“Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now” by Jenka Gurfinkel


Jocelyn Marsh wearing a headdress by Tiffa Novoa. Photo by Brion Topolski. 2005.

Recently, Jenka Gurfinkel –a longtime mover/shaker in the California indie cirque scene– wrote “Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now”, a fantastic personal essay that happens to dovetail nicely (pun intended) with the extensive Tiffa Novoa love fest we ran in Coilhouse Magazine last year. Gurfinkel’s unique take on the current exploding trend of plumage in both indie and mainstream fashion is a deft mix of memoir and cultural nodal point-mapping:

“In the summer of 2011, feathers have become a staple of every sartorial and tonsorial aspect imaginable. The other day I was asked my opinion as to where this current ubiquity of feathers has come from. But as it turns out, I happen to have something better than an opinion: I have an explanation.”


El Circo performer at Burning Man, 2005. Photo by Siouxzen Kang.

“Just two years out of college, I stumbled into the role of production manager for a newly-formed, L.A.-based vaudeville cirque troupe called, Lucent Dossier. Through that initial involvement with Lucent I would meet many other circus groups, including El Circo, who were by then based in San Francisco along with The Yard Dogs Road Show and Vau De Vire Society. There was also March Fourth Marching Band in Portland, Clan Destino in Santa Barbara, and Cirque Berzerk, and Mutaytor in L.A. As these acts grew, the I-5 Freeway became a central artery of culture, pumping a distinct combination of art, music, fashion, and performance up and down the west coast. A social scene evolved around these circus troupes the same way the punk subculture sprang up around the bands that defined it.”


Full page Issue 05 Coilhouse spread of performer Joshua David wearing a Ernte feather headdress by Tiffa Novoa. Photo by Spencer Hansen.

“In the early to mid-aughts (when the photos above were taken) the feather was as de rigueur a cultural signifier within the circus scene as the safety pin was for punks in the late 1970s and early 80s. In fact, back before it was so commonplace as to lose meaning (or induce a national feather shortage), condescending terms for those sporting the look sprang up within the subculture: “Feather mafia,” was one I heard thrown around; ‘Trustafarian peacock‘ even made it into UrbanDictionary.com. And then, something else began to happen…”

View the full essay at Social Creature dot com.

As far as this ubiquitous trend of wearing feathers goes– if you adorn with birdie bits, please consider researching where they come from! Buying ethically and responsibly is beautiful. Here are some great resources:

Leonora Carrington – 6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011


Fantastic pen and ink double portrait by Hilus Anendorf

Leonora Carrington lived a life as surreal and fantastical as the images she painted. The last of the first generation of Surrealists, she consorted with the full pantheon of greats, from Dali to Picasso, and was hailed as “Mexico’s greatest living artist” before her death 94. Despite her storied career as bohemian darling, wild muse and prolific creator of paintings, books, sculpture and theater, she remained always humble, and resolutely uninterested in labels, or all the laurels that have been flung her way over the years.

Her approach to art was completely intuitive, stemming from the deep well of her soul, her own psychic underworld realm that she populated with fantastic beasts and mysterious figures. She disdained the overintellectualization and analysis of her work, her beliefs, her inspirations – believing fervently that the visual world she created was unnecessarily hindered by those determined to understand what it was all about. She was a provocateur, delighting in stirring up trouble amongst the staid, society types whose ilk she rejected. André Breton wrote of her in his Anthologie de l’humoir noir:

“Those respectable people who, for a dozen years, had invited her to dine in a prestigious restaurant have still not recovered from the embarrassment when they noticed that, while continuing to take part in the conversation, she had taken off her shoes and meticulously covered her feet in mustard.”


The Conjuror

All of her work is infused with this dark sense of humor and mischief, particularly her writing. In her only novel, The Hearing Trumpet, she envisions herself as a wizened crone – the 92 year old Marian Leatherby, a deaf and toothless “drooling sack of decomposing flesh” who is cast-off by callous relatives to a sanatorium for the elderly. It is here that her life truly begins, when she finds her kind: a coven of witch-sisters who help her discover and unleash her mediumistic talents.

Carrington once said, “I wanted to appear like an old lady so I could poke fun at sinister things.” As a young woman growing up in her stultifyingly proper Lancashire family estate, she railed against convention, and was booted out of multiple boarding schools. In her story “The Debutante”, she recounts her fantasy of dressing up a hyena in her coming-out dress, and sending the wild thing to her debutante’s ball in her stead. Allowed at last to attend art school, she horrified her family by running off with a married man twice her age, who happened to be Max Ernst. The romance was tragic, and ill-fated – doomed by the Nazi invasion of France and their subsequent incarceration of her lover. After a nervous breakdown, which caused her to be thrown into an asylum, she fled Europe for Mexico, where she settled and flourished until her death.


