Swampland (Online) | Pure Performance: The Glittering Intensity Of V

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Photo by Chlöe Sugden.

Like Madonna, Beyoncé, Cher or Rihanna, V is simply V. The pop references might seem incidental for an artist who conjures a carefully crafted, dark-wave aesthetic, and stands on stage engulfed amongst industrial-sounding drum machines, a layer of ’80s synth-wave and their own reverberating vocals. But if you ask V about their musical influences, their first answers are, without any hesitation, the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys. “Oh, and, you know, a Nirvana phase,” they tell me, sounding both thrilled and exasperated by the admission.

There is something latently pop about V. It can be glimpsed in a melody or song structure, but it’s more in the unabashed performance—the over-performance that defines pop—that the Melbourne-based musician evokes in a stylised, post-punk way. Whether live or on record, V has energy: a bleakness that’s blended with glittering, danceable beats; an intensity that, judging by the faces at the Melbourne launch of their new album So Pure in March, is clearly cathartic. As V moves across the stage they can turn a stare on you, looking directly into someone’s eyes as they sing (something, they tell me, the lead singer of Dashboard Confessional once did to them). With heavily winged eyeliner and a steely facial expression, V careens across high and low vocal inflections, sometimes playing bass, other times pumping an arm into the air.

So Pure, an album fixated on grief and loss, was created over six years throughout Europe, England and Australia. Yet V has only recently called Melbourne home, having spent the greater part of a decade—their 20s—in Berlin. After an upbringing with much travelling (their dad is a pilot, their mum an air hostess), V—or Victoria—spent their late teens in Brisbane and started playing in bands at 18, while also attending art school. During this time something fortuitous happened: V’s “younger and cooler” sister took them to a Slits concert where V fell in musical love. “I’d never heard of them before and seeing an all-female band on stage felt amazing. It really deeply informed the beginnings of my so-called musical career,” they say, putting the last two words in air quotes. “It blew my mind.”

V soon left Brisbane for a failed stint in London where, by chance, they knew someone who held an artist residency at the Kunsthaus Tacheles—an artist squat in Berlin. “I decided to go and visit for a week,” V remembers, “and within two days of being there I knew I wasn’t coming back to Australia and I wasn’t going back to the UK. I was going to stay there.” The now-defunct Tacheles was a 9000 square-metre, multi-level site of such fame that it has its own Wikipedia page. Set up by artists after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was a collective experiment in imagination and fostering truly alternative living. V paints a chaotically idyllic picture of their time spent there: grimy interiors, trash everywhere, graffiti covered walls, artists working in nearby studios, mountains of strange, black inflatable tyres in the back yard. Not only did Tacheles give V the space to be an artist, but it conjured the idea of community they carry today, alongside an elemental understanding of DIY.

Read the full piece here at Swampland. Photo by Chlöe Sugden.