Is Bournemouth ready for Vag Halen? An “art-rock, feminist, queer, party band”, on a mission to subvert heavy metal’s misogyny through their wild live shows, will make their UK debut at the coastal-town’s arts festival.
Described as “one of Toronto’s most-exciting and confrontational rock bands”, Vag Halen’s appearance amid the family-friendly fun at Bournemouth’s Arts by the Sea Festival next week is not for the faint-hearted.
The hard-rock classics by Guns N’Roses, Led Zeppelin and Motörhead, which the all-female band blast through in note-perfect fashion, may be familiar to headbangers. But they’ve never seem them performed by a group of crotch-thrusting, pouting lesbian rockers determined to undermine the macho posturing and sexist objectification of “cock rock” and reclaim a music they actually love for the “queer” cause.
The six-piece Vag Halen began as a performance-art project and have appeared at the Venice Biennale.
Vanessa Dunn, Vag Halen’s vocalist, said: “When Robert Plant sings “Whole Lotta Love”, he’s a man impersonating a woman having an orgasm. When I sing it and use those stage antics with microphone as a woman, doesn’t it make more sense?”
Dunn, who often performs in a G-string with tape covering her nipples, adds: “Robert Plant never sang with a shirt on but when I rip mine off somehow it’s still a big deal.
“We don’t know what to expect from British audiences,” admitted the singer, who says the band should not be seen as “mimics or impersonators”. “Perhaps we’re what the sleepy town of Bournemouth needs.”
Chuck Klosterman, the American author and essayist, calls Vag Halen “the most-powerful all-female band in rock history”. Yet Dunn still struggles to get the band’s name pronounced correctly.
“It’s ‘Vag’ as in ‘vagina’. It shows how stifled people are that we still have to tell them 50 per cent of the time.”
Dunn fell in love with heavy metal at an early age. She believed that Tawny Kitaen, a lingerie model who writhed on a car roof in a Whitesnake video, was “the most-beautiful, powerful woman in the world. But I also realised the portrayal of women was problematic and there was a power dynamic at play”.
She says that she admires Guns N’Roses for their brilliant songs but adds that Axl Rose is still “a misogynist asshole, although he looked beautiful and feminine”.
Singers such as Van Halen’s Dave Lee Roth who wore hairspray and lipstick were “transgressive gender roles”, she says.
“With Vag Halen we’re trying to blend those contradictions. Queer women are coming to finish the job off.”