ALONE, ISOLATED, LIVING IN A NEW WORLD, DORIAN ELECTRA ON MUSICAL GENIUS, LIVING THROUGH A PANDEMIC AND ‘FLAMBOYANT’
QUAZAR INTRODUCES OUR FIRST DIGITAL COVER STAR, DORIAN ELECTRA, TALKING LIFE DURING A PANDEMIC, THE CREATIVE PROCESS BEHIND 'FLAMBOYANT' AND THE LACK OF REPRESENTATION FOR GENDER NON-CONFORMING ARTISTS IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA
PHOTOGRAPHED BY FURMAAN AHMED, 2020, IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND HERVISIONS
MAKE-UP BY JAYDE COXON
ASSISTED BY ALEX DIAMOND RIVLIN
3D ARTIST BY SALVEZ VAN DER GRONDE
PRODUCED BY ZAIBA JABBAR AND HERVISIONS
DORIAN WEARS DOM SEBASTIAN, FREYJA NEWSOME AND TIMOTHY GRIBBONS
INTERVIEWED BY CHARLIE LONG
Dorian Electra is the binary f*cking, rock/pop icon from the future who needs no introduction. Reminiscent of Bowie, they are the exhilarating visual artist, blending gender and fusing genres on their journey to dominating the music landscape with their excellent experimental pop madness and innovative cutting-edge aesthetics.
The norm-defying musician released their debut album ‘Flamboyant’ last year, which was an intoxicating body of pop music, united with influences from EDM to rock to Sonica Futura. Electra showed their music has no limits and delivered us experimental excellence that stood as an empowering and anthemic soundtrack for anyone struggling with their identity. The word ‘Flamboyant’ was symbolic in itself, as it sits strangely with many queer people, weaponised as an insult to those who may express themselves in alternative ways or be more in touch with their creativity. It is a word, like any that is demonised by homophobia or transphobia, that can completely destroy someone’s confidence or relationship with self.
"Flamboyant’, the title track, see’s Electra take the word that traditionally has been used to police queerness and warp it into a compelling, dynamic statement of pride"
For Dorian however, the word along with flamboyancy in general, is a sentiment of power. ‘Flamboyant’, the title track, see’s Electra take the word that traditionally has been used to police queerness and warp it into a compelling, dynamic statement of pride. “Flamboyant, every day / I’m flamboyant, I go all the way” Dorian sings a-top of the aggressive synths and mod-pop beat. ‘Flamboyant’ isn’t the only track that eluded to the relationship the gender-defying starlet on the rise has with themselves and society. From the political take on capitalism in ‘Career Boy’ to the representation of toxic masculinity and the different forms of machismo in ‘Man to Man’, Electra doesn’t make any apologies for their intelligent and somewhat autobiographical take on the world we live in.
The record, as a whole, wasn’t so much an introduction to Dorian Electra, it was more an affirmation that Electra is a force to be reckoned with and represents a new generation of other daring musicians who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and create spaces within the industry for queer representation. From the experimental blend of sounds to the futuristic take on music, Dorian is one of the forward thinkers in the overly saturated industry. Similar to fellow collaborators, Charli XCX and 100 gecs, the music scene is rapidly changing, and it is the likes of these ingenious trailblazers that allow the unapologetically queer to be embraced. With music seething with messages of self-empowerment and self-acceptance, Dorian Electra pioneers and personifies a cultural and societal shift in the attitudes towards queerness and gender exploration, encouraging visibility and representation in ways no other artist has done before.
Firstly, how have you been coping during these unusual and uncertain times both mentally and creatively?
I feel like I am very lucky because I have a roof over my head and live in a house with my main creative partner, I have a cinematographer and flatmates that are involved with film, so I have been able to continue shooting and creating content. My next single cover is shot on an iPhone camera, things like that, as so many people’s projects are at the moment! I feel at first, I was definitely mourning my tour being cancelled, for a good two weeks or so it took me time to try and look on the bright side and cultivate an attitude that allows me to do the things I want to do. I feel I’ve also learned so many new skills that I’ll have when this is all over so it’s just about finding ways of releasing content and focusing on the positives and finding purpose in all this.
