The Best Band You’ve Never Heard: Kleenex, the incredible yet overlooked Swiss punks

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Known for its picturesque mountain scenes and imagery of placid lakes, the country of Switzerland is not the most natural setting for a punk rock revolution. Nevertheless, the small nation has produced a wealth of incredible punk and alternative groups over the years. Its punk scene might have been small, but it was incredibly varied and diverse, spawning many groups whose music still holds up to this day. Among them, the undisputed highlight was clearly Kleenex.

Led by the incredible talents of Klaudia Schiff, Kleenex were first formed in Zürich in 1978. The revolutionary sounds of punk, which first arose from the dirty streets of New York, reached the fresh mountain air of Switzerland a little later than some other European countries, like England or France, but Kleenex wasted no time in making the genre their own. Incorporating elements of discordant no wave and early post-punk into their aggressive and innately funky sound, the Swiss group created some of the most original and endearing anti-pop material of the punk period.

Annoyingly, there was a distinct lack of material released by the band during their admittedly short tenure. True to their roots in the DIY punk scene, their first release, a self-titled EP, was self-released by the group, making them one of the earliest post-punk outfits to embrace entirely independent, self-sufficient music making – arising only a year after the seminal release of Buzzcocks’ ‘Spiral Scratch’.

This release quickly established the musical manifesto of the group, evoking the sounds of Girls At Our Best or The Slits but with an added layer of intrigue and complexity. As such, it soon caught the attention of DJ John Peel, eventually leading to the band signing a contract with the iconic independent label Rough Trade. There followed two incredible singles, ‘Ain’t You’ and ‘You’, which gained popularity after the group embarked on an extensive tour of Europe, infecting the provinces across the continent with their defiant and energetic sound.

Soon after these releases, Kleenex were threatened with legal action by the multinational corporation Kimberly-Clark, who owned the trademark for the Kleenex brand. Such threats would be the death of many weaker bands, but for a punk outfit – especially one as good as Kleenex – it worked entirely to their advantage. Although the group quickly rebranded to LiLiPUT, they remained Kleenex in the hearts and minds of the cult following they had amassed by that point.

Shortly after the rebrand, the group recruited Angie Barrack as a saxophonist, which proved to be the final piece of the puzzle for the group. With this added instrument, the band constructed some of their greatest material, such as ‘Die Matrosen’ or ‘Split’, which were released ahead of their first full-length LP in 1982. The eponymous album, released via Rough Trade, remains one of the greatest releases of the time, blending a variety of seemingly disparate styles in order to create something that sounds simultaneously chaotic and disjointed as well as musically polished and with a sense of spontaneity that few records manage to capture.

For all its brilliance, the debut album proved to be the beginning of the end for the band, who were exhausted by years of extensive touring and songwriting. They released a second album, 1983’s Some Songs, which rivalled the debut in terms of songwriting quality but was virtually ignored by the musical masses. Around the same time, lead singer Astrid Spirit fell pregnant. Choosing to focus on giving her child a good upbringing, away from the chaos of Europe’s punk scene, it was decided that she would leave the group, a decision which brought an end to Kleenex/LiLiPUT.

Although their time on the scene was brief, the Swiss group certainly made a lasting impact on those who had listened to them. Their influence can certainly be heard in later musical movements, particularly riot grrrl and grunge, with Kurt Cobain a particular devotee of the band. Kleenex are long overdue a renaissance and reappraisal, especially given the fact that their material has aged beautifully over the years, still resonating over 40 years later.

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