I have two pieces in the cracking new issue of DIVA Magazine – a Q&A with badass poverty activist and cover star Jack Monroe, and a two-page article on the poverty, hunger and homeless LGBTQ women are facing in the UK thanks to ConDem-led austerity and the vanishing safety net of the welfare system.
Hip-hop soul, machine-tooled funk, sexually charged new jack swing â here’s your whistlestop tour of one of pop’s great eras
Behold! My first book review for NME Magazine. I read/wrote about Masha Gessen’s dilligent Pussy Riot opus, World Will Break Cement.
I have two pieces in NME Magazine's rad celebration-of-all-things-'94 issue this week: a love letter to TLC's CrazySexyCool and an interview with Bikini Kill's Kathi Wilcox.
Homosexual Death Drive are a queer punk duo from east London. They’re inspired by class politics, Big Stick and punks with learning disabilities, and make anti-social no-fi music that has reduced audiences to tears. They released their first 7” single, Sunshine, on MÏLK records, and have featured on Riots Not Diets compilation record Carry On Rioting, via Tuff Enuff.
Who are Homosexual Death Drive?
CC: Homosexual Death Drive is me, Dr Charlotte Cooper and my girlfriend Kay Hi-hat. Sometimes we invite guests to play with us.
Where are you based?
CC: East London.
KH: Yes, but not cool East London.
How did you meet?
CC: I first saw Kay with her dog, smoking a fag on a non-smoking train round about 1996. She was as hot as hell, and still is. She didn’t clock me until 1997, at the reopening of a local gay pub where she said that she felt compelled to give me her phone number.
KH: Yeah, that happened. I had tried to impress Charlotte with some karaoke before the phone number thing but didn’t really think it through, singing, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. I could have done better.
CC: It worked.
Yr named after an obscure branch of academic queer theory called Death Drive. Can you give a layperson’s definition of the aforementioned theory?
CC: It’s all about nasty queers, fucking-off the normals, refusing to have babies or invest in the project of creating a nice, bright, clean, shiny, future happy world.
Who/what are yr influences?
CC: Our influences are eclectic and are often based in a moment or a feeling, usually one that incites mayhem. I love it when performers menace the audience, for example, and remember a great show by Jim Thirlwell/Foetus in 1992 where he harangued and goaded the crowd like a maestro. Stunning! I love performers who don’t play nice. My boyfriend Simon Murphy, also known as Mona Compleine, was in a punk drag band called Six Inch Killaz in the 1990s, and their fucked-up, shambolic performances and bad attitude inspire me a lot. I’m into man-hating vintage radical lesbian separatist folk music too.
The pair of us dig punks with learning disabilities and would love to play with Heavy Load and the performers on the Wild Things: Sounds of the Disabled Underground series. Their creativity with limited resources is very cool, and we love their energy and lack of concern for coolness or the kinds of things you’re supposed to care about when you’re in a band, like stagecraft or competence. We think the Stay Up Late campaign is great.
Big Stick are a big influence. They had a moment of semi-fame in the 1980s and are now better known as Drag Racing Underground. They play extremely basic, ugly music, with repetitive singing and dodgy samples. They look brilliant in masks and crazy wigs, have a bit of a mystique to them, and great humour. I met them by chance at a drag strip in New Jersey in 2004 and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Other stuff: cock rock; Noddy Holder, the singer I would most like to sound like; Verity Susman of Electrelane, who has been very generous with us; Stewart Keith and the art-music he’s introduced me to over the years; Stratford East Singers, our community choir; feminism and class politics.
What instruments do you play?
CC: Voices, recorders, kazoo, swanee whistle, child’s accordion, crappy backing tracks, iPad music-generating apps, delay pedal, and sometimes things that Simon has made: a gadget called an Auto Bass Generator, and a stringed instrument called the Monatron. I’d like to learn how to make beats so that we could make a bigger noise.
KH: For me the childish or children’s or toy instruments are part of the Death Drive aesthetic. Not just an embracing of a no-expertise, cheap, DIY thing but also using childish things as adults to queer ideas of children and childhood. I’d like to make more noise too but also think we do pretty well with what we’ve got.
