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Sneaker Pimps Try a Lot of Styles on for Size

Pop music: Critics and fans alike have trouble figuring out these British techno-rockers, which is just fine by the band.

May 16, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Liam Howe finds a great deal of satisfaction in confusing people. Indeed, the Sneaker Pimps' keyboard player practically snickers with pride over the inability of critics and fans to categorize his British trio's modern-sounding techno music.

"We've been called everything from 'punk-edged electronica' and 'alternative dance-pop' to 'co-ed trip hoppers from the U.K.,' " Howe said by phone from a tour stop in Denver. "I'm not quite sure exactly what any of that means, but I like the fact that we're tough to pigeonhole.

"Basically, we're a just pop band," he continued, "and confusing the structure of pop music can only be a healthy thing. Otherwise, things becomes static and predictable. For us, to sample work from artists as diverse as [haunting folk-rocker] Nick Drake, [pioneering electronic band] Kraftwerk and the [rockabilly/surf-punk] Cramps is our way of breaking down narrowly defined musical parameters. In that sense, I guess you could call us genre-hoppers."

Hard to classify or not, the band--which plays Sunday at the Galaxy in Santa Ana--is getting its share of media exposure. Their lush, dreamy single "6 Underground" is featured on "The Saint" movie soundtrack and is getting airplay on modern rock stations and on public radio.

*

Sneaker Pimps (a phrase coined by the Beastie Boys to describe a person they paid to find rare gym shoes) embarked on their first headlining tour less than a month ago to promote their 3-month-old debut CD, "Becoming X."

"We've decided not to use any sequencers or tapes [on stage]. Everything must be triggered live by the band," Howe said. "You know, bands like Portishead and Massive Attack are commonly criticized for tediously replicating their albums almost note for note. We want to avoid that. . . . It feels far too odd for us to play along to a tape every night anyway. Our challenge is to juggle keeping our sonic proficiency and creating spontaneous, live excitement."

Howe, 26, who co-writes the band's material with lead guitarist Chris Corner, focuses on cultural phenomena, with something of a cynical bent. A song called "Post-Modern Sleaze" looks at how the movies can create a life-imitates-art mentality, and how suicide is glamorized by segments of society.

"I read this absurd article," Howe said, "in a British style magazine about what they called the 'Thelma and Louise Syndrome,' about flippant films that generated this enormous copycat type of effect. The story uncovered moms who either left their families or killed themselves because their boring middle-class lives suddenly weren't good enough anymore. [So I came up with a song] about how fashionable it is to fabricate myths and then take no responsibility for them."

Musically, Howe said, he believes Sneaker Pimps "satisfy two primal desires at once" with their propulsive, sensual dance beats. "The first is to simply move physically and satisfy that libidinal desire to shake, twist, spin and cavort about.

"And secondly, the best electronic music can be cerebrally pleasing as well. Experimental German bands like Ovalis really testing the limits. Those not dancing their rear ends off can think about the words being sung or pick up the shifts in tempo and mood. It's actually quite an eclectic style.

"Some people don't know what to make of us, and that's good," he added. "I think we do present more questions than answers, really. It'd be nice if fans left our performances more confused than when they arrived."

* Sneaker Pimps and the Josephine Wiggs Experience play Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $12.50-14.50. (714) 957-0600.

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