I had the pleasure of interviewing TRNSGNDR/VHS in late July this year via email. We briefly discussed show culture, gimmicks & other curiosities. The latest release from TRNSGNDR/VHS, Condominium, channels a paradoxical sensibility that harmoniously balances a sense of unnerving anticipation with the feeling of protection amidst total chaos. This is TRNSGNDR/VHS. All sounds are made and produced by Alexandra Brandon, who is currently living in Baltimore City. *Welcome*.
How long have you been active in the Baltimore scene? Are you originally from Baltimore?
I've been living in Baltimore and going to shows here for about two years. I was born in suburban Washington D.C. and I moved around globally as a child, but I mostly grew up outside D.C. I've also lived in Tanzania and Vanuatu. TRNSGNDR/VHS has been around for almost a year.
Have you seen some changes in the nature of shows or show culture here?
I feel like I haven't lived here long enough to say anything's changed hugely. A sizeable number of venues that were here a year ago no longer exist, while a few newer venues DIY spaces have come around, but it's basically the same people at every show in every scene, which is typical of any mid-sized city. Gentrification has definitely put a stop on a few spaces.
People who've lived in Baltimore longer than me have told me that the scene has changed a lot even in the past 5 years. Around the start of the decade, the city implemented noise ordinances that put a halt on the dynamics of what the scene was then; which was much more open and inclusive. I've been told that at one point you could walk into the Copycat (a large warehouse in Baltimore where dozens of artists live) and people would leave their doors open and have communal dinners, and you could go to a show and there would be neighborhood kids there, and people would be making art everywhere you looked. I haven't been able to experience anything like that in the time I've been here.
Your most recent release Condominium comes full impact. There is a "doom generation" vibe, especially on "GEOGRAPHY". How important is it for you to make music?
Making music is a necessary part of my life. I'd probably be dead without it.
I am curious because a lot of your songs seem filtered and distorted in ambiguous ways... what goes into the cauldron before it is transformed?
I started producing most of the music on Condominium mostly through messing with samples on my computer. I throw my songs onto a cassette and use that for playing live and recording, because I like the compression and warmth tapes give. My vocals and electronics are all sent through really cheap pedals. My equipment is very no-budget because I break stuff easily.
I love your song title names, like "Fighting in the Suburbs" and "Permanent". How did you arrive with these titles?
I'm horrible at choosing song titles! Most of my songs that have lyrics are based on real, often traumatic or alienating events that have happened to me. "Fighting in the Suburbs" and "Permanent" are both about the role of the patriarchy in the nuclear family, and how they've fostered instances of abuse that I've suffered from.
In more recent shows you have incorporated candles, a fog machine and other surprises. How important do you think it is to create an environment for your performances?
Extremely important! I've seen people who make great music give visually unimpressive performances because the surrounding environment doesn't correspond to their music. Most of my favorite performing musicians make use of some sort of visual element in their music -- projections, lights, fog etc. I'm really into Purity Ring and Timeghost, and I think their performances would lose their character if they didn't have specifically made light-reactive performances. When I have the time to I want to create a structure of lights to perform within. I feel like there are certain limits to how much you can express your art through body movements, and I'm starting to reach them.
Once you begin playing there is a sense that all hell may break loose. . .what has been your best show so far?
A month ago I played at this venue in Baltimore called The Crown and I was the last person on the bill. I left a high-pitched drone running for the last 5-10 minutes of my set, and the entire room left covering their ears. I ran to the other side of the room and just stood on top of the bar while this was all happening and people kept coming up to me and shaking my hand then leaving. Then I got piggybacked out. Someone in the hallway said that my set was "metal as fuck". I love it when audiences react in strong physical ways to my music. This one time I played a warehouse in the middle of winter and this white guy with dreads was headbanging and giving horn signs. Is that trip metal or what?
Any upcoming tours or releases to look out for?
I'm planning a short tour in December. Next year I have a new release and some more extensive dates, but that's to-be-announced.