Pop Will Eat Itself (also known as PWEI or the Poppies) were formed in Stourbridge, with band members from Birmingham.
*Robert “Fuzz” Townshend
*Kerry “The Buzzard” Hammond
An early permutation of the band formed in 1981 under the name From Eden; members included Clint Mansell, Adam Mole, Chris Fradgley, Malcolm Treece and Miles Hunt (Treece and Hunt famously went on to form The Wonder Stuff). After changing their name to Wild and Wandering (named after a Wasted Youth album) for a while and recruiting Richard March and Graham Crabb (Graham being the only respondent to replace Miles Hunt on drums), they eventually became Pop Will Eat Itself in 1986, taking the name from a quotation in an NME article about band Jamie Wednesday (later to become better known as Carter USM).
The band honed their songwriting skills with a string of catchy two-minute pop songs released on EPs both as Wild and Wandering and Pop Will Eat Itself. With the help of DJ John Peel, these EPs saw some airplay and enjoyed some popularity among university students. After the band feared they had accomplished all they could with their sound, they found new influences in hip hop acts such as the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Public Enemy. Graham soon dropped the drum sticks for a mic and was replaced by a drum machine called “Dr. Nightmare.” Their style continued to develop with classics such as “There Is No Love Between Us Anymore’ and the anthemic “Def Con One”. As a result, PWEI were signed to major label RCA and they achieved top 40 hits with “Can U Dig It?” and “Wise Up! Sucker” off the album This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This!
RCA’s larger studio budget allowed the band to develop its potential further, and they released 3 successful albums on that label. The first two (…This is This! and Cure for Sanity) were recorded with the aid of legendary producer Flood, known for his work with Nine Inch Nails, U2, Depeche Mode and many other popular 90s groups. Cure for Sanity was perhaps PWEI’s most experimental album, with a more electronic sound than previous efforts. RCA, meanwhile, was more interested in chart success and so wanted the band to cut the lengthy instrumentals from their songs.
On 1992’s The Looks or The Lifestyle, the band recruited a live drummer to complement their standard array of loops and pre-programmed drums and brought back some live guitars. The record was their most commercial and polished work to date and featured top 20 hits like ‘Karmadrome’ and ‘Bulletproof.’ By January 1993, however, the band’s biggest supporters at RCA had left the company, and the remaining executives didn’t understand the band or their music.  The band was dropped from the label before the ‘Get the Girl! Kill the Baddies!’ single was released. Ironically, the single went on to peak at number 9 on the UK singles chart, becoming the band’s biggest hit ever. Because of this, the band became the first ever to perform on Top of the Pops without being on a record label. The British National Party had recently caused an uproar in Tower Hamlets by winning a council seat, and it looked possible that the UK would see a revival in far right politics. In response to this, The Looks or the Lifestyle introduced a hitherto understated political angle, as the album inlay used the “red arrow” emblem of the Anti Nazi League and offered the organisation’s address.
Getting dropped from RCA turned out to be a blessing for the Poppies, as the label agreed to write off the massive debts that the band had accumulated in studio fees in return for PWEI’s back catalogue. After a minor bidding war, the Poppies decided to sign to Infectious Records, a label recently started by friend Korda Marshell (who had signed them to RCA in the first place but had since left the label) that offered them the artistic freedom they required.
PWEI’s political stance became more explicit with the release of the single “Ich Bin Ein Auslander.” A collaboration with Asian group Fun-Da-Mental, the song was a scathing attack on the far right and the apathy that seemed to greet its resurgence. A different version of this song later appeared as the opening track on the 1994 album, Dos Dedos Mis Amigos.
By this time the band had toned down its garish public persona and veered off in a new and more industrial-based direction with the aid of long time fan Trent Reznor. Many fans were upset that the ‘Is everybody happy?!’ pogoing Poppies were gone and put off by the new direction, but the band found new popularity after signing with Reznor’s Nothing Records in the US and touring with Nine Inch Nails, as well as having their songs used on the PlayStation game Loaded.
The following year the band released the Dos Dedos remix album Two Fingers My Friends which featured remixes by The Orb, Apollo 440, Renegade Soundwave and many more. It was about this time that Graham Crabb left the band and they recruited ‘The Buzzard’ of Yeah! God (who had recorded ‘wild guitar’ on previous albums but was never a full time member) and Clint took over full vocal duties. The band continued down the industrial route and were still recording and touring until 1996, even recording a collaboration with Orbital. However, the band took a break before finishing production of their next album with Trent Reznor, and while not officially splitting, failed to complete the work citing boredom and musical differences. One track from this period was released, a cover of Gary Numan’s “Friends,” (apparently Gary liked this version of the song so, he reintroduced the song in this form for his later liveshows ) and provides some indication of the band’s direction at the time.
Crabb left in 1995 to concentrate on his ambient side project Golden Claw Musics. After the rest of the band split in 1996, March and Townshend went on to form big beat band Bentley Rhythm Ace. Townshend also released two solo albums and Mansell has written a number of acclaimed film scores, including Requiem for a Dream, π, Doom, and The Fountain.
The band reformed to play their first gigs in 8 years, in Nottingham, Birmingham, and London in January 2005. Many thought this would never happen, as the band had apparently lost all the tapes and disks of samples and backing tracks they needed to perform live. When this material was later found in a friend’s garden shed, they decided to reform. These gigs were notable for their Instant Live albums, whereby ten minutes after the completion of each gig, one could buy a double-disc live album of the performance.
