"I've always wanted to write an article on Kleenex (or was it LiLiPUT?, who cares...) and now, after twelve years, I am. To be fair, I had written a review for Ghetto Blaster Magazine in 2001 when Kill Rock Stars re-issued the initial Swiss Kleenex/LiLiPUT CD collection (Off Course Records, 1993) where I quipped that 'The Jatz' would make a great band name (I still believe that). It's just on ten years now and the world has changed. Please note that I don't care about the myriad political changes, or a naturally ever shifting culture, or that we still can't decide between the frosting side or the kid in us. I care that my world has changed, the people with whom I interact have changed, my geography has changed, my perspective on life has changed and I'm not afraid of sex anymore.
During the 80s & 90s suburban Long Island was fantastically boring and like many weird kids enduring school and the social anxiety of soccer, baseball & touch football I found solace in BMX, skateboarding & music. I would shop at the typical parade of music retail outlets available to a pre-teen heavy metal fan (Crazy Eddie, Square Circle, Titus Oaks) and stare unblinkingly at the severe animation and bloodthirsty graphics (Slayer's Hell Awaits, Kreator's Flag Of Hate, Grim Reaper's See You In Hell, Ugly Americans' Who's Been Sleeping My Bed and Hirax's Hate, Fear And Power among countless others) wondering how I was going to smuggle such cassettes/LPs past my parents.
I listened alone, as most kids do, lapping up all the imagery, dreaming of God knows what (a new GT Freestyle bike, a Vision Mark Gonzalez complete set-up, all the weird Iron Maiden cassette singles I saw at Tri-County Flea Market, blacklight posters?) and decided I wanted a guitar. I got one. I took one lesson, farted around with it for a year (if that), got bored and focused on daydreaming. I've since sold my Hondo imitation Strat and my 50 watt Gorilla practice amp, acquired my Kreator LPs and Maiden cassettes and eventually smuggled Master Of Puppets past my mother (until she found it, read the lyrics to “Damage Inc.” and, contrary to my hysteria, didn't give a fuck). I was a lonely kid.
Sure I had a gang of tweens to ride bikes with through the Snake Trails near the sump, hiding Pilot Markers in our back pockets, “2 Minutes To Midnight” and “Aces High” dive-bombing in my head, but it didn't matter, they listened to Rap and I listened to Metal... alas, the twain shall never meet.
The perception of my peer group had focused my sights on the older kids, the derries or derelicts AKA dirtbags, who wore Anthrax t-shirts and listened to Thrash Metal. The denim jackets and white high-tops appealed to me, the cars brimming with cute 16 year old women and Judas Priest blasting through the windows, the spiked belts and bracelets, the flannel shirts, the likely suspicion that every one of them was getting laid, the entire aesthetic burned... In anticipation I read Heavy Metal Rendezvous and Blast! Magazine in hopes of unearthing the most intense groups anyone I knew had ever heard (I read an article on Die Kreuzen but didn't understand it) all the while desperately hoping someone would make me a cassette copy of a Mentors record; they didn't.
1986-89: Junior High School, Hair Metal, Headbangers Ball and Megadeth. Then one day: the Sex Pistols File (Omnibus Press, 1978) -- I was hooked: the clothing, the hair, the attitude, the sense of fun and then my physical world changed...
My parents moved my sister and I from the North side of Plainview to the South, I read something called “Government Issue” written in paint marker on some skaters grip tape at my new school and I met my first Goth chick.
By 1990 Punk Rock and Hardcore became de rigueur and skateboarding took over in earnest. Suddenly I was part of the aesthetic, a thread in an alternate tapestry draping the normal world; I was developing an identity. One kid had colored his sneakers red and blue with a Sharpie, another drew band logos all over his jean jacket, I had my Corrosion Of Conformity nuclear skull t-shirt before I heard a single note. It didn't matter, the impression sufficed. Granted, upon hearing Animosity and Technocracy I did love them (especially Animosity), though it was the details and the emotional sensations surrounding the music experience that were equally captivating; the graphics on the sleeves, the fonts and the typeface, the faint perfumed scent of the cassette itself, the obliquely informative fine print explaining how 'Dolby Sound' worked and the highly entertaining yet masturbatory 'thank you' lists (allowing a glimpse at even more unknown bands and even larger world), all of these comprised the mystery, the allure.
Socially speaking High School was a breeze: I had friends (both skaters and music types), girlfriends. I bleached my hair, dyed it purple, blue, green, black, and in an dubiously lucid moment decided my Senior Quote was to be something my then girlfriend wrote to me in a love letter: 'Don't try to impress anyone, maybe not even yourself.' It was a punk rock gesture and the quote sounds terribly adolescent, though in her own muddled way she meant 'don't be too hard on yourself' (which I stand behind-though conversely it could also mean 'don't bother, you suck,' but that's water under the bridge now, right?)
