A FEW YEARS BACK, a coworker gave me a taped copy of Totally Wired (Razor & Tie), a compilation of late '70s/early '80s "post-punk" artifacts. It included personal favorites, such as the Fall and Joy Division, and a few others, like the Raincoats and the Slits, whose reputations I was familiar with but whose material was exceedingly scarce for those living in pre-Internet suburbia. The Raincoats and the Slits didn't disappoint, but the Mo-Dettes, Delta 5, Au Pairs, and Bush Tetras were also pleasant surprises—similar bands dominated by, if not entirely composed of, women. The music history lesson therein was that the punk era hadn't come to a screeching halt in 1978 as had been widely purported; it had just branched out and picked up some more estrogen along the way. These songs didn't necessarily mimic those from Never Mind the Bollocks, The Ramones, or The Clash—qualities some punk "purists" deem as basic requirements—but they teemed with the anger, exuberance, and essential DIY aesthetic that molded the movement in the first place.
Kleenex/Liliput (Kill Rock Stars)
The one track on the tape that really drove the point home was "Die Matrosen" by a band named Liliput. It featured some choppy sax work ࠬa X-Ray Spex, a singer whose nationality was in question but whose sarcasm was not, and, most spectacularly, a background chorus of whistling campfire girls. The guitars were low in the mix and there wasn't any shouting, but it sure as hell was anarchy.
Thus began a frantic search for more Liliput. A little research yielded a couple of crucial facts: They were also known as Kleenex (the humorless tissue mavens forced them to drop this moniker), and the Off Course label in the band's native Switzerland had issued a 2-CD set in 1993 featuring the complete works of Kleenex/Liliput.
The first setback was learning that the CD was out of print and had been since shortly after its release. Once the Internet entered the picture, I scoured various music and auction Web sites with scant success. The CD would surface occasionally, but the lowest price I found was $150—obviously, I was not alone in my quest. The few auctions I came across closed around the $300 mark (there is nothing punk about paying $300 for a record). I consoled myself with the notion that perhaps the rest of their songs were crap.
"DO YOU KNOW anything about this reissue Kill Rock Stars is doing for this female punk band?" my editor asked me one day last month. A few dumbfounded minutes later, a (free!) copy of the 2-CD Liliput set was in my hands. And no, the rest of the songs were not crap.
While "Die Matrosen" is fairly representative of the Liliput oeuvre, their sound was hardly static. While few bands survive one change in lead vocalists, Liliput thrived through three different singers along with numerous other lineup mutations. Regula Sing, the original vocalist, operated with a husky Germanic drawl that flourished at a slower tempo. As demonstrated on tracks like "Ain't You" and "Heidi's Head," Sing's drone, when offset by bassist Klaudia Schiff's playful background squeals, was a blunt weapon. With the sprightlier Chrigle Fruend at the helm, Liliput picked up the pace and delivered frenetic gems like "Split" and "Hitch-Hike," guaranteed to satisfy the most hyperactive of souls. The band's final period was marked by more delicate, jazzy offerings like "Terrified" and "Boatsong," perfect fodder for the versatile Astrid Spirit.
Throughout these phases, the band's two mainstays and primary songwriters, Marlene Marder and Schiff, covered vast territory by employing a few simple strategies. Most Liliput songs are marked by significant shifts in tempo and rhythm, as well as vocal interplay that often employs the voice as a percussive device by means of whistling, whooping, and nonsensical chanting. One might fairly describe the effect as a sort of bizarre Euro-punk doo-wop. None of the playing on their songs might be called virtuoso, but the pervading sense of discovery that fills the recordings stifles any notion that the band knew any limitations. The fact that Marder and Schiff wrote the lyrics in a language they didn't know very well further exemplifies their penchant for giddy experimentation. Lots of bands have treated their ignorance as a badge of honor, but almost none have had the wit or courage to allow it to manifest in such joyful collage.
Though it's a shame that so few have been able to hear this inventive band, the timing for their reintroduction would seem to be particularly apt; current bands like Le Tigre, Chicks on Speed, and Stereo Total have been busy recycling similar sounds of the late '70s and early '80s for new audiences. As they solidify their deserved place of prominence in the pantheon of matron punks, Liliput's influence is likely to be heard in more bands' recordings in the future. Kill Rock Stars and the others behind the reissue didn't undertake the project in order to simply unearth a musical curiosity; they genuinely believed it was imperative that Liliput be rescued from the realm of collectors and heard by as many people as possible. Find out why for yourself.