Huffing Poppers with Bottoms
The buzzed-about gay dance-punk band sings about HIV and self-hatred, but that doesn't mean they don't know how to have a good time.
The gay punk band Bottoms huff poppers backstage before their concert. From left: Jake Dibeler, Simon Leahy, and Michael Prommasit. Photos by Amy Lombard. For more pictures of Bottoms, check out our complete photo gallery
Backstage at Palisades, a tiny music venue in Brooklyn, a gay punk-dance band called Bottoms huddled in the bathroom huffing poppers. This week, they release their first EP, Goodbye, on JD Samson and Inge Colsen's Atlas Chair label, but they've already built a bit of a following, with The Fader and Pitchfork praising their blend of throwback electro and politicized lyrics about HIV and self-hatred.
The band seemed more playful than nervous or grim before their show. "Publicity stunt!" Jake Dibeler, the self-proclaimed "lead screamer," shouted as he inhaled a popper and struck a fierce pose for our photographer, showcasing his socks and high heels. Simon Leahy, the keyboardist and songwriter, who was rocking a dirty blond Jennifer Aniston–style wig, followed his lead. "Quiche!" he said in a thick Manchester accent. "I keep saying 'quiche.' Everyone says I sound like Ja'mie [from Summer Heights High]!"
Dibeler, the "lead screamer," bites on a bottle of "designer" poppers
The band formed a year ago after Leahy and Prommasit's previous band, Teeth, broke up because their other band members found "real jobs" or moved away from New York.
"We started [Bottoms] because we wanted to get laid," Leahy said. He was joking—he's married—but his bandmates are still on the prowl.
"I'm terrible at being a boyfriend," Dibeler joked, "because I want every dick inside me—pull quote!"
The real inspiration behind the band stemmed from Leahy's interest in the AIDS crisis and "music made by faggots [during that time]." He started making loud, brash dance music with Prommasit and asked Dibeler to audition to be their lead singer, or "lead screamer" as Dibeler calls himself, at Secret Project Robot, an art space in Bushwick. Dibeler had been making highly choreographed performance art, but growing up wanted to become a singer, despite his lack of vocal talents. He screamed for Leahy and Prommasit, scored the job, and began writing dark lyrics inspired by David Wojnarowicz to go along with the instrumentals.
"It's a part of our world," Dibeler said about the lyrics' grim subject matter. "All the death and the sex and the disease and the despondency and the fucked-up childhood stuff is natural to all of us."
Leahy grew up in Manchester and Prommasit spent his youth in South Carolina—both places where homophobia was simply a fact of life—and Dibeler experienced a more gay-friendly childhood in Philadelphia, but all of them were eager to recount their early interest in gay sex. "I've had a dick in my mouth for the past 23 years," Dibeler said.
"I used to always spy on people," Prommasit added. "I'd would stand at the urinal for two hours, not peeing and just staring at dicks."
"I do it now," Dibeler interrupted.
"I do it for [shorter periods of times]."
"I do it till they come."
For all the dirty jokes, Dibeler takes the band and his performance art seriously. Lately he has tried to distance himself from the bear community, despite his obvious bear-like appearance, because some bears saw his performance art, where he occasionally gets fucked with a dildo in an art gallery, and started posting photos of Dibeler in armpit porn Tumblr blogs.
"I get fucked up bloody to a Mariah Carey song, and people are still like, 'Woof," he said.
Leahy also simultaneously makes jokes about his art while taking his work very seriously. "We started Bottoms to make shitty shit house music, basically, for faggots," he said. "Being the bottom [is also like being] the bottom of society."
Leahy applies makeup to Dibeler's face.
The band only expected to perform for their "community" at Secret Project Robot, the art space where they rehearse, perform, and hang out with friends. Then JD Samson, of Le Tigre and MEN, watched the band perform. She showed their music to Inge Colsen, with whom she runs Atlas Chair, and they met with Bottoms at the gay bar Phoenix for a meeting and then signed the band.
"Bottoms to me totally inhabits [being simultaneously angry and celebratory] for me," Samson told VICE earlier this month. "I remember being at some of the first Gossip shows and feeling the same way, like screaming and being around your family and being angry and happy at the same time. Sharing a discontent is something that feels incredibly ecstatic."
Bottoms performs at Palisades in Brooklyn.
At their show at Palisades, I witnessed this clashing energy firsthand. The first number resembled a Cat Power show. Leahy hovered over the table in a black dress and his bad blond wig, playing music on his laptop, as Prommasit worked behind the drum kit. Wearing a dress that said "I HATE MY BODY" on the front and "GOODBYE" on the back, Dibeler stared at the table, speaking into the mic as if it were a telephone and he were Sandy from Grease.
As the second song started, though, Dibeler jumped up and ran into the crowd. Screaming like Courtney Love at the height of Hole's power, he unleashed a voice that sounded angry and exuberant and happy and sad all at once. The audience mashed and danced along, buoyed up by his incredible voice.
The band, of course, demonstrated its campy sense of humor during all this angst. When Dibeler spotted Amy, our photographer, taking pictures of him, he smiled and struck a pose against the column holding up the building's roof. As he sang "My Body" (sample lyric: "I hate my body"), he lay on the ground and humped the floor, seeming both confident and insecure at the same time.
At the end of a song, he sat on the bottom of the stage like Judy Garland performing at the Palace Theatre. He then spat into the audience. "I"m sick and have phlegm!" he screamed. Then he went back into action. He sat on the floor in the middle of the audience with the mic in his mouth like it was a dick and let out a wordless roar.
To the gays in the audience, this sounded cathartic—his voice was releasing our anger about all the bullshit we have to deal with on a daily basis. As we danced along to Leahy and Prommasit's instrumentals, we too were shedding our feelings about everything that pissed us off. When the show ended, I found myself remembering the band's lyrics as if I had just watched a Katy Perry stadium show. As the lights rose and Prommasit collected their instruments, Dibeler looked into the crowd. "There's some things I'm telling you," he said. "I'm a Gemini, I'm a bottom, and I have an album for sale on a table."
For more Bottoms, listen to the remix of "Becoming Real" below and check out our complete gallery of pictures of the band.To see them band live in Brooklyn on Friday night, buy tickets to their album-release party at Secret Project Robot.