Chumbawamba PhotoFORMED: England

Formed in a squat in Leeds, England in 1984, the anarchist pop group Chumbawamba was a most unlikely mainstream success story; after more than a decade in relative obscurity, much of it spent attacking the very notion of stardom, they signed to a major label in 1997, quickly scoring a major international hit with the riotous single "Tubthumping." Chumbawamba originally comprised former Men in a Suitcase frontman Dunst, onetime Ow My Hair's on Fire drummer Alice Nutter and computer technician Lou Watts. After recording a song for a compilation album, they teamed with Harry Hamer and Mavis Dillon -- members of one of the LP's other contributors, the Passion Killers -- and the Chumbawamba lineup was complete. The band quickly became a thorn in the side of British conservatives, mounting a series of benefit concerts for a variety of anti-Thatcherite causes and campaigns; before long, they were also the subject of frequent police raids.

Released at the height of Live Aid-era goodwill, Chumbawamba's debut LP Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: Starvation, Charity and Rock 'N' Roll -- Lies and Tradition appeared in 1986, brutally attacking the principles of media limelight and career-boosting they perceived at the heart of the charitable event. (The subject resurfaced in 1987, when a celebrity cover of "Let It Be" mounted to raise money for ferry-disaster victims was followed by the Chumbawamba single "Scab Aid," recorded as the pseudonymous Scum.) 1987's Never Mind the Ballots...Here's the Rest of Your Lives was rush-released to coincide with the year's general elections, while the 1989 follow-up EP English Rebel Songs 1391-1914 consisted primarily of authentic 14th-century anti-poll tax protest songs. With 1990's Slap!, Chumbawamba began experimenting with sampling; the follow-up, to be titled Jesus H. Christ, was banned on the eve of its release after rights to cover versions of songs by Kylie Minogue, Paul McCartney and Abba were denied. (Consequently, the focus of 1992's Shhh was censorship.)

With 1993's anti-fascism rant "Enough Is Enough," Chumbawamba scored their biggest indie hit to date, and 1994's Anarchy LP was also a success. After the 1995 live LP Showbusiness, the group returned the next year with Swingin' With Raymond, a concept album about a man with the word "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and "HATE" tattooed on the other. All appeared to be business as usual until it was announced that Chumbawamba had signed to EMI; their 1997 major-label debut Tubthumper became a smash, propelled by the infectious "Tubthumping," a Top Ten hit in the U.S. and throughout Europe. A second single, "Amnesia," was also a success. Their newfound popularity also allowed the group to bring their anarchist message to a new audience -- Nutter even found herself in the middle of a major scandal when she appeared on the American panel discussion show Politically Incorrect to advocate shoplifting from major record chains, prompting some retailers to pull Chumbawamba's discs from their shelves. The ABCs of Anarchy, a split EP with Negativland, followed in 1999, and in the spring of 2000 the group resurfaced with What You See Is What You Get. Worried about the public reaction to the lyrics, which were critical of big business and the media, EMI decided to drop the group. The band was unusually quiet for a period, but director Alex Cox approached them about scoring Revenger's Tragedy and they jumped at the chance. A documentary about the band, Well Done, Now Sod Off!, appeared in 2001. That same year, they stirred attention by licensing songs to certain companies that fit their political standards. They reappeared in 2002 for a reunion show, and that summer they released Readymades. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide