Punk Rock Transformers

Saul Glasman 15 February 2008

Robots In Disguise aren’t an easy band to engage in conversation. There’s touring drummer Ann Droid, a strong silent type; then there are the two singers, sardonic bassist Sue Denim (like pseudonym, geddit?), and guitarist (and girlfriend of Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame) Dee Plume, who’s sitting on the floor knitting a green scarf.

The fandom they inspire is impressive, and they know it. As soon as we enter the venue, our senses are assaulted by a kaleidoscope of luminous tights, starry face paint and long T-shirts bearing retro emblems, worn by fourteen-year-old homunculi of the Robots themselves.

We mention this fashion micromovement to them. “Yeah!” Sue shouts enthusiastically. “I mean, it’s quite strange when you see loads and loads of people with the same haircut. That was part of the reason I changed my haircut. I think the best bands inspire their fans to dress up, because then they’re all part of it. I think that could be why we’ve got so many young girls, it’s something they can relate to.”

Do the band change their style often? “Yeah, it changes. Hugely, just sort of when we get bored. Now our outfits on stage are painted T-shirts that look like the cover, and that ties into We’re In The Music Biz as well, because it’s that business thing, they expect you to be looking a bit corporate. We’re kind of subverting that corporate, like, thing.”

Whatever’s behind the music, the fans love it. Apart from a couple of decent cuts, though (the girls’ gritty energy on single We’re In The Music Biz and the inventive psychedelic trance-tinged set closer) all they seem to be doing is jumping up and down and shouting over a formulaic dance-punk background.

“Someone called us electro riot grrls or something,” Dee says.

“We’re a punk band,” offers Sue, “we’re very DIY.”

Not to be deprived of an opportunity to push their feminist agenda, they seize on the topic of all-girl bands. “It’s good that that’s starting to exist,” says Dee. She glances down at her knitting, looking slightly puzzled. “You know, girls doing stuff.

“Rock’s really about male sexuality. But punk was all about real feminists and stuff. And that’s rock and roll too,” she adds. Her bandmate nods sagely.

On the cover of their album, We’re In The Music Biz, Plume and Denim are depicted leaping and grimacing in what look like white shirts and ties, but – here’s the catch – they’re actually naked and wearing body paint! “We’re not little girls, we’ve got our tits out and we’re kind of subverting the indie boy thing of wearing a skinny tie,” quips Denim. Controversy for the sake of publicity?

Because, of course, in principle there’s not much more controversial than posing for an album cover wearing nothing more than a coat of acrylic. So why aren’t the girls under fire from the conservative press for helping our daughters down the slippery slope to whoredom? The answer, of course, is that their music neatly provides an insurmountable wall of indifference. There was a cockle-warming sense of community among the hordes of face-painted indie-tweens and miniature Russell Brand lookalikes who infested the Barfly, but they were only there for two reasons: because they think the Robots’ dress sense is the coolest thing since neon pink sliced bread, and because they watch The Mighty Boosh. Any ideological substance the Robots once might have crowbarred into their songs has long since been obscured behind their ostentatious, preening onstage egotism and submerged in a lake of musical mediocrity.

So what’s the lesson here? I’m afraid, girls, that the only path to stardom in the exciting world of electropunkfunk (Dee’s word) appears to be shacking up with a famous comedian. And don’t forget the nudity. Better luck next time!

Saul Glasman