Meeting a radical new collective as they debut with 4AD
Since at least the 1970s, young, beautiful women have been reclaiming their sexuality and pushing back against patriarchal capitalism through the capitalist patriarchal mediums of commercial popular music and fashion. Cumgirl8, a New York based art collective, are the latest young, beautiful women to do so. Playing with the lines between self-expression and exploitation, the quartet (Lida Fox (bass), Veronika Vilim (guitar), Chase Lombardo (drums) and Avishag Rodrigues (guitar) provoke and connect with their audience using a dizzying mix of sincerity and satire that feels utterly embedded in the meme-generation – much of it, in fact, taking place on Instagram, in the form of literal memes. Engaging with the work leaves you, like any good meme, a little off-balance – not quite sure if you fully get it: a feeling that spills over into our interview. “We met in the metaverse on a sex chat,” Chase, the band’s drummer, who does most of the talking, tells me. “We kind of collided into each other, looking for likeminded friends. But that was like 8,000 years ago… so it’s been a long time coming.”
“Then we started playing shows in New York City in 2019. And, erm, here we are.”
Here, as it happens, is backstage at MOTH Club before an evening gig, trying on outfits sent over by the British designers 150mg. I’m conducting the interview from my bed, an in-person meet cancelled after the band got stuck at Heathrow, something to do with someone trying to bring a dog through customs – though, like much of our conversation, I’m not sure if this is the punchline to a joke I’m not getting, or if it really happened.
“Oh look,” Chase says, turning the camera around so I can see the other women, “Avi’s wearing some really shiny pants. Veronika’s a monarch butterfly. We’re really creating our world now.
“All of us have a desire to build a world around our attitude towards life,” she explains. “The way we carry ourselves through space. Dressing up for any reason because it feels good and leading with the heart. Those two tenets are pretty basic to what we try to do.”
Are those things not, I ask, diametric opposites? The frivolity of fashion alongside radical open heartedness seems like maybe a confused message?
“Ewww!” Chase screws up her face. “I hate that. I absolutely despise that idea completely. Frivolous? It’s freeing!”
“Right,” Veronika agrees, “I feel like dressing up is about owning your body, and embracing how you’re feeling any given day. Clothes and music, creativity in general, is a great outlet on developing yourself throughout your whole life.”
Making and sharing clothes, collaborating on films and reels that they share online, Cumgirl8 is a whole process of expression and subversion, made difficult to promote by the fact the group have chosen a name that is deliberately and provocatively porny, meaning they are shadow-banned by radio stations, and rarely see their own name in print without asterisks. “We put little toys in the world, little assets, so people can be like, ‘This is cool, I want to hang out with this.’ I think that’s…what we do.”
‘Cicciolina’ is one such toy. Cumgirl8’s first single since signing with 4AD. The track and deliciously analogue music video celebrate the Hungarian-Italian pornstar, Ilona Stoller, at a time when the political power of porn stars is being driven home with Trump’s downfall at the hands of Stormy Daniels. The power of unashamed female sexuality sits underneath Cumgirl8’s philosophy, which they describe at one point as “sexploration”. I wonder aloud how women might ever disentangle themselves from patriarchy through sex, and whether bell hooks’ ideas about radical love might feed into where the group’s politics meet notions of openness and sexual curiosity.
“These are good questions,” Chase tells me.
Veronika nods. “We’re here for questions. We have the answers to everything, which is nothing. There are no answers. But we’re taking questions.”
The next day, I receive an email:
“The answer to your question about the point where ‘sexploration’ and our politics meet each other: is sincerity.
You mentioned All About Love by bell hooks, and yes absolutely radical love is at the front of how we operate. I think some of the things we say could be confused with being hyper-positive, but it’s not. It’s nearly the opposite. It’s honest and uncomfortable. We definitely operate in a space of discomfort and challenge people. Especially other women, ironically. And we challenge ourselves… to be loud and hot is not for the weak. Still yet we’re white and femme. Look at the suicide rate of trans youth, trans black youth… we’re just touching the surface of powerful work. And we honour it deeply. We try to move the needle as much as we can. Not as thorough as bell hooks though. We make squirt memes.”
Photography by Emmie America