Bis: The Secret Vampire Soundtrack (1996) Chemikal Underground
It’s almost impossible to comment on the recent Glasgow Mix Tape concert without mentioning the weather. According to the forecast the whole day would vary, vary that is between heavy rain and torrential rain. This proved highly accurate.
Friends cancelled and by the time I caught my bus I was already soaked. The bus was then forced to take a lengthy Commonwealth Games related detour and wouldn’t let me off at the stops nearest Glasgow Green where the event was taking place, dropping me off instead at the back end of the Barras market.
Soggy and miserable, I couldn’t find an umbrella to buy anywhere although I was hustled a couple of times by some dodgy looking characters asking if I wanted any cigarettes, tobacco or… Viagra.
Luckily the music throughout the day was every bit as good as the weather was rank rotten.
There were two places to see the live acts at the event, which was organised by The East End Social – a Chemikal Underground initiative to provide more music to this area of the city – the biggest being an outdoor stage called the Living Room where I watched a number of groups like The Bluebells and The Phantom Band mostly from under a nearby tree or the temporary Ford Mustang stand for shelter.
Even though The Phantom Band were in top form, I made the decision halfway through their performance to make my way across to the Playhouse tent, where I got to dry off, got to drink a couple of bottles of Bulmers cider and, best of all, got the chance see Bis play a energetic and very, very entertaining set which was one of my two highlights of the day along with Lloyd Cole and The Leopards’ finale at the Living Room.
Bis were the Sound of Very Young Scotland in the 1990s. They surfaced in the middle of that decade and although they were British and played what could easily be termed Pop, they had almost nothing in common with contemporaries like Oasis, Supergrass, Shed Seven and Sleeper who were riding the Britpop wave of the time and dominating the charts.
Instead they appeared to inhabit their own idiosyncratic Bis universe of secret vampires and the teen-c revolution. They made a much hyped appearance on Top of the Pops, made the front cover of NME, signed at one point to The Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, played at the inaugural Coachella festival, penned the end theme to Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon show The Powerpuff Girls and almost inevitably became big in Japan. Genuinely big in Japan.
Here’s the song that they opened their Playhouse set with, one of the earliest releases on the consistently excellent Glasgow label Chemikal Underground.* Best to turn up the volume, folks:
Did Bis really form 20 years ago?!
We formed in 1994 pretty much. First gig was 1995. It’s pretty scary huh?
You seemed to emerge from nowhere but had you been together long by the time you came to the attention of the public with Kandy Pop?
We certainly didn’t emerge from nowhere and had actually released a few singles before Kandy Pop. But, I suppose to many it must’ve seemed like that as the first singles were very low key. Kandy Pop was our 2nd release on Chemikal Underground, and our first EP was on a Spanish Record label called Acuarela.
Did you see yourselves as part of any indie scene in Glasgow back in the early days? You were very involved in fanzines, weren’t you?
If it wasn’t for fanzines our first single wouldn’t have happened (the label boss on Acuarela bought Steven’s zine and liked the sound of us then asked for a demo). I did a zine too. It was a fantastic way of hearing about tiny underground bands that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Amazing days.
What’s the true story of Bis appearing on Top of the Pops while unsigned?
We did TOTP after releasing the 2nd single on Chemikal Underground. We weren’t “signed” as such as there was no contract and no deal to do an album. So in essence we were. Makes good press articles for folk so I’m not arguing with ‘em.
How did you hook up with Chemikal Underground? I’d assume there must have been a lot of interest elsewhere.
Lots of small labels popped up being interested in the early days. Chemikal Underground were local and operated out of their flat near where we lived so it seemed to make sense, especially as we got on so well. It was good for them as a label too, and they happily acknowledge the part Bis played in their success which is nice.
Was the very early success actually good for the band in the long run?
It’s hard to judge what was best for us. I suppose it paced the success around the world and gave us time to concentrate on USA and Japan once the UK started to knock us down. I can’t complain about how lucky we were with our success. Okay we made bugger all money, but we got to do it for a living (just) and experience stuff that others would kill to do. I just wish I appreciated it more at the time but it was so fast and we were all very young.
I’m guessing the band have kept in touch with the Chemikal Underground guys, hence the appearance at the Glasgow Mix Tape?
We don’t stay in touch with CU too often, but I think Steven still plays 5-aside football with Alun (Woodward) which is where he asked about Mixtape. They were so nice about our gig and said it was a pleasure to have us there as we made their label what it is.
What’s up next for Bis?
There’s a few nice releases on the way over the next 6 months. I can’t say anything just yet, but they should excite a lot of people I hope. I very much enjoy exciting the ‘kids’ with our news.
Thanks for taking the time to talk Manda and good luck with the new releases.
From 1998 and released by Wiiija, this is Eurodisco, the song that Bis ended their Playhouse set with:
For more on Chemikal Underground click here.
* I’ll be featuring more acts from this label like Arab Strap, Mogwai and, of course, The Delgados in the future, as well as previewing the East End Social’s Last Big Weekend event which takes place in Glasgow at the end of August.