Anyway, music was vital and as I got older and the mid-90s kicked in I began discovering and buying more esoteric records, the lion's share of which were on independent labels such as Sub Pop, Scat, Merge, K, Touch & Go, Homestead, SST, Alias, Drag City, Teenbeat, Amphetamine Reptile, Kill Rock Stars, Estrus, Alternative Tentacles, Lookout!, 4AD, and a raft of others; each label had its own unique logo, graphic sensibility, sound and humor. There was an entirely new world to wrap my head around, an entirely new language to learn, another new perspective. Fanzines were new to me, and I read them hungrily; CMJ was exciting and their groundbreaking and homogenizing 'R.I.Y.L.' after each record review was all the more addicting.
Records came and went, often based on the persuasive, almost edible designs of Jeff Kleinsmith (Sub Pop), Art Chantry (Estrus), Bruce Licher (Independent Projects Press), Daniel Clowes and Vaughan Oliver's 23 Envelope (4AD). Along the line I was tipped to the 70s New Wave and Post Punk acts, though it was still a few years before the distinction was clear: past was past and whether it was The Ruts or The Wipers or Wire or Nick Drake or The Zombies or The Embarrassment or Cat Butt or Blood Circus didn't mater, its history and influence personified credibility.
Soon Pavement gave way to Brit Pop and Brit Pop to Post Punk which quickly exploded into anything I could find on Cherry Red, Creation, Rough Trade, Les Disques Du Crepuscule, Factory, 99, Faulty Products, Flying Nun, Postcard, virtually anything imported on any label from 1977 to 1986, albeit enhanced with the prerequisite graphic touchstones: diagonal colored lines (check out Scott Wilk & The Walls' LP), razor thin pin striped borders framing a plainly dramatic landscape photograph (dig the Second Layer 12” collection of their two singles), anything minimally black & white (all of the Tools You Can Trust 45s), or, contrastingly, a vibrantly colored collage laden with pseudo-political subtext and imagery (McCarthy's I Am A Wallet or The Wolfhounds Bright And Guilty LPs) or the cleverly seductive portrait of someone almost dressed (the first Swamp Children 12” EP for example). Design became tantamount to the music, like gift wrapping so beautiful that it usurps the gift itself.
Graphic artists became personalities in their own right, especially the subtle rhythms of Jean-Francoise Octave, Benoit Hennebert, Joel Van Audenhaege, Claude Stassaert, Linder Sterling and Peter Christopherson; ideas became addicting thrills (such as The Return Of... The Durutti Column LP with its coarse sand paper sleeve set to intentionally destroy bookended vinyl jackets so as to come out victorious, or A Sudden Sway's maddeningly ingenious Sing Song 12" which was, unbeknownst to the record buying public, eight different songs ALL entitled 'Sing Song' and packaged in the SAME sleeve). While much of the inspiration for such hijinks stemmed from Dadaist, Futurist, Constructivist and Situationist text, sculpture, graphic art and concepts, it was re-contextualizing such fashionable subversion within the modernity of punk that sparked the inception of genius; the old & the new; milk & cookies; black leather & blue jeans; The Cabaret Voltaire & Cabaret Voltaire.
For art students (hopefully), artists (likely) and scholars (certainly) such information is but general knowledge, and, as a certain percent of musicians attend one 'art' school or other, it makes sense that many punk, post punk and new wave sleeves resulted from so informed a vantage point. This is not to insinuate every combo brandishing a peculiar sleeve was privy to such aesthetics (least we forget members of Joy Division were both persuaded and enlightened by Anthony H. Wilson and Alan Erasmus, as many rogue lads tend to be). Too, the late 70s was a golden age of Do It Yourself, and as cheap was a common (and hip) watchword minimalism caught on like wildfire. With punk having unleashed latent creative energies from both the fringe and proletariat element thousands of individuals quickly armed themselves with a contagious zeal and the most rudimentary musicianship. Such enthusiasm resulted in abundant curious records each one rendered as 'skillfully' as the next. Sleeves ran the gamut: some wore basic band mug shots aping the traditional rock & roll cliché (The Banned's Little Girl) while others preferred anonymity (The Frantic Elevators' You Know What You Told Me, whereby a thin black border serves as a picture frame for nothing, no information just a plain white sleeve).
1978 saw the formation of the Swiss group Kleenex, initially a five piece they quickly downsized to the classic all female line up: vocalist Regula Sing, bassist Klaudia Schiff, drummer Lislot Ha and guitarist Marlene Marder. Equally influenced/inspired by the nascent punk movement and Situationist/art school happenstance the quartet moved fast, recording their debut record in but a few months. The four song 7" EP was released on the local Sunrise label home to such eccentric acts as Vogel, Anton Bruhin with Stephen Wittwe and Walter Kaslin with Urs Zumbuhl, was met with instantaneous acclaim and contained the tracks 'Beri-Beri,' 'Ain't You,' 'Hedi's Head' and 'Nice.'
