The West Coast Women's Darkwave Festival Stakes a Claim on the Night
Full text of the interview with Voodoo Dolly's Dmitra Dawn and Nicole Gluckstern for the East Bay Express preview of the West Coast Women's Darkwave Festival, November 2017 in Oakland.
NG: How did you get involved in the festival? How often have you worked with the principles in the past and what sets this gig apart for you (if anything)?
DD: I've known about the Hanging Garden since its inception and Voodoo Dolly has shared bills with some of the bands in this year's lineup. Davey Bones asked me about coming on board earlier this year and I said yes immediately. It's often too rare that any music scene highlights female artists, whether cis, trans or non-binary folks. It's excellent to be able to come together with this community and honor all women, something we can't do enough of right now, when the most atrocious forms of toxic masculinity continue to be perpetuated as normal and fashionable by the highest political office in the land.
NG: Tell me about the general evolution of Voodoo Dolly. When and how did you get started, and what was it about the Banshees that made a tribute band seem essential?
DD: I came up with the idea for Voodoo Dolly in 2013 as an all Black band, because as Black people we have to contend with ideas that we don't belong in certain spaces. As a Black woman I have been asked many times "how I got into rock music". I also came of age in Seattle's early 80's underground Punk and Batcave scene, what we called it at the time--I actually didn't hear the word "goth" until I moved to San Francisco in 1992. The Darkwave scene is generally thought of as being not super diverse, but there have been many people of color who influenced and created the source punk and post punk movements in regards to both music and style. In short, we have always been there. Voodoo Dolly was a way to really augment the perception and experience of the audience by having the material performed by us specifically, because we alter a performance space by nature of who we are. SATB lyrics also take on other levels of nuance and meaning when we perform them, and I find that many of the songs we gravitate to resonate with us personally and to these times.
I'm a huge Siouxsie fanatic like many of us; her and the Banshees' influence is monumental, from a ton of other bands to the way we adorn ourselves.
She's also had a no f*cks given attitude from day one that I personally treasure. I called up drummer Kevin Carnes(Broun Fellinis, Beatnigs) and he understood exactly what I was trying to do with the project. He was essential for Voodoo Dolly to happen, because SATB drummer Budgie created such a beautiful, poly-rhythmic hybrid of post punk and tribal beats and I knew he was the only one who could do it justice. Bass tone master Shawn Miller and I have played together in other bands and been friends for over 20 years, and our wonderful, shredding guitarist David Walker came on board in 2015. We all have other bands, and this project is a special one for us.
NG: Do you identify as female as trans or as non-binary, and how does this identity help define your creative work and persona? Also, is there a conversation around temporarily replacing the male musicians in your band for the festival, or not really?
DD: I was called a tomboy growing up and knew I was bisexual from about age 6 or 7, but I have always felt like a female who shares my body with a masculine energy. I used to wear suits and men's shoes because I wanted to be 2 Tone like Pauline Black from The Selecter, and fortunately I grew up in a family that didn't have issues with this. The underground Batcave scene in Seattle was also very queer and super accepting, so I grew up feeling that all persuasions of sexual orientation and gender identity were just fine.
When I turned 30, I studied classical Indian dance with Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das for 9 years, and he taught me the concept of Ardhanariswara, a composite androgynous form of the Hindu God Shiva and his consort Parvati. Ardhanariswara is depicted as half male and half female, split down the middle. Kathak dancers have to portray male and female characters, so where you naturally identify comes forward in your dance. For me I was very strong and gravitated to the male characters, but it was a challenge for me to bring in the more feminine aspects. I now recognize that I was born with a certain gender fluidity that I never had a name for, and I'm proud of it. As for our lineup, my Voodoo Dolly male bandmates are all feminists, LGBTQ+ allies and they hold a space for me that is the most supportive I have ever felt on stage--although an all Black women's Siouxsie and the Banshees tribute is a fabulous idea!
NG: What specifically can audiences expect from your West Coast Women’s Darkwave festival appearance? Any new songs or special emphases?
DD: When I'm Siouxsie Black, it's not dress up. I strive to channel Siouxsie Sioux, but through my inner self, and I think our collective energy is felt by the audience. We personally come from an ancestral hybrid of traditional West African spirituality and ritual healing arts of the disapora like Vodun, and I feel there is a griot energy present when we perform. Let's say that we are Afro-Futurist practitioners of the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees. As a special part of this show, there will be a live video performance during our set by cross-disciplinary Oakland artist Allison Leigh Holt. Working at the intersection of sculpture, video, installation, and performance, she pursues a dialogue between divergent ways of experiencing, comprehending, and describing reality. There will be many new songs but I'm going to keep them a surprise!