Shampoo Are So Much More than a 90s One-Hit Wonder
I became obsessed with Carrie Askew and Jacqui Blake overnight in my mid-twenties. Let me explain.
Illustration by Joel Benjamin
This article was originally published on Noisey UK.
Each day this week, one Noisey UK staff member writes about one of their all-time faves (in some cases, one you might not expect anyone to love this much in 2017). Today: managing editor, Daisy Jones on why 90s duo Shampoo deserve a lot more recognition.
In most personal essays about someone's favorite artist, this is the bit where they describe the first time they heard them as a teenager. About how their albums got them through the mess of high school. About their bedroom walls, which were smothered in their posters ripped from the NME or Smash Hits. About how they watched their videos religiously and tried to emulate their cheap green dye job or the way they walked with an intentional limp. But I can't say any of those things in this case, because that would be lying. So here's the truth: I discovered Shampoo earlier this year, in my mid-twenties, and they've since become one of my favorite bands. Now let's rewind.
In 1992, southeast London was so barren, it was basically suburbia. There was no speedy overground system ferrying bankers to their comfortable three-bedroom terraced houses. There were no vegan burger joints running cute Instagram accounts. There were no heaving art exhibition launches with photo stories published in Dazed and i-D. Even the Young British Art movement had yet to thrive properly outside the squats and still-cheap warehouse spaces that circled Goldsmiths Uni. Giggs hadn't even started rapping; PC Music were two decades into the future. In other words, the area's cultural history had yet to be inscribed into reality.
What did exist, though, were two bored teenagers and best friends called Jacqui Blake and Carrie Askew. And there were two things that brought these girls together. First, that they were both considered weirdos at their school in Plumstead. And second, that they were equally obsessed with the Manic Street Preachers, who had just released their debut album Generation Terrorists, the cover of which was a man's naked chest adorned in a huge cross necklace and a rose bicep tattoo. Off the back of this, the two friends started a fanzine called Last Exit. And off the back of their joint school nickname "The Shampoo Girls" (given to them because whenever boys asked them out on dates they would turn them down by claiming they had to wash their hair), they started a band of their own, and they called it Shampoo.
One evening this summer, I also found myself in southeast London, only a short bus ride away from where Shampoo were founded 25 years prior. I was at a friend's flat, drunk on those pre-mixed cans of JD and coke and chain-smoking over a laptop screen while we took turns choosing YouTube videos to sing over. I couldn't tell you how we found our way to Shampoo. But I remember feeling the heat that was emanating from the room's dark curtains which had been absorbing sunlight all day. I remember enjoying the novelty of being able to hear music through big speakers instead of my tinny iPhone ones at home. And I remember being surprised that the grimy, lo-fi riffs and monotone vocals that were shaking out of those speakers weren't a riot grrrl band that I'd never heard of, but Shampoo's first ever release; a small collection of innuendo-filled punk tracks that they'd written and recorded while they were still at school. On impulse, I got my friend to wonkily stab their name into my leg, convinced in that moment that they were the greatest band I'd ever heard in my life.
Until then, the only thing I knew about Shampoo was that at some point they'd released "Trouble", a bouncy, bubblegum pop song that was played at school discos throughout the 90s and could have very easily been by Daphne & Celeste. But after that night, I found myself going deeper into their back catalogue and repeatedly returning to it. Their music—particularly on debut album We Are Shampoo and it's two follow ups Shampoo or Nothing and Girl Power—moves steadily between genres, from the sprawling Britpop of the era ("Delicious") to the kind of leery glam rock usually played by old dudes in stadiums ("Don't Call Me Babe") to the bratty pop punk they were best known for ("Boys Are Us"). In each instance, though, their lyrics are centered on themes of rebellion and boredom, of rolling their eyes at gross men or owning their femininity while simultaneously rejecting it. On 1995 single "Girl Power" (written before Spice Girls were a thing, FYI), they spit out the words "I wanna be bad, I wanna be evil", which always strikes me as a brilliant, camp image: two school girls, who just wanna be evil.
The winter before I discovered Shampoo had, in many ways, been the hardest few months of my life. I'd become single for the first time in four years, was living in a moldy single room that had a serious mouse problem and had found myself at one of those ebbs in life when you're waiting for time to pass rather than living in it. I would spend the daylight hours working in an office and then hours awake at night either compulsively scrolling through Instagram or repeatedly reading my horoscope on various bullshit websites that gave me more viruses than insight. To say I was in the throes of an existential crisis would make it sound more interesting than it was—it felt more like a period of intense boredom that I was too glum to extract myself from.
However, as the pattern generally goes, that shitty winter was followed by the sweetest, most carefree, endless summer I'd experienced since I was a teenager—and Shampoo became emblematic of that. Their inherent silliness was all the giddy evenings I'd spent breaking into graveyards and smoking weed in the grass with people I barely knew. Their rejection of men mirrored my own gradual avoidance of cishet dudes as I chose to move further into queerness. Their nonchalant, meaningless lyrics and upbeat riffs were all the long hot nights I'd spent dancing gracelessly around someone's bedroom in my pants, thinking about nothing at all other than what song to play next and where I might have put the lighter. There is something fun and nihilistic about Shampoo. Listening to their music doesn't encourage you to be insular or in your feelings. They sing about shopping and Barbies and staying up late. They're just Shampoo. They're ridiculous.
I think another reason my obsession with Shampoo was kickstarted is because they immediately felt so familiar. Their image is reflected and referenced in so much of what people my age consume today. They are the spiky hot pink cyber style of Girli. They are the riotous self awareness of Skinny Girl Diet and Common Body and Dream Wife. They are the girl with the silver crop top and the platforms you hooked up with at Moth Club last weekend. They are Ghost World and they are Mean Girls. They are the female gaze. They are all the colorful, hyper-feminine pages of a Polyester or Rookie Mag shoot. And none of this is to say that the aforementioned exist because of Shampoo – because that would be both inaccurate and ludicrous—but they were ahead of their time, or perhaps just a really cool product of it.
I have no idea where they both are now, even though I have spent ages googling it. I like to imagine they're on the run from some sort of semi-successful heist, maybe in Finland, probably in sunglasses and long furry coats, hitching a ride. I heard one of them married a dude from Saint Etienne. And fuck knows how long my love of Shampoo will last; it could be an overdrawn summer romance or it could be a lifelong marriage. But either way, even when a love like this is fleeting, I don't think it ever really goes away.