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Feb 14

WHITE TOWN – “Your Woman”

Popular122 comments • 11,811 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”.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Rory on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Very pleased to have a “hey, I know this!” reaction to this track when I played it yesterday, because the band and track names weren’t burned into my memory as they would have been for ukma veterans (I used to investigate rec.music and alt.music, but I’m not sure if the local Usenet servers gave us uk.music – they were picky about newsgroups associated with specific countries other than Oz). This reached number 2 in Australia, so its olde timey vibe travelled well; maybe it was that hint of the Imperial March, as everyone is noting. Listening to it now, I can hear the Space similarities (I liked Space), but the sample and vibe also anticipate Moby’s Play, which would dominate the airwaves in a couple of Popular years’ time, though won’t bother us here. I wouldn’t stretch to a stratospheric mark for “Your Woman” (but am enjoying the comments from those of you who have), but I do like it. 6.

  2. 32
    Weej on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Re: Wichita @28 – Slampt was Rachel & Pete – AKA Avocado Baby / Red Monkey / Milky Wimpshake (these names will mean nothing to most people, even here, but I have releases by all of them, though I’m not really a huge fan – they just released a lot of stuff and it was hard not to pick any up.) They did release some early Yummy Fur / Kenickie (Elastic Jet Mission is a decent compilation), some good zines and singles by Golden Startlet / International Strikeforce, but were seen (rightly or wrongly) as taking themselves a bit too seriously. Vesuvius and Guided Missile were more reliable labels on the whole.

  3. 33
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #29 Interesting take! There was a wave of technological alienation records around this time, none of which we’ll have to deal with directly (in fact I think the next time I’ll have to talk specifically about the Internet will involve the ethics of dissing someone on it) – what did you make of OK Computer, which seems thematically to align with what you’re proposing for “Your Woman” – or that Grandaddy LP with the scrabble tiles on the cover?

  4. 34
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #32 – is that the label bashed in passing in Punka?

  5. 35
    Weej on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #34 – Yeah, Punka is generally seen as a diss to Slampt.

  6. 36
    Lex on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This isn’t a bad song, but I always hated it – the weediness of the vocals and delivery encapsulated a kind of performance I’ve always been repelled by, and in retrospect I don’t especially appreciate the kind of songs that make “ooh, naughty” nods towards queering the text while retaining their heterosexuality. Wiley’s “Never Be Your Woman” is terrific though, the way it turns the song into a club culture dialogue and the way Emeli Sandé actually sings the hook properly.

  7. 37
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on FT that UKMA was my home on the internet at this time and it was VERY exciting to see the trajectory this took. Jyoti was a massive nerd and a friendly presence along with all the more active participants.

    I’d like to add that if the unseen (by me) neighbours in AMA were distinguished by a fondness for chart pop, UKMA were not averse either. I’m pretty sure we talked about loving Spice Girls stuff at this time, and later the S*g*b*b*s were practically, not patronisingly, honorary indie.

    I regret never doing an IRL-meet with UKMA, though it got very close near the end of my time there when we all independently went to see The Magnetic Fields (~99/00 for 69 Love Songs).

    I stopped visting UKMA because I’d found an erratic web-based board hosted by Philip Greenspun. And this time I found I WAS able to meet those guys IRL. Thanks to Tom for the invention of the FAP, and for Sarah and Ricky for that first welcome. shucks

  8. 38
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #37 TBH AMA wasn’t really “distinguished by a fondness for chart pop”, it was “distinguished by being fun to troll for indie kids who also liked pop”. A long-running theme alas.

  9. 39
    ciaran on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Pitchfork named this as one of their ‘Top 200 songs of the 1990s’ in 2010.

    Good choice and like Professional Widow a ‘7’ seems too low a mark for this. This is a ‘9’ for me.

    As astounding now as it was then. Lovely synth-sound and very well performed. This wasn’t as common as say Spice Girls or Oasis on the radio and just seemed to catch everyone by surprise post christmas. Not to dismiss it in any way but a glance through the top 10 didnt have anything of the charm Your Woman had.

    The mystery surrounding white town added more intrigue to it all.The only image I would have seen back in the day was in Now 36 which had a resemblance to a sunglasses and shaven headed Shaun Ryder of all people!

    Given all the talk of bedroom act and technology here, this in many ways sounds like an influence on the theme to ‘The I.T Crowd’.This point in time was when I bought Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 for the Amiga which was also a last hurrah for that machine.

    I read a one hit wonders book in nearby Leicester in late 2004 and White Town were included, with Jyoti Mishra saying that he knew he would be a one-hit-wonder. As I mentioned in Breakfast At Tiffanys this was also used in a one hit wonders heavy superhits of the 90s compilation album in 1999 so it was clear then of its future status.