Definitely, I feel as creatives we all just adapt and find new ways of releasing art, it’s amazing you live with a team like that though! We need to talk about your most recent album, ‘Flamboyant’, it was a beautiful, honest and emotionally charged body of work that was filled with references to your relationship with your gender and society’s perception of binaries as a whole. The tracks all share titles that are very geared towards masculinity; ‘Mr. To You’ ‘Career Boy’, ‘Daddy Like’, ‘Man to Man’, ‘Guyliner’ etc. What was the creative thought process behind this?
You know it’s a mixture of what I have been into, thinking about personally and looking at topics that engage me. I also found it exciting to take pop music, which I think is regarded as ‘high femme’ and present it in a masculine way, it allows me to feel fulfilled, seen and represented. I also feel that for a lot of AFAB people that are more masculine leaning it’s important to have that representation. I also want to point at the fact my music is definitely shaped by the audience that listen to it, the meanings are ever changing. It takes on a life of its own and it’s so exciting and interesting to watch.
Totally, music can be such a ‘soundtrack’ for people and their journeys and I feel with your music that explores a lot of really personal and relatable experiences, it can be interpreted by all of us as queer people, the same goes for your visuals as well. Visuals are clearly a huge part of your art, with the different characters and narratives you create and convey in your music videos, such as the workaholic figure in “Career Boy” where you hint at dealing with capitalism or in “Man to Man’ where the characters were caricaturing the different forms of masculinity and how we view gender. Do you go into the studio with a full concept in mind for a song and visual or does one come before the other? How does the process work for you?
I mean again it is ever changing and different each time. I can go into a studio when I have already come up with an entire concept for a music video, I style myself anyway in all my music videos so it’s easy for me to know what kind of vibe I want to go with through fashion or aesthetic. On the flip side, I can have a song title or lyrics and do a more traditional process of writing, recording and then doing a music video.
As we spoke about with your characters and the vibes you create, you often have the ability to turn intense political, social and philosophical issues into beautiful off-centre futuristic pop bops, what is it about music that you feel allows you to escape and open up about things in the way you do?
It is interesting because I feel part of it for me is that I just get so bored of writing music that doesn’t have those elements to it, so I get my motivation from creating music that resonates with an important topic or has a deeper meaning. For me on a personnel level, it is hard to find the effort to go into the studio when a song doesn’t have a connection to anything important to me and doesn’t have the opportunity to have really compelling visuals.
I love that. The label, ‘queer artist’, is that something that resonates with you or do you feel this is just another way of boxing queer people up?
I feel I am personally really grateful for it, I am grateful there are platforms that are giving us more visibility, it definitely has been a slightly ‘trendy’ thing but then when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture, there is still so far to go in terms of queer visibility and queer representation within music, especially for queer people of colour so I feel it is important to use the terminology to give more visibility to queer art. I can totally see both sides to it though.
Absolutely, I know it can be something that really helps fans also who look to you for inspiration, having someone they resonate with and can feel seen by. It is safe to say you have a very close relationship with your fans, particularly on social media - I always see you responding to your comments and sharing posts, how important is that relationship with them to you?
Oh my god, it is so important to me, I can’t even tell you, especially now more than ever. I have this app where I can text them directly and it’s really crazy, I love that now I have the time where I can engage more with the people who listen to my music. It’s also been where I have always seen my art as something that is never just ‘all me’ and always been a back and forth with the people around me and who support me, so I can try and create art that resonates with people. An example was seeing the reaction for the video for ‘Career Boy’, it was just crazy. It was my first release since my collab with Charli XCX and I had so many trans men messaging me and posting about it, talking about how they felt seen as well as so many other queer fans who said it had helped them feel empowered. It was truly amazing and so special to me.
We need to of course talk about your new track ‘Sorry Bro, I Love You’, it feels very different and fresh for you, do you have other projects coming up this year we can get excited about?
