Are the Dwarves the Punk Soundtrack to Sexual Perversion?
Considering they're the most taboo of taboos, rape, incest, necrophilia and pedophilia rarely receive simultaneous play on the silver screen. But in 2010, Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic dedicated camera time to all of those topics in A Serbian Film—a flick YouTube user feagfilms used to make an unauthorized video for the Dwarves. The ultra-energetic "Stop Me" from 2011's The Dwarves Are Born Again scores a frantic, freaky montage of violent sex, gory vampirism and smashed skulls. "I didn't make the project really or have much to do with it, but I suppose I approve of it," the Dwarves' good-natured ringleader/vocalist Blag Dahlia says. "[The video maker] sort of jacked our song and jacked that imagery, but when I looked at it, I was like, 'Fuck, this is pretty appropriate,' although it isn't what I would have done. I tend to go more vanilla sexually."
Dahlia might be cool with his Chicago-bred, San Francisco-based band soundtracking scenes from the intensely nasty, frequently banned horror-thriller, but the Dwarves' discography and Serbian don't truly sync up. Both entities encourage devious sexual acts but employ vastly different tones. Serbian's aesthetic is frighteningly dark and disconcerting, whereas the band have long engaged in offensive content with a sense of mischievous glee. Since forming in the early 1980s, the Dwarves have used naked women and blood on their record covers, titled their crucial 1990 album Blood Guts & Pussy, encouraged sex and chaos at shows, perpetuated a death hoax, and generally not given a shit if someone doesn't appreciate their attitude or lyrics. Born Again includes the aptly titled lead track "The Dwarves Are Still the Best Band Ever," centered around a simple, unambiguous refrain: "Let's just get high and fuck some sluts."
Yet the Dwarves' confrontational style has its purpose. On the phone, Dahlia speaks passionately about the timidity of contemporary music, indicating that the Dwarves function to juxtapose socially safe rock and create a cosmic joke/social statement that pisses on convention. Andy Kaufman would have dug 'em. The notoriety of their antics downplays a history of solid songcraft, which has traditionally fluctuated between '60s garage rock, reckless '80s hardcore and '90s California pop-punk. The Dwarves Must Die (2004) ran a gamut of unexpected genres—Dahlia mentions "really weird pop or really weird death metal speed" plus garage and surf—but they have reasons for dabbling, too. "With us, you never know what you're going to be getting, and the things that are really soft and poppy set you up for the shit that's really gross and nasty," he says. "It's all kind of part of it."
Even after decades with the group, Dahlia is still no stranger to being maligned by critics who think that getting naked at shows, putting boobs on album covers and supporting an association with something as shocking as A Serbian Film is nothing more than talentless gimmickry. "But to me, doing that stuff is a basic part of what makes rock & roll fun," he says. "I look at it like, yeah, you can bring in a bunch of naked girls and scream 'fuck' at the top of your lungs, but you can also make a really bitchen song and play it really well and get it produced right, and if you can do all of those things, you've got something pretty neat."
This article appeared in print as "Perversion With a Purpose: The Dwarves discuss the punk merits of using boobs and blood to promote their music."
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