Skunk Anansie on Grace Jones’ Meltdown: “She said ‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to break your neck!’”

Skin talks to NME about being supported by Nova Twins, politics in 2022, and new music

Skunk Anansie frontwoman Skin has told NME about the “honour” of being asked to play the Grace Jones-curated Meltdown festival 2022, and revealed the memorable request letter that the icon sent her.

Having been handpicked by Jones to perform at this June’s Meltdown festival in London alongside the likes of John Grant, Sky Ferreira, Peaches, Hot Chip and Greentea Peng, Skin described the invitation as “an honour”.

“I was aghast because we were the first band she asked,” Skin told NME. “She wrote us a letter saying: ‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to break your neck!’ Something like that! It was a typical Grace Jones letter and it cracked me up.”

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In the ‘90s, Skin resented constant comparisons to Jones, considering it reductive to equate the two trailblazers because they are both outspoken black female performers. However, when they eventually met, they became firm friends. “I felt like I was compared to her because black women just get compared to other black women, even though we’re nothing like each other,” Skin explained.

“It was annoying and I thought it was lazy journalism. But then I saw her play in New York and realised: ‘OK, I get it now. There’s an attitude to Grace’s performance that I also have’. That was the first time I met her and we’ve hung out since and she’s a joy to be around.”

Jones was initially due to curate the event back in 2020, before that and last year’s festival were both postponed due to the COVID pandemic. Skin said she hoped that Meltdown would lead to the recognition Jones deserves, with previous curators of the festival including David Bowie, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, David Byrne, John Peel and Ray Davies.

“Grace Jones is nowhere near as lauded as she should be,” said Skin. “She’s up there with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles but she doesn’t get the same due – probably because she’s a black woman. Our society tends to lionise white guys in a different way.”

For their Meltdown performance, Skunk Anansie asked to be supported by past touring buddies Nova Twins. “I feel like we’re passing on the baton in some ways,” said Skin. “When I interviewed them for my radio show, one of my first questions was: ‘How annoying is it to be compared to Skunk Anansie?’” she laughed. “Because every interview I’ve ever read with them name-checks us and they’re nothing like us. They’re doing their own unique thing.”

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Skin praised Nova Twins for being at the forefront of a new wave of artists making genre-blurring alternative music and challenging the expectations of what the industry expects of black artists. “If you look at TikTok, it’s black and brown people that are driving rock forward and Nova Twins fit into that genre,” she said. “We’re no longer fitting into the boxes of what black women should be doing. In many ways, I feel Nova Twins would be more successful in America, because in England they still get compared to Skunk Anansie, and black women in rock are still being told by labels they should sing R&B.”

Skin continued: “I’m friends with Big Joanie, who are also playing Meltdown and have supported us on tour. They’re doing punk in a completely different way too, and have been lauded as one of the best bands at this year’s SXSW. Whether England likes it or not, this movement is happening and they can be at the forefront of it or just catching up like they normally do.”

Now 27  years on from Skunk Anansie’s politically-charged debut single ‘Little Baby Swastikkka’, Skin’s fight against fascism and injustice continues. With anti-trans rhetoric remaining the in news, she said that she felt was it’s more crucial than ever to stand up for marginalised minorities.

“There’s a well-rehearsed, well-organised campaign of disinformation against trans people,” she said. “It’s like America gives all fascists a handbook on how to do it and be successful with that ideology – or should I say ‘idiotology’.

“If you don’t support trans rights, they’ll eventually come after you. They’re already coming for gay people and then they’ll go for women. Don’t think you’re going to escape because you’re female and gay. If you’re sharing pictures of trans athletes negatively and spreading moral panic stories, try to put yourself in their shoes because it will be you that they’ll find a way of making suffer next.”

Aside from celebrating their history with their COVID-delayed 25th Anniversary tour, Skunk Anansie have also been sharing new music. In January they dropped ‘Piggy’ – written in anger against Brexit and the government’s mishandling of the pandemic – which was followed up in March by ‘Can’t Take You Anywhere’. The latter track deals with the “new world of friendships” after friends of Skin suddenly became anti-vaxxers, and family members developed completely opposite viewpoints to her.

“The song’s about how they’re still going to be my friends but we’re not going to talk about politics, and I can’t take you anywhere because I’m not going to embarrass myself by bringing someone into the room in certain situations I feel has stinky politics,” she said.

On the matter of separating the artist from their art when it comes to certain musicians receiving criticism for their views on the pandemic, Skin said: “I find people like Morrissey extremely disappointing, but what I’ve discovered is that people who always gave me the ick have come out in support of dubious things, and I’m not surprised.

“I’m not surprised Eric Clapton has come out in support of some ridiculous views because everyone heard the rant he had in the 1970s and saw his apology. John Lydon’s another one, where we just put some of his views in the past down to unruly rock ‘n’ roll behaviour.”

Skin told NME that there are a couple of other Skunk Anansie singles on the horizon for this year, but no album is planned at present. “Before we do a new album, we’re going to sit down and write a bunch of songs together. We think we can write better songs because it’s really hard writing remotely. Our best songs come from when we’re all in the room together.”

Away from the toxic world of politics in 2022, Skin revealed that her personal life is full of joy – having become a mother six months ago at the age of 54. She said motherhood “feels like you’re in a secret club”, and made her even more determined to battle for wage-parity and call out performative allyship.

“Huge fashion firms say to me: there’s not much money in this but you should do it because it supports black women,” she said. “But the best way you can support black women is by paying them the same as white women. I’ve got the same amount of experience; the fact that society thinks my experience is lesser is a huge lie. When you’re responsible for a child, these things become more important.”

Grace Jones’ Meltdown is set to take place between June 10-19 at London’s Southbank Centre. Visit here for tickets and more information.

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