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Top of the Pops gatecrashers in thrilling return

It's fair to say that Bis were not your archetypal Glasgow band.

LOOKING FORWARD: The band is to release its first long-player in 13 years.
LOOKING FORWARD: The band is to release its first long-player in 13 years.

Tearing into view in the mid-90s, glitter-clad, cosmos-fixated and shouting, Bis trashed the city's predominant (and predominantly male) blue-eyed soul in favour of femme-powered DIY synth-punk that gatecrashed the pop charts and Top of the Pops.

Twenty years since their teenage formation, the Glasgow trio - Manda Rin (Amanda MacKinnon), Sci-Fi Steven (Steven Clark) and John Disco (John Clark) - are set to release Data Panik Etcetera, their first long-player in 13 years.

There have been interim sightings, of course: brothers Sci-Fi Steven and John Disco became electro-crazed duo Dirty Hospital, MacKinnon was one half of europunk miscreants The Kitchen, and betwixt Bis's 2003 split and their subsequent reunions, all three regrouped as Data Panik, flanked by Stuart Memo (Multiplies) and Graham Christie (Kenickie).

Those rare Data Panik recordings provide the new album's title and front-half, while the rest of the LP comprises what they call "aborted attempts to record a fourth, and definitive, Bis album". It's surprisingly cohesive, and thrilling.

Bis's brief mid-2000s reinvention as Data Panik was borne of commercial frustration, rather than a sonic volte-face, recalls MacKinnon. "Data Panik was basically the same band, but we felt like we were getting nowhere with Bis, so we thought we'd try something new," she offers.

All three are happier with those songs, and their Bis identity, these days. "We'd recorded them all properly, so we all put it all together and it sounded like a really good album," she says. "It's weird to get excited about your own music again. It reminds me of when we started out, when it didn't matter what anyone said, because we were all so happy about it."

The day-glo trio's legacy should not be underestimated. MacKinnon was a feminist-pop icon; Bis were a reference point for bands like Joanna Gruesome, CSS and Chvrches; they created the theme-song for Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Powerpuff Girls, had a range of Casio G-Shock watches made in their honour, and shifted in excess of 100,000 records in Japan alone. They issued their incendiary-pop tunes on legendary imprints like The Beastie Boys' Grand Royal, Calvin Johnson's K Records and post-punk stable Cherry Red.

But it's probably their nascent union with Glasgow indie Chemikal Underground that is most celebrated: the label was formed by The Delgados in 1995, and Bis were their inaugural signings. Chemikal issued two of their singles - 1995's Disco Nation 45 and 1996's The Secret Vampire Soundtrack EP - and bagged a top 40 hit into the bargain, thanks to the latter's Kandy Pop, which saw Bis hailed as the first-ever so-called "unsigned" band on Top of the Pops.

Chemikal give the band righteous praise to this day. "It was the success of Bis, not Mogwai or Arab Strap - and certainly not The Delgados - that put Chemikal Underground on the map," their website states. "The results we had with their two singles, the impact they had at retail; the money it brought in, all of these things empowered and enabled Chemikal Underground to grow and develop and anyone who has the slightest soft spot for us as a label should thank Steven, John and Amanda for making it possible. We do."

Their two Chemikal releases speak volumes about Bis's aesthetic - neon-indie, electro-kitsch mayhem, sci-fi punk and Scottish accents. This sounds wildly (blessedly) far-removed from the era's prevailing Britpop scene, but Kandy Pop recently stood out on an NME list of best-ever Britpop songs. "Yeah, we don't exactly tick the box for Britpop, do we?" MacKinnon muses. "I don't really understand that, but to get in any charts is good, I suppose."

Of much more interest and kinship to Bis (and Scottish DIY music in general in the mid-90s) was the US underground, and the Riot Grrrl feminist-punk movement. This was galvanised by US acts like Bikini Kill, and English bands like Huggy Bear, and assimilated into Scotland's (new) wave of DIY she-punk swagger by rabbles like Lungleg, Pink Kross, Gilded Lil, Swelling Meg and, of course, Bis.

"If it wasn't for Riot Grrrl, Bis wouldn't exist," MacKinnon says now. "I went to Paisley to see Huggy Bear play, and it was absolutely fantastic. It was like - God, I don't have to be the perfect singer, it's just the attitude. It gave me the confidence to get on a stage, because I was stupidly shy. I loved these girls with their ballsiness. I just stood there with my eyes wide open."

"I saw that Kathleen Hanna [Bikini Kill/Le Tigre] documentary at the Glasgow Film Festival, and wow," MacKinnon continues. "That got me much more nostalgic that all this Britpop stuff." Said film, The Punk Singer, was introduced by Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry, who co-founded Glasgow's DIY feminista-pop collective, TYCI in 2012. MacKinnon, in turn, will DJ at TYCI's monthly live event later this month. She is still at the beating (hollering) heart of femme-punk in the city, two decades on.

Data Panik Etcetera is out on May 5 via Do Yourself In; Manda Rin DJs at TYCI, Bar Bloc ­Glasgow, on May 17.

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