For some artists, the cult is as good as it gets. There's never a realistic run at the mainstream, and even with such a limited inferred fanbase, a decent career can be carved out of life along the fringes of fame. So many manage to do it, especially in today's interconnected Internet world, that old school success seems almost unnecessary. For former Christian Death frontwoman Gitane Demone, a stint as part of the founding Goth rock outfit has lead to an interesting and often elusive time as a compelling solo artist. Toning down the shock in favor of fetish and sensuality, Demone now rides the musical rails somewhere between torch and torment. She can play a venue like an intimate cabaret. At other instances, she's totally in touch with the death metal moments that made her (in)famous. As the two DVD set Life After Death indicates, Gitane Demone is an acquired, mostly European taste. But said loyalists have kept her going for nearly three decades now, and it doesn't look like she's stopping anytime soon.
As both primer for the uninitiated and souvenir for the faithful, Life After Death is a welcome overview of Gitane Demone's multifaceted musical existence. With video ranging in age from 1989 (the year she left Christian Death) to a 1998 appearance in Berlin, we get an intriguing talent travelogue, with our chanteuse doing everything from intimate recitals to full blown rock concertos. In between, she reconnects with former Death founder Rozz Williams, explores her kinky side, and toasts departed friends. For those interested in the sequences and songs featured, here is an item by item breakdown:
VPRO, Dutch Television, 1991 - "The Dark Side of Life"
Mazzo, Amsterdam, Holland, 1989 - "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me", "Strange Fruit", "(This is) a Man's World"
ATS, Dutch Television, 1992 - "Sound of War"
VPRO Radio, Holland, 1993 - "Golden Age", Love for Sale", Little Birds"
ISC Club, Bern, Switzerland, 1993 - "Somewhere", "Eye to Eye", "Gloomy Sunday", "Lullaby for a Troubled Man", "Lover", "Sing the Blues"
Indie Tour, Querfurt, Germany, 1995 - "I Only Have Eyes for You", "These Vulnerable Eyes", "Manic Depressive", "Alien", "Despairiosity", "My Death"
Music Video, 1991 - "A Heavenly Melancholy"
Skin Two, UK Video Magazine, 1992 - "Passion", "Pleasure and Pain"
Fetish Generation Documentary, Denmark, 1995 - "Tongue of Fire", "Interview", "Cool Domina", "Perv"
Zillo, Hamburg, Germany, 1994 - "Tongue of Fire", "Perv", "Loveless"
Dream Home Heartache Tour featuring Rozz Williams, Zwischenfall, Bochum, Germany, 1995 - "Time", "Pope's Egg Hat", "A World Apart", "In Every Dream Home a Heartache", "Flowers", "Moon Without a Tear", "Lead Us Not"
Christian Death featuring Rozz Williams and Gitano Demone, Astoria II, London, UK, 1996 - "Spiritual Cramp", "Cervix Couch", "Lament", "Luxury of Tears", "Ashes", "Cavity", "Sleepwalk"
Kato, Berlin, 1998 - "I Lost a Friend to Heroin", "Speed", "Incendiary Lover", "What Now, My Love?"
There is no denying Gitane Demone's bravery. This is a performer who pushes the limits of everything she does. Whether it's a set of smoky standards or a flash cap experiment in erotic electronica, this former metal goddess goes her platinum blond creative kin a few dozen daring leaps better. Granted, the results are usually insular and quite oblique and there will be listeners who initially balk at her unusual deconstructionist approach. Yet in the end, as the final notes slowly dissipate throughout the hot and humid venue air, Demone's impact remains. She is iconic and icy, strong and still seemingly vulnerable. Some have compared her to that aging harpy Madonna, but aside from a similar "borrowed from Marilyn Monroe" look, the two women couldn't be farther apart. The Kabbalah queen wishes she was as button pushing and provocative as Demone. Even worse, Madonna is still trapped in the wanker world of pop music, where everything centers around topping the charts and keeping the money-hungry labels happy. With Demone, on the other hand, you sometimes get works so controversial and confrontational that you don't know whether to applaud or simply run screaming.
