Ever find yourself at a show watching a performance that makes you think, “wait, what the hell am I looking at?” You just walked into a bar you’ve never been to before for a drink, and all of a sudden there’s someone singing gibberish on stage waving a dildo around. Shocking to some, surprising to others, normalcy to many.
That’s right, this is actually a normal happenstance in the performance art scene—but it’s not just performance art; some of these bands not only play their music on the stage, but also put on a show that can only appropriately be described as art.
Performance art has been around since at least the early 20th century. Art societies such as futurism, dada, surrealism, and cubism, which were very popular during the early 1900s to the late 1920s, all embodied components of performance art. They wouldn’t just present a painting; artists would feature an elaborate theatrical performance that coincided with it. For example, the Italian futurists would read manifestos during a series of evening performances before even exhibiting any paintings.
Back then, going against your government or showing even a hint of allusion to any sort of sexual desire was very risqué, which made these types of performance art quite ahead of their time.
Rock’n’roll, metal, and punk rock brought performance art to a whole new level. Bands like The Rolling Stones would showcase elaborate stage backdrops, glam rock brought flames and fog machines into pop culture, punk rock had broken bottles flying around as a sign of a good performance, and metal bands such as Black Sabbath made bloodshed on stage a normal thing.
Some bands such as Gwar, Mayhem, and Gerogerigegege have done some stuff on stage that garnered a lot of controversy.
Besides their intimidating costumes, Gwar shows consist of many bodily fluids being ejected onto the crowd. This stirred up controversy in the beginning of the band’s carer because, understandably, many people were completely shocked. However, it turned out those fluids were fake blood, urine, and semen… So, no harm done, and now, it’s the performance art that the fans expect.
Mayhem is a nefarious black metal band steeped in all kinds of shady stories. Death, suicide, murder–you name it, they’re hardcore. While on stage, they tend to perform what seems like an entire sacrificial ritual. That’s right; they’ll not only bring a dead pig on stage, they’ll also cover themselves in its blood and put the swine head on peg.
Gerogerigegege, is the most hardcore out of all the pioneers of wild rock’n’roll performance art. They’re a Japanese punk band that is known for taking shits on stage, peeing on the audience, and their most popular act, masturbating mid-set (to completion.)…
There are still performances like these that happen all the time. During this day and age of information overload, however, it’s not nearly as shocking or new to experience. Bands such as Future Blondes, Yellow Tears, Hirsuite Pursuit, Marshstepper, and Vatican Shadow are contemporary groups that all incorporate performance art into their shows. They may not take a shit on stage, but there’s still overtly sexual theatrics, and other acts most audiences have probably never witnessed on stage before.
Rike Nurrahma is a fashion stylist assistant by day, but at night she enjoys attending performance art shows.
“Future Blondes for sure,” Nurrahma cites as the craziest act she’s seen. “While the music and vocals played through on loop, one of the dancers approached this veiled object that was in front of their set… The object unveiled itself to be a chair with a dildo strapped to the seat, and the woman approached it, seduced it, and then pleasured herself on the dildo in front of the students—in the thick of fogs, strobe lights, and a full crowd.”
She told other stories, such as a Yellow Tears show where the band members took a shower outside mid-set and one where she saw a very interactive Hirsuite Pursuite with performers dressed in bondage “obeying” their masters. “They shared a little bit of the experience with the audience members at some point; it was very intimate,” she admits.
These performances may sound cringe-worthy, but for Nurrahmah it’s a thrill ride. “There is a bit of risk to it, to be up close and possibly be part of the performance,” she explains. “It’s scary at first, but I guess I’d decide to go with it if I get myself in that situation—I also just seem to like some form of sexual expression in a live performance.”
Another fan of this sort of performance art is Jeff Kardos, a graphic designer during the day, an avid performance art concertgoer at night.
Marshstepper is known for their druid look and S&M-inspired performances. Kardos says he saw one of their more tame shows, but it still included a room filled with heavy fog and performers dressed as druids draped in chains that they were swinging around, all while the band climbed table to table performing vocal parts.
He also reminisces about when he saw Vatican Shadow. “He swings the microphone or a flashlight and just essentially unravels on stage,” Kardos recounts. “It’s quite an amazing live performance to watch someone control through what seems to be losing total control.”
Kardos explains the allure of this type of music is the performance itself—it’s important to make them as abrasive and conceptual as possible, down to the minute details. “I appreciate when people put that much care into everything about a performance, from the clothes to the instruments to how they interact or choose to not interact with the audience,” he illuminates. “Not just the song being played or the lyrics, though I love those, there is just so much more with these kinds of shows—a few times I have even been legitimately terrified because of what was coming out of the speakers.”
Though performers can get out of hand for some (like Gerogerigegege), it’s good to keep an open mind—especially during a time when it seems like everything has already been done. These bands are bringing a unique experience to all concertgoers–just be sure to bring a poncho or mentally prepare yourself before going to one of these shows.