With Le Tigre on indefinite hiatus, JD has been channeling the bulk of her creativity into MEN, a Brooklyn-based dance/art performance collective currently made up of core members JD, Michael O’Neill (Ladybug Transistor) and Ginger Brooks Takahashi (LTTR). Musically, MEN can be seen to continue on from Le Tigre’s seminal noise-making with a similar mix of queer politics and lo-fi electro beats. The trio are excitedly preparing to launch their debut LP, Talk About Body, and round up their current UK tour promoting new single ‘Off Our Backs‘ (out this week) with a headline performance at Ladyfest Ten. Here, JD chats with Wears The Trousers about everything from gay parenting and queer inspirations to her goals for making MEN a mainstream outfit.
MEN’s new single is named ‘Off Our Backs’. Is this any reference to the lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs?
The song is about power struggles in all kinds of relationships, the idea of flipping and switching were important to the concept of the song. We used the phrase ‘off our backs’ in reference to the feminist sex magazine to work with the feeling of taking power over something the way that this magazine has helped lesbians and feminists get off their backs and get on top. It means something similar and we are happy to be cross referencing the magazine as well.
The cover art is startling. What was the concept behind it?
The cover art is a photo piece by our collaborator Emily Roysdon from a work titled ‘Strategic Form’ in which this photo, along with a bunch of others, were displayed installation-style in a gallery on shelves with the words “Strategic Form” as shadows behind. The images were taken by the people in the human pyramids with an extension to the camera. We found it perfect for the cover of this single.
You’ve become a queer/feminist role model for a lot of people. Who do you look to for personal inspiration?
When I was young, Lynn Breedlove from Tribe 8 was a huge inspiration to me. Her genderless performance and unrelentless feminism and sex-positive motions were incredibly overwhelming for me and pushed me to places I hadn’t dreamed of going. I am also very inspired by the work of Joan Armatrading, but nowadays I really look to the people around me for inspiration. My friends and fellow musicians in my community really help me to continue working.
There are many positive aspects of being a visible role model, but there must also be a degree of opposition from people who aren’t so willing to hear or support the things you stand for. How do you combat these conflicts?
Well I wish I could say I was free from that but honestly it can be very difficult. The internet can be a very dangerous place that brings anonymity to people that want to hurt. I try not to read anything critical like reviews or comments or message boards; those people deserve their freedom of speech but I don’t deserve to beat myself up about the way some kid on the computer thinks about my activism or my moustache. You have to take it with a grain of salt, and just press on. I have too many people who support me to lose myself over the assholes. I need to stick around for them.
You’ve said that MEN’s last single ‘Credit Card Babie$’ was written to provoke conversation about how difficult it can be for gay people to have children. Were you drawing from your own experiences?
Yes I was drawing from my own experiences. I have always wanted a family, and as I get older the reality gets closer to me. I’d love to have children and hopefully somehow that will happen soon.
Can you give us a little info on what to expect from Talk About Body?
There are a lot of different kinds of songs on the record. Club dance tracks, pop songs, ethereal dark songs, funk-driven jams, noise music, spoken word, indie rock, just to name a few. It’s hard to tell exactly what to call the record but I think it ended up with some really strong songs and I feel happy about that. We worked with a lot of different ideas content-wise, and worked hand in hand with collaborator Emily Roysdon on the lyrics for a few of the tracks which was amazing. We talk politics and love and bodies and movement. We talk about clothing and music and changing and fears. But we are always gay.
You’ve talked about the radical possibilities that dance music has as an agent for social change. What would you hope that your audiences take away with them after a live MEN show or listening to the album?
We just want to make people think and hopefully make people dance and, once the record is out, we are super excited to make people sing.
Do you see a place for MEN in the mainstream music world?
Of course I do, that’s why I’m here. I would love to bring our music, our message and our art to as many people as I can. That’s the whole way that you can change the world and make it a little bit more beautiful.
You and Ginger have talked about how current queer/feminist dance music can be seen as shifting from “angry” music to politically “optimistic” music. Can you elaborate on that?
That shift I think began a long time ago when Le Tigre was at the helm of the feminist dance music scene. I think now we are kind of working somewhere down the line from optimistic to thought-provoking. We aren’t happy all the time, we are only realistic, practical and hopeful.
I saw a rough cut of the Le Tigre documentary at Unskinny Bop’s Ladyfest fundraiser last month and got a little teary-eyed. How did it feel for you to watch the final cut?
I actually saw the final cut while attending a screening in LA, so it was really interesting to watch it with an audience at the same time. I got teary-eyed myself remembering the incredible groups of people that would come out to our shows. It was really amazing to be able to archive all of those memories in a project like this.
MEN play the Saturday at Ladyfest, an all-day feast of music kicking off at 3pm at The Relentless Garage. The Saturday lineup also includes: Nicky Click, Battant, Vile Vile Creatures, Veronica Falls, The Hysterical Injury, Severin, She Makes War and Femmepop.
A Saturday ticket will set you back a very reasonable £15, or you can get a full weekend music pass for a mere £10 extra. All tickets available here.