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Au Pairs

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Birmingham, United Kingdom (1979 – 1983)

The Au Pairs were a post-punk band who formed in Birmingham, UK in 1979. Musically they were very similar to bands such as Ludus, Gang of Four and Delta 5. That is, the rhythm section was tight and funky (obvious influences were James Brown and Funkadelic), but the guitars were light and “scratchy” (like Subway Sect). All these bands shared a strongly left wing social outlook, but the Au Pairs stood out due to their frontwoman, Lesley Woods, being an outspoken feminist and lesbian: the band were greatly influential in this respect on the riot grrrl movement a decade later. Music historian Gillian G. Gaar noted in her history of women in rock that the band mingled male and female musicians in a revolutionary collaborative way as part of its outspoken explorations of sexual politics.

Their first album Playing With a Different Sex is considered a post-punk classic with strong, sarcastic songs like “It’s Obvious” and “We’re So Cool” taking a dry look at gender relations. Other songs, such as “Armagh” with its refrain,”we don’t torture” took a pro-republican look at the then ongoing “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which caused some controversy at the time.

The band’s second album, Sense And Sensuality, showed an even greater influence of jazz, soul, funk and disco on the band’s sound, but was less well received. The band broke up in 1983 just before they were about to go into the studio to record an album with producer Steve Lillywhite. Woods formed an all woman band called the Darlings in the late ’80s, but then left the music industry.

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