4
Feb 14

WHITE TOWN – “Your Woman”

Popular • 7,237 views

#757, 25th January 1997

yrwoman In 1997, talking about music on the Internet means USENET, a Gormenghast of diverging and reconnecting fora whose goblin tribes gleefully rampage through each other’s chosen lairs: a thread will start on alt.music.prodigy, then careen into alt.music.spice-girls via alt.music.misc, while Discordians and trolls plot to spread it still further. Still, there are hierarchies in this cheerful froth of just-unleashed opinion – top level domains rarely bump uglies. Rec.music.misc keeps a snooty distance from the alt.music rabble, and despite sharing a suffix, alt.music.alternative and uk.music.alternative only occasionally meet. The former talks about Mercury Rev, Pavement, and Spiritualized, but seems increasingly fond of chart pop, a tendency I do my best to foster once it becomes my late-night home. The latter has divergent interests: I glance at it now and then but the closest it gets to the fields I know is Stereolab. Urusei Yatsura, Long Fin Killie, The Yummy Fur, some bunch of Scots named after a kids’ TV show… these are what uk.music.alternative goes for. It is almost my kind of place: I keep it as a subscribed group on my newsreader but let the messages pile up unwanted.

UKMA was one answer to a difficult question: what happens to British independent music after Britpop? The music press were struggling with it. Britpop had finally given NME bands, Select Bands, Evening Session bands some proper stardom, but this meant the waves coming through were groups who wanted to be rock stars, and sounded like it too. As American alternative music had discovered a few years before, success can be toxic.

A reaction against Britpop was natural – raggedy, difficult, geeky bands with proud local followings and an ambivalence about fame on any terms but theirs. The fame question was not completely moot: the music press, trying to reconnect with an audience it had dumped for Britpop, would occasionally announce that Tiger, or someone, were the Next Big Thing. One affable and confused centre-spread later and they’d be banished again.

But, as it turned out, there was something to all this desperate panning for gold. Independent music had useful friends at Radio 1, and at the start of a year, with a restless audience hot for novelty, who knows what might happen? One-hit wonders have to come from somewhere – why not from down in the indie grassroots?

What I would never have expected is that a novelty hit – and for all that it’s a sly and marvellous pop song, “Your Woman” is a novelty hit – would have come not from a band liked by uk.music.alternative, but from ukma itself. Jyoti Mishra, AKA White Town, AKA a prominent ukma regular.

Being a novelty hit doesn’t mean being a joke, or a prank. Unlike some one-offs which seem to mock the chart they’re on, once “Your Woman” became a hit it sounded naturally like one. There was even a fairly recent precedent. From across an Our Price counter, the soundscape of White Town’s hit – breathy, slightly enervated vocals; haunted, static-wreathed samples of old-world tunes – wasn’t too far off Scouse second-wave Britpoppers Space. Except where Tommy from Space capered around his songs acting the goat, Mishra burrows into the heart of “Your Woman” and destabilises its apparent jauntiness. His lyrics are built to make a basic question – who is singing what to whom? – deliberately obtuse. The contempt in his voice – and its angry momentum – is rather less mistakable. The situation is hard to read: the hurt easy. Another comparison point – bubbling up from the programming of “Your Woman” – is Soft Cell: rough technology rubbing up against unhealthy, captivating venom.

The see-sawing Al Bowlly sample that animates “Your Woman” is at once its biggest earworm – the reason we get to cover it at all – and something that never quite fits itself to the rest of the song. Instead it frames Mishra’s singing, and the wrath of his narrator, as something quaint themselves – it feels like the whole record is coming from some forgotten side-past of pop, where Noel Coward wrote songs about doomed Marxist love affairs.

“Forgotten side-past” is a good, sad epitaph for much of USENET itself, long fallen into disrepair, maintained somewhere on Google’s vast servers as a hard-to-navigate footnote. I think of “Your Woman” as the first “Internet” number one, when in fact it’s nothing of the kind. The direct audience-building tactics that can give someone like Alex Day a Top 10 hit via YouTube were years off. “Your Woman” built its audience the same way one-offs had for decades – patronage by a Radio 1 DJ who made it a cause (in this case the Mark and Lard team, just before their stint on the Breakfast Show, which will soundtrack much of this strangest of chart years). Jyoti Mishra’s residency on uk.music.alternative was, essentially, coincidence, however much my own bedroom-bound memories of 1997 protest otherwise, and however much this record matches those memories. But it matters on some level all the same – as he himself said, in one of the very rare interviews this site has run, “for that brief period, the spirit of ukma was at number one”.

