I have a piece about 90s Riot Grrrl band Huggy Bear in the latest Uncut to mark the 30th anniversary of their single, “Her Jazz”. Here’s Huggy Bear performing the song on The Word. Apparently you can see three members of their labelmates Cornershop in the crowd. It’s a thrilling performance and I remember watching it at the time, impressed and slightly scared.
Although I was not a huge Huggy Bear fan – frankly, they intimidated me – I couldn’t miss the fact that in the music press, Huggy Bear got a tough time in a manner that seemed completely out-of-proportion to their actual size. NME and Melody Maker were known for their snark, but the usual targets were the self-important big stars – Bono, Sting, Morrissey – or the current flavour-of-the-month, such as Suede or Manic Street Preachers (a band that have some interesting similarities with Huggy Bear). But for the latter, the nastiness was usually balanced by regular cover features, positive reviews, news pieces and a general boosting of the latest indie hero.
With Huggy Bear – a small band on an indie label whose fan base barely filled a couple of pubs in north London – it seemed like it was all snark. The vitriol was relentless; Huggy Bear were the eternal punchline.
Talking to the band – mostly via email as even after 30 years they were still reluctant to trust a journalist so wanted to retain control of their words – it was clear they’d had experience this as, in one member’s word, “spiteful bullying”. And it wasn’t just the press. Other bands refused to sign to the same label as them, or created such hostility they couldn’t drink in the usual indie haunts in Camden. Some of their peers even went to gigs just to heckle. It was vicious.
What was everybody’s problem? It wasn’t Huggy Bear’s music, it was their politics – and more to the point – the sheer conviction with which they held their views. Huggy Bear believed in the underground community of fanzine culture and DIY gigs, and they believed in – and passionately espoused – gender and sexual equality. They were fierce feminists and that scared the boys. It still does. To care so much was unforgivable in the early 90s, as the affected ennui of Generation X was about to give way to the destructive irony of Britpop and Loaded – an irony, of course, that heavily favoured the views of white men.
After that performance on The Word, there was an interview with a pair of identical twins who modelled for Playboy and proudly declared they were “bimbos”. Huggy Bear and their friends in the crowd heckled, while guest Henry Rollins and presenter Terry Christian smirked awkwardly. Terry Christian is a good guy with sound views but he couldn’t handle being upstaged – on The Word for chrisake, which was explicitly created to manufacture controversy – and had them all thrown out. That earned Huggy Bear an appearance on the cover of Melody Maker. It was not The Word‘s finest hour.
Back then, Huggy Bear were sneered at for being “right on” and “politically correct”, even in the ostensibly left-leaning NME, which regularly carried a column by comedian Simon Munnery based on his Alan Parker, Urban Warrior character, which targeted this tiny but easy-to-mock demographic. Ironically, this terrible column was far more humourless than Huggy Bear themselves, whose songs brim with wit as well as fire and compassion.
These days, that terrible lazy “W” word would be deployed to diminish their opinions.
It must be annoying for them to know that Huggy Bear were right. About pretty much everything.