Indietracks interview #8: Bis

By Stuart Huggett

Indietracks’ Friday night headliners Bis – John Disco, Manda Rin and Sci-fi Steven – need little introduction, thanks to their 90s smash ‘Kandy Pop’. They appeared on Top Of The Pops, released three studio albums and won the approval of The Delgados and The Beastie Boys, who signed them to the Chemikal Underground and Grand Royal labels respectively.

Following the dense electronics of third album ‘Return to Central’, the Glasgow trio formed short-lived group Data Panik before splitting. John Disco joined ska band The Amphetameanies and recorded with brother Sci-Fi Steve as Dirty Hospital, while Manda Rin released one album with The Kitchen and the solo set ‘My DNA’.

The three remain friends and have reformed for very occasional gigs in recent years, including the Primavera festival in 2010. Manda tells us more.

Bis were only just out of school when you played ‘Kandy Pop’ on Top of the Pops. How did it feel to become successful so young?

We’re so, so lucky, not many people get that opportunity. It might have seemed very sudden but John and Steven had been making music since they were 14, they’d been in recording studios stunning everyone with their talent. People would say, “You should see these little guys!” Their mum’s a piano teacher so music’s in their blood. When I came along I think I’m the one who made things happen because, although I may not be as musically talented as them, I’ve got the get up and go and that’s the thing that helps. We didn’t expect it though. We’d been doing gigs since we were 16 and we put out quite a lot of 7”s before the one that got on Top of the Pops. We can’t regret the timing or anything.

There’s a lot of things we look back on now and think we should have done perhaps differently, like giving the Top of the Pops single an EP name (‘The Secret Vampire Soundtrack’). People maybe went to buy it, saying “You know the Bis single ‘Kandy Pop’?” “No, never heard of it.” That was just our thing, we hadn’t really thought about it and we didn’t have any pressure to do any different. Also it was on the verge of ‘Secret Vampires’ being the single, so it could’ve gone either way. It may not have happened at all, so we were really lucky that we took that last minute decision to make it ‘Kandy Pop’. The follow-up single was probably a bad idea as well.

Was ‘This is Fake D.I.Y.’ (a critique of multi-formatting and fake indie labels, from the ‘Bis vs. The D.I.Y Corps’ EP) a case of biting the hand that feeds?

Yeah, at least it still got to number 45, which isn’t exactly bad. It probably sold more than most singles that get into the charts these days. Then for ‘Eurodisco’ getting to 37, that was probably the song I was most proud of, the video and things like that. The way it all worked out was so lucky, with Grand Royal, Wiiija’s connections in Japan, Wiiija’s connections in Australia. We can’t complain about stuff like that. If we hadn’t done it then, would it have happened at all? Possibly not because things like that just don’t exist anymore. The music industry’s changed beyond belief. I don’t feel I even know it anymore. It’s been, what, 17 years since Top of the Pops. That’s a long time ago, and to still get recognised and people remember what we’ve done, that’s stunning.

Why did Bis change into Data Panik?

We just felt we wanted to do something very different. It felt like the natural thing to do was to put an end to Bis and start Data Panik, and in retrospect it was probably not the best decision. Most bands keep going and keep going and they end up doing really well out of that. We should have just kept going, but if we hadn’t have tried it we maybe wouldn’t have been the same thing. Your original fans have always got this hold over you, trying to keep some of what you had before, when you want to move on to something different. We were thinking, we’ll wipe the slate clean and do this new band. We did these songs that we’re pretty proud of but in the end it was pretty pointless in a way.

Are you playing any Data Panik songs at Indietracks?

I think maybe we’re going to play one of those songs. It seems a waste because Data Panik had so many good songs and we never recorded anything proper.

Have you been writing new Bis songs too?

Yeah, the last gigs we did we had two new songs and they were really well received. I was quite nervous doing something completely brand new, and I’m terrible at learning things quickly, but I managed it and it was really good.

Are there any plans to record them?

Probably not. The main thing is we can’t really afford it to go into a proper studio. We know we need to, to make it of the quality that John and Steven are very fussy for, especially for a drum kit. I’m quite happy to do a recording at home on the computer because I think the quality of that is still fantastic but I know it wouldn’t be good enough for them. We’ve talked about maybe doing a kind of Kickstarter type thing, so we’ll see. It seems a waste those Data Panik songs never got used, and then we had the two new Bis ones that never got recorded, and for this festival we’re aiming to do another two brand new ones. We need to get a plan because it’s so embarrassing when fans say, “Love the new songs! What’s happening?” and we’re like, “I don’t know!”

Does the music Bis recorded for The Powerpuff Girls and BB3B cartoons keep a trickle of money coming in still?

I think trickle’s the right word. I don’t rely on it one bit, but if it wasn’t for The Powerpuff Girls I’d probably get bugger all! Even if you’re getting like a penny here and there, which it shows up as in some places, then I’m happy. To get songs still played in films they were used in years ago, it’s brilliant. I just wish there was more. Now that we don’t have an active person looking to get our songs into stuff we might not ever get that opportunity. We just need to wait and see, but I certainly miss the days when our songs were getting played on the record stall on EastEnders ‘cos that was amazing.

How’s your artwork doing?

I’ve had a couple of exhibitions now. I did the ‘Cover Versions and Other Hits’ one and that was really well received, I’m so glad that I got to do that. There was quite a lot of designs. I’ve still got some left and I sell them on my website (www.planetmanda.com). After that I decided I wanted to do a proper art one with a few canvases and they all sold. They took over a month to do each one and that was something I’d never done, just acrylic on canvas. Ah, I loved it, it’s the only thing that makes me zone out and not think about any other stress in the world. And I did the drawing for an iPad game and an iPhone one called ‘All Fridges Are Psychotic’ and that went really well. If anyone came to me asking, I’m always up for trying things out. I do just love getting these odd requests here and there.

I see that you’ll be seven months pregnant when Bis play.

Yeah, it’s been interesting ‘cos John and Steven have two kids each and I’ve not got any yet. I’m so excited though. John and Steven have been fantastic for advice and things like that. When their wives have been expecting it doesn’t affect the band, but this is the first time there’s actually someone in the band that it does affect. I’ve had to think about everything, like I’ll need a proper seatbelt for travelling, not a wee lap belt thing. And I can’t jump up and down on stage, which’ll be weird. I can’t drink, which, again, weird. But I’m excited about the challenge of it. You know those Baby On Board signs that you get on the back of cars? I was gonna put one on my keyboard in case some people just go, “She’s looking a bit heavy…”

Is this your first visit to Indietracks?

Yeah, I’ve never been. I don’t know what to expect one bit, which is really strange because I’ve always had a rough idea of what something’s like. I don’t know the stage, I don’t the location, I don’t know anything. I’m just quite proud of myself that I managed to get a £27 Travelodge in, whoo!