Season of the witch house
Dvchess is probably the first transgender witch-house rapper you’re likely to hear
A recent event coordinated by the Holland Project challenged local artists to shoot, edit and produce a music video in 48 hours, each using a song by a Reno music artist. The resulting five videos were screened at the Nevada Museum of Art. The videos were impressive considering the constraints of the challenge, and the audience seemed to appreciate each one. One of the videos, however, stood out from the others.
“SATAN IZ CUMMING,” announced flashing, screen-high letters at the beginning of the video for the song of the same name. The musician was Dvchess, someone essentially unknown in the local scene. The video was directed by Toshadeva Palani, a photographer and surprisingly accomplished music video director, formerly of Reno.
The debut video of Dvchess, filmed in the Black Rock Desert, has some of the recognizable conventions of a rap video, including dancing, posing, thuggish-looking characters, wardrobe changes, and, of course, rapping. It also features a burning cross, a severed pig’s head, medieval weaponry, and—as promised by the title—a morbid sexual fetishization of the Prince of Darkness. At the center of it all is the black-clad Dvchess herself, the first transgender witch-house rapper you are likely to have laid eyes on.
The things Dvchess discusses doing in the song would be enough to earn her a spot at a burning stake, if our culture still subscribed to that sort of thing. In this day and age, however, the activities she references could merely get her arrested in several states. Dvchess is something of a perfect storm for anyone looking for a scapegoat. Whether you get riled by references to drug abuse, the occult, group sex, bodily fluids, the casual use of the N word by a white rapper, or just someone who was born a boy aggressively embracing a female role, there is something for everyone to get pissed off about.
“Now Satan is cummin’/Deep in my plumbin’,” Dvchess spits, in what may be the only lyric fit to print. As dark and repulsive as it may come across, however, it also comes across with a wink. The audience at the public screening snickered throughout the video, sometimes from genuine amusement, sometimes along the lines of the nervous laughter that can be heard during a horror movie screening. To the extent her music makes people laugh, Dvchess is very much in on the joke. She confesses to giggling along with the crowd at the screening, and even breaking up during filming. If you stumbled across her video on YouTube, you might first be taken in by its shock value, but if you were able to get through it, you would probably appreciate its freshness and be struck by its grand incongruity. One thing is almost certain: love it or hate it, you’re almost certain to crack a smile at it unless you’re an absolute puritan.
Sitting through the video, of course, would require a tolerance for what has come to be known as witch-house. It’s a sub-genre of electronic music with a dark, Gothic aesthetic and heavy hip-hop elements. The term “witch-house” started out as a joke but caught on, and in that respect, it’s no surprise that Dvchess identifies with it, even though the witch-house community, such as it is, tends to take itself pretty seriously. In that respect, Dvchess defies the conventions even of her own narrow niche. Her name itself is something of a wink. The Old English V in place of a U is a nod to witch-house’s exclusionary obsession with purposely making it harder to search for witch-house on the internet. So too is the litter of special typographical symbols on her Facebook page and YouTube channel. Where internet witch-house musicians and fans will mix in Unicode text just to be difficult, Dvchess changes every A to a triangle, every T to a cross, every E to a 3, exposing the ridiculousness of it all.
In her mission to constantly do the unexpected, Dvchess seems also to be carving out a new aesthetic in her chosen genre. Witch-house thus far has been styled like hip-hop, heavy on baggy sweatshirts, oversize jerseys, and other signposts of not giving a fuck. Dvchess wants to glam it up. Six feet tall with long black hair, in tall leather boots, skintight black clothes and a flat-billed cap, the sight of Dvchess as she raps about the devil is a big part of her appeal.
As for the provocative nature of her imagery and lyrical content, Dvchess laughs. “Shocking people is fun,” she admits. “But it’s not the root of what I’m doing. I just have this fascination with the darker side of things, and I think it’s funny to throw sex into it. Weird sexual ideas are fun to explore musically.”
Dvchess has made music before in other projects under other names, but she got started in the witch-house style by doing drag remixes of popular mainstream hits. The term drag doesn’t have anything to do with being transgender, but refers to a style of remixing music that is often characterized by vocals that are slowed down and deepened in pitch to the point of unintelligibility.
“You take a song, stretch the fuck out of it, throw some nasty filters on it,” Dvchess explains. “You’re basically raping a song to make it sound like hell spewing out of someone’s mouth. It’s not supposed to sound pretty. “
Drag isn’t the kind of thing that most people would sit and listen to for hours on end. Even Dvchess herself acknowledges that much of drag’s appeal is about the novelty of hearing something familiar raked over the coals. Her most notable drag effort is a remix of a Justin Bieber song. It blew up on YouTube, but was taken down because the accompanying picture was deemed too obscene.
As for the rap element, Dvchess arrived at it in a somewhat unusual way. She professes to have always hated rap until she discovered the gateway drug: Lil Wayne.
“I couldn’t stop watching his videos. Then I started listening to other stuff, surprisingly, and I really liked singing along to it. Then I discovered witch-house and I was like, holy shit, there’s rapping in this, but it sounds scary as fuck, has interesting content—slightly on the darker side. So I just started doing my own stuff.”
Dvchess’ own stuff turns out to be pretty unique indeed. With the concept of transgender being associated with homosexuality, and with hip-hop being a historically homophobic sphere of the culture, Dvchess is breaking ground in more ways than even she has considered.
“I’ve never heard of a transgender rapper,” she acknowledges, but she doesn’t see anything earth-shattering about it. While recognizing how unusual she is in that respect, she doesn’t dwell on it or incorporate it into an agenda. “I haven’t really thought about it. I’m a lot more worried about putting out a good song.”
Dvchess the performer is a bundle of contradictions, and while her transgender aspect may be only one, it’s right at the forefront of her persona. Generally speaking, “transgender” is an umbrella term for anyone who identifies with a gender that they weren’t born into. In Dvchess’s case, this preference will manifest in medically changing sex, which is a long and expensive process, with obvious social stigma. Dvchess is good-natured and open about it all, but does note the difficulty of finding a date.
“I’m a living fetish right now,” she acknowledges.
Right now Dvchess’s musical output is limited mostly to a bunch of drag remixes. If interest in her original work persists, Dvchess hopes to put out an LP, but is still seeking the right producer to collaborate with. She also has not played a live show yet, given some financial and technical limitations, but her black-lined eyes gleam at the prospect.
“It’s gonna be dirty,” she promises.