Well I wrote the track in Vegas, I did a writing camp in January with Dylan Brady, Count Baldor and 100 Gecs and co-wrote the track with myself and Mood Killer. It is probably my most casual song like ever! It’s funny because it feels like my first ‘love song’ even though it isn’t necessarily that! It’s about having a friend or a ‘bro’ and the lines between friendship and romance being blurred, which can be so beautiful you know? So, I have managed to shoot an awesome visual and the whole record feels very me yet still feels so new and different.
I love that! I mean, you have been creating and releasing music since a very young age, in what ways would you say you have grown the most and what valuable lessons have you learned that you feel are important for other aspiring artists to learn?
I can’t express the importance of collaboration! Meeting different artists, producers and creatives. I am so involved in my music, but I think people, especially newer artists can make the mistake of getting locked in with feeling like they have to have total control of producing, recording, directing etc. If I did that, I would be locked in a very different sound, it’s about finding others who you can collaborate with and work with people who will challenge you and force you to bring new things to the table. That’s definitely what I have learned and that’s the advice I would give to newer artists.
What are some of your favourite tracks of all time, both from your own catalogue and others?
Oooo, from others, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ by the Beach Boys instantly comes to mind, ‘You Only Live Once’ by The Strokes and I love ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee), that’s like my go to DJ track when I DJ! The tracks of my own that feel my most important, are ‘Career Boy’ and ‘Man to Man’, I feel it will be hard for me to ever write a pop track like that again.
Being someone who doesn’t conform the binaries society places on us, do you feel this has hindered your career in anyway due to ongoing transphobia and ignorance within big corporate industry’s and the mainstream media?
I mean for me, I feel I have been very lucky and have so much support from both my team and my audience. I am an independent artist, so I haven’t ever had someone from the industry in my way when having freedom with my art. In my personal life, I try to never look at things like that and just focus on positives, but I can definitely see how it has affected other artists just in the way people can be like ‘oh I don’t know what to do with this artist’, especially if they are non-binary.
You told Playboy your main inspirations behind your relationship with music, sex and gender were David Bowie and Austin Powers, which is just, iconic. Who would you say currently in the industry are the ones to watch and the ones you feel inspired by?
I feel Lil Nas X is incredible, I know it might be the obvious, but just within fashion, music and everything he is doing on such a massive platform. He is incredible and should be praised and recognised for everything he is doing. Lizzo and Billie Eilish also speak to me, they are such huge stars on a massive scale and are really challenging how we view a ‘popstar’. We have had so long of blonde, white, cis pop-stars so it’s a breath of fresh air to see the major artists right now challenging that.
Looking at society and the mainstream’s relationship with gender as a whole, what are the main changes that need to be made in order to progress onto a more accepting and educated world?
Language. I have always used the term gender fluid instead of non-binary even though non-binary seems to be the more used term. When I first heard ‘non-binary’ I looked at it as almost a negative and was put off by it actually because I didn’t fully understand what it meant. I thought with the word ‘non’ it was kind of like, oh you identify as neither? You know? I thought it meant Agender. It was why the term gender fluid just resonated more with me, even though I do still consider myself non-binary, because fluid just sounds so much more chilled out and to me explains what it is, being fluid within the gender spectrum. Also, we are so lucky with the English language to have gender neutral pronouns because in so many languages such as Spanish, Italian and German, they just aren’t available because words are either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. I learned on my tour around Europe last November with Charli, so many European fans didn’t know how to refer to me and I would be like, well, if you can just try to disrupt the language that would help but I released how difficult it is because it isn’t built into their language.
Of course, I only discovered this recently and was completely unaware also that this was such a problem many gender non-conforming people are dealing with. Even furniture is gendered! This is why I think ‘queer’ is such an important word because it can resonate with all of us in such different ways! What advice would you give to a young person who may be struggling to accept their gender or sexual identity?
I would say remember it is all a journey. Do not feel pressured to feel like you have to ‘discover’ or ‘uncover’ who you are, take your time with your exploration and know every human is a different and dynamic, ever evolving person and part of our growth as people, is changing. Looking at myself in this way really helped me and stopped the guilt I felt with my own relationship with my gender and self. Just try your best to enjoy the journey and embrace every aspect of who you are.
Check out Dorian's new single, 'Sorry Bro, I Love You' and it's video here -