7

Comments

1 3 4 5 All
  1. 101
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #97 In Record Mirror, as I recall, it was just James Hamilton who put BPMs everywhere (alongside his very distinctive, inventive, even inimitable use of the English language to describe the tracks), in the dance section: I think it was to aid DJs in segueing/mixing tracks together, rather than for the general audience….

  2. 102
    glue_factory on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Re: 97, 101, Record Mirror always seemed to have half a foot in the specialist-DJ-magazine camp, publishing more clubbing-based charts than any of the other normal music magazines, adverts for shops called things like “Morden Disco Centre”, etc.

  3. 103
    James BC on 6 Feb 2014 #

    #98 It’s (still, I think) quite common in hip hop to talk about ‘the industry’.

  4. 104
    @matatatatat on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Can’t believe White Town-Your Woman only got 7 on Popular, given it is, like, the best single of the 90s, if not ever http://t.co/56IHouv2Gq

  5. 105
    wichitalineman on 6 Feb 2014 #

    I get the ‘industry’ precis Record Of The Day every morning. And Music Week still exists. So there is still an industry, just a failing industry.

    I said this once already, but it was about 80 comments back… EMI employees didn’t even have email addresses back in early 1997 unless they were communicating with each other. Given all the talk of USENET (and a lot of internet-related things which look like logarithms to my poor old brain) I think it’s really quite interesting that White Town ended up on EMI/Chrysalis.

    What was the major label’s appeal for him? He’d made it quite clear he didn’t want to be famous. And did anyone at the time – Slampt types, for instance – think he was a sell-out?

  6. 106
    Mark G on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Surely it was always only going to be a short-time thing? All you can hope for is to get what you can out of it (experience,fun, money, or none of the above) and not regret it when it’s over.

    Would like to know Jyoti’s full story, obviously

  7. 107
    nixon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    IIRC the chronology saw this picked up by Radio 1 as a hot unsigned band type thing, drawing phenomenal amounts of attention – Bannister (I think) used to tell the story of Your Woman getting more calls than Live Forever – and Chrysalis won whatever bidding war ensued. I hope Jyoti made some money out of it, I like the idea of Robbie Williams indirectly funding future Bzangy Groink projects.

    The label fucked up by second guessing themselves – the slated follow up was “Wanted”, a claustrophobic sinister sibling to Your Woman featuring a female singer who very effectively sounded even less convinced than Jyoti, and which I played in DJ sets for about five years afterwards. They changed tack at the last minute and switched to the pretty but wispy-sounding Undressed, which failed to crack the top 50.

    Your Woman is responsible for one of the few unlikely times I’ve been the coolest person in a group; 17, I essentially bullied three hesitant ex-schoolmates I met in Asda in town in the week of release into buying it because I wouldn’t shut up about it (and I was the gap year indie weirdo who’d by now got the most records out of anyone we knew, which somehow made me the voice of authority, and so three copies were duly sold, along with Nas’ It Was Written). 8.

  8. 108
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Oh wow – I just found this via ego-surfing on Tumblr and it’s very bizarre to read all these comments about myself and my music. But enjoyably bizarre because I am an egomaniac.

    I miss USENET dreadfully. Something of the anarchy of those days sometimes appears on Tumblr but only through a blizzard of scene girl pics and cat gifs (and that’s not to say I dislike either of those).

    ‘Your Woman’ was, obviously, an enormous blip. The music I made before sold one or two thousand copies, the music since three or four thousand. To this day, I am immensely proud of it being a hit as I sweated blood over that track. It was released by Parasol in mid ’96 and I remember working on it for soooo long before I sent the DAT to them. I had the concept of a multi-linear, multi-perspective narrative. I had the Gonella sample from one of my fave Bowlly songs (itself from Potter’s ‘Pennies From Heaven’ soundtrack). I knew I wanted to rip-off Horn’s vocal from ‘Video Killed,’ it was just a matter of getting it all to work. I had the beats, I knew the VL-1 had to make a cameo. The day I got the chromatic shift into the bridge was when it clicked. And I’m proud that it was recorded on an 8-track cassette multitrack (Tascam 688) and I only used five of those eight tracks. :-P

    As a musician, it can be strange to have been so briefly, widely famous and know that nothing new you will create will be that popular again. But I’m pretty sanguine as I would have carried on regardless, hit or no hit ~ it was fun just having even the one! So many musicians vastly more talented than me never have even one hit, how could I feel cheated?

    It’s also very sweet when I’m out clubbing and someone comes up to me and they were two or three when the song came out but they remember it from their Mum/Dad loving it. :-P

    There are a lot of great questions on here and I’ve rambled on enough already but if you want answers, hit me up on:

    Twitter – http://twitter.com/JyotiMishra
    Tumblr – http://bzangy.tumblr.com
    Or my normal email: bzangy@gmail.com

    love and kisses,
    Jyoti

  9. 109
    Speedwell54 on 7 Feb 2014 #

    108 -Oh wow! – I love it when this happens. Most interesting and very cool of you.

