Seventeen years before Ani DiFranco bucked the major labels by starting Righteous Babe Records, there was Olivia, an all-female record label.
Founded in 1973, Olivia Records released a large catalogue of feminist and lesbian music and had most of its success with singer-songwriters such as Meg Christian and Cris Williamson.
While Olivia Records may have always been under the mainstream radar, in the late ’80s the collective drifted into obscurity, struggling to reinvent itself with the changing women’s music landscape and becoming instead a lesbian vacation cruiseline. Rebellion over.
But four young Montreal women are stirring up the original rebellious spirit that was Olivia Records.
Lesbians On Ecstasy are a four-piece band consisting of Bernie Bankrupt on keyboard and effects, Veronique Mystique on bass, Jackie “The Jackhammer” on Octapad (electronic drum pad) and the deliciously Fruity Frankie on vocals.
Exploding onto the electronic-dance scene four years ago, LOE made their live debut at the Canadian feminist technology festival, Maid In Cyberspace. When their performance was enthusiastically received, LOE realized they were on to something.
Always fascinated by the relationship between women and technology, LOE has created a sound and style of their own. One of their obsessions has been to develop their own way of playing dance music live, using an electronic drum kit, bass guitar and an array of synthesizers. Their insistence on such a strong technological presence in their music was a rebellion against the majority of lesbian music, which privileges acoustic sound as the authentic lesbian expression.
The concept of lesbian dance music and the resulting bold, sexually charged sound initially collected a strong underground following, but in a short time LOE has also become known as a presence even in the mainstream electronic dance genre.
Several international tours later, they’re eagerly anticipating the release of their sophomore album, We Know You Know, on April 10 by Alien8 Records. This release is an original tribute to the back catalogues of lesbian and feminist record labels — most notably the historic Olivia Records.
Chatting with Capital Xtra, Bankrupt explains that LOE doesn’t consider their material to be cover songs. “The most important thing for us is to make the distinction between what it is to make sample-based music (which is what so much music production is these days) and doing cover songs. We really treat the original songs like raw material that we then mash and smash and re-invent.”
We Know You Know is an excellent example of Bankrupt’s “mash, smash and reinvent.” The album bridges the gap between electro/techno with punk rock, moments of girly sing-along and occasional flirtations with the clamour and thud of industrial music. Surfing the wave of women’s lib, LOE bravely delves deep into the lesbian vaults.
Bankrupt compares their new release to their previous material. “It’s definitely more melodic — more group singing, more hooks. The references for this album are all from women’s music from the ’70s, so I’m not sure if people will catch them as much as they did with KD Lang or Melissa Etheridge. But we’ll see. I’m sure there are some Olivia Records buffs out there.”
With the new release, LOE has a year of touring ahead of them. However, there are not very many places they haven’t already been. In the short four years of their career, LOE has played the UK, most of Central and East Europe and the USA. This year, they look forward to playing Ladyfest in San Paulo, Brazil.
These experiences have lent the ladies in LOE a global perspective on lesbianism, and an appreciation for home. “I think we have it easier than our sisters to the South, that’s for sure. When we’re in the States we often get the comment that we’re very brave for doing what we do. Of course, for us we don’t feel brave because we don’t feel threatened here in Montreal. We’re lucky. We see that.”
Having partied worldwide, Bankrupt lists her favourite queer hotspots. “The best places for lesbian bars has got to be either London, Berlin or New York. I know, I know, big cities. But those places you’ll find lesbos of all different ages and all different backgrounds. I guess ladies like us flock to the big centres in a lot of ways. But we’ve had some small town fun too! It all depends on the company you’re keeping.”
The company LOE keeps is enthusiastic and fun-loving.
“We love the ladies and they seem to love us right back. I think who comes to see us really depends on the town and the club. Sometimes we get more club-kids or head-bangers or silver-haired foxes — it’s always a party.”
If there’s one place LOE is hoping the party will lead them, its back to Olivia. But in this case, it would be the cruise line. It would only seem apt that the lesbians who brought back Olivia Records would get to perform on an Olivia cruise. It hasn’t happened yet, but their fingers are crossed. Not much can stop this fierce foursome.