White Town: Women In Technology – 25 Years On

A Mark Radcliffe 1997 discovery that has stood the test of time
April 4, 2023

In 1997 an unlikely hit song by the band White Town, Your Woman, was making the rounds on the radio. Based off a sample of a trumpet line from the Al Bowly song My Woman, which White Town’s Jyoti Mishra had heard from the soundtrack to the 1970s TV production Pennies From Heaven, the song had been made entirely in his bedroom with a sampler and whatever recording software he was able to afford.

Featuring that distinct trumpet sample and Mishra’s ambiguous lyrics about longing and heartbreak, adding up to a sound which has led many to draw parallels to music by future virtual band Gorillaz, it was a strong song to be sure. And incredibly, it hit number one on the UK singles chart, which was a surprise as very little music quite like that had graced the top-ten before that moment.

It was far from the first time a musician had recorded their music in a DIY fashion, but this was one of the first times that it had birthed a number one single, and the success of “Your Woman” changed a lot about how musicians could record and perform their music to get people to hear it.

Born in 1966, Jyoti Prakash Mishra grew up in Derby, England, and the name of White Town was directly inspired by his experiences and difficulties from growing up in an English town after having been born in Rourkela, India. Initially forming the band in 1990 with some friends, it eventually morphed into a solo project, through which he released his first album Socialism, Sexism & Sexuality on Parasol Records in 1994. This first effort bordered more on an indie-pop inspired sound than the electronica he’d later become known for, but the first step in that direction came shortly after when he acquired a sampler and began to use it in his future work.

In 1996 Mishra would release the EP >Abort, Retry, Fail?_ through Parasol, which included the track Your Woman. The title of the EP was inspired by hard drive issues he’d suffered when working on the tracks included on the CD. Although it was a hit in White Town’s DJ sets, it was at first not a massive success. However, that would change when BBC Radio 1 DJ Mark Radcliffe came across a copy and put Your Woman onto his setlist, which helped the song soar up the charts to an extent no one saw coming, least of all Mishra himself. Suddenly White Town was offered a contract with Chrysalis Record’s offshoot label Brilliant!, and through their rerelease of >Abort, Retry, Fail?_, Your Woman reached number one on the UK charts.

Mark Radcliffe: Even Cooler Today Than He Was 25 Years Ago (Image: BBC)

To capitalise on the success of the single, Brilliant! quickly put out a full album of White Town’s new songs from the last few years entitled Woman In Technology in February 1997 which, although only reaching 83 on the UK charts and 84 on the US charts, would become White Town’s highest charting album.

His time on Brilliant! would be short lived however, as they had trouble following up his hit song, compounded by Mishra preferring anonymity and resisting attempts to push him into the spotlight or even get photos taken of him. Eventually the label seemed to lose interest in promoting him completely, and he eventually left before he’d even been on their roster for a year, returning to independently released music for good afterwards.

Although Your Woman is White Town’s most popular song, it is actually something of an outlier in the sound that Woman In Technology explores as a whole. The rest of the album delves into a similar style of electronica, but with a poppier edge than its big hit. Second single and album opener Undressed is a light joyful song which lyrically is a more direct love song in contrast to the ambiguity of Your Woman. Moving away from the electronics, A Week In June is a solo acoustic number featuring guitar from Robert Fleay,who provides guitars to several other tracks on the record. One of the last attempts at a follow-up single was Wanted, which Brilliant! tried to push on the radio without success, and featured guest Ann Pearson on lead vocals.

Although Woman In Technology didn’t lead to lasting commercial success for White Town, over 25 years on it has become something of a milestone, representing the moment where the music industry began to shed its reliance on professional studio productions in favour of a DIY attitude. Today, Bedroom Pop is a well-regarded movement which allows musicians to find success within the confines of their own bedroom, and in hindsight Your Woman and its parent album has proven to be something of a trailblazer, a sampler of what was to come once musicians were able to finally express themselves without the need of a record label.

As an extra celebration of the album’s 25th anniversary, Mishra oversaw the release of a digital deluxe edition featuring rare B-Sides and remixes, and a vinyl reissue is being planned for release on Record Store Day 2023 on April 22 April so now is as perfect a time as any to discover this album.

RSD 2023 listing: https://recordstoreday.co.uk/rsd-list/white-town/

25th anniversary digital deluxe edition: https://open.spotify.com/album/682NMEFpbRkqbf8UKiDRmk