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3rd May 2022

In conversation with Dorian Electra

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy talks to Dorian Electra about genre-defying music, gender-bending fashion, and “trendy” queerness
In conversation with Dorian Electra
Photo: Jade DeRose @_jadeddd (retouch by XAiLA @xai__la).

Dorian Electra‘s My Agenda World Tour was quite something. I was lucky enough to attend the Leeds gig, and it was, without a doubt, one of the craziest, wildest, and most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in a music venue.

I love Dorian as both a music and a visual artist. Their gender-bending aesthetic and genre-defying music reminds me of some of the incredible androgynous 80s artists such as Boy George and Pete Burns. We’re beginning to see a resurgence of gender-bending across multiple musical genres – not just ones that are traditionally queer, like dance and disco. Take Lil Nas X (hip hop) and Harry Styles (pop). Dorian belongs not only to a new wave of hyperpop princes (and princesses) but also “gender-benders”.

Dorian finds it interesting how queerness is a little bit “trendy” right now, which is great to see, but it can also pose its own problems.

“Maybe there’s an overemphasis of queerness, in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation, a little bit right now, ’cause it’s, I would say, trendy in a way, it’s being talked about a lot…”

“While I’m really happy to be a part of that, and be a part of a group of artists that are definitely pushing that forward, I also feel like we are in a moment right now, where politically we’re gonna look back and be like, the overemphasis on gender identity politics is not the most helpful thing for rallying people around leftist political causes like economic justice and things like that.”

Indeed, Dorian’s art is informed not only by their queerness but also intersectionality.

“You need to be intersectional with it and take class and race and everything else into account and not just gender identity, ’cause it’s very easy for that to also become co-opted by capitalism.”

On the topic of branding, I asked Dorian about their stage name (note: Dorian is their real forename). Because Dorian is so aesthetically and musically theatrical, I wondered if Dorian Electra was a persona or alter-ego of sorts (take Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce). However, they told me that Dorian Electra is “definitely me”, before adding, “me, but pushed to the extreme”. Dorian has never thought of Dorian Electra as a character, but, rather, each song/video as a different character, or headspace, that they inhabit.

Dorian has been playing with gender from a young age. As a kid, they dressed up as Bono – and dressed their cousins up as the other members of U2 – complete with a fake beard, drawn on with their step mom’s eyeliner. In school plays, they enjoyed being cast in male roles. In one play, they decided to be a gay man – even though it was not in the script.

Dorian did musical theatre as a kid: “The theatre in me, it will never die”. For Dorian, a live show is about crafting a story and an arc. Their current tour has three different acts, with three different costumes. It’s not just a playlist; it’s “three different moods [and] worlds… on a limited, DIY budget”.

Dorian grew up on classic rock – their parents were both fans of the genre, especially Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones. They love how theatrical Alice Cooper is: “He gets killed onstage five different ways in this one show”.

Dorian feels very lucky to have grown up in a supportive environment – especially because so many other queer kids do not have that. Dorian’s mom actually did their male friend’s drag make up for the first time – she even put him in her bra! Dorian remembers their mom’s house as the fun, “be-your-self” space.

Dorian will never forget the love and support their parents gave them, and their goal is extend that love and support to others. With their gigs, they want to create a safe space where kids can come and feel that love and support – especially because they might not feel that at home.

This made sense to me because their Leeds gig, albeit wild, was something of a progressive paradise – and, indeed, a safe space – where people could be themselves (or whoever they wanted to be). There was so much love in the air that night. Clearly, Dorian has succeeded with their mission to create a loving, beautiful environment for their fans.

They were delighted when I told them this: “That makes me so happy to hear… My hope is really that people will hopefully make friends at the show and take that energy and start a club night… Take that energy and keep putting that out into the world.”

As aforementioned, Dorian belongs to a select group of artists who is as much a visual artist as they are a music artist. Whilst Prince is, indisputably, one of the greatest music artists of all time, I’m more a fan of his visual art – you only have to look at my Insta feed to log how much of a fashion inspiration he is to me.

Dorian told me that the way they think about music, visuals and fashion is interconnected. They take things they like, especially opposites and extremes, and “smash” them together and see what happens. This is especially the case with their gender-bending fashion, but they also like to blend different historical periods and eras – and musically, combine and remix different genres. Dorian tends to style themselves, so when they’re writing and recording music, they like to think about the aesthetic of the music, e.g. what sort of costume would go with the music.

Whilst Dorian plays with a multitude of genres, hyperpop is at their core. Something I have wondered for awhile is why the gays love hyperpop so much. Why is it so queer? What is it that makes it so attractive to the girls, the gays and the theys?

“A lot of hyperpop is sort of like taking things about the status quo of pop music, but in a self-aware way, but not afraid to embrace it as well, like cheesy core progressions or super sweet lyrics that are over-the-top, like purposefully brain-dead, dumb, ‘let’s party’ lyrics. That’s kind of on the one end of it, but being able to embrace that in a camp and self-aware way that is very queer at its core, because it’s not afraid to be super girly and over-the-top or ditzy or whatever.”

“Then there’s the other side of just being really intense and dark and raw and abrasive, on the other end, and when you can smash those together, at the same time, it creates like a really interesting mix that I feel does resonate with a lot of queer people, I’m sure.”

To go back to my earlier point, hyperpop is at Dorian’s core, but they do like to play around with different genres. Their two studio albums, Flamboyant and My Agenda, are very different in sound and vibe. Whilst many of the themes are similar, the former is smooth and sultry, whilst the latter is hot and heavy.

Dorian told me that in order to stay engaged, they have to feel like they have surprised themselves, so they they cannot help but do something different every time. Whilst they want to retain a lot of the pop elements of Flamboyant and the experimental elements of My Agenda, they want to try out new elements on future projects – “But it will still feel very Dorian at its core”.

But it’s not just music Dorian is focused on for the future. Recently, they did a fashion collaboration with Left Hand LA – and this is something they want to do more of. “I definitely think about my art as something that extends beyond the walls of just music, so I’m excited to keep pursuing that”.

Whilst the UK leg of Dorian Electra’s My Agenda Tour has now come to an end, they’re currently touring continental Europe and have a few more North American gigs. Head to their website to keep up to date with their upcoming projects.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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