A Picture of Dorian Electra
Photography by Phillip Soulliere
Hair by Gregg Lennon Jr.
Makeup by Nick Lennon
American performer Dorian Electra (they, theirs, them) uses surrealism, vivid color, and elements of surprise to animate an energy that feels like you’re in a dream machine and pop culture has come to life. They transcend genre and gender so skill- fully that to watch Dorian’s videos is to go on a visual escapade. They woo us with masquerade, and we are seduced. Definitely.
Your music videos are always so exuberant—can you tell us a little bit more about making them?
The music was often the vehicle for the music video. That was sort of my first love artistically, but I definitely got into listening to music, and then I got into making music starting at age 14 using GarageBand. I just liked the ability to combine my own music and my own visuals and fashion. All of those things wrapped up into one.
A lot of your videos are created with your friend, art director Weston Allen. How did you begin working together?
We used to make educational videos for money and then one day a friend at Refinery29 asked us to make a sex education video, which then became a music video about the history of the clitoris. Then we began making videos for other artists too.
What other collaborations are you involved in right now?
We have a creative community of producers including Dylan Brady, Count Baldor, and Mood Killer who’ve worked with us on visuals and creative stuff, musically and visually. We just have all these ideas flowing in different ways. Right now, we’re all in a writing camp for Mood Killer’s music and then after that Weston is doing a video that we’re kind of working on. It’s like a family, always creating stuff, bouncing back and forth with everyone. My dream was to have that kind of creative community and I feel like I’ve really found that.
You clearly love working collaboratively, and yet you do seem to run a sleek independent career.
I run the business side of it as well as the creative side. I’m the one that sets the deadlines for myself and that can be stressful too, but I also appreciate the freedom and flexibility. At any moment’s notice, I can just be like, “No! you know what, I want to drop this video today!” Or, “I want to push this back” or, “I want to change it up completely” or, you know, whatever. I don’t have to get it approved by anyone, which I really love and appreciate.
In the past, I was maybe embarrassed to put it out there– that I don’t have a label or a manager– because I was trying to appear as big an artist as possible and I didn’t want that to diminish me. Now I’ve proved things to myself, I’m proud to say I haven’t had that kind of help. When I see a comment saying I’m an “industry plant” (because my videos are so good, they must be expensive and funded by a big label) I love it! We fooled you—it’s all held together with dollar store duct tape!
Sounds like a lot of work.
I honestly prefer that for my lifestyle. I need hyper-stimulation constantly, to be feel- ing productive and satisfied and both of my parents are like that too.
Much of your work experiments with genre. What, if any, is your songwriting process?
I usually go in with a bunch of song concepts. I know I want to make a song called “this” and sometimes it’ll take like two or three attempts, you know, and I’ll be like, “you know, this wasn’t that good.” In one instance, I knew that I wanted to make a song called “M’Lady”. I wanted to have it start with a harpsichord and be this sto- rybook thing, then go into a guitar thing where it sounds like mouth breathing with repetition. I knew that’s what I wanted it to sound like. So, I begin with these little descriptions and things, but sometimes that evolves differently when it goes through writing camp or just as I begin to create.
Tell us about the role of cyber culture in your work. Aside from your video for Edgelord where it’s an obvious inspiration, is it present in other work?
Yes, with M’Lady and Gentlemen, that we put out as a double single. That came from the idea of the Renaissance woman, the ideal human type, and the fedora-tipping guy. That was a big meme, I mean, it’s almost a retro meme at this point. I grew up with kids that were into sword-swinging and trench coat-wearing and Dungeons and Dragons and I love all that stuff. I love that aesthetic, I love that vibe, but when it becomes weird, you know, is when people are idealizing women or putting them on a pedestal or treating them in some weird way, as though they’re a knight in shining armor.
Where do you get your style and character inspirations?
For me, a huge part of my creativity, even being in the studio and thinking about music that I’m making, is thinking about what I would be wearing. How I would be moving my body in that theoretical music video for whatever song I’m writing. It hap- pens when I haven’t even started writing the song, the physicality of that comes from what I know of musical theater and performing, and how the character comes alive when you put the costume on. It’s the outward representation of whatever is inside. I feel, for me, especially when it comes to playing with gender identity, even just forms and shapes are important. I can put on a different silhouette of something like a big, square, boxy shirt, and feel different from if I wear a tank top.
It’s evident your attitude to fashion mirrors the way you approach music.
I’m interested in taking a baroque collar, adding some punk spikes and then mixing that with some baggy jeans with the boxers showing or whatever it is, you know? To me, that’s exactly the same way that I view music.
Let’s talk fashion. We heard about your recent collab with Left Hand LA?
They’re so amazing. They sent me some stuff I absolutely loved, then they suggested a collaboration. So, I sent a bunch of images and patches and ideas for things, along with photos of me, and memes I’d screenshot. I love the idea of something fleeting being made more permanent, it’s fun to have it immortalized. I love how they take these little pieces of ideas and make clothing collages with them. Their minds are so powerful!
Do you have a favorite piece?
Yes, the Dorian Electra Piss Pants, they came up with that name, but it’s hilarious. They feature a [Edvard Munch The] Scream face patch, and an amazing 4chan screenshot of someone talking about my song “F The World” with the Christian girl autumn look.
What was so significant about that look for you?
For me it was largely the comments. People saying things like “Whoa, she’s actually hot.” Some people got mad at that and said they’re mis-gendering you by looking at it that way. But for me, the idea that somebody could be tripping out because they’re attracted to somebody that identifies as something freaky like genderfluid is fun. I like the idea that someone could be disturbed that they’re aroused by me playing that role, it brings me so much joy.
Joy is infectious. It can make people more open to experience.
Yes, I want to transform people’s minds.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a deluxe version of My Agenda and it’s going to be first released on CD in an Xbox case, so it looks like a video game, I’m excited about that. I also just dropped a track with Pussy Riot but I’m most excited about a bunch of crazy merch stuff we have coming out. For “Ram It Down” — the track with Mood Killer, I’m making my own ver- sion of those sex pills you get at gas stations. Our version will just be sugar pills but the packaging and design is crazy, outrageous, and amazing.