Leila, 23 August 2009...
On stage I give you everything; I offer it to you on an all-screaming, all-dancing plate. I am the band, I am the audience. I am the almighty show off, trying to give you nightmares, vulnerable to your every criticism. I am a bear.
I am also the only remaining female portion in a six-piece eclectic mix of minds and talents, a band thriving on big beats and chaos. When Wartgore was emerging, we were considered a “celebration of the imperfect and ugly....a permanent state of organic metamorphosis, any members, any instruments”. This was our invitation to the world, and the world came. Our line up would change weekly; we would bring anything from a two to a fifteen piece noisecestra to the stage; trombone, violin, harmonica, guitars, trumpet, backing singers, carnage. From this pandemonium, a super group began to form; a core muscle. We played shows across the country. We found ourselves taking a year’s sabbatical. We found ourselves at the mercy of life’s inevitable evolutions. We gained members, we lost members. We returned to our roots. We struggled to define ourselves as a cohesive unit. We were in flux.
I was in flux. I was a backing vocalist, one of three. One of two. Alone. Included. Excluded. No real defined role. So back to the band drawing board we went, and now we are six: new drummer, guitar, tuba thundering in place of the bass, and me. Me in my tap shoes. I still scream and shout my way through the set, with more passion and intensity than ever, and that’s because I feel like I have finally found my place; I know who I am and what I'm doing. I'm dancing. I’m performing. I’m walking, talking, partying percussion.
Then, I hear that a member of our now strong army isn't happy. With me....
"I don't want to be in a band with a dancer".
Their view is that our music is good enough and speaks for itself; there is no need for attention grabbing gimmicks, that this extra tenet of performativity is "embarrassing".
Attention grabbing gimmicks. Is that what this is? To have someone in the band whose primary reason for being there is to dance… Does this ridicule and make fun of the music and the band members making it? Or is it an exciting way to bring the music alive? When going to see a live band should not all your senses feel some kind of assault? You are dancing in the audience, so are we not brought closer together by dancing on the stage?
The Prodigy's Leeroy
When the Prodigy formed, original member Leeroy Thornhill was present as a dancer, originally playing no part in making the music. He later went on to occasionally play live keys, but essentially his role was to dance. To psych the crowd. As were Keith Flint and only female member Sharky; dancers and occasional vocalists. So powerful were Leeroy’s performances, that his dancing influenced styles such as the "Melbourne Shuffle". Those who saw Leeroy dance would say that he added depth to an already intense performance, but being a dance band, it would raise no eyebrows having a dancer on-stage. So what about bands working outside the dance arena?
Probably the most notorious band dancer would be Mark "Bez" Berry of the Happy Mondays: maraca shaker, mascot and physical performer. So prominent and significant has his on-stage antics been (comedic though they are), that the word ‘Bez’ has become synonymous with a purely physical rather than instrumental performance. However, does this make his involvement in establishing the band’s collective personality any less significant? I would argue the opposite. Say ‘Happy Mondays’, think ‘Bez’.
Kathleen Lynch on-stage
Arguably one of the most influential on-stage dancers would have to be Kathleen Lynch, the naked performance artist who appeared on stage with the Butthole Surfers between 1986 and 1989. Kathleen was never a credited band member but was a profound factor in helping propel the band into infamy. Lynch notoriously appeared on stage in Washington DC in nothing but gold body paint and antique wooden snow shoes. However, a naked dancing lady was the least shocking of the things you would see during a show. Disturbing, decadent, and violent, the band themselves were a visual disturbance; nudity, cross-dressing, standing drummers. Images of accidents, necular explosions, meat processing, spiders and scorpions attacking their prey, penis reconstruction and death were projected as a back-drop to the band. Gimmicks and juvenile tricks to guarantee audiences or valid artistic expression?
The issue here is the fundamental difference between live performance and studio recording. It is not a stretch to say that the live arena is where most bands make a real name for themselves. The aesthetics and performativity of a band are often the things that get you hooked. Live performances can take the music to a whole new level. So where does dancing fit into this? Is there a place on stage for a dancer, in a band working outside the dance arena? Yes, in a nutshell.
I believe that my dancing on-stage is just as important as any other part of the band. We are performing, we are a visual. I am part of the personality of the band. The dancing does not detract from the music, but adds to the performance. Would people have raved so unreservedly without Leeroy leading the way? Or was he merely a distraction from the ‘real’ performance? What would the Happy Mondays be without Bez? A lot less fun or a lot more credible?