“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.”
— Leonora Carrington

Diaghilev Gets His Due: The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Coilhouse is delighted to welcome writer and dancer Sarah Hassan into the Coilhouse family. Her premiere piece for us is a 3000 word feature about Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. This is definitely one of the most informative, inspiring, infectious posts you’ll read here this month, so settle in, and enjoy! ~Mer


Dancers in the original Le sacre du printemps production.

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris seems an unlikely venue for a riot. Yet almost one hundred years ago, on May 29th, 1913, fist-fights broke out in an audience made up of socialites, musicians, and artists. The institution in question was one that by today’s standards seems chaste and predictable: the ballet.

The premiere of Le sacre du printemps by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes has become the stuff of legend. Against Nicholas Roerich’s backdrop of a primitive Russia, the radical score by Igor Stravinsky came alive to the choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, the danseur noble darling – and object of Diaghilev’s affection – whose unsurpassed defiance of gravity on Europe’s great stages had been leaving balletomane’s breathless. Now, the dancer whose roles included a lovesick puppet, a sprightly rose, and a predatory golden slave presented a complicated tableau of sacred ritual. With balled-up fists and downward glances, his dancers jumped and stomped their pigeon-toed feet in time with the violins as if trying to conjure up the ghosts of pagan tribesmen. The heavy woolen dresses painted with folk patterns on the peasant girls were in place of the frothy tulle skirts of nighttime sylphs and bejeweled torsos of slinking odalisques expected from a program a’la Russes.


Nicholas Roerich’s Costumes for Le Sacre Du Printemps.

The production, presenting a ‘new type of savagery,’ caused a literal aesthetic outrage among the haute Parisian audience. Backstage, as the birth of modern dance unfolded, Nijinsky screamed the tempo counts in Russian to dancers who couldn’t hear over the booing, while Stravinsky held him by his coattails lest the crazed choreographer topple into the orchestra. Diaghilev attempted to placate the uproar by turning the house lights on and off. Yet despite its unsuccessful reception, Le sacre du printemps was performed six times, and Diaghilev declared the opening night scandal to be ‘exactly what he wanted.’ It was clear that the ballet was no longer safe.

Thirty-two years after Le sacre’s premiere, Nijinsky, having succumbed to insanity, leapt for a photographer’s camera in a Swiss asylum. The image captured the aging dancer smartly dressed in a suit suspended in the air, proof of his once otherworldly powers. Yet, one can only wonder if the height Nijinsky was attempting to recapture was not his own, but that of the sacrificial virgin he created, dying from her own mad dance in a flash of beastly glory.


The banner at the Victoria & Albert Museum for Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes.

All the hoopla generated by Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-sexual melodrama Black Swan made it easy to believe that ballet had been once again recovered from the ashes of its own antiquity. With Jennifer Homan’s attempt to condense 400 years of history with her book, Apollo’s Angels, the ballet’s ability to survive in an age where anything goes and everything changes came into question – the blood-stained tutu of Natalie Portman’s Nina Sawyer notwithstanding. Madness is, by Aronofsky’s account, the cost of greatness. This idea is artistic old-hat, retold through ballet by Moira Shearer’s exceptional Victoria Page in The Red Shoes – a movie loosely based on Diaghilev and his company – and all the gory details of Swan, from broken toes, bone-thin frames, and endless retching struck a resonant, less glamorous chord. The curtain was pulled back to reveal an art that demands perfection as you claw your way to the top while clawing yourself apart. Ballet, according to Black Swan, is more an arena for the cruel and calculated and less the foundation for beauty, innovation and fantasy.

Oh, how the days of Diaghilev would beg to differ.

Farewell, SGM. (Free Nils Frykdahl/Coilhouse PDF!)


A glimpse of the Helpless Corpses Enactment film shoot. Photo by Meredith Yayanos and Gooby Herms.

Click here to download a free Coilhouse Magazine PDF: Lives Transformed Through the Power of Confusing Music: Nils Frykdahl on Art and Kinship.

With solemnity, gratitude and a touch of sorrow, Coilhouse must acknowledge that Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the most gloriously unclassifiable American band currently in existence, is about to call it quits. After a dozen relentless years of composing, recording, touring and performing some truly jaw-dropping music, the Oakland-based vanguards will play four final shows later this week in California: one in San Diego on April 7th, one in Los Angeles on April 8th, and two in San Francisco, both on April 10th (the evening show sold out, so they added a matinee).