Divided into two parts, Life After Death covers both sides of Demone's distinct persona. Disc one ventures into her softer, smoother flirtations with jazz. It's all clubland and cooing. Disc two takes us into the outer fringes of her often outrageous brainstorms. One sequence in particular shows her using a strap on dildo on a leather covered lady during a particularly disturbing stage turn. The best moments here however are the quite ones, especially Ms. Demone's residency in a Holland radio studio. With nothing but her voice and a piano for accompaniment, all pretense is stripped from the songs and we are left with nothing but otherworldly, almost ethereal music making. There are times when the videos themselves look like outtakes from a particular melodious snuff film, especially the documentary think pieces at the beginning. Yet it's great to have access to this information, to hear our star talk about her life, her legacy, her lengthy fascination with fetishism, and her overall love affair with her audience. This is not some isolated individual. Gitane Demone recognizes the importance of fans and plays to and for them every chance she gets.
Those outside her sphere of influence may find this hard going. More tone poems than tunes, Ms. Demone's music is meant to evoke emotion and feelings - even if said sentiments are sad and uncomfortable. Atonal facets frequently fill in for structure and solos, and when the singer goes off on a jag, the results can be either brilliant or baffling. Toward the end, as guitars take over for ambient keyboard noodlings, we understand why this gal left Christian Death. Even with its provocative, scandal-laden style, such one note music marginalizes what she has to offer. It has to be said that her work here with Rozz Williams is wonderful, stage set like an intimate night out at a local bistro. As the music moves between ballads and brashness, the intimacy is almost intoxicating. For those wondering where the real visionaries are in modern music, look no further than Gitane Demone and Life After Death. Even with most of this material being over a decade old, the complexity and creativity argues for something far, far ahead of its time. Maybe, in 2009, it's time for everyone to finally catch up.
Now, one has to remember that this is not some professionally helmed documentary or a collection of feature film quality concert clips. Instead, it's a very ragtag group of video oddities, most secured from private and personal sources. So don't except much from the transfer over to digital. The 1.33:1 full screen analog elements are watchable, but very far from perfect. There are sequences which seem purposefully soft. There are live appearances were you can actually see the sweat on Ms. Demone's face. The music video for "A Heavenly Melancholy" is polished and professional, while some of the club appearances struggle to stay in focus. Again, this is all forgivable since we are dealing with a collection cobbled together from several sources. In this case, rarity trumps reference quality.
On the sonic side of things, we have another hit or miss proposition. Most of the material sounds excellent, even when the mix is mangled by bad acoustics or off kilter board balances. Our singer is always prevalent and upfront, and her voice rings out above even the most dissonant arrangement. When everything is right, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is amazing. When it's not, it's still wholly listenable.
The two pieces of added content here really add something, especially for the longtime fan. An enclosed booklet features articles by Ms. Demone on her life and times, while an accompanying 10 song CD (entitled Times) features demos of such notable tracks as "Them There Eyes", "In My Solitude", "Gloomy Sunday", and "When I Was a Child", among others. Highlighting both her personal philosophy and her professional muse, these intriguing bonus features, while not definitive, sure help flesh out this fascinating DVD package.
By its very definition, a cult has limited appeal. This means that anyone not in tune with Gitane Demone and her idiosyncratic vision of musicality will probably feel left out, or at the very least, a little perplexed. If you're willing to take the time and dig beneath the seedy films surface, however, you will be richly rewarded. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, Life After Death argues for the notion of art over artifice. It battles against the bewildering staples of popular culture while crying its own tears of unacceptability. It paints a powerful portrait of a woman few know about, and suggests that those who support her frequent forays into imagination are forward thinking and very wise indeed. As with anything unusual and alien, it will take some getting used to. But if patience is a virtue, the value you'll discover in Ms. Demone's work is definitely wealth enough. Here's hoping her sect remains committed and very strong. The world deserves such a novel and daring voice.
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