Damn, has it really been twenty years since the cute and cuddly Scottish indiepop trio Bis first appeared? The dynamic pair of Sci-Fi Steven, John Disco, and Manda Rin first appeared, and they were a breath of fresh air amongst the stuffy, over-serious Alt-Rock and grunge scenes. Though they split up a few years ago, they officially returned this year with an excellent new album.
Their early singles were fun, punchy, punk-minded and riot grrrl informed blasts of quick lo-fi pop. They thrilled audiences with delight with numbers like “Kill Yr Boyfriend,” “School Disco,” and “Kandy Pop.” One song in particular, “This Is Fake D.I.Y.,” attacked the trend at the time of major labels creating fake independent labels in hopes of giving their acts ‘credibility.’ With a cynical tone not seen since The Smiths’ anti-label rant “Paint A Vulgar Picture.”
Ironically, the same accusations would be levied against Bis when they presented their fun debut album The New Transistor Heroes. Signed to Grand Royal in the United States, some purists would balk at their sudden higher profile, assuming that the band was suspect from the get-go. Haters aside, it was a delightful debut album—though a bit of a compilation for us, as several songs were previously released. Regardless, it came complete with wonderful tunes like “Tell It To The Kids,” “Photoshop,” and “Starbright Boy,” a minor hit, thanks in part to its delightfully catchy beat and a really fun, funny video. The album introduced the band as a sugar-rushed pop band with hilarious charming music makers.
Which is what makes follow-up album Social Dancing a bit shocking. Perhaps they realized that their Teen-C Power sound would ultimately be a creative noose, because Social Dancing sheds the lo-fi cuteness in favor of a slicker dance-pop groove, not unlike Human League or New Order, though retaining their keen sense of humor. “Making People Normal,” “Sound of Sleet,” and “Theme From Tokyo.” “I’m A Slut” showed that the band hadn’t lost their political edge, either. “Eurodisco,” however, was a slicker pop number that was miles away from their early days, a frantic pop number that didn’t sound like the Teen-C Power band of yore. Not surprisingly, it was a hit.
Nor was it surprising that their follow-up, 2001’s Return to Central, followed its lead. A misunderstood album, it was a record that delved headfirst into electronic pop. To put it simply, they wanted to become New Order, and New Order is who they became.(It’s probably not coincidental that a contemporaneous single at the time was a tribute to Factory Records.) And the truth is, they did it quite well; it’s a mature album, with wonderful numbers like “Robotic,” “Silver Spoon,” “What You’re Afraid Of,” and the powerful, shoulda-been-a-pop-hit “Protection.” Yes, this wasn’t the Bis of old, but the kids had matured into a wonderful pop band.
Unfortunately, they split shortly after Return To Central, but they didn’t stop making music even though they went in separate ways; Manda Rin first formed The Kitchen with then-husband Ryan Seagrist, and later released a solo album (represented here with “DNA”), while the boys went on to form Dirty Hospital. They did a handful of reunion shows, even releasing a single under the monitor Data Panik.
Their reunion in 2014 showed that they’d lost none of the charm, nor had they sacrificed their devotion to pursuing a groove-oriented sound. Data Panik Etcetera was a wonderful return to form, and songs such as “Minimum Wage,” “Cubis (I Love You),” and “Rulers and the States” are among their best to date. Furthermore, Manda Rin has transformed from a cutesy punk-pop singer to a soulful dance floor diva.
Bis may be underrated, but 20 Years of Antiseptic Poetry does an excellent job of letting you know just what all the fuss was about. It’s a great starting point for new listeners, and a gentle reminder for those who may have forgotten. (Be advised; next month the band will reissue expanded deluxe editions of their first three albums.)