No Bra: an interview with Susanne Oberbeck

Rebecca Thomas.jpg

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been coming back to the music of No Bra again and again.

Formed in 2003, No Bra were created by German performance artist and spoken word performer Susanne Oberbeck and musician Fanny Paul Clinton.

No Bra is a challenging and intriguing concoction of minimalist electronica, in-your-face queer politics and frighteningly astute social observation. Seventies New York No Wave meets Eighties electronic Berlin and present-day East London, while musical references seem to include Suicide, TG, Peaches and the Raincoats.

Visually, Susanne Oberbeck is striking on stage. Performing topless, with long straight hair and hot pants, she’s unforgettable and truly inspirational.

I asked Susanne how she became No Bra.

Sheena: How did you first become involved in music and performance and what were your thoughts when you first decided to appear uncovered?

Susanne: I’ve played music since I was a kid but I always hated practicing and playing classical music, and as I discovered making your own music is actually much easier, so I think kids should be told that!

After being in a few other bands I started No Bra with my friend Fanny Paul Clinton, after we made a short porn film satire together in which we both performed. Later it became a solo project and I became known as “No Bra”.

Playing topless made me feel more confident, aggressive and on edge on stage and it was immediately clear that it worked so I stuck with it.

Some women, including the Raising the Skirt collective, argue that exposing their cunt releases liberating magic and creativity. Do you feel something similar is true of your breasts?

To me creativity involves going against what other people say, having the balls to create something new, and not be afraid to embarrass yourself.

Our culture objectifies and judges females (not just females!). As a female one’s actions and opinions are constantly being questioned. To be an artist you have to block all of this out, or tell people to fuck off but that’s exhausting.

Getting my tits out clarifies things from the start, that I don’t care about that stereotypical kind of judgement. I haven’t experienced this cunt related “magic” some people talk about – to me its more about overstepping the line from an expected female position to one that I can control myself. – without hiding or altering my body. Changing society not myself – at least in the image I’m presenting on stage.

Your live work is a kind of non-performance. You’re very still, intense and focussed on stage. Was this a conscious decision?

Of course. I tried moving and it felt fake so i didn’t do it. It makes it easier to hold people’s attention. Not saying this can’t change!

Your video work is very confrontational and challenging. Do you consider yourself as more of a musical or visual artist?

I don’t really see it as being that confrontational or challenging. I can see the video with the penises [Munchausen – see above] is challenging to some, but I see it more as a comedy. It was also about my fascination with body doubles and editing to create an illusion that a star has a really hot ass etc, so I wanted to try the same technique to make it look like I have a big dick.

I love making films and videos, but working with music and vocals and live performance is much easier and natural for me.

What’s a good place to start for newcomers to your work?

I would start with the song Munchausen most accessible and the first album, Dance and Walk.

Your work is very ‘urban’. It’s seems to be it’s very much about life lived in the modern city – Berlin, Paris, New York, London. What do you love and hate about modern city life?

I just think that so called weirdos, queer people, have always been drawn to the bigger cities because people are a little bit more tolerant, and it’s easier to find like-minded people.

So that’s what I love about it, but also the diversity of people and cultures, the speed etc.

You can find out more about No Bra on her excellent website, featuring videos, radio shows and interviews. No Bra will, with any luck, be performing in Gateshead later this year.

Photo by Rebecca Thomas