I’ll try to keep this short; it’s late and there’s not much time left. Please forgive me if you’ve heard parts of this story before.
For me, it started with an old box of science fiction. I tore through Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, Gene Wolfe, and others, reliving stories old by the time I cracked the pages. I didn’t care.
To my mind, the New Wave had it: the future was something to play in. This status quo was the most transient of things, its passing viewed with a sense of infinite possibility. If there were other cultures out in space, forward in time, why not here? Why not now?
I lived in one of those amazing, barely-clinging corners of the country too many ignore when they talk about culture of any variety. No metropoli there, just a scattering of people trying their desperate best. By the time I busted open the box full of old books, I had already faced a fair amount of poverty, hardship, and even death.
But here, as the years wore on and I read my way through an uneasy adolescence, was something else: here was hope, in the most dangerous fashion. Somewhere out there, people changed their personalities, moved in unison, turned boundaries into blurs transitory as old blood on a highway.
By that point I did not care about ridicule, and laughed when someone threatened me, but this I was terrified of, sure that the half-described scenes — goths, ravers, activists, and more — faced possibility with a courage I felt I’d never know.
In 1975, Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti consumed blood, semen and piss onstage in the UK. Government officials labeled them “the Wreckers of Civilization.” A female sex worker, Cosey examined “how men and women interact in a sexually charged/volatile manipulated situation” by fearlessly, shockingly putting her body on display. This was the beginning of industrial music, a genre rooted in taboo and transgression.
The tradition continued. In 1985, Coil’s cover of Tainted Love addressed the AIDS crisis at a time when huge stigma still surrounded the discussion. The release of the single constituted the first AIDS benefit in music history. In 1988, Skinny Puppy spoke out passionately about animal rights through a series of live shows that involved animal blood and graphic, distressing portrayals of vivisection. During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1995, Laibach’s NSK diplomatic passports literally saved lives by enabling people to escape from the war zone at a time when Bosnian passports weren’t considered valid. The giants of industrial used subversive tactics to challenge audiences and create new awareness.
But something happened. Once industrial music had fully transitioned from avant-garde venues into nightclubs, the stench of Axe body spray began to dominate the subculture as a certain douchey, bro-tastic vibe emerged. Where the goth/industrial scene had once existed as a safe haven for artists, weirdos, outcasts, geeks, dreamers and rebels, a disturbing trend of sexism, racism and anti-intellectualism is driving people out.
John John Jesse is a celebrated, controversial Catholic schoolboy-cum-punk rocker-cum-gonzo pop artist who came up in the dirty streets of NYC’s Lower East Side in the 80s and 90s. Luscious, filthy, fantastical, Jesse’s illustrative paintings are imbued with a lifelong appreciation for the fierce and rebellious girls he grew up with, and convey a deep understanding of the psychosexual underpinnings to work by a wide variety of fellow artists– from Gustav Klimt and Béla Iványi-Grünwald to Jamie Reid and Caravaggio. Most of the people featured in Jesse’s work are friends of his; many others are recognizable figures from sub/pop/countercultural spheres. A couple years back, Jesse moved from the big city into more pastoral climes, but his passionate love affair with the imagery and narrative of Punk Rawk New Yawk continues. Today on Coilhouse: a recent interview with JJJ conducted by Coilhouse contributor Sarah Hassan. ~Mer
L.I.E. ’88 by John John Jesse
As the quintessential ‘punk rock painter’ from the Lower East Side, a neighborhood now known more for it’s expensive rent and boutiques than heroin addicts and street gangs, how did your move from the city affect your work, if all? Is New York City still what inspires you, or is there something to be said for the quiet of small-town living?
I left New York City because it no longer is what it was. It has turned into an extremely over-crowded college dorm. I mean, now you actually have to wait in line to cross the street and some intersections. That’s fucked! But moving didn’t affect my work at all, it just removed the distractions. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy, as they say. My life story is what inspires me and most of that took place in New York City, so being here – the country – just gave me the clarity to get my point across in my works.
