‘Venus Flytrap’ Is The Feminist, Punk, Queer-Centric, Music Web Series We’ve Been Waiting For

If you haven’t come across ‘Venus Flytrap’, the new web series created by Adele Bertai, starring Margaret Cho and Asia Argento, don’t worry, we have you covered. It is the first digital scripted series about women in rock, following the story of a band of all-female musicians hell bent on raising their voices, fists, and instruments in the era of Trump.

We think the description on the Indiegogo page describes it best: “It’s “Fearless Girl” staring down “Charging Bull” on Wall Street with guitars. It’s PUSSY GRABS BACK in a queer-centric provocative show whose time has come. The punk feminist VENUS FLYTRAP (VFT) and their various cohorts will disrupt the entertainment status quo with their own unique brand of comedy, anarchy, music and mayhem. We’re totally going for it, lady-balls OUT and ON FIRE!”

We can’t wait for this series to launch to the masses primarily because it is female-focused and LGBTQ-focused, something we are not used to seeing in the myriad music series and movies we’ve come across over the years. Whether it was ‘Vinyl’, ‘Flight of the Conchords’, or ‘The Get Down’, it sees the default of positioning cultural revolution in parallel with music has a distinctive male ring to it. Until now.

Given that women are literally leading the current #resistance under the Trump administration, this series and its subject matter makes total sense. The Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration brought out millions of people around the US and around the world standing in defiance of a president intent on stripping away the rights of many in favor of a select few.

Political organization Emily’s List which supports progressive female candidates and campaigns has seen up to 12,000 women indicate they would like to run for various local, state and federal public office positions since the beginning of the year, which they say is a 1000% increase. And research indicates the majority of calls to Congress in opposition to the most regressive pieces of legislation from the Republicans and Trump administration are coming from women. Yep, women ARE the resistance, and they always have been throughout history, despite not being given the kudos they deserve. Women have also been a pivotal part of various music-driven movements, so it is entirely fitting for ‘Venus Flytrap’ to be about the ladies.

“Why are the women always groupies, roadies, singing girl-group femmes or facilitators to the guys? The missing female musical rebellion that has always been here will rise again through our catalysts – punk rockers TINK(erbelle), JOEY, TASHA and DEE,” says the Indiegogo campaign page.

We got to speak with Adele Bertai, an accomplished musician herself, as well as filmmaker, about VFT, why is it is a timely series, and what she hopes audiences will take away from it.

How did the idea for ‘Venus Flytrap!’ come about?

Having been in an all-girl band myself as well as in and out of the music biz trenches, I thought how great it would be to create a comedy, a female parody of a parody, like ‘Spinal Tap’. Initially I wrote a feature script and decided to turn it into an episodic series last year. The name ‘Venus Flytrap’ came to me during the intense political climate last year, where we were all being beaten to death with vulgar misogyny and xenophobia. I loved the idea of the flytrap, luring the flies in with its ultraviolet glow but it’s really a killing machine. Come on into the trap, oh ye misogynists! Topple the patriarchy! Go Wonder Woman!

With a stellar cast including Margaret Cho and Asia Argento, why did you choose to tackle sexism in the music industry?

Personal experience, for one. When I was signed to Geffen Records in the early 80s, the sexism was so blatant. If you didn’t comply and play the game according to the edicts of the male-dominated business you were either harassed into it or you were out. Execs often sexually assaulted women too; it was common, but if you reported it you were threatened with blackballing, which still goes on.

The male-dominated music biz is so ripe for parody. Look at the industry today. Do you see or hear any true female rebels singing about what’s really happening in America, what’s happening to the rights of women? The record companies are so invested in keeping women in a certain box. With few exceptions, when young women sing about politics now, which is very rare, their lyrics are so obtuse you have no idea what the point is. So bland, so nothing. I know I sound old, but it’s true. England is far ahead of us, with artists like Kate Tempest.

The series also looks at issues such as sexuality and aims to promote an empowering LGBTQ message. Why was this important to you?

First, a disclaimer. Not all characters in VFT are queer, and the show supports a very brave and fluid sexuality. I was lucky enough to be young at a revolutionary time for music when people like David Bowie, Lou Reed and Labelle initiated a very pro-queer musical era of fabulous gay empowerment. These were consummate rock performers putting on gender-fluid shows with a message that lived beyond boundaries, celebrating a very sexy queerness with glitter, dazzle and poetry.

I don’t see this today. Today it seems like everything we see on TV is about LGBTQ people assimilating into homogeneous culture. Of course it’s important that homophobic people realize we’re not to be feared! Yet, that is not who we all are. We aren’t all wealthy art curators, conservative movie stars or suburban house lesbians.

Some of us are crazy beautiful freaks, artists who don’t care about assimilating and who are proud of our differences. Not just the difference of being queer, but of being unique, of not wanting to fit into little boxes of conformity. This is what rock and roll was always about and will be again; rebellion. If ever there was a time for rebellion, it’s now.

Women’s voices of rebellion have always been a pivotal part of both the music and feminist scenes at various historical and political junctures. How will VFT address the current political climate in the US, where the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people are being attacked?

Ah, no spoilers! Let’s just say that VFT is a comedy, and comedy as a vehicle for political commentary has been around since Aristophanes. VFT, just by the very nature of its existence, will be political, since there has never been a series about women in rock. We had to suffer through an election season last year where the orangutan leading our country made endless vulgar and hateful statements about women and immigrants.