Throughout the late nineties and all of the aughts, the legendary DIY road warriors of SGM crisscrossed the continental United States two, sometimes three times a year (and later on, toured Europe). Arriving at venues like a cheerful doomsday circus in their beautifully renovated vintage Green Tortoise bus, the curators entertained audiences with everything from puppet shows to Butoh dance to passionate readings of Italian Futurist manifestos. Flustered reviewers and reluctant converts, determined to pigeonhole SGM, labeled the avant-garde act as everything from neo-RIO (Rock in Opposition) to avant-prog metal, to grindcore funk theater, to, in the words of one concertgoer, “Satanic Anarchic Viking Shit”. But none of these descriptors come anywhere near encapsulating the band’s eclectic sound, style, or ethos. Not even close.


SGM on tour, 2009. Photo by Olivia Oyama.

The quintet has penned lyrics inspired by the Unabomber, James Joyce, madness, stroke-stricken baby doctors, love, death, cockroaches, and the end of the world. They have employed strange, esoteric contraptions from various folk traditions as well as several homemade instruments, such as the Viking Row-Boat, the Wiggler, the Spring-Nail Guitar, and a brutal, seven feet long piano-stringed bass behemoth called The Log. They have developed stage shows with stark lighting and elaborate costumes, sporting tooth black and spiked leather gauntlets and bonnets and bihawks and military khaki and antique lace nighties. They have sung lilting post-modern folk melodies. They have delivered face-melting blasts of pure, untrammeled metal.

They have rocked harder, more intelligently, and with more unabashed strangeness than anyone else around.

They will go down in legend.

Take comfort in knowing that these final shows won’t be the very last we’ll hear/see of them–the band has a comprehensive live DVD compilation in the works, as well as short film called The Last Human Being, and a final album. (We’ll be sure to announce all of those here when they’re released.)


Photo of Nils Frykdahl by Mikel Pickett.

In honor of the band, and to give our readers another peek at the variety of stuff we cover in the print magazine, Coilhouse is offering this free PDF download of our interview with Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (as well as Idiot Flesh, Faun Fables, and several other acts) printed in Issue Three, summer of 2009.

Frykdahl is a fascinating artist with a lot of delight and wisdom to share. That goes for all of the curators of SGM, truly. (Nils, Dan, Carla, Matthias, Michael, Shinichi, Frank, Moe! et al: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Lots of love, and best of luck with all of your future endeavors.)

Click here to download a free Coilhouse Magazine PDF: Lives Transformed Through the Power of Confusing Music: Nils Frykdahl on Art and Kinship.

The Feasts of Tre-Mang

Author and gourmand Eli Brown is writing the first-ever ethnic cookbook of Tre-Mang, a small Atlantic island you’ve definitely never heard of.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the islanders of Tre-Mang celebrated a complex and lively heritage, and prepared some truly mouthwatering traditional cuisine: moist cakes, savory side dishes and breads, frothy pâtés, fresh compotes, hearty chowder pies, and much more. Tre-Mang’s people and dishes also happen to be figments of Eli Brown’s imagination. The Alameda, California-based storyteller readily admits that his entire manuscript is an elaborate, loving fabrication.

Fruitless attempts to sell his “real recipes from an imagined island” to timid publishers have prompted Brown to create a Kickstarter campaign. He is going to produce and print his cookbook on his own:

After several prominent publishing houses told me that my latest work was “too lovely and literary to make it in this market” and “exciting and unlike anything we’ve seen. We’d take it if we knew how to market it” and etcetera, I’ve been forced to reconsider my place in the writing world. It would be one thing if I had been rejected because the work needed improvement. But to be told I was writing as well as I could, but that the industry had no place for my particular works, well, that was a shock. It’s a strange conundrum: Editors love my writing—marketing departments reject it on sight.

We all know that the literary industry is sinking, or, as my younger brother so succinctly puts it, “has auto-cannibalized itself.” And so we are left running about trying to catch crumbs from an ever shrinking pie. (This is why we don’t mix metaphors; a sinking, auto-cannibalistic pie should be avoided at all costs.)

I am not willing to surrender. I believe that if editors love my work, readers will, too. And so I’m turning to the grass roots. […] I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign! I’m combining my love of fiction with my love of cooking. The result is an ethnic cookbook based on the cuisine of a culture that doesn’t exist.

The Feasts of Tre-Mang is a most delightful and nourishing premise from yet another internet crowd-sourcing pioneer. Check out this interview with Brown for more background information, and click here to support his Kickstarter drive in its final days for as little as one dollar. (Or as much as $550… and be crowned an Honorary Governor of Tre-mang!)

Pamatala Jad-zum: Storm Chowder Pie.

A Little Night Music: Demdike Stare

Turn off all the lights, get under the covers, put on your best pair of headphones, and listen… if you dare:


Via Aaron Shinn (whose own fantastic work definitely deserves a Coilhouse writeup ASAP).

