Music Feature: Bitches Brewing

UK punks kick up a fuss

What do you get when you mix three leather-clad vixens with the raw power of punk and the infectious grooves of disco?A bit of British bullocks known simply as the Ping Pong Bitches.

The Bitches — Emily Hell, Louise Prey and Mandy Wong — introduced themselves earlier this year with a five-track debut album put out by Alan McGee’s Poptones label.

It’s like a walk through the tumultuous late 70s and early 80s, blending raunchy punk rock, the loud crunch of head-banging guitar riffs and crazy synth-styled disco rhythms.

The Bitches were originally called Ping Pong, but had to change their name after learning that an Israeli transsexual had already entered the Euro-vision songwriting contest under that name. Then an ex called them Ping Pong bitches and tarts and, according to Hell, the name just stuck.

Although the mini-album was decently produced, it was the Cramps-style cover, showing all three sultry sirens in skin-tight S/M costumes and 6-inch stilettos, that turned more than a few testosterone-pumped heads during a south-coast English indie tour last spring. The Bitches cancelled a few tour dates due to rioting.

“We’re quite confrontational when we play,” Hell explains on the phone from London, England, as the bitches get ready to rock the El Mocambo Tuesday (September 18).

“We came out in our usual kung-fu style,” she says about the Portsmouth gig, “but seven minutes into our show, a couple of outrageous lager-heads started yelling, “Get these cunts off the stage,’ and that’s when all hell broke loose.”

Inciting a riot is considered a badge of honour among some old-school punk rockers, but Hell, Prey and Wong insist that the whole affair was a misunderstanding caused by an overzealous agent.

“That whole sleaze thing just got blown out of proportion,” says Hell.

“The leather thing was supposed to give us a heavy metal feel, not an S/M look,” explains Prey, “although we did buy the stuff in sex shops.”

Intentional or not, the Bitches have profited from their image — a familiar tactic of Malcolm McLaren, the man who managed them last year, though he’s not the aforementioned overzealous rep.

“Malcolm only managed us for eight months, but he gave us a lot of good advice,” says Hell, who recalls staying up all night with McLaren discussing the band’s direction over champagne and pizza.

“He’s really into the female thing and punk rock, especially with the Chinese element,” recalls Prey. “But while he had a lot of great ideas, we had to get rid of him because we knew he’d take credit for our work.”

Now, with no management and Alan McGee pulling strings, the Ping Pong Bitches are looking to prove they belong in the annals of rock and roll history.

“I grew up in the 70s, and in London there was a cross-over between the whole disco and punk thing,” says Prey. “Original punk rockers have told me stories about how punk shows had everyone from punk rockers to drag queens to dominatrixes to black guys all hanging out together — and at the time they were all considered outsiders.”

It’s this mixture Prey and the others want to recreate.

“When we mix our Divine influences with the sound of the Ramones or the bass of Motörhead, we get booming stuff — modern edge stuff — and that’s what we’re all about.”

Originally published in NOW on September 13-20, 2001