Do you feel part of any particular music scene/s? I see HDD as being active in an east London-based community of queer(ish) DIY bands that includes the likes of Shopping, Trash Kit, Faggot, Peepholes etc.
CC: We love these bands very much, and are kind of a part of this scene because of Andrew of Milk Records, who is at the heart of it all. When I boasted to him that Homosexual Death Drive would be a good name for a band he suggested that we actually form and play. Trash Kit are also important figures for us in this scene, they were the first band that we went to see a lot in more recent years and, though they are virtuoso musicians, their DIY approach enabled us to feel that we too could be in a band. On the other hand we are outsiders in a way because we are a lot older than that crowd.
What’s it like being older punks on a scene populated with younger people? What are the dynamics you’ve encountered? Do you ever find yrself slipping – or being coerced – into prescribed ideas about how older women should behave around younger people (i.e mandatory mothering)? If so, how do you react to this? What does being an older punk mean to you?
CC: Great questions! I’ll take them one by one:
What’s it like being older punks on a scene populated with younger people?
CC: They think we have the same reserves of energy as them when we actually need a good night’s sleep and a proper dinner. They are amazed that we have a car. They have no idea about arthritis. They think we are the same as them. I constantly want to go on about how young they are, and bore them with anecdotes. They are beautiful, naïve, open, accepting, tender, funny, naughty, hungry for life. They are the kindest, most charming people you could hope to meet.
What are the dynamics you’ve encountered?
CC: Nobody talks about our age but it feels central to how I experience the scene, there aren’t many people we know doing music who are older than 40, which isn’t exactly ancient, and who aren’t The Raincoats. It’s funny, I’ve met some people’s parents and I am not much younger than them, but worlds apart in other ways. I do feel like we’re a kind of bridge. There are some people my age who have become interested in being in a band now that they’ve seen us. I would love to see the scene become more mixed, not just in age but also disability, and the usual class and race factors.
Do you ever find yrself slipping – or being coerced – into prescribed ideas about how older women should behave around younger people (i.e mandatory mothering role)?
CC: I know that lots of people have their ideas ripped-off, but when it happens to me I do wonder if part of this is about not being seen as fully human, and that this is because I am not young and cute and middle class like the people ripping me off.
If so, how do you react to this?
CC: I feel helpless to do anything other than bitch about it to Kay.
What does being an older punk mean to you?
CC: I think of it as a profound, lifelong, creative commitment to chaos, wrongness, non-conformity, noise, aggression and life on the margins.
KH: I got properly introduced to punk by meeting Charlotte in the mid-90s. It has been a transformational experience. I love the way that thinking about punk helps me put together my tendency for nihilism with doing a lot of stuff to make the world a better place without that being a contradiction. Being older is just what I am. I get tired and have to take more rests.
HDD make me feel excited about aging disgracefully. Is anti-respectability an HDD tenet?
CC: Yes indeed. Not courting respectability, including coolness or conformity, is what freedom is about, I think.
What are yr songs about?
CC: Death, horrible sex, rage, burning things down, arses, Satan, rioting, failed dreams of revolution, hatred of assimilation, the death drive. I’ve done the majority of the song-writing.
HDD have released two videos to date: Temple of the Butthole, in which Kay fists Charlotte’s oozy, faux shit filled-mouth, and Dead, a lovely secular hymn that’s set to beautiful, underwater footage of both Homosexual Death Drivers, totally nude and tumbling through the water like magical, queer water nymphs, all pubes, boobs, bums and glowy white limbs. Tell us about the ideas behind these songs/videos.
CC: I made both of the videos. The Butthole vid idea came to me after I gave my friend Jason Barker a piece of chocolate brownie that had gone all fucked up from my pocket. “It looks like shit!” I thought, whilst feeding it to him. I knew I had to have arses in the video, and at first I had an idea about chasing Kay around and then pegging her. But the mouth-as-arse idea was better, fitted with the theme, and was I think, more dirty, because we could get some shit and a fist in there too. I sent a link to Gayle Rubin, who wrote the essay that inspired the song and she approved, yay!