Demdike Stare is an occult-tinged music collaboration between Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty, two highly knowledgeable fellows from Manchester, each with a versatile background in DJing, record collecting and curating. Author Mike Powell’s review of Demdike Stare’s Triptych –one of the most interesting write-ups Pitchfork has posted recently– covers Whittaker’s and Canty’s work and history, both as a team, and separately. From that same review:

Demdike Stare is primarily a sample-based project, and “dark” is its organizing principle. Their logo is a skull, rose, and triangle; the cover of one of their EPs  is a visual riff on a Ouija board; and they’re named after a 17th-century witch– a quasi-gothic, English variation on the sci-fi and horror imagery that has saturated the American underground over the past couple of years. The tracks on Tryptych are droning and nightmarish: lots of close murmuring and distant wind, lots of groaning earth and quietly whining steam-powered machines, glassy techno keyboards and the buried wailing of undefined tribes. But like some drone (and most minimal techno) there’s usually a build or a climax, and one of the most consistently satisfying things about listening to Tryptych is that it takes music you might expect to be purely ambient and shapes it into something with a hump somewhere in the middle– something with a narrative to it.

Cover for Demdike Stare’s Forest of Evil EP. Buy their CDs and MP3s at Amazon or Insound.

There’s a captivating visual element to Demdike Stare as well– to accentuate their live shows, the band often projects footage lifted from a wide range of classic horror and giallo films, spaghetti westerns, and thrillers onto the wall behind them, then mixes live beats and samples into their tracks to match those visuals. Additionally, Demdike Stare’s listeners have come up with with several captivating fan videos, many of which are included in the above playlist [and are not entirely SFW, mind you], along with a great interview with Whittaker and Canty, for those interested in learning more about the team’s process. Or, if you’d prefer to keep things more mysterious, skip the interview, and just let yourself be swept away by the enigmatic loveliness of the music and presentation.

Previously on Coilhouse:

“Dance, dance… otherwise we are lost.”

Fellow admirers of the late Pina Bausch may get a little emotional, watching this trailer for the upcoming film Pina– Dance, Dance… Otherwise We Are Lost, made “For Pina Bausch, by Wim Wenders.”


Via Gabrielle Zucker, thanks.

Coming soon. In 3D, no less! In the wake of that first wave of 3D schlockbusters and huge budget family movies, it’s going to be interesting to watch and see if this oncoming wave of arguably more “arthouse friendly” 3D films (Wenders’ film, Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Scorcese’s Invention of Hugo Cabret being chief among them) will change more critical viewers’ perceptions and expectations of the medium.

“Whisper Hungarian In My Ear”

From Bryan Boyce (the same twisted genius responsible for that Teletubbies/Bush State of the Union meme and the Karaoke Hellhounds, not to mention a bunch of other craziness) comes this ridiculously beautiful/beautifully ridiculous “belly dance horror movie” made using footage from the 1932 public domain classic White Zombie and starring Bela Lugosi, along with, well… a whole gaggle of Coilhouse regulars!

Featuring hypnotic music by Dan Cantrell and the Toids. To see the entire original film, visit good ol’ archive.org. To revisit the oft-mentioned splendiferousness that is Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes, click here or here or here or here or here or here.

LSR: Beguiling Dance and Strangely Familiar Music

Beloveds Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes –known collectively as The Indigo Belly Dance Company– are back on tour with their phenomenally lovely, lively, singularly delightful show Le Serpent Rouge. “The Indigo has created and defined a new style of belly dance, embracing the roots of middle eastern dance while incorporating an aesthetic reminiscent of early twentieth century cabarets and world’s fairs.”

They’ve got the fantabulous Crow Quill Night Owls with them again, as well as those rambunctious Gallus Brothers. (Several video clips of all the players are embedded in the playlist below.)

(With apologies to our Northwesternmost US readers) the tour actually kicked off yesterday in Seattle, but several more Le Serpent Rouge shows will be happening across the country this month. If you like timeless beauty, raucous laughter, joy and dance and song, this outfit ain’t to be missed.

More information via Bricey’s site after the jump.

Daughter From Danang

In honor of Gail Dolgin, a powerhouse filmmaker and activist who passed away earlier this month after a decade-long battle with cancer, here’s Daughter From Danang:


Hat tip to Paige Lawrence.

Co-created by Dolgin with Vincente Franco, this acclaimed documentary features the deeply emotional and conflicted reunion of a Vietnamese mother, Mai Thi Kim, with her Amerasian daughter, Heidi Bub (birthname Mai Thi Hiep), 22 years after the war and Operation Babylift pulled them apart. “The 83-minute film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and was nominated for best documentary in the 2003 Academy Awards. It lost to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, but Dolgin and her collaborator, Vicente Franco, shared the stage with Moore until they were booed off amid Moore’s anti-war speech.”

Click here to read a compassionate and comprehensive Q&A by the filmmakers.