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MINQ VAADKA: Not Your Momma’s Punk Burlesque Show

By August 23, 2011August 31st, 2011No Comments15 min read

Our good friend and rising impresario, Patrick Terry, turned us on to a new show that is part Burlesque Spectacle, part Punk Rock Concert and all certifiably cool. MINQ VAADKA is a performance artist on a crusade to bring epic theatricality back to both the look and sound of rock music, drawing heavily on influences that run the gamut from the gender-bending glitter rock of David Bowie, Queen and Lou Reed to the darkly cabaretic sounds of Tom Waits and Diamanda Galás.

Graphic Design by Dustin Drankoski

From garage-punk like The White Stripes and The Sex Pistols to the musical theater and burlesque of Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb and Django Reinhardt. Sound like a tall order? It is. But Minq somehow manages, like a mad perfumer, to combine notes of each into an originally explosive fragrance. Last year, he crashed onto the NYC circuit with his debut album The Plastic Masquerade, and was greeting with a glowing review from The Original Hipster, a sold-out debut at Joe’s Pub, gigs at Galapagos Art Space, CSV and 3LD and a nomination (as Adam Cochran) for a Drama Desk Award for his junk-folk score to the world premiere of NAATCO and Theater Mitu’s A Play On War. On March 24, 2011 came his second release: a half-hour-long EP called Minq Vaadka Will Take Your Elektro-Küsse in Queens, Please, including six new orignal songs and a cover of a favorite Tom Waits tune. Opening on August 26th, he will unleash a brand new cabaret theater piece with all-new, original music called Minq Vaadka’s Narcischism: Un Cabaret d’Adieu, directed by Chantel Pascente and produced by Patrick Terry and Te Ilum Theatre & Arts at the Robert Moss Theatre. Click here to buy tickets now (Women’s Mafia members can enter code MINQ10 for special $10 tickets, which includes beer!) and look out for the accompanying album of the same name to be released sometime during the 2011 holiday season!

And now, enjoy an exclusive Q&A with Minq Vaadka himself and Director Chantel Pascente!

WM: Who is Minq Vaadka? Can you describe the genesis of the act and how did this collaboration with Patrick Terry and Te Ilum came about?

Photos by Bridget "B." Waterhouse

Minq: Even though he’s a very theatrical presence and might even say or portray things that are not always actually true, I’m very careful to refer to him as a persona, not a character. That’s because Minq Vaadka is actually, well… me! My alter-ego. Minq started as an identity I developed for a cabaret course at NYU (taught by Salty Brine of Pepper & Sam fame) and, after the first set of performances, I realized that not only did I enjoy letting my impulsive, manic, unfiltered side loose in front of people but it could also be a useful tool for publicly exorcising some of my personal demons. And this sort of Weimar Germany-inspired palette seemed to create a perfect aural and visual landscape for a lot of the themes I wanted to deal with: bipolarity, bisexuality, theater, glam rock, humor, anger, mimesis, honesty, trickery. So it’s been fascinating learning how to navigate those waters and really make the iconography my own. How can I nod to my inspirations but sound contemporary? How can I use some of these visual idioms but not be misinterpreted as a Cirque du Soleil clown or a screamo act (God help me)? How can the music push compositional boundaries but remain accessible to a mainstream ear?

As for Patrick Terry and Te Ilum, I actually brought them together. Patrick introduced himself to me after he saw me perform at the new Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO. PT invited me to drinks at some schwanky bar on 59th St., got me soused, did a few card tricks (he’s actually a very talented magician) and before I knew it, we realized we had to make something happen together this year. Meanwhile, I’ve been with Te Ilum from its beginning. I met Chantel Pascente (Te Ilum’s Artistic Director) at NYU and we have since collaborated on a number of projects, so once we decided to undertake a Minq Vaadka theater piece, it seemed natural that I should hook her and PT up.

WM: What makes a Minq Vaadka concert experience unique?