Keeping in step with the times, the sleeve design was minimal yet involving: a relatively hefty 14" x 14" card stock folded twice over baring black and white photographs of all four members in playfully defiant poses surrounded by a smattering of comical gold records, an angular Kleenex interspersed throughout and the 'Sunrise' logo in a far corner. Details scattered diagonally on the inverse fold reveal the pics were shot by P. Mattioli, the material recorded by Etienne Conod and Ronny Kurz at Sunrise Studio, the item was distributed via BAHP Record Distribution in Zurich, the cover was created by Peter Fischli, 'All Songs by Kleenex' and Siebdruck ('screen printing') by Walo.
Song titles are indiscriminately strewn about while an angular Kleenex yet again floats overhead (with an additional reminder Die Kleenex resting on the larger letter 'E'). As for the label on the vinyl: again a basic black and white schematic (all typeface in black, the label all white), the deceptively simple 'Sunrise' logo: the font, a composite stipple effect, is arched so as to resemble rays of light illuminating the Earth as the sun rises (insinuating a new dawn, a new horizon, a new era? perhaps...); the encouraging punk rock slogan 'play loud' just left of the large 45RPM hole on the A-Side while the B-Side encourages one to 'laut spielen;' and, just further left, a curiously cryptic +ML+ encased in a small rectangle, similar to the shape of a battery. No 'thank you's,' no color, no fat. Musically however, there was 'color,' and while they offered no 'thank you's' they made no apologies either.
Short bursts of Ramones riffs pulled and tugged while off-kilter harmonies forced and lurched, notes presented in rich vibrant saw-blades underpinned by a primally explicit beat. Innocent, revelatory and mischievous, a charming ineptitude so rhythmic it incited everyone to dance.
Such a stir this combo created that even London's fashionable Rough Trade caught the twitch and coaxed the group to sign on the perforated line... they did, and soon their second debut came to light.
RT009 was a more streamlined affair than it's Swiss precedent with two of the four tracks omitted for quicker impact (farewell 'Beri-Beri' and 'Nice') as well balanced with a slightly larger master. Additionally the vinyl label itself was brightened up with a pale green tone, a thin red circular border (this time Kleenex in red), the 'Sunrise' logo placed at the bottom, underneath the iconic 'Rough Trade' logo at the top; their ascension had begun.
Too, the paper sleeve itself bore subtle differences: tactically the card stock was thinner, feeling less like card stock and more like paper, and while the black and white photographs of the band members remained their stances were different: Regula Sing's off-putting rigidity was replaced with an amiable smile; Klaudia Schiff's defiant antagonism was enhanced by swapping her casual sweater for the more aggressive jacket; Lislot Ha followed suit by relaxing her bemused smirk into a skeptical leer; and with a sly hand tucked into the front of her jeans Marlene Marder's outgoing awkwardness downshifted to an amateur seduction.
Although 'Sunrise Studio' was still employed the group were no longer 'recorded,' they were now 'produced,' ...by E. Conod no less, not, as previously stated, by 'Etienne Conod and Ronny Kurz.' Personnel adjustments extended further still with 'Pics by P. Mattioli' shortened to 'Pics by Mattioli' and, as Rough Trade had their own Siebdruck, Walo was nowhere to be found.
Not only were there a great many aesthetic changes afoot there were larger, more legal forces at work: The popular American pharmaceutical company Kimberly-Clark sued the band for unlawful use of the name 'Kleenex' thus prompting the new appellation 'LiLiPUT,' referencing the little people, or Lilliputians, from Gulliver's Travels.
However, LiLiPUT's story is an altogether different set of affairs, and seeing as I've both hit the mark and deviated from my story, it's high time to reign things in. The truth of the matter is that none of this insight is anything other than haughty pontification under the guise of intellectual rock-writ hokum -- 'look how well I can articulate what I see!,' though had it not been for the years of social solitude and the few rewarding plug-ins with aesthetically like-minded souls (Cheers! to Lorelle Graffeo and Armando Zufante) my sense of refinement would be lesser, more muddled.
So what now? Perhaps this post may influence someone to look deeper into what's in front of them, to reevaluate the subtler aspects, not only the culture of records but the world at large; because as is evident from the innumerable meticulous designs of duplicitous 45RPM singles such are the innumerable meticulous designs of life; living is easy, all you have to do is notice..."
-- Joshua Gabriel
Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Kleenex.
Kleenex EP (Sunrise)
2. Ain't You
3. Hedi's Head
Ain't You b/w Hedi's Head (Rough Trade)
2. Hedi's Head