    Aside from another indie monster we’ll get to soon it’s somewhat surprising that given the high population of Asian descent there doesnt seem to be much Asian themed music or acts in the UK charts.Other than Panjabi MC it’s hard to think of that many other successes.

  10. 40
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 5 Feb 2014 #

    A morning repost for the “Your Woman” entry http://t.co/yRjq4928Vt – comments crew broadly positive on this one.

  11. 41
    anto on 5 Feb 2014 #

    This doesn’t really remind me of anyone and maybe the lack of comparison points is part of what made it such a striking number 1. There seems to be a mixed response but I think it sounds fine. I particularly like the crude beats, the vocals are rough and amateur but add to the inchoate feel of the track and the sample is wisely spared for the chours which stops it becoming annoying.
    Main association with Space – my first summer job in a second hand clothes shop often frequented by cross-dressers – Wrexham Radio constanly playing four songs – ‘Ghetto Superstar’, ‘I Wasn’t Built To Get Up’ by The Supernaturals (remember it?, well you shouldn’t), the Des’ree song where she states her preference for toast over supernatural encounters and something by Space where he sang about being a ‘phoney Valentino’ – I’ve never heard it since.

  12. 42
    fivelongdays on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Oh, this!

    I was 14 years old in 1996, I liked Britpop, and I loved Chris Evans on the Breakfast Show. Then, one summer’s morning, things changed.

    Rather than a self-aggrandising northern bloke and his sycophantic (although I did not realise that at the time) mates, my clock-alarm woke me up to two shambling, self-deprecating northerners who – crucially – made me laugh more than anything on the radio had done in years.

    They made Evans and his laddish clique utterly redundant and, armed with a radio walkman, I vowed to find out more about them.

    And, so, I made sure I was in bed nice and early each night (my teenage depression – which would see me wake up at stupidly early hours every night between about now and the end of my GCSE’s in 1998 – was kicking in, more about which later. Possibly.) to listen to the brilliance of Mark and Lard.

    There were movie reviews, poetry, comedy, ‘**** my hat! I never knew that!’, hilarious parodies of songs, and there was music. So much music that I would never have never otherwise heard…like this.

    Hearing this for the first time was one of those ‘bloody hell! What was that?’ moments. It sounded like nothing on earth. It was weird, funky, and clever. I thought it might be the sort of thing that they would have sold in Chalky’s, the likeable little independent record shop in George Street in Oxford. However, they didn’t have it…and then I learned it would be coming out early in 1997.

    In the mean time, two things happened. First, Mark and Lard started to appear on the Breakfast show more often, and so did this record.

    Secondly, I fell in love with a girl who had just moved to my school. She was funny, intelligent, had great taste in music…and she didn’t feel the same (this is the same woman – whose name shall not be mentioned – who I referred to in my Stiltskin post).

    I told my friends that the only way I’d ask her out would be if this got to number one, which I thought was highly unlikely. Let’s face it, a sexually ambiguous song based around a sample from the 1930s is not what a Big Hit sounded like in the mid/late 90s.

    But I was wrong! This got to number one, and I had to ask **** ********** out. She said no.

    The song itself? It’s a masterpiece, and kudos to #26 for bringing up the British Asian trilogy.

    10.

  13. 43
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    The category is “Space’s singles”, you said “Begin Again”… that IS a pointless answer, well done if you got that at home

    (edit: that was for Anto’s “phony Valentino” song)

  14. 44
    enitharmon on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Can’t really say anything about the song but I do want to put in a word for Usenet, which is still alive other than in Google’s servers (with Google showing every sign of wanting to get shot of it) for a stalwart band of ageing early-adopters. Indeed, one of my favourite online hangouts (other than Popular of course) is a usenet group: uk.media.radio.archers, which occasionally discusses The Archers, mainly to say how unbearable it is these days, but is more at home discussing literature, music, films, fish-puns, troll- and spammer-baiting and anything else that comes to mind. A kind of middle-aged FreakyTrigger in fact, for a generation that still things email is cool and doesn’t feel the need for pictures with everything. UMRA pre-dates the rest of the uk. hierarchy and was the despair of the consortium for its wayward eclecticism. It remains lively although there is concern that regular umrats are dying faster than new folk are joining.

    And in a characteristically umratic swerve, it also seems appropriate to mention that my non-resident partner, as a quid pro quo for introducing her to the delights of Marcus Didius Falco, has given me a box set of The Big Bang Theory which she thinks I will enjoy. Assuming I can get past the laughter track, the bane of US sitcoms since forever, I haven’t yet decided whether its more than mildly amusing or even if it isn’t gratuitously cruel, but I have quite a way to go after three episodes. I’m assured it gets better.

  15. 45
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    That’s heartening news about USENET – I originally wrote it all off, then remembered that the alt.binaries groups still thrive, but of course those aren’t discussion groups at all really. It’s good that at least one newsgroup is thriving (and how marvellous that it’s an Archers one).