Minq: Theatricality and honest passion. Minq Vaadka’s Narcischism is in fact a theater piece but even when I’m playing a regular gig at a music venue, the show is still highly theatrical. You’re NOT paying to see a bunch of scruffy bros in jeans and plaid shirts lean on their amps while they make their best “I’m Kurt Cobain and I don’t care” faces. You’re going to see me working my ass off to imbue the performance with showmanship and a sense of the delightfully weird. You see, I’m not at all into creating a “scene.” I don’t care how you’re dressed when you watch my show. I don’t care if you dance or mosh or stand there with a drink. But what I do care about is that you’re engaging this room with me — I want to see your eyes lighting up. I want to see the cogs turning in your head. I want you to judge me or love me or be confused by me, whatever. I just want you to chemically react somehow with the event I’m creating in the room. First time listeners to my music will notice that there are a lot of lyrics, lots of odd chord progressions, lots of sections and lots of tempo changes. It’s not music to sit back and zone out to. It’s music to reckon with, to engage with and to actively think about. Which turns some people off. But that’s what literally turns me on. And that’s why sexuality finds its way into a lot of it. I want to light up your sexual side via your brain. If that happens, then I’ve done my job for the night. And I think the stage show reflects that.

WM: Growing up on the west coast, how do you find living and working in New York? As a writer/performer where do you get your inspiration these days?

Photos by Bridget "B." Waterhouse

Minq: I knew from an early age, somehow, that I was destined to come live in New York. It’s always called to me (even before I knew that I wanted to be in music and theater) and it’s made me feel like it would be an ideal place to flourish as an artist and as a human being. And now that I’ve been here for about seven years or so, I would say that I was absolutely correct in that assumption. New York, as this sort of benevolent-but-fearsome beast in my life, has most definitely made me who I am today. I thrive on it’s nonstop hustle and bustle. The architecture feels severe and important. The changing of the seasons provides for starkly dramatic backdrops in art and emotion and memory. And most importantly, the circle of people I work and play with here fill me with life because they challenge me as much as they support me. That being said, the city often stresses me out and causes sometimes unbearable anxiety, so I find that I really need to go somewhere warm and easy (like back to my folks’ place in Los Angeles) for a little respite and some mental health days.

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Of course there are things that I love and gravitate towards: Tom Waits and Robert Wilson collaborations, Sxip Shirey’s happenings, Trash and Vaudeville and St. Marks Place, Kander & Ebb movies, Marilyn Minter’s photography, the latest Iggy Pop album, McQueen at the Met, Jack White etc. But I think an artist isn’t really doing his job if he’s not completely open to all sources of inspiration. I’ve been drawing a lot of it from my neighborhood in Queens lately: the trifecta of the Noguchi Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image and Socrates Sculpture Park, the rambling collection of graffiti out by Ditmars, the bridge to Roosevelt Island, the Bangladeshi quarter immediately surrounding my apartment and/or Alex, the dude with no fingernails who runs the hardware store on 31st St. and 36th Ave. who sold me a bottle of industrial-strength Drano by telling me it would “melt flesh and bone.”

WM: Whats the rehearsal process been like? Is it difficult to separate yourself from the material, especially when working on something that has such autobiographical connections?

Photos by Bridget "B." Waterhouse

Minq: Absolutely, it’s difficult. Because I am the material. Events have taken place in real life since we’ve been in rehearsal that have found their way into the piece already. And, as someone with Bipolar Disorder, we’re trying to dramatize these crazy mood swings that happen to me on a daily basis. We’ve actually run into places where I’ve taken a crack at writing us some dialogue and failed miserably because, when I show it to the team they go, “uh, that’s not what it’s like at all.” And I’m like, “yes, it definitely is!” And then Carly McCollow, our dramaturg, clears her throat and says, “well maybe it’s like that for you when it’s happening to you, but to everybody on the outside it looks a little more like this other thing.” So, there are parts of the show that I’ve handed completely over to Barrie McLain (my girlfriend; she plays Horseradish) so that she can write the scene from the perspective of someone who’s not inside my head in these situations.

WM: Chantel, as a director, what are you hoping audiences take away from this production? And how is MINQ VAADKA’s Narcischism – Un Cabaret D’Adieu different from some of your companies previous work?

