When one thinks of punk icons Siouxsie and the Banshees, you’re generally met with a few key elements; the striking aesthetic and siren-like vocals of frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux, the impressive blonde locks of drummer Budgie, Steven Severin’s pounding basslines, and the angular guitars of both John McGeoch and John McKay, depending on what era you’re listening to.
Fusing punk rock with gothic themes and an overall penchant for art, without Siouxsie and the Banshees, alt-rock would look completely different today. Their debut album, 1978’s The Scream, which featured drummer Kenny Morris and McKay, is one of the most influential records of all time. It had a transformative effect on everyone from Joy Division to Primal Scream and even Faith No More.
After The Scream, the band would assert themselves as one of the most important British acts of the era and of all time, and Siouxsie quickly became the high priestess of all things gothic. The band would pen some of the most enduring pieces of goth and post-punk ever written, solidifying their position as a curious band, primarily because they’re characterised as either punk or goth, given their intrinsic ties to the punk movement and Siouxsie’s connection to the Sex Pistols.
They were much more than punk though, even if in their early days they carried what seemed like an overtly punk edge. It actually turns out that a huge early influence on Siouxsie and the Banshees was the German experimental icons Can. It was after seeing Can playing their first UK show at Brunel University in 1973 that bassist Steven Severin was galvanised to start a band. He recalled in a 2005 interview with the Guardian: “They came on and just played nonstop for two hours, each piece merging straight into the next. It had the most mesmerising effect on the audience. That’s what I wanted to achieve with the Banshees.”
“I’ve come to realise that the Banshees would have happened regardless of the ‘punk’ explosion,” Severin explained. “While most of the protagonists of punk looked to American garage bands – Flaming Groovies, MC5, the Stooges, the Dolls – or to the New York scene of Patti Smith, Television, Heartbreakers and the Ramones as a benchmark, we, perversely, saw ourselves as taking on the baton of glamorous art-rock – Bowie and Roxy Music – while incorporating a love for Can, Kraftwerk and Neu.”
When you stop to think about it, Siouxsie and the Banshees, particularly in their early days, are probably best described as an experimental band. The Scream is experimental to the core, a haunting, minimalist body of work, as was its dark successor, Join Hands.
Whilst the band’s sound would change on their third record, 1980’s more post-punk oriented Kaleidoscope, the experimental core would remain, and this would drive all of their best work. One would argue that 1981’s conceptual Juju was where they refined their experimental edge, and created their true masterpiece.
Listen to Juju in full below.