As the reformed Minneapolis punk band play their first UK shows in 18 years, the solo artist and former frontman of Sonic Youth explains why Babes In Toyland are so vital
Thurston Moore: “For me, for a certain period of time, Babes In Toyland were the greatest band on earth, and there are very few bands I can say that about. I’ll always remember when they first came to New York City and played at this little club called The Pyramid Club, which is a cool little place in the East Village that Sonic Youth used to play at a lot. Babes in Toyland were there because they were coming up just after us in the ’80s and they were just phenomenal that night – they completely destroyed and tore the place up. We asked them immediately if they would play gigs with us, and they came over and did a whole European tour in 1990 – right when their first record, ‘Spanking Machine’, came out.
On that tour, nothing stood in their way. They were very tough; they were not a neat band in any sense of the word – they were badasses. I remember watching them in Germany and [singer/guitarist] Kat Bjelland dropped to her knees, pulled out a butter knife and played slide guitar with it. The audience were stunned, but I just thought to myself, “This is as good as it gets.” I was completely in love with that band and was really happy to have them on the road with Sonic Youth.
At the time, they were part of this American underground that we were a part of that was really coming alive – bands like Killdozer, and then Hole and certainly Nirvana, Mudhoney, and the other Seattle groups. In a way, it was like this blossoming of energy and action, of new rock’n’roll and… blissfulness.
In 1991, they had a 7-inch single out – ‘Handsome And Gretel’/ ‘Pearl’. One side pictured [drummer] Lori Barbero, the other side Kat. They were bleeding from either being punched in the nose, or being in a car wreck, or something like that. And I heard it was really polarising for some people, because it was like, “Well, what does this say about women presenting themselves in music and entertainment?” It certainly was a bit of a wild statement – very independent, and I thought it was fascinating.
As a band, I think they were representing a true ideal of who they were as women, not only in the world, but in an industry that always had a history of having an imbalance in gender equality. That alone is important and I think them reforming only encourages that. I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing them at their gig in London on May 26. I have the night off before I have to go back on tour, so I’m going to do a backflip off stage.
I’d also love for them to do a new record. If they do, I hope it will have a lot of older person energy; I think that’s really important. We have plenty of youthful energy going on in rock’n’roll, but for me – somebody who’s in their mid-50s – I’m looking for more older energy. I want to hear Yoko Ono and Neil Young. I want to hear The Pop Group and I want to hear Babes In Toyland. I want them come out with an album that is all about who they are now as older people. God, I badly want to hear that.”