The band released a preview of new material called “Sonic Noise Byte” on November 4, 2005, as a torrent download for members of their official website pweination. However, an announcement on the official website in March 2006 confirmed that Clint and Rich would no longer be involved in the project due to other work commitments, effectively ending the PWEI reformation, though future new PWEI material has not been ruled out entirely. However the remaining band members plan to continue as Vileevils and have released the tracks “Retro Dreaming” and “Street Fightin” for download via the pweination website.
A secret, one-night PWEI reunion was scheduled to happen at the Vileevils show at Stourbridge Rock Cafe on June 9, 2007, but was foiled when Mansell was unable to obtain a visa in time to fly back to England. March still appeared at the show, and after the Vileevils set they played the planned PWEI songs, sans Mansell.
The band produced approximately 100 T-shirt designs, including a design which subverts the familiar “PEPSI” cola logo by replacing the legend “PEPSI” with “PWEI” and the phrase “Sample It, Loop It, f*** It, Eat It” encircling the design. Other T-shirts feature the outlandish (often space-themed) cartoon characters that appear on the band’s album artwork, from the round headed alien with toy ray gun known as ‘Craig’ (thought to be named after the band’s manager, Craig Jennings), to the jagged toothed, sinister robotic head (complete with futuristic earpiece) that serves as the official logo for all “PWEI Product”. At one stage in the 1990s, it was, possibly apocryphally, observed that PWEI had sold more T-shirts than actual records.
Almost all artwork and corporate identity for the band’s record sleeves and merchandising was designed by the now hugely successful Sheffield-based The Designers Republic. Much of what would become the design company’s metatextual and self-referencing motifs were first carved out on the sleeve of PWEI records. The Designers Republic’s work with PWEI can be found in the Design Museum, London.
* Box Frenzy (1987)
* Now for a Feast! (1988)
* This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This! (1989) UK #24
* Cure for Sanity (1990) (expanded reissue in 1991) UK #33
* The Looks or the Lifestyle? (1992) UK #15
* Weird’s Bar and Grill (Live) (1993)
* 16 Different Flavours of Hell (Best of) (1993)
* Dos Dedos Mis Amigos (1994) UK #11
* Two Fingers My Friends! (1995) UK #25
* Wise Up Suckers (BMG best of) (1996)
* The Radio 1 Sessions 1986-87 (1997)
* PWEI Product 1986-1994 (Anthology) (2002)
* Reformation: Nottingham Rock City 20.01.05 (2005)
* Reformation: Birmingham Carling Academy 22.01.05 (2005)
* Reformation: Birmingham Carling Academy 23.01.05 (2005)
* Reformation: London Shepherds Bush Empire 24.01.05 (2005)
* Reformation: London Shepherds Bush Empire 25.01.05 (2005)
* The Best Of (2008)
* 2000 Light Ales from Home (1986) under the name ‘Wild And Wandering’
* The Poppies Say GRRrrr! (1986)
* Poppiecock (1986)
* Very Metal Noise Pollution (1989) UK #45
* Amalgamation (1994)
* “Sweet Sweet Pie” (1987)
* “Love Missile F1-11” (1987)
* “Beaver Patrol” (1987)
* “There Is No Love between Us Anymore” (1988)
* “Def. Con. One” (1988)
* “Can U Dig It?” (1989)
* “Wise Up! Sucker” (1989)
* “Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina” (1990)
* “Dance of the Mad” (1990)
* “X Y & Zee” (1991)
* “92°F” (1991)
* “Karmadrome/Eat Me Drink Me Love Me Kill Me” (1992)
* “Bulletproof!” (1992)
* “Get the Girl! Kill the Baddies!” (1993)
* “R.S.V.P/Familus Horribilus” (1993)
* “Ich Bin Ein Auslander” (1994)
* “Everything’s Cool” (1994)
* Unspoilt by Progress VHS (1991)
* Reformation: Birmingham Carling Academy 23.01.05 DVD (2005)
UK Singles Chart
1987 “Sweet Sweet Pie” #100 – Now For A Feast
1987 “Love Missile F1-11” #78 – Now For A Feast
1987 “Beaver Patrol” #76 – Box Frenzy
1988 “There Is No Love Between Us Anymore” #66 – Box Frenzy
1988 “Def. Con. One” #63 #30 This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This!
1989 “Can U Dig It” #38 – This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This!
1989 “Wise Up! Sucker” #41 – This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This!
1990 “Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina” #28 – Cure For Sanity
1990 “Dance of the Mad” #32 – Cure For Sanity
1991 “X Y & Zee” #15 #11 Cure for Sanity
1991 “92 Degrees” #23 – Cure for Sanity
1992 “Karmadrome/Eat Me Drink Me Love Me” #17 – The Looks Or The Lifestyle
1992 “Bulletproof!” #24 – The Looks Or The Lifestyle
1993 “Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies!” #9 – The Looks Or The Lifestyle
1993 “RSVP / Familius Horribilus” #27 – Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
1994 “Ich Bin Ein Auslander” #28 – Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
1994 “Everything’s Cool” #23 – Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
Special thanks to Keith Law for content.