Book Review: Make More Noise!

Make More Noise! Women in Independent Music UK 1977–1987
Various artists. Various producers.
Cherry Red Records. CRCDBOX99. 4CD set and book.
Music *****
Sonics ***

The title of this set—4 CDs and a book—comes from British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst's call to arms for women to fight for their rights: "You have to make more noise than anybody else," said Pankhurst, who died in 1928.

The first words you hear on Disc One of Make More Noise! are sung by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, who was born almost 100 years after Pankhurst and died a decade ago, in 2011: "Some people think that little girls should be seen and not heard." This opening lyric, from the song "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," is followed by a raw sax solo by Styrene's bandmate Lora Logic.

That pairing of very differently styled feminists from across centuries is unlikely in some ways, but it defines this collection, which showcases women musicians from a pivotal decade of music. Eighty-nine tracks, from the years 1977–1987, follow "Oh Bondage Up Yours!."

Punk had kicked open the door with a Dr. Martens boot, opening up a space where music could be made by people not confined by the stereotypes of what a musician should be, how they should look and how they should sound. It was a time when women were picking up musical instruments in increasing numbers, to make noise and be heard.

The discs feature artists who achieved commercial success, such as Tracey Ullman, Sinéad O'Connor, and The Pretenders, and a few whose names you probably know, including X-Ray Spex, the Slits, and the Au Pairs, but most are obscure: Poison Girls, Devil's Dykes, and the Real Insects. The collection recalls a time when, here in London, each week heralded numerous exciting releases from myriad small, independent UK labels. Every Saturday meant a trip to the local record shop for the thrill of searching for new and fresh music.

The idea that punk dismissed everything pre-1976, creating a total restart—a "year zero"—was always a lazy journalistic clichÇ, even at the time. Punk musicians were open to, and open about, musical influences and preferences, which encompass a broad range of music from before spiky hair: The Stooges, Peter Tosh, Bo Diddley, Patti Smith, Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground. (Nico's 1981 "comeback" single, "Saeta," is included here.)

That concept, though—year zero—is useful in its suggestion of a stark and sudden departure from the early/ mid-'70s, the music that dominated that time, and the notion that musicians had to be ever more skilled, their works ever more accomplished—and ever longer.


The Primitives

The decade following punk's first explosion, often labeled post-punk, was a return to a time when the single was king (and queen). Just a few minutes was all that was needed for an intense blast of brilliant, concise creativity. There was a harking back to the early years of pop music in order to take it forward. A number of these songs sound like lo-fi Ronettes, the Teezers' "Rebel" being one example.

It's safe to say that few of these musicians gave much thought to how they'd be perceived in 40 years, and many were lost in the mists of time. This collection brings many of them back into the sunlight.

Like a wooden chest you find hidden away in the attic, you open it up and find treasures fondly remembered and still loved, others that have slipped from your memory, and still others that seem completely new and fresh. Where my strained analogy falls apart is that, in contrast to the chest and its contents, few of these songs seem dusty and worn. Most still sparkle and shimmer.


Marine Girls

There is no uniformity of style across the compact discs, but Make More Noise! also doesn't sound like a random hodgepodge. All this music is of its place and time, and sounds like it.

Penetration, a band from the northeast of England, was fronted by Pauline Murray, who was blessed with a great voice. Their first single, "Don't Dictate," is a classic of accessible punk. A marvelous album, Moving Targets, followed. There is also an example of Murray's solo work here, "Dream Sequence 1."

Also there at the beginning were the Slits (footnote 1), represented here by "Typical Girls," a catchy, humorous swipe at stereotypes of women and one of the truly great singles from the '70s (indeed, of any decade). At first, the Slits had quite a raw sound, but this changed as they absorbed a heavy influence from reggae. By the time they entered the recording studio, the classic buzz-saw punk guitar was nowhere to be heard. The Slits gave many women the confidence to play their own music their own way and also to explore reggae, previously a man's genre. Honey Bane's 1980 number "Guilty/Dub" shows an obvious debt to the Slits.

Footnote1: Supporting the Clash in 1977.

hb72's picture

I must say i really appreciate that Stereophile discusses this kind of music which is so energetic & youthful, and full of purpose & heft. :)

TNtransplant's picture

Wow, very pleasantly surprised to see this reviewed in Stereophile. I haven't been buying CD's but this was a "must have" for me. Don't have many singles these days but still treasure my fluorescent X-Ray Spex 'The Day the World Turned Day-Glo' 45. Brought back fond memories of seeing the Au Pairs live (but do you really think most website readers heard of them???)

Also very appropriate this is under "books" as accompanying material does a fine job contextualizing the music.

Guessing Siouxsie missing due to licensing restrictions but a more obvious omission is Delta 5's "You"; and if Pauline Murray is represented by Penetration and solo might have wished the compilers had squeezed in a Poly Styrene track.

Otherwise agree, five stars. Now hoping to hear a Stereophile reviewer use this to audition systems when audio shows resume.