The thing about the Raincoats is that they are a bit like an electron circling the nucleus of an atom. Let’s take Radium, for example.
Each electron has its set path, its own orbit. But each orbit intersects with numerous other orbits, creating any number of junctions, points of contact, and possibilities for exchange.
The number of orbits with which the Raincoats intersect is nearly endless. Take for instance the band members themselves whose lives are extraordinary variant. Palmolive (drums) was born in Andalusia, Spain under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Ana da Silva (vocals, guitar) grew up on the isolated island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal, then in the grip of the Salazar regime that ruled by exploiting weakness and legislating women as (less than) second class citizens. Gina Birch (vocals, bass) was the first British baby to survive 3 blood transfusions and grew up in the tiny town of Thurgarton north of Nottingham, in other words, nearly nowhere. A classically trained musician, Vicki Aspinall (violin, guitar, vocals), learned to play piano and violin in the suburbs of London, subsequently attending York University.
But these four seemingly disparate orbits intersected in a London squat and called this crossing the Raincoats.
They brought with them the points they had touched, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Elvis, Satie, Miles Davis Patti Smith, fusing them together with the soldering irons of their personal experiences into a unique sound that in many ways predated and predicted the post-punk movement. Bands like the Clash whose sound was manufactured for an “American audience” couldn’t touch their granular dissonance, their ability to allow their instruments to be like “wild animals,” as Birch described it during a 2014 performance at MoMA.
And on they travelled around their orbit.
Kurt Cobain, “boy genius” of modal grunge kept the Raincoats’ original EP perpetually by the record player. Deliciously rowdy feminist bands like Bikini Kill and L7 turned to them for examples of solidarity and bravery. The iconic Joe Strummer was forever affected by their sound, particularly through his relationship with Palmolive. Television tried to capture a similar sense of rawness in their music, and while talented in their own right, couldn’t quite let go enough to reach the sense of freedom achieved by the Raincoats. The democratic feminism that ran through their creative practice like an artery created a unique model of solidarity that touched the work of scholars and theoreticians like Vivien Goldman.
And so on, and changed by their encounter with the Raincoats, they travelled around their orbits, intersecting with nearly infinite others.
You can hear both the Raincoats’ gender-fluidity and phantasmagorical approach to lyrics in Grace Jones’ “Walking in the Rain.”
Even in Mr. Twin Sister’s polished and danceable beats are echoes of the improvisational heart of the Raincoats that was in turn inspired by jazz pioneers Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. That Bjork absorbs and emits all good things, including and especially the Raincoats, goes without saying.
And the Raincoats keep traveling. On tour, in books like Liz Pelly’s beautiful biography named after them, on cassette tapes, on the sometimes gossamer breeze and sometimes gale force wind of the ideas they embody and emote. Their ability to absorb and vocalize, give and take, teach and learn is not even close to exhausted.
I hope you enjoy the mixtape.
The Witmark Demos,
Tomorrow is a Long Time
Ain’t it Strange
Life on the Line
Walking in the Rain
Shouting Out Loud
Charlie Don’t Surf
Ping Pong Affair
I Saw a Hill
On the Corner
Mr. Twin Sister
Mr. Twin Sister
In the House of Yes
Revolution Girl Style Now!
Double Dare Ya
Live Performance, MoMA
The Feminist Song