  10. 110
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Yay Jyoti! Good stuff..

    I’m still guessing the Maj label thing was more “Wish it had been a better experience” than out and out regret, reading between the lines like.

  11. 111
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    @speedwell54 ~ well, I couldn’t not reply as this is the most interesting me-centred discussion I’ve found in years! :-D

  12. 112
    JyotiMishra on 7 Feb 2014 #

    @mark g ~ Well, my first release was on Graduate Records back in ’83 so by Dec ’96, when I signed to EMI, I’d been releasing records on indies and myself for quite a while. I did actually phone Parasol and tell them the record had blown up here and was going to be huge, giving them the option of putting shitloads of money in it and going with it but I think Geoff thought I was delusional and gave me his blessing to take it to a major. So, I went with EMI as they seemed like the least bad major option at that time. The people who worked at EMI were actually all lovely: bright, enthusiastic and pretty damn sexy. But the institutional structure in which they were trapped was very silly sooo… It was great as an indie kid being on a major, if only to see, first-hand just how terrible they are at capitalism. They are *hopeless.* And don’t even start me on the uselessness of publishers!

    Post-EMI, I released a single with Parasol and a couple of things with other indies but no-one was desperate to work with me so I started self-releasing, exactly the same as the first ever White Town single in 1990.

    Also, I’m something of a control freak. With my last album, I wrote it, performed it, recorded it, mastered it, did the graphics, am the label and also made a video for each of the eleven tracks. Obviously, I love it and think they’re some of the best songs I’ve ever written but the world disagrees, by and large. :-P

    I gig more now, did NYC Popfest in 2012, Paris last Jan, Indietracks quite a few times and I love doing shit like that. No gigs last year as I was finishing the degree that I had to drop out of in ’97, finally. My IS was on Alternative, Punk and Greb Clubbing Culture and I got a first, naturally. My middle name is ethnomethodology. :-P

    Here’s a few vids from my latest album:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sswK93W1Qsg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gjCRdzEoQw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIDXfZIdGEM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mtWOYDkdg8

    And the others are all up there if you fancy a gleg.

  13. 113
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Welcome Jyoti! I love it when these things happen.

  14. 114
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    By the way, Jyoti, you don’t happen to run an excellent restaurant in Hall Green, Birmingham, by any chance? ;)

  15. 115
    pootle on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I liked the video, as seen (of course) on the Chart Show on Saturday morning. I had the show on repeat with my VCR so I could skip through the adverts. The video for this was a sepia -tinted and rather self-consciously twee relationship thing, much straighter than the song, which worked cleverly with punctuation.
    I always think of 1997 as an album year, because I was in college and working hard on the film society. The most famous album of the year only got a song to number 3, sadly.

  16. 116
    Nixon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #115 Re: year of the album. Dept. of Hindsight: the Melody Maker’s pronouncement that “come the end of 1997, you’ll either be an ‘OK Computer’ person or a ‘Stupid Stupid Stupid’ person”

  17. 117
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I think if you remove the quote marks, it’s more true than if you don’t.

  18. 118
    nixon on 8 Feb 2014 #

    It just reminds me of that bit in Dogma. “This from the man who still owes me $10 over which was going to be the more successful movie, ET or Krush Groove”

    Back to White Town. I’ve just listened to Women In Technology again and it holds up better than I’d remembered – I had filed it away as some great moments with plenty of filler (unlike the more consistent Peek & Poke) but I really enjoyed hearing it all the way through again. So, um, yeah.

  19. 119
    JyotiMishra on 10 Feb 2014 #

    @enitharmon – ta and nope!

    @nixon – Ahh, that’s okay, I’m used to people only liking one (or no!) tracks from my albums. Obviously, I love them all or I wouldn’t have made/released them. And, like every musician ever, I think my best one is the latest one. But when I listen to WIT now, it’s quite special to me and I’m still proud of it. :-)

  20. 120
    Fivelongdays on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Nice to see The Man Himself on here!

    Forgot to add – more than any number one since ‘Some Might Say’, I felt like I’d helped get this song to the top. Just the way it felt, like there was this slightly bizarre, quasi-grass roots ‘blimey, we can get this to number one!’ feel that I had when I got it (and also when I bored everyone at school by going on about it). Maybe only three (and I’m sure you can guess what one of them is, although ’tis a long way off) number one’s after this made me feel the same.

1 3 4 5 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page