Kleenex: “We are not the Swiss Slits”

Regula swigs petulantly from a bottle of Benelyn expectorant and considers the question. Is it possible for punk rock to exist among the gentle tinkle of cowbells and cuckoo clocks in her alpine homeland?

She giggles. Her cohorts giggle. Kleenex are taking the writer to the cleaners.

Kleenex are four girls from Zurich, Switzerland, pioneers in a land where la punque is greeted with incomprehension.

Most incomprehensible of all is vocaliste Regular Sing, a lady given to alternating a mangling Germanic warble with a series of glass shattering squeaks – a style of chanson which must be as acceptable as a three pound note to the fathers of Europe’s most respectable city. Her colleagues accompany these heavenly utterances with a rough, raw, invigorating basic thrash. Genteel they are not.

So: what price punk rock in the land of gruyere, digital gnomes and numbered bank accounts?

Regula swigs on the Benelyn again and thinks about it. The others – guitarist Marlene Marder, bassist Klaudia Schiff and drummer Lislot Ha – set about translating our intercourse via the common tongue.

Eventually it becomes apparent that Marlene and Lislet have some command of English. It is also obvious that Kleenex take themselves and their mission, to drag Swiss rock tastes into line with the liberated world, extremely seriously. I’m impressed.

They describe the music as “a rebellion against boredom of comfortable bourgeois values. This is a bit opposite to English punk. Swiss parents give their kids so much money they don’t have to work; if they do, the possibilities aren’t good.”

Rough Trade brought Kleenex to London last month to record their second single with Mayo Thompson, father figure and inspirational producer, at the helm. It’s the same combination that delivered a well-timed middle finger at the majors when Stiff Little Fingers exploded into the album charts.

Thompson, to whom I owe an apology for my ill-considered review of the first Red Crayola record last year, has obtained for Kleenex brighter textures and cleaner punk metallic breaks that their debut home-produced single, “Ain’t You”.

The new record is called “U” (with an umlaut) – the angry side – and “You”, the friendly side. Regular explains: “I sing my song about factories, the same work in the same factory, it could be anywhere.”

Noting my expression of cynicism, Marlene intervenes: “I have worked in a factory, now I work in a bank.” The others are, variously, a temp, a shop assistant and a cashier.

Lislot and Marlene confer before delivering their next explanation of workings of Swiss society. There is nowhere for a punk band to play and the Kleenex gender is another hindrance: “We aren’t accepted, because we’re women and because punk isn’t taken seriously. There is one hour a day of mixed music on the radio but it’s all yodeling and disco.”

“The only places for us to play are the Club Hae and restaurants; even the police stop you at 11pm. Zurich is so small and so conservative.”

After muted sighing they look on the bright side:

“Everyday younger punks come out of the suburbs – farmers, factory workers.”

Visions of solitary punks skiing into town turn out to be correct: “On skis and on the bus, more young faces every week.”

Few, surely, can be as original as Kleenex. At present their sound is unsophisticated and brash – in direct contrast to the band, the sexiest thing on eight legs since Helen Wheels. It would be pointless to pretend Kleenex weren’t aware of that sexuality either, though they project an image of fun cool without simpering or posing.

Kleenex look pretty but they sound mean – and they have no intentions of drawing comparisons with other all-girl outfits. “We aren’t the Swiss Slits,” they assure me.

The era of Swiss neutrality is finally knocked on the head by this remarkably soft, strong and absorbent band. (NME, 1978)

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