I wanted to make something pretty for Dead because it’s our one really lovely song. We went on holiday and stayed in a place where we had access to a pool in which we could swim naked. I made a watertight container for an old phone and used that to film us larking around in the water in the sun and at night by the glow of the underwater light. I had an idea that we were drowned, or angels of death, or some otherworldly beings.
You’ve talked about embracing the “queer anti-social” in your songs. Elaborate?
CC: I feel free in my song-writing to say things that I wouldn’t normally say in polite or rational company, it’s a wilder headspace. In terms of our shows, I am toppy and often extremely cranky when I perform, because performing is stressful and exposing and the possibility of being totally humiliated is pretty high. Our performances feel like an ordeal that I feel brave for surviving and I want the audience to feel that too.
You’ve been called a queercore band. Discuss.
CC: I got into punk when I was a teenager, but I didn’t find out about queer until much later. In my mid-20s I went to Dirty Bird, a queercore festival in San Francisco in 1996. I also hung out with the collective that produced the FaT GiRL zine. This was my first encounter with queer punk and I suddenly made sense and was able to articulate some creative practices around these ideas, first zines and then other stuff. So queercore speaks to me a lot. I much prefer it to Riot Grrrl as a signifier because I associate that movement with a bunch of tedious, whining, self-important, overrated, over-the-hill, middle class white women making out they’re stuck in some kind of kidulthood whilst reaping the rewards of their spectacular social capital. There, I’ve said it!
What does a live HDD experience normally involve? How do you like to work a crowd up?
CC: We don’t play very often, partly because performing takes a lot out of us, and also because there aren’t that many venues for people like us, we’re not that interested in playing the usual band circuit type places, or building an audience that way. Our performances involve hand-holding and some awkward dancing, some stamping. We have a chant that we sometimes start a show with that involves getting in people’s faces in the audience. Where possible I show slides of things that we like, silly things like the Bristol Stool Scale, or a picture of me giving nauseating TV celebrity Jonathan Ross the finger. We use all our instruments live. The set-up is very minimal. I try and take care of my voice but I’m often hoarse by the end of a set, there’s a lot of shouting as well as quieter songs. Things often go wrong and I curse and try and fix them. None of that matters, we’re not the Rolling Stones.
Costumes and masks seem to feature a lot in yr live shows. What’s yr favourite stage wear and why?
CC: We use costumes in a puny attempt to distract people from the fact that we are unable to play any proper band-type instruments like guitars or drums or keyboards. My favourite outfit is a sloth suit that was custom made for Peaches Geldof and which fits me quite tightly. I look like a beast when I wear it. I also have some sunglasses I got at a party shop that have raised middle fingers in gold around the frames. Might as well let people know what they’re in for with a few visual clues, eh?
KH: I have a high commitment to showbiz and want to develop this side of the Death Drive further. I made some Homosexual Death Drive shorts that are really beautiful but were possibly a waste of effort because in the venues we play only the front row can see my legs. I was recently inspired by The Dean Rodney Singers to make something big and glitzy for my top half. I always wear some kind of mask, usually a Mexican wrestler mask. I like being like Charlotte’s mysterious collaborator.
How do you feel when yr on stage?
CC: Angry, aggressive, confrontational, like I will fucking fuck you up! I don’t know where this comes from but it just comes out. I’ve always been like that too, there’s a picture of me doing the same schtick at a performance when I was 15. I gotta be me, innit.
KH: Sometimes really vulnerable, sometimes defiant, often in love! I love seeing Charlotte being her incredible powerful performing self on the stage. I love connecting with her in doing her thing, doing a thing together. Sometimes I feel in love with the audience too.
How do audiences react to you, during and after shows? What do you think are the most common (mis)perceptions about HDD? Do you think you challenge those perceptions?
