Life In Berlin: The Dwarves
Rock 'n' roll is no stranger to shock value. The Dwarves from San Francisco have built a career upon shock value.
The band formed in the mid-80s and released their first album, Horror Stories, in 1986.
They were banned from CBGBs, the iconic New York punk club, dropped from Sub Pop Records for faking the death of their guitarist, HeWhoCannotBeNamed, and are guilty of committing a laundry list of violent and lewd acts while onstage.
But even after nearly three decades, the band doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
What does shock value look like for the Dwarves in 2015?
The set is like a sonic whirlwind: It’s over in under an hour, the genres they touch cannot be counted on one hand, the stage is crowded with shirtless women and at least one naked band member.
Blag Dahlia, author, producer, and the front-man for the Dwarves, explains:
“I always figure that most musicians are self-censorers. Just like most artists of every kind are self-censorers because they want people to like them. They want to fit in. They want to be played on the radio. And so they censor themselves; if they have a weird idea, they never say it. So then the people, like me, who actually communicate the weird things that they came up with it’s like 'Well, you’re just trying to shock people.' Well, no, I’m just not censoring myself and the rest of you are.”
There has always been something off with the Dwarves timing.
When the band first started they played 60s style garage rock and no-one paid attention, though later bands like the White Stripes and The Hives would find success down that path.
Later in 1990, they recorded a hardcore album for Sub Pop Records at a time when the genre simply wasn’t popular.
“Our timing has always been very weird,” says Blag. “In one way, it’s really brilliant and ahead of its time. And in another way, it’s really stupid and at the wrong time. People always color within the lines and then someone thinks different and do something different and it takes a long time for people to figure out, 'Oh that’s actually cool.'”
Regardless of their timing, the Dwarves are making waves outside of their familiar music scene. They claim their website was recently hacked by Tunisian Islamic fundamentalists.
Blag says the fundamentalist group was offended by the nudity and political sentiments boldly stated on their website.
Blag Dahlia, fueled by his punk rock bravado, explains why he refuses to tone down.
“I’m so glad that it offends them because it’s supposed to. They hate us. We hate them. I think that’s good, you know? People who would repress everybody else and shut them up, we are on the other side of that. We represent free expression and that’s important.”
As Blag answers questions, members of the audience come up and ask him to sign t-shirts or simply regale him with tales of how the Dwarves have changed their lives. When I asked him for a final comment, he replied:
“I guess if I had to leave you with something, it would be the Dwarves are the greatest rock n roll band of all time. And that’s a good feeling.”