By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
It's hard to find a Dominatrix album if you want one. We found ours burned onto a CD-R and bundled in a receipt from a fax machine, sunning itself on a lawn chair outside a petite dollhouse apartment, tracked down after a series of late-night secret-agent phone calls and a lot of weaving slowly through seedy Silver Lake side streets. Maybe that's a lot of trouble to go through, or maybe we're just lazy: compared with the uphill climbs Dominatrix had to make back home in Brazil—as an all-girl feminist punk foursome that doesn't need or want to be a part of anything Latin alternative—the Hollywood hills suddenly seem sort of flat.
It might be a little touchy to call them Brazil's Bikini Kill, but Dominatrix—by design and happy circumstance—ended up playing the same sort of vanguard to the same sort of feminist punk explosion. Two years after Dominatrix started playing out in 1995, singer Isabella Gargiulo said in an interview with Portland band the Haggard (yes, the members of Dominatrix are about as hard to find as their CDs; we do what we can), resolutely political all-girl bands had gone from endangered-species rare to just about everywhere, a trend that eventually stiffened into tradition. Right now, she explained, there are 15 active feminist collectives spread across their country, and punk audiences are at least half female. Contrast that with the sweaty sausage mosh at Chain Reaction hardcore night—and remember the comparatively amped-up sexist undercurrent in Brazil, where women won equality under the constitution only in 1988—and you've got a better idea of what the Dominatrix sound can do than any fragile little CD-R could give you.
Sisters Isabella and Elisa Gargiulo split the vocals, one a steady soprano like Jodi Bletley, one arcing in harmonies over the top. They pulled the name Dominatrix from a Bratmobile lyric because they liked its punchy sound; only later did they realize how appropriately it translated. They've got the impassioned clarion charisma that blooms from clear-minded purpose, set astraddle the galloping runaway-freight drumbeats that politico-bros Propagandhi use to get hearts pumping. Impressionable and frustrated kids, beware of combustion on contact: Dominatrix, given the right conditions, is one of those bands that'll pop you right open and light a fuse you never knew you had.
"After we saw them play," explains Emily, guitarist in the Haggard, "we fell completely in love. It had been a long time since I had seen a band that made my heart want to explode out of my chest with excitement."
A nod to Emily and band mate sts for building a little international goodwill where fleets of AC-130 gunships and GIs who tromp around mosques in combat boots have failed: a chance meeting with Dominatrix at a European feminist music festival (Ladyfest Amsterdam, if you're counting) bloomed into the kind of oh-my-God-we-were-meant-to-meet-each-other relationship that no borders (international or otherwise) could contain. And that turned into a full West Coast tour for Dominatrix, starting a little incongruously at a college coffeehouse in Pomona.
But this is a band that modestly, if single-handedly, helped put a new face to a national music scene; they've faced worse than even the 909 can deliver. When Dominatrix started, says Isabella, no one really even understood what feminism was; when they found out, Dominatrix fans spread the word to the uninitiated themselves. And they even carved out a safe space for Brazilian punk girls, drawing a significant population of lesbians out of a very deep, dark closet. That was the hard part, Isabella told Emily.
"The easiest thing?" she says. "Uniting the girls in the scene was really easy because they were already looking for something to bring them together. They were already rebelling as individuals."Dominatrix and the Haggard perform at the Motley Coffee House, 1030 Columbia Ave., Claremont, (909) 607-3967. Thurs., Feb 20. Call for time and cover. All ages.