Jake Dibeler spends most of a Bottoms set shrieking from the floor, writhing in spilt beer, humping the ground, or kicking his pump heels in the air. At the band’s Northside Festival show last month, he out-freaked the night’s transgressive pop headliner Xiu Xiu by scaling the amps that waited for them at the back of the stage, to better highlight his leotard’s ass-less back. The sweltering summer heat inside Bushwick’s DIY venue Palisades demanded he discard his wig a bit early that night, but with Dibeler’s burly, bearded, tattooed physique and insane looking horror-flick contacts, the usual flurry of cell-phone snaps resulted. There are very few bands in Brooklyn as entertaining as they are right now.
Producer/keyboardist Simon Leahy and drummer Micheal Prommasit were part of mildly notorious acid-house group called Teeth before they moved on to form Bottoms last year. Leahy recruited Dibeler to audition for the new band after collaborating on unrelated projects. “I have no idea why Simon asked me to sing with them,” he says. “I think he sensed that my energy would be good for it?” In Bottoms, Dibeler’s role is “lead screamer.” While Leahy and Prommasit provide deep, minimal club beats, he unleashes an unsettlingly high-pitched wail, like a deranged, robot approximation of a bored teenage girl. “I was like, ‘Just so you guys know…there’s only one way I can do this.’ So I did it. And they were standing there with their months open, cracking up. It just kind of worked.” After catching a few of their shows I was certain he was putting his voice through some sort of digital warping effect. “No,” he says. “That’s me.”
The squealing is not sustainable. “If you go to any vocal coach and say, ‘Hey, what is the one thing I should not do when I’m singing…’ it’d be don’t push your larynx all the way to the top. That’s exactly how I do it. I’m essentially slowly destroying my voice.” Though it don’t actually hurt him, Dibeler can already pinpoint a slight decay in tone from the bands debut EP, Goodbye (released last winter on JD Samson’s label, Atlas Chair). But he isn’t feeling too precious about it. “No one goes to a bottoms show and then comes back, ‘I though that singer was going to be better.’”
Dibeler describes the band’s combination of camp humor, shock tactics, and easily danceable grooves as “a solid object,” no element more important than the other. Their presentation is more in line with sometimes amazing, sometimes terrible Electroclash club nights of Williamsburg’s past. Those have lost out over the past decade to the earnest rock, somber noise, and brutal hardcore that dominates small Brooklyn rooms of the moment. Dibeler credits Leahy’s UK upbringing for grounding them in European dance music, while their creep into broken industrial sounds (and Marilyn Manson eyes) come from him, “a 12-year-old goth.” Bottoms are musically serious, but funny as hell.
Though he claims “zero musical talent,” Dibeler did have deep pre-Bottoms roots in the city’s queer performance art circles, and an interest in the form that he dates back to early childhood. “People are always like, ‘Oh my God, do your parents know what you do?’ My parents have been watching me do this since I was seven,” he says. “They say all the world’s a stage? That’s real. I’m always performing.” He still mounts shows regularly, and is now working with prosthetics specialists who’ll create artificial limbs to be severed and rubber throats to be slit with convincing arterial spray. He promises a mix of sexual provocation, horror movie shock, and old show-biz razzle-dazzle for his new fall show. “There’s always a dance number.”
Dibeler’s certain that Bushwick’s grubby DIY drag scene has been far outshining the neighborhood’s music output in subversive impact and outsider appeal. “I can name like, 1,000 drag queens that I know, but can’t name five people I know that make music that I go see.” He points to Macy Rodman’s Bathsalts party as the peak of the scene’s punk power. The weekly Monday night show ended itss three-year run at local dive bar, Don Pedro’s, just a couple of weeks ago. “ It’s essentially where you would go to see the drag queens who were so weird that they don’t get booked anywhere else,” says Dibeler. “Those are the people you want to see.” Rodman, who’s also a regular performer at Secret Project Robot’s annual “Bushwig” gala, stars in the unsettling video for bottom’s “My Body”, cutting off a few parts of her own.
“I think drag is really boring,” says Dibeler, explaining that the mainstream idea of the art form put forth by a mainstream TV show like RuPaul’s Drag Race is a representation he finds painfully basic. “The idea of drag is very minimal. You put on some makeup and a wig and you look like a drag queen. You’re like, ‘What’s next?” They’re like, ‘What do you mean? This is it!’ It’s really what you do afterwards, and that takes a certain person. [Bathsalts] was all of those people who were not concerned with looking like a female or looking like a drag queen. They were concerned with being a character or being a performer.”
“Anything goes,” he says. “It’s like really, really, really beautiful garbage.”
Dibeler’s pop persona is informed by that scene, but not inherently of it. “I would consider myself in drag, but I wouldn’t consider myself a drag queen or [Bottoms] a drag show. This is basically a concentrated form of a thing I’m interested in exploring in all my work, which is gender. When you’re a gay kid, everybody is kind of trans in this way where you feel like you can’t get a hold on your gender just yet. It never felt like I wasn’t male, but I’ve always had these feminine desires and feminine impulses,” he says. Bottoms is an opportunity to put that gender nuance forth for a different audience. “I’m not interested in being a woman or a female impersonator. I’m interested in being me in a dress.”
The band is now honing their current live show into the recording of a second EP, hopefully out this fall. Dibeler laughs when calling the new material “a little darker” than previous work that focused on body hatred and AIDS panic. Even though they’ve steadily increased their fan base in Brooklyn and recently completed a 7-country European tour, he still sees Bottoms as something of a shooting star, the beginning and end of his music career.
“There’s one thing I can do and it’s totally specific to this project. It fits into this thing so perfectly that I don’t thing anything else will have quite the same impact on me. I can’t squeal high pitch over everything I do. I’m excited that I’m a part of it, and sad that it’s eventually going to end, but that’s kind of what it is. This is the one opportunity I have to make this sort of thing happen,” he says.
“I’m treating it like a show. Once this show is over, this show is over.”