Hidden Gems: Leslie Winer, “Witch”

Hidden GemsIn our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Emerging from Bristol, U.K. in the early ‘90s, trip-hop was born out of the creative melting pot of dub, hip-hop, and electronic music at The Dug Out club, where collectives like Smith & Mighty and The Wild Bunch (later Massive Attack) honed their distinctly British sound in the mid ‘80s. But in recent years, the circulation of a lost 1990 recording made by an American ex-supermodel has suggested this isn’t the whole story around the beginnings of trip-hop.

Released a year before Massive Attack’s hugely influential 1991 LP Blue Lines, Leslie Winer’s Witch was originally only available on a white label before it got picked up by the U.K.’s Rhythm King subsidiary Transglobal in 1993. The obscurity of the record caused John Peel, one of the only DJs to play the record at the time of its release, to say in June 1990, “I know nothing at all about this next record beyond the fact that it appears to be by somebody or some people called C.”

Even after appearing on records by Bomb The Bass and Mekon in the mid ‘90s, and securing a release for Witch on Virgin in 1999, Winer would remain a cult name. Her appearance in a 2012 online project by The Space, a website that documents the late John Peel’s record collection, was defined by the catalog’s archive blog as “the definition of a hidden gem.” Later, Winer’s collaboration with Jay Glass Dubs on YMFEES in 2018 introduced new ears to the sparse and laconic spoken word style of an artist once labeled by NME as “the grandmother of ‘trip-hop’.” So, who was this elusive artist who went by the mysterious moniker ©?

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Winer moved to New York in the early ‘80s where she became a model for Vogue during what she later called “five junkie years.” Days of fashion shoots were followed by nights at her friend William Burroughs’s Bowery hangout The Bunker. There, she met Jean-Michel Basquiat whose artwork appeared on the 1999 release of Witch. But it was in mid-’80s London where Winer turned her attention to making music after meeting Adam & The Ants bassist Kevin Mooney, providing vocals for his band Max while watching and learning from the great producer Trevor Horn. After co-writing and providing the spoken word section for Sinéad O’Connor’s “Just Call Me Joe” on The Lion And The Cobra, Winer recorded a series of dubby lo-fi tracks on her Texas Instruments computer with contributions from other musicians she met in London.

In addition to Mooney and fellow Adam & The Ants guitarists Marco Pirroni and Matthew Ashman, Witch’s lineup of contributors includes PiL bassist Jah Wobble, one-time Culture Club vocalist Helen Terry, and film director John Maybury (they met at one of her regular hangouts, Leigh Bowery’s club Taboo). Produced by Karl Bonnie of Renegade Soundwave with Fachtna Ó Ceallaigh, and the result of two years of studio experimentation, Witch sets Winer’s dissident spoken word around dub basslines, sparse breakbeats, and Tubby-style effects. The trip-hop comparisons are most evident on “Dream 1,” “Flove,” and “1nce Upon A Time,” although in truth the LP owes just as much to the New York avant-garde of Laurie Anderson and post-punk dub of Adrian Sherwood. When asked about the association with the ‘90s sound of Bristol in one of the few interviews she gave, Winer responded simply, “I’m not sure I even know what trip-hop is even now.”

-Andy Thomas

4 Comments

  1. Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    Great piece. About time she got some praise for an awesome album. Got it back in the early 90’s and it is still played regularly. Took me years to find out it was actually Leslie Winer !!. New album excellent too. Yet another reason why we miss John Peel so much.

  2. Sanjiv
    Posted February 20, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant! Good write-up Mr Thomas. It would be great if the music could be reissued on vinyl.

  3. Posted February 20, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see this is getting some exposure. Timeless. Still sounds as awesome as it did when I originally bought © on vinyl all those years ago.

  4. Josué De la Fuente
    Posted February 20, 2019 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Muy bueno, agradable para volar.

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