A few months ago I sat down to watch the documentary Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl. As a teen in the 90s I was totally fascinated by the Riot Grrrl movement. Finding bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill along with fanzines Jigsaw, Girls Germs and Riot Grrrl really opened up my mind to a lot of ideas (DIY, female empowerment and female identity, to name a few) that have stuck with me to this day.
Glued to my TV screen absorbing Don’t Need You… , one of the interviewees really stood out to me: Ramdasha Bikceem, a musician and creator of Riot Grrrl fanzine Gunk. She reminded me of some of my favourite female creators: Poly Styrene, Santi White and Grace Jones — all strong, fierce, outspoken and true individuals. I resonated most with a moment in the doco where Dasha (as she’s affectionately known to friends) said that there came a time with her involvement within the Riot Grrrl movement where she didn’t feel like they were her people. Having come to a time where I felt that way myself within my local punk community here in Brisbane, Australia, several years ago I was curious as to where Dasha went to find her people? And, what happened next after moving on from Riot Grrrl?
I decided to track her down to see what she was doing nowadays and was super happy to find she’s still creating! I found Dasha living in New York where she’s been spinning dance-pop, dance-punk, freestyle, hip-hop, dancehall, and as she puts it “gay dancey stuff” for the past 10 years. Currently she’s also working on originals as a DJ/producer going by the moniker Designer Imposter, and running an online vintage shop, Klub Kid Vintage, to fund her creative adventures. Her latest musical creations fuse her love of hip hop and 80s dance music, driven by live drum loops, warm synths and chunky badass bass with punk rock attitude. Sharing a passion for the aforementioned myself, Designer Imposter has been a permanent fixture in my stereo ever since. Here’s our chat:
Growing up, who were your musical heroes? Were there any artists that you grew up emulating?
I was into music really early on; my parents were really into music. My first musical idol when I was five was Joan Jett. When I got older, like middle school and stuff, I really got into rap music like Run DMC and Queen Latifah. In early high school there were older people that I looked up to that were in punk bands so I kind of got into punk at the end of junior high. I was into The Clash and stuff like that then I really wanted to hear more music made by women. I liked X-Ray Spex and this band from New York called the Lunachicks. My friend, this girl I really looked up to – she’s a drummer – was living with the singer of the Lunachicks so I got into them through her. I got into playing music through her as well — I kind of copied everything she did [laughs]. Then I got into making zines and got into Bikini Kill and all that sort of music from that era.
As a kid were you encouraged to pursue art, music and performance?
Definitely. My father was an artist. I was born in the 70s so my parents were basically… not total hippies but more kind of beatnik-y. I was mostly raised by my father and he was very into pottery and sculpture. He definitely encouraged me to do it. It was never like “oh don’t do that!” it was always more “go do it!” I’m lucky that I had that experience. In my senior year in high school I was in a program that was an art program and all my classes were all art classes so I was lucky that way.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a musician?
I can’t remember totally. I took piano lessons briefly but I didn’t do too well in it. At the end of junior high or the beginning of high school I said to two of my girlfriends “we should start a band”. I really looked up to punk bands so I really wanted to do that. Around 14 or 15 is when I decided to do it. I didn’t really have much formal training but just got a guitar – a really cheap crappy guitar – taught myself and then eventually took some lessons and went from there.
Can you tell me about the first gig you ever played?
Oh man, let me think … Our [Gunk] first show was in somebody’s basement at their parents’ house. Their parents would let them have punk shows. I don’t even know if people do that anymore? Do people have punk shows in their houses anymore?
I’m not too sure? [Damn straight they do. Right here in Brisbane even – Ed] I guess someone somewhere is doing it. Lack of venues and places to play comes and goes in cycles so I assume it would be a necessity at times, even now.
They did where I was from because there wasn’t too many clubs and we obviously couldn’t get into bars so things just happened at people’s houses. It was really fun and people really liked us. My friend came down from New York – she was the one that lived with Theo [Kogan] from the Lunachicks – and she played drums for us. We only practiced a few hours before. It was terrifying but it was so fun too!
Who is a performer that inspires you nowadays?
Lots of people! My favourite performer is Grace Jones. I would consider her like my musical mother basically, even though I’ve never met her. I saw her perform a couple of years ago and it was amazing. She was still very cutting edge and really inspiring, she was really captivating. She’s definitely one of my major influences performance-wise and music-wise. I love everything about her. I love that she pushes gender boundaries. She’s totally a feminist hero to me.
I share your love of Grace Jones! She was just here in Australia last month doing shows. She played a festival and turned up around 40 minutes late!
[Laughs] She’s notoriously late. That’s not even late for her! I saw her once where she didn’t come on until five in the morning. That’s her style.
When you’re making music do you ever stop and think about where your creations are coming from?
Sometimes. Now for the first time I have a music studio so the process has really metamorphosed. It’s really changing a lot. I have more space and freedom. I don’t have a regular nine to five job so I have a lot more time. A lot of times I’ll write lyrics or I’ll make a drum beat or sometimes I’ll play the keyboard and sing to it, it won’t even be like a song yet with words it will just be me humming. I don’t read music or anything like that. It’s not a traditional way of making music. I’ll come up with lyrics sometimes and I’ll just write them down or I’ll just make up an instrumental of a song first — either way. I’m trying to put out a digitally released EP, I almost have enough stuff for it.
What song that you’ve created so far means the most to you?
The one that I’m most proud of that I think is more like what I’m trying to do, is a song that I’ve made called “Hollow”. I don’t know if you’ve heard it?
Yes! That’s my favourite Designer Imposter track!
That’s the one that I feel like I did the best on. I’m not totally making the music I want to make – that’s kind of weird to say but, it’s like all these other songs kind of happen but they’re not quite what I want to be doing.
The lyrics and melody of that song always gets caught in my head. I’ll be driving along in my car and just start humming the tune.
[Laughs] It’s all according to my plan!
How has living in New York influenced your work?
I’ve lived here since 1993. I love it here, as much as it is a difficult city to live in financially, which I think is something that makes it hard as an artist here. That pushes a lot of people out that should be here making the city interesting. It’s still a really great place to be though. It’s the most diverse city that I have ever been to. I mean that in the truest sense of the word too. There’s been a lot of places I’ve been to where there is a lot of diversity but people don’t really mix as much as they do in New York. I haven’t really seen that anywhere else, maybe Paris kind of, but as far as I know New York is the most mixed up — I really appreciate that. It’s really inspiring to me because there is so much access to so many different types of people and types of music. Playing a show here is for real, it’s not amateur. If you’re going to play a show, you have to put on a show. I appreciate that. I feel like it ups the bar. I just feel like it’s the real deal [laughs].