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Sneaker Pimps

Most commonly associated with trip-hop, Sneaker Pimps might have had their path to the mainstream eased by the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky, and Portishead, but they have set themselves apart from those fellow British acts with a unique mix of pop, glam, and dark post-punk flowing through their sound. Together with first vocalist Kelli Ali, producers Liam Howe and Chris Corner -- the core of Sneaker Pimps -- achieved repeat U.K. Top 40 success highlighted by the number nine hit "6 Underground," the biggest hit off their gold-certified debut album, Becoming X (1996). Following a pair of Corner-fronted Sneaker Pimps LPs, Splinter (1999) and Bloodsport (2002), Howe and Corner moved on to a vast assortment of other studio work over the next two decades, but they resumed the group with the addition of Simonne Jones and have recorded the fourth Sneaker Pimps album, Squaring the Circle (2021). Howe and Corner began working as a production team under the names Line of Flight and F.R.I.S.K. In 1994, they formed Sneaker Pimps, named after Beastie Boys' term for a person drafted to obtain premium footwear. Based out of Hartlepool, Howe and Corner were joined by vocalist/songwriter Kelli Ali (known then as Kelli Dayton) with assistance from fellow writer Ian Pickering, drummer David Westlake, and bassist Joe Wilson. In early 1996, Sneaker Pimps debuted with "Tesko Suicide," followed months later by "Roll On." That August, they issued Becoming X, a full-length highlighted by its next two singles. "6 Underground," a deceptively mellow song incorporating a John Barry sample and boosted by a subsequent Nellee Hooper remix, peaked (after a second release) at number nine on the U.K. chart. "Spin Spin Sugar" crept and sneered its way to number 22. Becoming X, supported by major-label Virgin, reached number 27 on the U.K. album chart and was eventually certified gold. In the U.S., the LP landed just outside the upper half of the Billboard 200 and topped the Heatseekers chart for developing artists. Becoming Remixed, a limited-edition compilation with contributions from the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Armand Van Helden, and Roni Size, followed in 1998. Despite all the commercial success and the acceptance of top-tier club producers, Howe and Corner opted to go in another direction with their proper follow-up. Once they determined that new material they were writing with Pickering was best suited for Corner's voice, they dismissed Kelli Ali. As a consequence, second album Splinter, released independently in October 1999, featured a darker emotional edge that placed the group closer to the likes of Garbage, Placebo, and Death in Vegas. Lead single "Low Five" climbed to number 39 in the U.K. and carried the album to number 80. In January 2002, Howe and Corner returned with Bloodsport, a dramatic set with Bill Withers, Iggy Pop, Ultravox!, and Visage among the sampled artists. The LP, released on Tommy Boy, peaked Stateside at number 16 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums chart. Ali, who had been featured on songs by Marc Almond and Satoshi Tomiie, among others, also released her first solo album in 2002. After a series of scrapped projects, Howe and Corner left Sneaker Pimps behind but kept busy as writers, producers, and all-around studio collaborators. The two were heard either separately or together on recordings by the Zip and Ultrafox (both of which also involved Joe Wilson), and Corner's solo endeavor IAMX. Howe was particularly active, aiding writing and/or recording sessions for artists such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Marina and the Diamonds, and Foxes. Corner was also a regular IAMX contributor. Howe and Corner revived Sneaker Pimps in the mid-2010s. Vocalist, writer, and producer Simonne Jones joined them, and the trio put together Squaring the Circle, prepared for release in 2021.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo


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