Perpetually broke but not broken, these early experiences and DIY attitude carried the band through to its end. Cheap equipment, simple music made quickly, dubbed onto tapes purchased from Britain’s equivalent of 99 cent stores.
Songs about boys and girls and dancing and hating the crap the DJ plays and eventually murdering your roommates; these are the ingredients that go into Blue Minkies, what they called “Pound Shop Pop.” The sound is a rejection of bad boy rock so prevalent in the late nineties. Amused not angsty. Fabulous not furious. Boy/Girl, A/B, Call/Response, Harmonize, Shout, Clap, Scream, Yay. Less a “band” than a bunch of people playing instruments.
Most of the Blue Minkies songs were recorded on Jimmy’s four track in Betty’s bedroom, dubbed onto blank tapes with covers photocopied at a local newsagent. Those tapes were then assembled in the same bedroom the songs were recorded. Two releases made their way out into the world via other labels, The Dirty Cat EP was a split with fellow Brighton band Anal Beard on and the You Make Me Blush EP was released on vinyl by No Concession Records, a now defunct label out of London which had a strong bent toward female and queer fronted bands.
As for what it sounds like, what influences they’ve got, you don’t have to look much further than “Jump, Jump, Jump” off of the Dirty Cat EP, a split released with fellow Brighton band, Anal Beard. The manifesto could almost be the origin of the band, complaining about horrible music played by DJs then listing all the bands they do love; Sleater-Kinney, Julie Ruin, The Rondells, Helen Love, Bikini Kill, Shangri-La’s, and more, and it’s done in a minute and thirty seconds of pure pop pleasantry. Though these are not the only influences which wind their way into the band. Thanks to the intertwining of 2Tone records in with the sound of ’77 punk, there has always been those Blue Beat sounds working their way underground to occasional burst forth like they did in the Minkies songs “Skinhead Girl” and “Bored Stiff.” Blue Minkies would steal whatever they liked and hammer it into the needed shapes.
The music is simple, two-finger keyboard vamps, drum machine programming, guitar that serve more for rhythm than for lead and lyrics you know by heart after hearing the song once. Short shimmy shimmy yeah yeah yeahs from a country which had already removed all the unnecessary filler from pop music (only to add it back; repeatedly). Electroclash without the art school sheen, closer to Le Tigre than to Tiga. The voices can be a bit flat and the harmonies more implied than realized, but the weaknesses don’t matter. Even when listening to digital restorations of analog cassette tapes, there is a pure joy and exuberance in listening to the Blue Minkies. It almost feels like it would be impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to them.
Of course, not that you’d know it from their tour stories. “We had some truly disastrous gigs, some of which were our fault because we were too drunk or our cheap equipment would break and we got a lot of stupid comments,” Jonny said. As Blue Minkies come from a time before the ubiquity of camera phones and constant self-documentation, there isn’t much live coverage, but you can see from Ladyfest 2002 where the band banters and argues with audience members or you can hear the abuse heaped on Jimmy in between song banter on their Live CD as they seek to confirm that they’re not too shambolic. Yet nothing exists so horrible as the time the band were flat out told they can’t be a band with a keyboard in it. But it didn’t matter as Jonny elaborated, “We had the most fun I think it’s possible to have. We were pretty blinkered and any negative response we got was mostly met with derision. We thought we were ace so it really didn’t matter if they didn’t… in fact in most cases, it just convinced us we were right.”
Eventually the band took a summer break and then when the fall came around, they didn’t pick Blue Minkies back up. The members had other interests; Jimmy’s poetry there from the start (and at one time available through Blue Minkies Publishing, the zine distro arm the band had set up) and in the interim he had continued that. Drummer Michelle is in Slum of Legs. Betty Bontempy spends time in sixty-member indie choir Jam Tarts. Jonny 2Shoes has been in Shrag and Summer Hunter while also DJing. They still hung out, they just did so without the pressures of being in a band together (see “Hopelessly Devoted to You“).
After nearly a decade away from Blue Minkies, one of the often-received suggestions that they get back together wasn’t met with laughter. They listened to the songs and this time thought “Why not?” Though they’ve been gone so long that DIY culture has replaced CDs with cassette tapes for the same Pound Shop Pop reasons as Blue Minkies, proving that simple ideas are probably still the best. Hopefully the rest of us have finally caught up to Blue Minkies where they patiently left us.