Not funny at all, and every woman I know was triggered by the brutal sexism. Some people have looked at our VFT fundraising campaign and thought it a bit vulgar. I think this is funny as hell. There are always double standards, and from people you think would be on your side! There will be plenty of comic political commentary about all of these issues in VFT, from female rebels who will not be silenced. We attack back, with humor.

How does each main character in the band contribute to the themes of the series?

Every character in the band has their own story, family, lovers. Tink the lead singer has a wild punk rock Grandma, and her mother is insane, so we’ll be looking at these relationships. And the series won’t be without its moments of pathos, too. Tasha the bassist is Chicana with a fiercely political Chicana academic mom, played by Alice Bag.

Dee the drummer is African American and Joey Camarrari is Italian. Cultural and racial diversity is featured as we play with clichés and knock all hell out of stereotypes. One little spoiler; in Season 1 there will be a love affair with a white intersexed Muslim. Religion and politics are inextricably linked and we’re not afraid to go there.

As Eileen Myles once said in a letter to Pussy Riot referencing their infamous punk prayer action at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, “… the one piece of what you’ve done that feels most important to me is the strange and beautiful fact that your action supported a woman’s right to pray.” Thank you Eileen. Venus Flytrap is the American sister of Pussy Riot. It’ll be interesting to see who has the vision and the courage to produce our series.

You have quite the rebel girl background as a musician, most notably as the lead singer for the very first out lesbian punk band The Bloods, and singing BV’s for artists such as Whitney Houston, Culture Club and Sophie B. Hawkins. How much of the series is autobiographical?

The Bloods! People forget that Ellen DeGeneres didn’t even come out until the mid 1990’s. We couldn’t play the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in 1980 because the organizers thought we, and our music, were too ‘male-identified’. Hilarious in retrospect. Aside from the single we recorded with the Au Pairs label in England and a rare live recording from Berlin, the only recording contract we were offered was by a guy who wanted a Colonel Tom Parker [notorious manager of Elvis Presley] deal. In other words, 50% would go to him.

We laughed. He was livid! We were so flamingly queer that no other manager or recording company would touch us. I have plenty of material to draw on. In a sense, Tinkerbelle is my alter ego, in the tradition of Truffaut and his Antoine Doinel. Like Tink, I was a feral rebel girl, not to be messed with!

Why is it important to you to have more women and LGBTQ representations in film and entertainment?

Right now, the biggest demographics in our country are baby boomer women and millennial women. The success of Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman’ [$100+ million in its first weekend making it the most successful opening for a female-directed film ever] illustrates the numbers perfectly. Our cultural gatekeepers need to get with the program when it comes to women in all forms of entertainment; books, music, film, visual art, streaming. Working class lives need to be reflected in our culture too, or we end up being labeled elitists and it’s very clear why this happens and why it has to stop.

We need to see more representations of queer culture because it helps free those who are suppressing their inner lives to be authentic to who they really are. Especially young people who don’t live in our major cosmopolitan cities. We need role models. Some young people are not strong enough to live, to survive in climates of homophobic hostility and this breaks my heart. I had absolutely no role models when I was growing up, so it’s important to me as an artist to put queer lives on the screen. Wild queer lives too, which goes back to my ideas about assimilation and breaking free of it in this show.

How would you encourage other artists who feel paralyzed by the current political climate to use their voices and talents to be part of the resistance?

I’d encourage artists not to tow the line of the status quo, to be unafraid. Kathy Griffin shouldn’t have apologized and it pained me to see her grovel. She has enough money without her New Year’s Eve gig, she should have told the Trumps to f*ck themselves in light of what they’re doing to this country. Vaudeville performers were doing the Salome act with Teddy Roosevelt’s head on a platter back in the early 1900s!

We need our artists to be brave right now, not ruled by their own greed. How much money does a human being truly need? There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, but at the expense of the world’s humanity? It’s insane. So many celebrities not saying one word about what’s happening. Fear will only bring us our own Nazi Germany. Is the political climate paralyzing people, or is it our addiction to social media? Our minds have been hijacked.

Tristan Harris has the perfect analogy for this new mindset, comparing our phones to slot machines with variable rewards… every time you check your phone, you’re pulling a lever on a slot machine. How many likes did I get? What photo will so-and-so post today? What did the orange sphincter do now, and what is everyone else thinking? F*ck what everybody else is thinking, what are YOU thinking, ya know? Enough! Lock that phone away for as long as you can.

Art and activism have always worked together, so if you’re scared, angry, lonely, excited, in love, make art! Graffiti a wall with a shocking good message, play music, write a kick-ass song about it, perform agit-prop poetry on a corner with a bullhorn dressed like a French revolutionary! Express your rage, and the changes you want to see in the world. Our humanity is on the line here! Make art, make love, be free, be wild and unafraid, and be with other people. Don’t isolate. Walk away from your cellphone and breathe. And trust me, I can be just as bad as the next person when it comes to socials. Inhaling now.

What do you hope audiences will take away from VFT?

My hopes are that VFT will voice the following, with humor and heart… that we women and queers can be anything we want to be, and we will not accept tyranny. We are all living, breathing works of art begging expression. And we are much more than our sexualities. We shouldn’t be too quick to slap labels on our own asses, we can be brave enough to fly free of other’s ideas about who we should be and how we should behave. And, that rock and roll, no matter the genre, will always be a liberating force when it is played with the intent it was born with – rebellion.





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