Chante Pascentel: I think this piece can give the audience an experience that is unique in that they are watching something that completely blurs the line between reality and theatricality. Who is Minq Vaadka? Who is he to these characters we are watching, and who is he to himself? Maybe most importantly, who is he to the performers and how does the reality of their relationships and conflicts play into the piece? I hope the audience is able to immerse themselves in this challenge with us and walk away thinking about the relationship between an artist and its art. This piece is incredibly personal to all of the performers and myself. We have allowed ourselves to work in a new way, a way that for me was risky and revealing and I believe has led to results we can be proud of. Yes this piece is incredibly autobiographical for Adam, but it for me has become a universal story not just of artist and art, but of a person who’s world looks one way through his eyes and the people who adapt to that, who find their own ways of living in his universe. How would the world look if you were to see through anyone’s lens? Minq’s may be an extreme, but I hope that by us inviting the audience to look through his lens, they are able to walk away thinking about the implications in their worlds.

Te Ilum is committed to producing new and innovative theatre that is created in non-traditional ways. We focus on creating work that uses alternate artistic frameworks, and experiential theatre that engages the senses and arrests the audience, forcing you to be present with us in the room. This piece is our first to be co-created by the performers, and my first piece with no text or album as a jumping off point for the creation. Our previous works include a radical re-imagining of Cocteau’s “The Infernal Machine” where we used dance and the music of Electric Light Orchestra in conversation with the surrealist version of the story of Oedipus, combining these elements with the physical structure of Greek Tragedy. We then embarked on a movement piece “at Sixes & Sevens,” created by choreographer/performer Chloe Kernaghan, examining the struggles of a person abandoned or left behind through the lens of the 1950s housewife. “at Sixes & Sevens” became a part of a collaboration with James Franco in his piece “Collage” at Stella Adler earlier this summer, and is now being featured in an REM music video directed by Franco. These works have all been steps for us to find our voice as a group and as individual artists working with the support of a company behind them. We are currently in development for an installation movement piece directed by Teff Nichols, “Night-Song”, based on the short stories and poetry of Melanie Jane Parker.

WM: As young artists, how do you deal with today’s media landscape? New technology makes it easier to produce and distribute music, but how can bands (and similarly, theater companies) hope to maintain a following in such a competitive and disposable market place?

Minq: I would say that that’s the biggest struggle we face as artists today. The great hope of the Internet, as it was fighting its way out of Al Gore’s birth canal, was that it would give everybody an equal chance for recognition and distribution. Kind of like an inverted version of “trickle down” economics, right? Trickle up! We now have access to everything and everybody, so the best of it should rise to the top of the heap, right? But the reality is a little different. What’s actually happened is that we’re oversaturated. Go ahead, stick your music on Reverb Nation or YouTube. See how many hits you get. Post it on Facebook or Reddit. See what kind of following you develop. And when was the last time you heard of the Internet launching any act or an album on a huge scale (without them having big record label bucks behind them, thus disqualifying OK Go, Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Justin Bieber)? The trouble is that very few people have the patience to wade through entire oceans of junk in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. And even when they do manage to find something worth consuming, they just pirate it. So the answer I keep coming back to is that artists these days have to find ways to fuse different disciplines together to create something that is unique, fashion forward (to co opt a scion Tim Gunn-speak) and un-pirate-able. Yes, I release music and videos but now they tie in with a piece of theater. So, even if you’ve downloaded it for free, if you really want the whole context, you’ve got to come buy a ticket, sit in my audience and let me entertain you personally, baby. That’s what makes theater more important today than it arguably ever was. You can pirate a movie. You can pirate a song. But you can’t steal an experience.

WM: What can The Women’s Mafia make happen for you?

Photo by Christopher Shea

Minq: Hopefully, to remind a cross section of smart and stylish women of the idea that your daily dose of art (and fun) does not have to come from Lady Gaga on the radio or RuPaul’s Drag Race on your TV. You can actually head out into New York City (or wherever you live) and have an incredible (not to mention original) visceral experience delivered to you by a living, breathing human being standing six feet away. Also, to remind them that skinny, bisexual boys in white face and a corset are the new George Clooney. Just saying.