An Interview with MEN
Wednesday February 22, 2012·
Dance music represents more than just a frivolous past time. The ‘stabs and beats’ of disco was the sound of sexual liberation in the 70s, while the ‘pop, dip and spin’ of 90s voguing presented an outlet for the black and Latino drag queens of the New York house ball scene.
JD Samson, as much known for her moustache as her role in Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre, is taking the Riot Grrl politics of Second Wave Feminism out of the 90s and into the ‘naughties’ with her potty-mouth and electro-punk band of merry (gay, even) MEN. Songs like ‘Credit Card Babies’ bitterly express the practical obstacles of queer parenthood, while the funky ramble of ‘Rip Off’ mourns capitalism and its effects on ‘our truth’. Samson and her cohorts are coming to spread the word at Adelaide Festival. We spoke with JD, who quickly had us moving to the mantra of civil liberties.
Steph Kretowicz: You’ve spoken about how you’ve coopted dance music to spread the word of equality. Where do you think you fit in its tradition for representing minorities?
JD Samson: I'm here to represent a human. I am and will continue to be myself and be vulnerable with that for as long as I am able to take it. People dance to come together in movement and I think it’s beautiful to watch.
SK: There has been a resurgence of 90s icons lamenting the lost days of Second Wave Feminism and a return to conservative attitudes recently. Would you agree with that perception?
JD: It’s hard for me to be objective. My community, facebook and twitter feeds are full of an incredible feminist dialogue, almost every day. So to me feminism is alive and in charge. But, of course, we have a way to go… still. From my perspective, there is always a cycle of backlash. As the Le Tigre lyrics exclaim, “one step forward, five steps back”. I honestly believe we will be in this cycle for the rest of my life.
SK: Having started with ambitions in film, what was it about music that first attracted you?
JD: It was the community at first. Setting up shows and building a space where people could move, dance and be together; a space to connect. That was the impetus of getting involved. Then, of course, it became the art. Le Tigre was the perfect band for me. We made conceptual work and crafted art, while making punk/pop music for people like us. It worked for me. It was a natural transition.
SK: What can music do that film doesn’t?
JD: Film used to create a scene in the 60s/70s with the Kuchar Brothers etc. They all made experimental underground films and people got together to watch. That has left us a bit as technology rose, with video and VHS tapes. Now, music can still create that space, which is the reason I do what I do, for togetherness first.
SK: It’s perhaps a silly question, seeing as these things appear to go hand in hand for most people, but if you had to choose between creativity and championing gay rights, which would you choose?
JD: Creativity. Because it’s not always about gay rights, it’s about human rights.
Whether its race, class or homophobia its all the same to me, to create a reality check of sentimentality.
That's what art is to me.
SK: I ask because you mention Susan Sontag in your track ‘Credit Card Babies’. In one of her journals she’s quoted as saying, “My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me.” Would you agree with the sentiment that a creative outlet is as much a refuge for diversity, as it is a tool for espousing it?
JD: Yes, of course. I see my work as a tool to be aggressive, as well as to prove my vulnerability. It’s a space of power, to let people in on the human condition; a place where we can create one response, one day and another, the next. It’s the incredible performance of life.
SK: I read an interview with you in the New York Press where you expressed nerves about turnouts for your first performances as MEN. How has the last year met, surpassed or, god forbid, fallen short of your expectations?
JD: The past year has been amazing. We are so lucky to have been able to play Coachella. Tour with our friends; Gossip, Peaches, CSS etc. We are so very happy to be able to create more and more work.
SK: Lastly, the question that has to be asked: where to from here?
JD: Making more things with my hands and my ears and creating more spaces. We'll see what happens.