New York can be rather distracting for an artist, there is a simplicity to living outside it that seems to enhance ones creative output. Your work appears and is often credited to be extremely autobiographical; the music, the drugs, the girls, the heartache. As you’ve developed as an artist, have your inspirations changed in anyway, or do the same themes resonate with you even more than ever?
It’s a lot of the same; I am just discovering new ways to tell my story. After time, your craft always becomes more refined and that gets me pretty eager to keep painting. And as it – my work – is autobiographical, my life continues, so therefore my story does too.
The 3-Headed, Tattooed Waif by John John Jesse
The ever-evolving body of work; it’s inspiring. The exuberance and anxiety of youth is a major theme with your paintings, which music has always been successful in addressing. How has your experience as a musician affected your fine art?
I’m now retired from touring and playing in punk bands, I don’t have the time they need to commit. Better to give a one-hundred percent to one thing than spread myself thin and do both crappy. I had been on tour or recording most of my life, so it had a huge impact on my art. I mean, we weren’t the Jonas Brothers, but you can imagine what we were like on tour. It’s pretty much a free pass to do whatever the fuck you want.
Wren Britton of PUREVILE just posted this (and several more scorching hot, queer-as-fuck music videos) on his website, saying: “Just some pretty amazing gay positive hip hop…FINALLY…I mean with so many in this genre still on the DL its really amazing to see some new kids standing up and saying ‘YES HUNTY’…..Keep that shit up !!!!!”
Oh, hells yass.
The video for Mykki Blanco‘s “Wavvy” is particularly off the hook. Really, what’s not to love about a juicy, no-holds-barred, 19th Century salon style orgy? Some of our east coast readers may recognize some familiar faces and names from the downtown NYC bohemian gallery scene: Susan Surface, No Bra, Christelle de Castro, Jeanette Hayes, Ruth Gruca…
“What the fuck I gotta prove to a room full of dudes who ain’t listenin to my words cause they starin at my shoes?”
Guys! “I Have Your Heart”, a tale of love and organ transplantation by Molly Crabapple, Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt (previously on Coilhouse) is live, and it was totally worth the wait! Check out the interview with the creators on BoingBoing, and watch the animation here:
It is All Soul’s Day, when the veil between the living and the dead is said to be at its most diaphanous. And so we present a feature on the eligaically named, NYC-based band O’death, written Katelan Foisy. A multimedia artist, writer, model, and tarologist, Katelan is known as “La Gitana” and the “Mistress of Magic”. She can be found on the internet almost everywhere. ~Mer
Portrait by Katelan Foisy.
O’death is one of those bands you remember falling in love with. I first heard them back in 2007 in the former apartment of William S. Burroughs. I was making cowboy coffee and my boyfriend at the time was queuing up music for our Darwin’s Nightmare Party, a party to “celebrate” the naturalist’s birthday. “You’ve got to listen to this band,” he said as I poured loose coffee grounds into boiling water. He hit play and I stopped, mid-pour, to turn around. “Who is this?” I demanded. He told me it was O’death, a Brooklyn-based band he had seen a few weeks back. I left the coffee as we danced on cigarette strewn, whiskey stained wooden floors. The song was “Down to Rest” and I was entranced. It had the feeling of a small town forgotten and decayed, remembered only by the myth passed down by word of mouth by elders at camp fires.
Spring, 2008. I walked into a coffee shop to deliver a human skull to an artist when a poster caught my eye. It was for an O’death show. I remembered that night again like it was the first time. I immediately went home and tried to befriend the band. They were about to come out with a new album Broken Hymns Limbs and Skin and commissioned me to do a portrait as part of the press packet. I listened to the album. It was more refined than the first but still pulled the listener into a world between waking and dreaming. I remember thinking there was something incredibly special about this band; it wasn’t just that they had taken parts of old time Appalachia and made it contemporary, it was that they could make you feel you were part of the story. This could be explained in the way they’ve recorded each album. Head Home and Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skins were recorded live. As you listen, you see them on stage. What you hear on the album is as passionate as a live performance.
