The Pipettes' navy-and-white polkadot dresses smell really awful. The olfactory-offending frocks, which singers Gwenno, RiotBecki and Rosay have been wearing onstage nightly during a mini tour of the U.S.
NEW YORK — The Pipettes' navy-and-white polkadot dresses smell really awful. The olfactory-offending frocks, which singers Gwenno, RiotBecki and Rosay have been wearing onstage nightly during a mini tour of the U.S., are in fact so pungent that the ladies refuse to take them out of their bags for this shoot, politely sparing the crew. The Pipettes are rarely, if ever, seen in anything but polkadots, and the dresses — each performer has only one, and doing laundry is inconvenient on a tour bus — are their instant identifiers. Today, however, the women are keen to give their signature looks a reprieve in favor of the latest from holiday.
The Brighton, England-based trio's old-school — or, pardon us, golden-oldie school — songs and look have already charmed Europe. The band's first album, "We Are The Pipettes," will be released here Aug. 28, though videos are constantly streaming on YouTube. Like something you've heard in mom's vinyl collection of Sixties girl groups, the songs are ripped straight from the soundboards of the Brill Building, complete with catchy hooks, harmonized doo-wops and plaintive yet strong female voices.
But for all the nostalgic novelty, The Pipettes — whose name is derived from the generally happy, vintage-sounding word "pip" — are a concept band concocted among like-minded musicians and musical performers as a direct counterpoint to what is currently hawked over the airwaves and on TV — the antithesis to both overproduced, sexed-up slicksters and schlubby navel-gazers. In contrast, these ladies hope to woo audiences with their version of Sixties-era girl power. Meaning: smart melodies, accessible choreography and a pulled-together wardrobe packaged with manners.
"It was always meant to be an experiment," says RiotBecki of the band's provenance. In 2003, indie musicians "Monster Bobby" Barry — who plays guitar in The Pipettes backup band, The Cassettes — and ex-Pipette Julia Clark-Lowes struck upon the idea of bringing back the halcyon, heavily eyelined days of The Supremes, The Ronettes and all the other lady groups of yore. In their Svengali-like roles, they even thought of a uniform of trim polkadot dresses made by various friends and family members. The three singers, who didn't know each other before joining the group, came from varied backgrounds. RiotBecki (who gained the "Riot" for her penchant for punk) was studying film; Rosay (who jokingly danced around like Beyoncé, so her mates made her name rhyme) was an art student penning wannabe Joni Mitchell songs, and Gwenno (her actual full Welsh name) had clogged her way through Riverdance's Las Vegas run.By embracing the prefabness of it all, they have avoided the sort of negative connotation attached to other made-up bands who are criticized for not writing their own music, not being true artists, etc. Indeed, The Pipettes have started a quiet, well-behaved revolution in the small concert venues of Europe, where fans mimic the band's in-sync hand gestures and dance moves. Gwenno, RiotBecki and Rosay are also turning audiences on to the power of the polkadot. "But it's not a fashion thing. It's more of an aesthetic for the band, and that's important to create a great pop image," says Gwenno.
Initially, the singers experienced very strong antidot feelings offstage, but have since warmed back up to them. "I bought some things, and when I got them home I realized there were polkadots involved in some way," says Rosay. But no matter how they personally feel about the print, they won't be dropping the spotty act anytime soon, says RiotBecki. "Polkadots are the perfect setting for us; they're the most obvious pattern. Like, stripes wouldn't work."
While a one-pattern uniform may seem limiting, the singers do have the option of customizing their dresses, and every few months, they all switch to a new color scheme. The previous versions featured a peppy pink-and-blue combo. "It means we don't have to think about what we're wearing onstage," Gwenno notes.
In addition to the set image, the band runs like a democracy. "In terms of music, it's meant to be universal," says Rosay. "Not just for boys, not just for girls." Everyone writes songs, and the ladies even take turns standing front and center. Having no clear leader also offers each one that sometimes-needed respite from the spotlight. "We try not to have an ego, and if anyone tries to maintain an ego, they're brought back down to earth," muses RiotBecki.
Yet even if the inner dynamics of The Pipettes don't work exactly like those of the Sixties girl groups, the new guard still looks up to the masters. "Girls like The Supremes knew how to behave in public, and they were very fashionable and we really like that," says Gwenno. "That sense of grace is lovely. There's something respectful about making that much of an effort for an audience. We aren't that ladylike, but we at least try."— Nandini D'Souza
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