If I were to ask you if you’d ever heard of Bis, you’d be forgiven for answering no. While they did have a brief attempt at breaking into the US market supported by the Beastie Boys’ label Grand Royal, they never really made it here in the states. However, if I asked you to sing the Powerpuff Girls theme song, there’s a good chance you’d know those lyrics, and thus know Bis.
If you weren’t a Powerpuff Girls fan, you likely heard them on the outstanding soundtrack to Jet Set Radio Future.
Yup! That’s them! The Glaswegian trio–comprised of Manda Rin, Sci-Fi Steven, and John Disco–have been around since 1994, where they started producing high-energy riot grrrl tracks like Kil Yr Boyfriend from their debut EP “Transmissions on the Teen-C Tip!”
Their first several EPs had this strong riot grrrl energy with a rough DIY sound until it evolved into a more polished indie synthpop sound they became known for with their debut full-length, “The New Transistor Heroes” in 1997. Aside from an EP titled “This is Teen-C Power” which was a collection of tracks from their previous early EPs, this was the first real exposure the US got to Bis. The album was released stateside by Grand Royal, and got some MTV play.
Right out the gate, “The New Transistor Heroes” sets the tone with “Tell It to the Kids.” From beginning to end, I absolutely recommend this album.
Their next album, “Social Dancing” released in 1999 and started giving hints as to the next evolution the band would make. There were plenty of tracks that were reminiscent of the charming Indie Synthpop of “The New Transistor Heroes” but some tracks leaned much more heavily on the synth part of that equation.
While songs like “Eurodisco” would be nearly bare of any guitars, trading them for catchy synth hooks, songs like “I’m a slut” would take you right back to familiar territory.
“Eurodisco” appeared to be a sign of things to come once their next album, “Return to Central” released in 2001. Comprised entirely of electronic music and beautiful vocals (not a yelled lyric in sight) with well-thought cross track transitions, they had come a long way from “Teen-C.”
Bis split in 2003, but were back with two new members under the name data Panik in 2005. Bis fans would be treated to a number of data Panik tracks when bis released the album, “data Panik etcetera” in 2014. These tracks were tonally similar to “New Transistor Heroes” with the addition of a live drummer and bassist. It was as though Bis never broke up. I seem to recall data Panik releasing a split with a chiptune emo band called colonopenbracket around this time, but I can’t seem to find any mention of it online.
While all the members of Bis remained musically active in one way or another since 2003, a proper new Bis album didn’t make its way to our hands until just this year. This month, in fact. Last week, in fact. “data Panik etcetera” definitely fits nicely in the Bis catalog, but it’s not technically a Bis album. “Slight Disconnects” released on February 15th 2019 and gave fans like myself a warm welcome back to the days of “New Transistor Heroes.”
The first single from the album, Sound of a Heartbreak, let us know that the electronic mood of “Return to Central” was fully in the past, and Bis was back to doing what they do best.
I want to make it clear that this isn’t to say “Return to Central” is a bad album. Quite the opposite, in fact. I personally have yet to hear a Bis song I didn’t absolutely love, but it probably would have been jarring for fans of “New Transistor Heroes” to attempt to follow that transition, and they will definitely find much more of the familiar love they once had with this new album. Their official bio said this better than I ever could, and is 100% correct when it comes to “Return to Central.”
After spending most of 1999 on the road, including a main stage appearance at the inaugural Coachella Festival and a headlining show at the Benicassim Festival, bis released the even more electronic “Music For A Stranger World” EP in early 2000 before spending the rest of the year in the studio creating the band’s most misunderstood album “Return To Central”. Seen by some fans as the masterpiece the band had been striving towards, and by other fans as the final straw, “Return To Central” showcases the band’s impatience and desire not to repeat themselves. Gone was the shouty vocal style, replaced by Manda’s threatening whisper and in came lush, layered electronics. Instead of cribbing riffs from old Rough Trade records, “Return To Central” aimed for the gravitas of The Associates, Talk Talk and Brian Eno but with those trademark melodic earworms and disco heartbeat intact.
There are many branches on the Bis family tree that I didn’t venture down, but I assure you they’re all worth investigating. If you like what you’ve heard here today, I definitely encourage you to do the digging. It’s absolutely worth it.
Slight Disconnects is available now from Last Night From Glasgow.