Performance

Pen Meets Pick: Screaming Females and Doodle Drag Perform

Screaming Females on stage at Maxwell's (all photos by the author)

Screaming Females are one of those bands who are just that good; they have an unwavering idea about who they are and what they want to do, have worked relentlessly to get where they are and have retained their weirdo aesthetic throughout. In the past two years, the band has gained the attention of indie icons like Henry Rollins and Jay Mascis, and they have played to huge auditoriums and basements alike, sharing the stage with bands like Dinosaur Jr., Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Yo La Tengo as well as dozens of local musicians just starting out. The band doesn’t stop at concerts either — on March 30th, Screaming Females teamed up with frontwoman Marissa Paternoster and LNY’s new art collective, called Doodle Drag, for a multimedia show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Punk rock’s DIY ethos, which encourages making your own records, booking your own shows and running your band or project on your own terms, is central to Screaming Females’ inner workings. Following this spirit, Paternoster’s own unsettling artwork graces the cover of each of the band’s records, not to mention their t-shirts. For Doodle Drag’s first event, the collective asked 13 artist friends to illustrate one track each by Screaming Females, and also made an international open call for submissions to illustrate the song “Lights Out.” Given that Paternoster’s enigmatic lyrics play an important part in her visual art as well, the music-visual art connection seemed particularly fitting.

Screaming Females' projection screen

Without much of a comprehensive mission statement, Doodle Drag jokingly aimed to create an “immersive” experience for their audience. Paternoster has explained that Doodle Drag aims to harness the overwhelming energy of punk shows and to bring that kind of enthusiasm to underground art. Again, this relationship between art and music is part of the scene’s history. Punk rock and its ephemera have always gone hand in hand, resulting in coffee table books like Fucked Up + Photocopied and Punk is Dead Punk is Everything by Bryan Ray Turcotte, as well as Punk House by Abby Banks. Visual artists, Raymond Pettibon chief among them, have defined punk through their own dark subject matter and nihilistic aesthetics. Now, Paternoster is doing the same with her own artwork, even teaming up with LNY to paint a mural on one of Williamsburg’s major DIY music epicenters, Death by Audio.

Keeping it local, Screaming Females asked fellow Jersey friends Brick Mower and Black Wine to open the night. The merch table was filled with the standard band paraphernalia, t-shirts and records, but also included comics, a printed program for the evening, drawings available for sale, buttons by the artists, and even a DVD recording of the art show that the audience was about to witness.

Screaming Females' merch table, with zines and drawings for sale

When the time came to start the show, Screaming Females squeezed onto the relatively small stage at Maxwell’s, just to the right of a blank sheet on the wall, which served as a projection screen. “We’re Screaming Females!” Paternoster squeaked out, and as the lights went down, she introduced the first artist: Tiffany Cheng, who illustrated the song “Wild,” off of the band’s latest LP, Castle Talk. The work projected onto the sheet ranged from photograph-based and stop-motion animations to felt pen drawings, grotesque and beautiful all at once. The artwork suited the music — dark, jubilant, fun, neurotic — visual and audio codes that we forget to interpret because we’re so busy enjoying it.

For any devoted fan of the Screamales, the night was exciting simply for its music selection. The band played tracks from all over their catalogue, including a notable rendition of fan favorite “Mothership,” off of 2006’s Baby Teeth, the band’s first LP. The song was illustrated with cartoons of the band made by Anna Jacobson projected in the background. Check out the performance in the video below.

Paternoster ripped into a guitar solo while the audience erupted into applause for their classic “Boyfriend”. Photographer Jamie Bruno paired this track with eerie photographs of nude women laying in fields, covered in dirt. Paternoster shrieked the lyrics, “She is our miscreant / she is our detox / she is our dagger in the dark / she is the knot mess / she is the undressed / she is the boy borne in my heart / while you sit on the fence I will burn in hell.”

While Screaming Females could draw a crowd pretty much anywhere, there was a definite feeling of something new going down at Maxwell’s. Doodle Drag opened up a space I wish I saw more often: the bridging of music and art in a deliberate and forceful way. Doodle Drag and Screaming Females may come from across the Hudson, but New York should take heed: there’s energy that gets lost when we walk into a room of white walls, the same energy that we find when we get together to make work collaboratively, messily, with other artists, whether it’s musical or otherwise. What kind of spaces can we open up to make up for the discrepancy?

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