lesbians on ecstasy performing as part of Juicy at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Saturday (October 11). 10 pm. $8 . 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
Like garish rainbow-bead neck laces and drastic haircuts, anguished Sappho-centric tunes are a rite of passage for most young dykes fumbling their way through the coming-out process. Of course, much like those other watersheds, the music is also something we cringe at in retrospect. I still shudder at the memory of all that torment when I sift through countless Indigo Girls-heavy mix tapes and recall campfire singalongs involving Tracy Chapman's Fast Car.
That might be why Montreal's Lesbians on Ecstasy strike such a chord. A hilarious, over-the-top electronic act, the Lesbos on X are pretty much what their name suggests - a gang of artsy dykes who retool girl-on-girl classics for the dance floor. They mix up laptop drum and bass breakbeats, dark hardcore bass lines and an insane lead singer who delivers the familiar melodramatic lyrics in a distorted growl.
Oddly enough, however, buried in the campy spectacle of their live show, there's a kernel of something - dare I say it? - sweet. That's why I'm not entirely shocked when iMac-twiddling Lesbian Bernie Bankrupt insists the band's not trying to send up the songs themselves.
"More than anything, we're trying to parody people like Tiga doing that Corey Hart song Sunglasses," explains Bankrupt, who's hanging out with her family in BC. "They're all doing the same thing. They take a funny song and give it a new face. They get, like, hipster cred for being so ironic and campy, but it's really just dudes doing dude music in a closed circle. The irony is we're lesbians, playing lesbian music at lesbian events - that's our closed circle.
"Electronic music is one of the most innovative, exciting contemporary forms of musical production, and women are just not represented. The irony is thickly layered on top of our music, but in the end we're doing our best to make the most sincere, awesome versions of these songs that we can.
"Maybe part of being feminists, women and lesbians is that we can't really escape our sincerity. We kinda like the songs, too."
Those dogged feminist politics align Bankrupt and her band with intelligent electro-grrrl production outfits with take-charge manifestos like Chicks on Speed and Le Tigre, so it's hardly surprising that the latter group tapped Lesbians on Ecstasy as openers for their upcoming fall tour.
Not bad for a wacked-out performance ensemble that started as a stoner whim. About a year ago, Bankrupt and her girlfriend, frontwoman Fruity Frankie (aka Lynne T, a killer DJ with her own show on Montreal's CKUT-FM) caught a francophone lesbian pal covering Melissa Etheridge's The Way I Do, Janis Joplin-style, at a weird warehouse party.
In their slightly pot-hazed state, Bankrupt and Frankie freaked out.
"I hadn't heard the song in so long, and we were just like, 'Whooooa! This song would make an amazing dance track!' The lyrics are so intense and hilarious. That's the beauty of lesbo music - it's just so melodramatic and out of hand. About two days later I was thrift shopping and found a copy of the Melissa Etheridge album with that song on vinyl. It was like a sign."
The pair started fiddling around on their computer. Before the project was even out of the box, they were asked to perform at Montreal's Maid in Cyberspace festival, a showcase of women's Web art. Since typical laptop-twiddlers bore 'em senseless, Bankrupt and Frankie snagged their friend Jackie Gallant to play live drums (she now busts out the beats on a deliciously cheesy electro octapad) and added bassist Véronique Mystique this summer.
The combo works magic onstage. One of the hottest things about Lesbians on Ecstasy is how well they avoid the watching-paint-dry monotony of an average live electronic act.
That's built into their mandate, says Bankrupt, and it's part of the reason they insist on playing club nights and dance parties instead of your usual three-band rock night.
"We'd rather play gigs that are more about crazy music interventions than bands in a traditional sense. In terms of how we act onstage, we model ourselves more after a typical rock band set-up with different instrumentation, than any kind of laptoppy thing.
"One of our major performance inspirations is El Vez. Lynne worships him. We've totally stolen some El Vez shtick. He's awesome. I studied theatre at school and I'm really into that idea. I think if you're gonna get up onstage and ask people to watch you, you really need to put on a show."