  16. 46
    Will on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I’d never even heard of Usenet until today. What is it/ was it?

  17. 47
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Surely “a Gormenghast of diverging and reconnecting fora whose goblin tribes gleefully rampage through each other’s chosen lairs” is clear enough ;)

    It’s slightly hard to describe. It was kind of like a huge load of interlocking mailing lists, seething with discussion. You would get a bit of software called a “News Reader”, which could access all the various public newsgroups, choose which you wanted to subscribe to. Then when you went online your newsreader would download all the latest messages, and upload any you’d replied to. (It was optimised for dial-up, but unfortunately the power of ARGUING ON THE INTERNETS meant I ran up fucking colossal phone bills thanks to never actually logging off.)

  18. 48
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Feb 2014 #

    (remembers when my email client of choice, or necessity, was PINE. Also the text-only browsing offered by Lynx. Ah, long ago….)

  19. 49
    Garry on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I was on Usenet at this time thanks to free Uni internet. But I was over at alt.music.progressive. Or was it rec.music.prog? Anyway they were more interested in whether OK Computer was progressive rock and also playing Music’s 6 Degrees of Separation with the Kevin Bacon figure being Bill Bruford. This challenge went on for months.

    And with my head stuck in the musical era just prior to my birth I completely missed this track.

  20. 50
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    “UMRA pre-dates the rest of the uk. hierarchy and was the despair of the consortium for its wayward eclecticism”

    This will be interesting news to at least 50 groups!

  21. 51
    Tom on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Prog sounds like a rec. to me. Of ‘note’ re. the previous entry – Tori Amos is the only 90s act who I can think of who had a rec.music rather than an alt.music newsgroup (for non-USENETTERS: a swankier postcode, basically).

    USENET’s most significant contribution to mainstream British pop culture – an awful lot of later Doctor Who writers met there.

  22. 52
    Garry on 5 Feb 2014 #

    PINE. Marcus Didius Falco. Usenet. Space. I can’t believe howuch this thread is very much me in 1997.

  23. 53
    iconoclast on 5 Feb 2014 #

    I remember USENET very well; I once got told off for accidentally saying something unkind on it about one member of a then very popular US act.

    Anyway, there’s much to like about “Your Woman”; to start with, there’s the slightly strange olden-times atmosphere, the ambiguous setting of the lyrics, the ear-catching chord change at the start of the bridge, the equally ear-catching breakdown, and the interesting production generally. It’s a shame it has to be spoiled, as so often, by the rhythm track being monotonous and too loud. SEVEN.

  24. 54
    enitharmon on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @50 What will be a surprise? Predates (unarguable) or bane of the consortium (more plausible)? http://umra.wikispaces.com/

    @48 Having suffered a graphics card failure I can’t underestimate the value of lynx, which is still going strong. Also essential for those geeky enough to want to install Gentoo.

  25. 55
    Alan on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Surely uk.media.radio.archers was not literally the first group in uk.* hierarchy – though it would easily have been established very early, perhaps even before the parent uk.media.radio? The uk.comp.* groups have some prior claim at a guess.

  26. 56
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Feb 2014 #

    @54 what a splendid website. From the linked list of commonly used acronyms and abbreviations I particularly like “SSAAA – what on earth does this acronym mean?” and ROFLWMGWITA – Rolling on floor laughing, waving my green wellies in the air , even if “CLASP – Castrate Lying A***hole Sid Perks” is a bit harsh. (and also: now, impossible and unnecessary)

    (I think I may have just have seen a vision of the Future of Popular: in 20 years time…..)

  27. 57
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    Predates is inarguable, in that it’s inarguably wrong – the link you presented only claims that it “was one of the earliest groups created within the uk.* usenet hierarchy” (like I said, there’s 50-odd before it) which is a long chalk from claiming that it stood like a 2001 monolith before the rest of the hieararchy appeared.

  28. 58
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #56 – It’s a common sort of wall-erecting once a community gets large enough, and marks the shift to where new people are less rather than more welcome – as with that FAQ there’s generally an air of protesting too much regarding “Cliquey? Us?”. I think it’s a considerable credit to Popular that after ten years, the spoiler bunny is the only injoke.

  29. 59
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #51 – If I remember correctly, alt.fan.pratchett (in whose world we now arguably live) refused the transfer to rec.books.pratchett.

  30. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Feb 2014 #

    #55 – Yeah, it’s the first uk.media.radio as far as I know – the timeline I found goes:

    16 Mar 1993 uk.media
    5 Mar 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.babylon5
    5 Mar 1995 uk.media.mags.net
    12 Apr 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.x-files
    13 Apr 1995 uk.media.tv.misc
    1 May 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.startrek
    8 Aug 1995 uk.media.tv.sf.misc
    8 Aug 1995 uk.media.radio.archers

    Which, as you can imagine, has sent me into something of a nostalgia headspin.

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