A strange, unsettling pair emerge from above and surge down the stairs towards the stage, sliding down banisters, their bodies a’rage, thrashing the movements of the punkest parade that has graced my gauge in a street kid’s spiked collared Pitbull’s age. They slayed and I was blown away by the power of their mad cabaret. Week two of Buddies in Bad Times’ 39th annual Rhubarb Festival was in full screaming swing, and I swung like a puppet on an electrified string.
Abrasive. Vivacious. Aggressive. Transgressive. Hilarious. This megameta convergence of frantic antics and obnoxious bombastic praxis is the stunningly awe-full Missdick Vibrocis. I was enthralled by the throes of the odd ball of subculture crushing curveballs conducted by outsider artists Lorene Bouboushian and Jill Flanagan, who reside in Brooklyn, NY and Chicago, respectively.
Embodying black mold on art house society’s showerhead, our hosts peeled back the shower curtain spread over the droopy frame of stagnantly stuffy, willfully distracted, conventionally alternative propriety, chanting IT IS FUCKED! Why this caca-phonous intensity? Is such nonsense really necessary? Not everyone is concerned with queered neologisms and the frontiers of gender-conscious engagement, sigh. And also, confrontational punk aesthetics are questionably relevant and often simply an excuse for privileged self-indulgence, ughh? If I’d know what you were I may have gone to the other show, thanks.
Missdick Vibrocis chopped audience expectations into fat lines on a crusted funhouse mirror and aggressively thrust it into their spectator’s nostrils. Conscious of the disgust they quite probably evoked amongst nicer people, they distributed a waiver absolving themselves of accountability in the event of cognitive meltdown. And, as they pointed out, if one was truly disturbed by the dynamic duo’s disruptive demeanours there was the recourse of writing a note to the Disemboweled Mannequin Safe Space Coordinator perched protectively on the back corner of the stage. Noone had the guts.
A spastic roast ensued, as Lorene and Jill interrogated their ‘radically socially conscious performance art work’ and issued citations for past transgressions. Each had run reds at social intersections, according to the other. A reckoning was due, and they held each other to account for their offences, which varied from dropping the ball, bossiness, being violent towards audience members (licking), using implied rather than explicit audience consent, disrespecting private property due to class privilege and appropriating identities they have no lived experience of. A particularly poignant moment was Lorene’s delivery of the T For Transgender vignette, an urgent cry for cis visibility expressing the vital need of bringing the bodies of cis allies into the spotlight. This dose of truth was so potent that Jill experienced the cleansing catharsis of puking on the floor.
All perceptions are mediated by the individual’s accumulated history. I viewed Missdick Vibrocis from the position of a seasoned spectator and performer of hardcore punk. I wondered how different my experience of the show was from others without a history and knowledge of punk. Was the nightmarish videogame soundtrack simply noise to them, just another element of an unexpected annoyance that flew over their heads like a rubber chicken inflated with nitrous oxide? I certainly heard laughter from the crowd and saw some smiling faces, but I also noticed a few jaded eyebrows raised in response to the ludicrous lunacy unfolding before them.
A sense of uncertainty permeated my engagement with the performance. One definition of punk that I subscribe to is that it is the removal of boundaries between performer and audience. In this case, the boundaries remained in place. I was afraid to mount the stage and write a note for the Disemboweled Mannequin Safe Space Coordinator, despite the ostensibly explicit invitation to do so.
The audience was much too reserved, creating a jarring clash with the essence of the performance and holding it back from reaching its ultimate potential. I felt that Missdick Vibrocis begged for chaotic interactive engagement the likes of which I personally have only experienced at hard core punk shows, a subculture which, though generally accepting of individual lifestyle choices, is often uninterested in nuanced discourses of intersectional identity politics. Missdick’s polished devastation, in a dark room with no seats, no elevated stage and a bunch of screaming punks, would melt me like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Perhaps some readers may question my classification of Missdick as punk. They are more of a performance group than a band, and although the soundtrack they composed and the songs they sing are jarring and abrasive, it closest genre categorization may be noise/industrial, rather than conventional punk. Crucially, however, their delivery was as unquestionably in-your-face as any punk band I’ve seen. But what about the content, and all this gender stuff. Do we really have to go there? Yes.
Punk has always elusively resisted the confinement of genre boundaries. A key familial resemblance among its diverse iterations is rejecting and subverting the status quo. As we dangle over the precipice of the Moron Apocalypse, legions of whining free speech warriors of all stripes bemoan the encroachment of political correctness upon their right to enforce or ignore expressions of oppression. Some of them dress and act as punks. A simple reminder: Costumes and addictions don’t make one punk. Critical thoughts and convictions do. In this mcmodern era, punk still means resisting status quo values, which are racist, sexist, classist, ableist, consumerist, homophobic and particularly transphobic. Posers abound, whether dressed in mall bought punk uniforms or painstakingly patched and grimed gutter regalia. Such sheep in punks clothing scratch out territories of ill-founded, unreflective philosophies and lifestyles that they vigorously classify as punk. All too often they are blissfully and willfully ignorant of how they function as simply another link in chains of oppression.
Missdick Vibrocis embody the resistant, unsettling spirit of true punk, awoken from it’s alleyway slumber to vomit honesty and shake piss on slack jawed bystanders. Without apology.