Attitude (March 1999)
From high-priestess of punk to ice queen of goth, Siouxsie Sioux is one of the most-imitated women on earth. Simon Price meets a genuine 20th century style icon.
Every summer, London's crawling. Morticia hair, Kabuki cheeks, Dracula lips, Cleopatra eyes: young girls from Amsterdam, Berlin and Cagliari with names like Anja and Bertha and Chiara who all learnt their ABC from the nice 41-year-old lady sitting next to me.
The Ice Queen, the Wicked Witch, the Warrior Princess... Siouxsie Sioux has created one of the defining pop images of our age. And with grim inevitabi lity and deadly irony, the extreme individualist has become a fashion cliche, a type.
"Yeah, I know!" she laughs between sniffles (another irony: the Ice Queen has caught a chill). "lt's become a cartoon, almost. I dunno, I suppose I should be flattered. It's something that I can't control, but it is ironic, of course."
It's the long hot summer of 1976, and London is calling. On 20th September, at the Punk Festival at the 100 Club, Oxford St, a scratch band comprising a 19 year-old waitress from Chislehurst called Susan, and three of her mates, including a bassist called Sid, are clattering through a shambolic 20-minute medley of Twist And Shout, The Lord's Prayer and Knocking On Heaven's Door. The waitress is wearing a Nazi armband and a peephole bra. Inexplicably, Siouxsie & The Banshees are a hit, and "Sign The Banshees Now!" graffiti appears all over the city.
Quite apart from a cavalcade od classic singles like Hong Kong Garden, Christine, Spellbound, Peek A Boo and Kiss Them For Me, the highlights of their chaotic career will include calling a leering Bill Grundy "You dirty sod!" on that Sex Pistols Today show, spending a night in the cells at Holloway for 'obstruction', playing a money-raising gig for Mencap only to end up with a 2,000 pound bill for seat damage, and prompting an outbreak of wheelchair slamdancing at the Paralympics.
So Sioux, once more with feeling: what was that swastika about?
"Ohhh, yes," she sighs, raising those eyebrows (like big black aeroplane wings), "Now I just say 'Yeah, I'm a Nazi. Course I am.' I've always been fascinated by symbols, whether it's the crucifix, the hammer and sickle or the Star Of David. And it wasn't just me that brandished the swastika around. When I was growing up, it was always (adopts old codger voice) 'The youth of today... I fought the Second World War so bums like you can loaf around on the Social Security,' so it was a way of antagonising that generation. ln those days there wasn't so much information about the war or the Holocaust, and I didn't realise what vandals the Nazis were: all the art, the books they destroyed. Their aim was not only to promote Aryan purity, but to erase anything that might have competed with their superiority, like the Greeks. Wearing that armband was much more in the spirit of The Producers - you know, Springtime For Hitler - an amazing movie. That was was camp, rather than death-camp. I was appalled that anyone would take it, like..."
Siouxsie Sioux puts one finger under her nose and kicks out one goose-stepping leg, like Basil Fawlty. Now I feel like I've lived.
"Plus, the Nazi uniform and the colours were very attractive, if you like dressing up..."
AND she has always liked dressing up, since she was a little baby Sioux.
"lt was a fun thing. You've either got it in you, or you haven't: rummaging around in mum's clothes or even dad's, parading around...costume dramas, dear!"
Costume drama. The Sioux mystique in two words. Siouxsie's dramatis persona had an unreachable, forbidding aura, more Lady Macbeth than Cleopatra, more fuck-off-and-die than come-up-and-see-me. How much of it was about scaring the living shit out of men?
"Probably 90%, I would say, was definitely back off. It was very useful, because it scared off a lot of unwanted... approachability! It was also very much the antithesis of what was traditionally considered attractive, which was the blonde, suntanned girl-next-door, easy-going kind of person you could introduce to mum."
I tell Sioux a story. When I was around 17, my dad noticed the Banshees T-shirt I was wearing, and to my horror, commented 'Siouxsie Sioux? Leather mini-skirts and fishnets? Not arf! Give 'er one!' Tactic backfired?
"Ahahahah!!!" The wicked witch cackles. "Obviously in hindsight, a certain type of person is attracted by someone who is not trying to be attractive. There's something sad and desperate about someone trying to please others and not themselves. Throughout history there are so many contradictions of what people consider sexy... Once upon a time, well-rounded, voluptuous people were considered attractive, now it's gone right the other way, almost back to the 20s, a kind of androgyny, which brought a lot of female freedom: the flapper girls at the turn of the century, the Suffragettes fighting against Victorian repressions and those constricting outfits. Personally, I was just very intent on not being hampered by my shyness. Dressing that way, you can just bulldozer your way through life."
The Banshees are no more. After originally threatening to split in 1981, they finally released their farewell single five years back, since when Siouxsie and Budgie (long-time partner and percussionist) have been living in a Pyrrhenean rural idyll, plotting their next move.
Meanwhile, many of Siouxsie's 100 Club peers have been milking the teats of the nostalgia cash cow on enormous comeback tours.
"Welll... it's not thrilling, is it? It's almost the soundtrack for a zombie film. But I guess everyone's within their right to do what the hell they want. And in a way, the Pistols were just holding up a mirror to the whole cynicism of the industry."
lnstead of looking back, Siouxsie and Budgie freed from their Polydor contract after 20 years and signed to their own Sioux Records - have reactivated their drum-heavy side-project The Creatures (almost as old as The Banshees themselves) for a new album, Anima Animus, a grand tour of the rhythmic planet from hi-tech junglism to 'real' jungle rhythms (with a little punk nihilism thrown in for old time's sake).
Arguably though, there's no need for Siouxsie Sioux nowadays. Her spiritual daughters and little sisters- Annie, Sinead, Diamanda, Lydia, Courtney, Shirley, PJ, Beth - have taken on the mantle of ballbreaker feminism and frosty Cruella De Vil hauteur. So after 22 years playing one role, doesn't she feel trapped by being- or having to be- Siouxsie Sioux?
(She puts her palms to her cheeks and and does Edvard Munch's The Scream).
"Nah. Only in as much as everyone has a bad day."
Don't you ever think 'Sod it, this year I wanna go blonde, get a tan and listen to handbag house?' Dress like a fliouxsie?
"But I don't! Ha! I've never wanted that. I don't think I've made it so I couldn't do anything if I wanted to. Apart from being a TV personality on Blankety Blank. Or a soap star. Heaven forbid!"
Siouxsie behind the bar of the Queen Vic? C'mon! Why not?
"Well I always think: make a plan, and watch the gods laugh..."
And again she cackles, quietly this time.
Anima Animus by The Creatures is out on 15 Feb on Sioux Records