Sweater than sweet

PICTURE the scene. You're at a party somewhere in your adopted home of Sheffield, just chilling out to the vibes, when a tall…

PICTURE the scene. You're at a party somewhere in your adopted home of Sheffield, just chilling out to the vibes, when a tall, gorgeous, dark haired girl in a purple skinny ribbed polo necked sweater sidles up to you and whispers lasciviously: "Do you like my tight sweater?"

That, apparently is how Wicklow born Roisin Murphy introduced herself to Mark Brydon, prompting the reply: "There's a tune in that!" Before you could say, "Fe fi fofun for me," Mark had whisked this daring damsel to the nearest recording studio and Moloko was born.

Since then, 23 year old Roisin has moved into Mark's Sheffield flat and the pair have released an album entitled, yes, Do You Like My Tight Sweater? It's a mad, club crazy whirl of sonic popcorn, featuring such trip happy, p-funky dance tunes as Party Weirdo, Killa Bunnies, and Where Is The What If The What Is In Why?, with Mark handling all the bleepy electronic sounds and hip shaking backbeats, and Roisin singing in a voice which resembles Deee Lite, Portishead and Ella Fitzgerald all rolled into one.

When I rang the Moloko couple at home, they were in the middle of a frantic bout of tidying up, because Select magazine was about to drop in and shoot a "house beautiful" feature for its next issue. "It isn't a house beautiful, it's a house disgrace to humanity," laments Roisin in a still evident Wicklow brogue.


Since Moloko's lyrics are cluttered with all manner of kitsch and charm, it is easy to imagine that their home is a visual representation of a mad, colour uncoordinated mind trip, and Roisin reveals that the decor includes three dollies in plastic raincoats sitting around a toy piano and a collection of plastic clown masks. "We try to make it as unrealistic as we want it to be."

The perfect surroundings, then, to write and record the sexy, psychedelic, day glo dementia of Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, and also cheaper than using a big studio.

"Yeah, we bought a load of studio gear when we signed the record contract, because it was a lot easier for us to work at home. I knew I could sing but I didn't think I was gonna be a singer at all, and I certainly didn't know I could write songs, so we needed to have a fairly open ended amount of time to experiment, whereas if you go down to a studio you get kicked out and you have to work to a timetable. It's very private, too, so you can just let loose. I've worked since in a couple of studios, in front of a load of fellas, and you can't really express yourself, you can't be flirtatious, and there has to be no sexuality. But because I know Mark so well, and we're on our own here ... I'm not saying that we were doing anything naughty over the mixing desk but I could at least express that side of myself and I could go a bit mad without frightening anybody.

Roisin's family moved from Arklow to Manchester when she was just 12 years old but the budding young diva did not have an easy time of it at school. To protect herself, Roisin learned to routinely change her accent to blend in with her surroundings. "I went to a fairly rough school, and I got a lot of stick for being Irish, so when I was 14 I just sort of switched. Because I'm a good little mimic and a good little actor, I'd be in school speaking one way and then I'd come home and speak in a completely different way, cos my parents wouldn't want me speaking the way I'd speak in school. So I kind of lived a really schizophrenic life till I was about 18. You have to do it to protect yourself. That's probably why everything I do is a bit schizophrenic, because I've been two people since I moved here."

ROISIN'S teenage obsessions revolved around such alternative rock icons as Sonic Youth and Big Black - "we lived in suburbia and it was really boring and the only thing we could find to do to amuse ourselves was to get into music that was about child pornography and setting things on fire!". It was around this time that Roisin sang in her first and only rock band - "Oh, I didn't sing! We had one gig and all we did was, the lads played feedback and I screamed a few things like, oh, oh, my head's fallen off!" - after which she began to feel the magnetic pull of the House music scene. Small wonder, then, that our Wicklow waif wound up in Sheffield, the city which claims to have invented House.

"It's a nuch nicer place than Manchester," is Roisin's own claim for Sheffield. "It's beautiful, in fact. It has beautiful scenery all around it. We're right in the middle of the Peak District, so it's all sort of rocky and barren and fantastic. I love around here. It's a great place to make music. You're just hidden away, you have that outlet of going to parties - the clubs have never been much cop but people do great underground parties - but you also can keep away from people who do your head in, you know, the style set and people who are worried about what is cool and what isn't. The sound of Moloko comes from not giving a f... about what anybody says and if it's fashionable, it's because we made it fashionable and not because anybody told us it was a good thing to do."

Moloko (the name comes from A Clockwork Orange and is droog speak for milk) is definitely not House music, unless it's a house that was built by M.C. Escher, furnished by the Mad Hatter and decorated by Vivienne Westwood. Mark has produced music by such diverse artists as D.J. Krush and Boy George, and Roisin approaches every new style with the enthusiasm of a method actor about to take on a new role. Both hate rigid adherence to certain styles or mind sets, with the result that Moloko's music isn't weighed down by any lumpen manifesto.

"We just didn't have any preconceptions when we made the album. We weren't trying to make an underground record, we weren't trying to make a pop record, it just came out the way it did. Experimentation, that's the point. That's what keeps us both interested, me and Mark. I think we'd just get bored if we had to keep doing the same thing over and over again, that's why the album just flits from one thing to the next. We've got the same disease that I suppose a lot of young people have, which is we're too apathetic and too easily bored and have too short an attention span to be purist about anything."

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist