An evening chill blows outside east London venue FOLD, where Virgin María has just told the crowd that she is ready to “blex” us. What she means is that she’s here to "bless our sex." She’s sitting on top of the decks, completely naked, covered by a cascade of long, dark hair and diamanté stickers. Together with experimental producer perth Daijing, the 28-year-old (real name María Forque) makes techno-inflected tracks that pound inside your head like an unforgiving hangover. Live, she layers those songs with ASMR-style whispers and the sort of moans that, on their own, might be enough to ruin a teen’s No Nut November plans. It’s as intense as you’d expect a blend of nudity, holograms, and atonal sounds to be. But between the anxiety-inducing build-ups and pounding beats lies an ecstatic release. It’s hard not to get sucked into her concept, as detailed and carefully drawn out as it may be.
You see, María is also a bit of a performance artist, who commits to an aesthetic revolving around a mix of sex, sexuality and spirituality. And when I say she’s committed, I mean it. She claims to be 1,000 years old. Her debut album G.O.D, (which stands for Good Opening Drug) is a heady mix of meditative electronics and sexual vocal samples, due out in 2019. She says it’s her way of “praying to God”. FaceTuned pics and naked photographs, often accompanied by motivational phrases about yoga and spirituality, are scattered across her now-private Instagram grid – her account was deactivated the day before this gig, for the second time this year.
A few days after the gig, we meet in a near empty café in east London. She rocks up in a baby pink unicorn onesie (“It only cost £15 from Primark!” she exclaims). But quickly our chat turns serious, and we start speaking about why she invests so much in imagery, and how that feeds into her work. I’m still processing the show. “I use photo editing apps to modify my pictures because I see a photograph as a virtual drawing of myself,” she says, leaning back on her chair. We’ve met a few times before this at a friend’s house through mutual contacts in the Spanish music scene; she’s “cute-ified” me with Facetune, to reflect my love of anime. “It is a form of artistic freedom that lets me indulge in an alternative reality where I can be a virgin or a nymph—anything is possible.”
Speaking to her, it becomes clear that María sees herself as an artist at the helm of a generation of young people born into technology, where the virtual is a physical extension of ourselves. You wouldn’t be blamed for seeing her performance alter ego as something spat out by an internet culture buzzword generator. Nor would it be out of ordinary to label her as yet another cis-gender, able-bodied, white woman who uses her sexual capital (which is completely her choice, and fair enough). But, in her earnestness I can see the effort she puts into all of this, hiding beneath the overt sexiness and cult of personality posturing. And most importantly, the music bangs.
To María, her visual work is meant to lift a middle finger at online censorship, taking the piss out of a world that vilifies the naked body one moment, and commodifies it the next. One photo series explores the beauty of used underwear, while another replaces the young artist’s breasts with teats, intended as a comment on the animal farming industry but maybe something that’ll make your vegan friends recoil. She’s slotting herself into a world of sexy avatars, AI porn, and bimbofication. But at the same time, she gets how people might look at what she’s setting out to do and think, 'bit much for someone fundamentally making an album.'
“I understand how my message can be misinterpreted, which is why it’s important for me to be as transparent about my intentions as possible,” she says, stirring a mug of herbal tea. “I think society is confused by sexuality. No one is comfortable being naked because it is seen as shameful. The naked body is the most natural thing we have, yet women are made to feel embarrassed by it. No matter what your body shape, women are always seen as objects.”
She didn’t always think this way. As she tells it, María’s childhood was a push-and-pull of coming to understand her own body, from within, and how people would “read” it in the outside world. She was introduced to yoga by her grandmother, renowned Argentinian actress and writer Carmen Vázquez Vigo. Buddhism also played a large part in her upbringing. “I was always made to feel conscious of my spirituality,” she says. It was only when she hit puberty that she realized that sex and spirit are two sides of the same coin.
In practical terms, though, puberty shook her foundations a bit. Like so many people—particularly young girls whose bodies start to change early—making that physical transition out of childhood came as an unwanted surprise to María. She felt alienated from the womanly figure she was developing. “The moment I hit puberty, I became a sexual object. I hated my body, I hated my boobs, I developed anorexia as a way to keep my figure child-like,” she explains. And so, as she puts it, performing naked is a tool for self-discovery and rebellion against social norms.
You need only look at the album art for G.O.D. It reimagines María as a Japanese hentai character. Her skin gleams like highly polished marble. Cartoonishly large eyes under long, doe-like lashes gaze out at you. And of those breasts that she once hated point your way, too. She looks like a high-end sex doll, flanked by her “spirit animal” and life companion Copi the dog, and a multi-coloured Om or Aum symbol.
All of this would start to feel a bit tiring if her music wasn’t intriguing. It’s a play on traditional meditation tapes, an amped-up fever dream of “breathe in”s and “breathe out”s that spiral into gabba and hardcore. “Big clubs with hard EDM music have a ritualistic aspect, for me,” she explains. “It’s not like trap or reggaeton where people dance with each other, it’s a more internal experience. It is meditative.” María spent her early teens attending EDM nights by the likes of Vicente OMT and Alpha Twins.
But she’s also quick to point out how male-centric those parties felt. “For the most part, the DJ has almost always been a man,” she says. Her alter ego, Virgen María, offers a female counterpart to this idea: she is the mother of God. So hang on—where does sexuality come into it? Her name is “Virgin” María, after all. “All of life exists because of reproduction and sex. Sex is life and life is god.” It’s at this point that her theology goes awry, but she justifies it by saying her references aren’t meant to be strictly biblical. “It is spirituality understood in a metaphysical way as opposed to textbook religiosity,” she says. Even though she articulates her thoughts in a way that would make Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner editor giddy, María feels really genuine. Speaking to her is like talking to an old friend. And despite her initially intimidating stage persona, she is down-to-earth and friendly.
As our time together wraps up, I have to ask: what does she make of the fact that people might misinterpret her message as superficial? At first glance, a hot, naked woman playing electronic music seems to fit straight into the realms of teenage boy fantasy. “Just because I fit into a certain canon of beauty in this age does not mean that I can’t be naked,” she replies firmly. “The three things most important to me are spirituality, sex, and music—they are the holy trinity.”
'G.O.D.' is due out in January via Perth Records.
This article was amended on Friday, November 23 to reflect that the 'G.O.D' EP is now due out in January. No firm date has been given.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.