Outside, their most recent album, was recorded in fragments. David Rogers-Berry, the band’s drummer, had recently battled Osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer), undergoing chemotherapy and a shoulder replacement. Where many would have given up, O’death embraced this as an opportunity to experiment with sound. The album’s lineup of Gabe Darling- banjo/ukulele, Jesse Newman- bass, Greg Jamie-singer/lyricist, and violinist Bob Pycior lead the music towards a slower, more melodic turn.
Each O’death album has a distinct feel while retaining the band’s singular magic. They transport listeners to new places. Hearing an O’death song is like falling into a small book of short stories told in a cave by a fire, on a ship during a storm, in a pub on the streets of England, or while hidden away in a swampland cabin. Their music transcends time. Upon first listen, a characteristic track might be mistaken for a classic folk song. However, their words are striking in the contemporary dialogue with time and humanity they invoke.
Despite an old time feel to their music, the only song actually based upon a historical event is “Fire on Peshtigo” from Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin. It was inspired by the 1871 Peshtigo, Wisconsin firestorm that killed 1,500 and which occurred the same day as the Chicago, Holland and Manistee, Michigan fires.
“I recorded with them after we left here last time, and in a couple of days I’m going to Berlin to record some more… They’re totally sweet people!,” she said about a month ago.
Funchess also told No Conclusion that the track features lyrics written by visual artist Emily Roysdon. “Karin [Dreijer Andersson] and I sang the lyrics and created the melodies along with Emily as well, and Olof [Dreijer] and Karin produced the music.”
Editor’s note: below is the final installment of a three-part series by Rachel “Io” Waters about contemporary native art and culture. The first two blog posts in this series, and the intro post, can be found here, here and here.
Image from Virgil Ortiz’ Venutian Soldiers series
There is this notion of Native American art that permeates the collective psyche. Often the mental images evoked are those of pastel landscapes with painted horses galloping along sandstone cliffs or of noble maidens snuggling with wolves, created by artists whose only contact with native culure appears to come from Harlequin covers. It’s the type of art best reserved for the walls of Best Western hotels and 24 karat gold-rimmed collector’s plates. Pleasant. Bland.
Enter Virgil Ortiz, a painter, fashion designer, stylist and ceramicist from Cochiti Pueblo whose work challenges every notion of how native art should look. At once traditional and futuristic, whimsical and post-apocalyptic, Ortiz’s art transcends classification altogether.
From 2010’s Contortionista series which melds 19th Century Pueblo Munos figures with the sensual lines of modern Cirque performers.
With a reach extending far beyond the borders of his home state of New Mexico, Ortiz has created prints for fashion giant Donna Karan and continues to expand his own fashion line into the realms of clothing and accessories.
In August of this year, Ortiz premiered his latest project “Venutian Soldiers” during Indian Market in Santa Fe, NM. Inspired by “America’s First Revolution,” the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Ortiz showcased a series of ceramic work and photography depicting an army of futuristic, indigenous superheroes outfitted with feathered gasmasks and latex loincloths.
WHOAH. Check out this sneak preview photograph of Aja Lathan as The Queen of Diamonds from a shoot for the San Francisco-based Five & Diamond collective by Allan Amato. Lathan is adorned with a breathtaking array of pieces crafted by various indie and alternative designers associated with the 5&D store/gallery:
Aja Lathan as The Queen of Diamonds for Five & Diamond / Photography by Allan Amato / Art Direction by Jessica Atreides / Styling by Ricardo Felix / Makeup by Medina Maitreya / “Pharoah” Headdress by Monica Wallway / Gold Neck Coil by Tawapa / Crystal Necklace by DUST / “Ruff” Ruched Scarf by Radio Cloth / Studded Bra / Axis Waist Cincher by Steam Trunk / Burlesque Skirt by Miss Be / Leather Gloves by Sparrow / Rings by Jungle Tribe / Shot at Purebred Pro Studios
“The Five and Diamond Design collective is a collaborative project created to promote local artists and designers while providing a resource to San Franciscans and beyond for unique, artistically designed apparel, jewelry and accessories.”
This shoot was obviously a massive group effort. (Bravo!) Keep an eye on 5&D’s twitter for more information about this shoot and other lovely stuff.