CC: A lot of people laugh at us, I think they think we’re a comedy band because we’re fat and in our forties. We are funny but we soon wipe those smiles off their faces, usually when we introduce ourselves to the men in the room and say that we’ve come to fuck their girlfriends. We are quite calculated in how we try to manipulate the audience emotionally. I greatly enjoy hearing the laughter subside as we play, and on a good night I can get a bunch of people sobbing by the time we finish. We’ve had all kinds of audience reactions, from horrified silence, indifference, walk-outs, to extremely rapturous applause and standing ovations. It’s very validating! Often guys will want to contain or appropriate us in some way, like talking at us in guy-band-talk, making out that they get us, and that they’re too cool to be affected by us. But I’ve been very moved by how women in the audience respond to us, especially the straight ones: they stop looking at their boyfriends and they give us rapt attention and scream for us afterwards. This does my brain in.
Have you been in other bands? Who are The 123s?
CC: I was in a band called The Lesbian and Gay Community in 1997/98 with Simon Murphy/Mona Compleine and Jason Barker, who was known as Jewels at that point. We thought our name was hilarious because we all felt overlooked by the lesbian and gay community at that time. We made badges and cards for people so that they too could say they were full members of the lesbian and gay community no matter what their orientation. I think we even tried to trademark the name at one point. We played the first Queeruption and also a place called Club V. Simon was having a difficult time with Six Inch Killaz, I don’t think Jason and I had a clue about anything, and so it kind of fizzled out. Simon, Kay and I have done a few performances as The 123s, which is what we call our poly set-up. We usually learn a song that we love, make a zine to go with it, and perform it once. Art! We’re on the Homocrime Singles Club.
Yr both active in fat activism (the pair have a history of putting on community events such as Big Bum Jumble and Fattylmpics, a satirical fuck-you response to the capitalist clusterfuck that was the 2012 London Olympics – and Charlotte is a celebrated author/punkademic who’s helped to shape and innovate the field of fat academia). How does fat and punk intersect for you in HDD?
CC: For me, fat has an affinity with punk because it upsets and undoes people and, at its best, is able to unravel people’s apparently sacred investment in normality. Both expand aesthetic values in radical ways. A lot of fat activism is closely bound to assimilation, which I think is a terrible shame, a missed opportunity. Punk can enable people to reconfigure fat in exciting ways and reject assimilation or normativity, for example. This opens up many possibilities in how people are able to live, especially when they are marginalised. There are few things more thrilling to me than witnessing an unruly and unapologetic fat person claim their space.
Who are yr favourite fat and/or queer punks and why do they make you hot?
CC: On the fat front: I wish there were thousands of people I could tell you about, but at the moment it all boils down to Beth Ditto and Divine, both of whom are hard to beat as totally embodied queer fat star punkers. On the queer front: Vaginal Davis and GB Jones endure as electrifying performers and artists. You can’t take your eyes off them, and they take amazing risks in the work that they produce.
If HDD could play a line-up with any bands/artists (living or dead) who would you choose?
CC: Hawkwind circa 1971.
KH: I’d like to have been on the bill at the nightclub in the 1980 film The Monster Club.
You have a pranky, mischievous approach to merchandise. What kinda goodies are HDD fans likely to find at the HDD merch table?
CC: I’m fascinated by the crap that people will buy, they really will buy absolutely anything. I like to make stupid, inept rubbish that we generally sell for 50p or £1. At the sweeter end of the scale are paper fortune tellers and lucky envelopes with poems and treats inside. We’ve also made badges, which are basically taped over old badges, and satanic amulets, which are scrunched-up twigs in jam jars. At the extremely shoddy end, we have now sold out of polystyrene cups but the official Homosexual Death Drive bananas were harder to shift. Our merch aesthetic: biro, my terrible handwriting, spurting cocks and the slogan ‘Official Merch’. T-shirts are coming soon! Maybe official Homo Death Drive bogies too.
If HDD could – for one night only – choose their audience, who would be in it?
CC: Our families, who fear us, are ashamed of us and who have never understood us.
Will HDD release a full album any time soon?
CC: We’re perpetually in the cusp of releasing an EP, but are thwarted by not having the right cable for my computer so I can finish making the videos that will go on the website to publicise the thing. It’s one fucking royal minor pain after another and this is why it is taking us so long. Plus we don’t know the rules of how to make music or be in a band, so we’re taking it slowly and learning as we go along.
All images courtesy of Simon Murphy http://tinyurl.com/hddpics
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