Night Flight’s “New Sounds” from December 1988 featured post-punk goth goddess Danielle Dax

By on December 14, 2016

Danielle Dax, with her striking features and huge cat-like eyes, was one of the more interesting solo artists of the 80s, and she became something of a goth feminist icon early in her career, although her music didn’t really fit comfortably with the goth scene overall.

Her “Cathouse” video was featured in our December 10, 1988, episode of “New Sounds,” which highlighted the burgeoning acts and micro-genres of the late 80s. The episode is streaming exclusively on Night Flight Plus.

DD16

Danielle Dax’s albums — which fused electronics with guitars, rock and dance beats, and looped-in tape effects long before it was popular to do so — created a distinctive niche sound that was all her own, combining wildly inventive musical arrangements and big pop choruses.

She also expressed a curiously personal artistic side in her artwork and videos that seemed to be a merging of sixties psychedelic imagery with perverse elements bordering on the grotesque, while she herself came across as a colorful, post-punk goth-goddess in bows, scarves and beaded necklaces.

DD6

Dax was born Danielle Gardner in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England, on September 23, 1958, the daughter of a dress designer.

Early on she leaned towards visual self-expression, and had initially thought she might pursue acting or work on TV because of her involvement in school plays, telling one interviewer that she wanted to be a director, but realized that she couldn’t get a job at the BBC “because I was a girl, and they wouldn’t employ trainee girls. That really put me off, so I sort of lost interest.”

She moved to Reading in her late teens, where she pursued visual art, painting and enjoyed setting up her own staged “events,” where she create an aura around herself by doing things like dressing entirely in one color and do performance art while crowds gathered and watched.

DD7

In 1979, although she had little formal music training and little interest in pursuing music, she was recruited by Karl Blake, who wanted her to design a record sleeve for his band.

It was Blake who showed Dax how playing music had quite a lot of potential for her to express some of her more creative, artistic ideas, and she was impressed by his improvised home studio recording set-up.

She ultimately was convinced to play keyboards, saxophone, flute and, later, would sing lead vocals in Blake’s avant-garde post-punk band, the Lemon Kittens.

DD14

Their first live appearance — as Amii Toytal and the Croixroads — was at the university of Reading. Dax wore a lab coat and a balaclava.

By 1980, the Lemon Kittens were down to a duo, just Blake and Dax, who was gaining notoriety for appearing naked onstage except for body paint.

Dax, who defined herself as an “all-around artist,” continued pursuing her artwork, designing record covers for the Lemon Kittens, who released We Buy a Hammer for Daddy in 1980.

LEMONKITTENS1.jpg

Karl Blake and Danielle Dax

She also designed the cover of Robert Fripp’s Let the Power Fall and The League of Gentlemen, both released in 1981).

Blake and Dax’s second Lemon Kittens album, Those That Bite the Hand that Feeds Them Sooner or Later Must Meet… The Big Dentist (released in 1982), would be their last, before the duo split up, due to internal friction, with Dax moving on to add tape loops to a group called the Shockheaded Peters before beginning her solo career anew.

DD1

Soon, her flamboyant stage performances, lavish personal style and experimental goth pop sound was earning her a cult following, mostly for her performances at London’s Batcave nightclub, which had opened in June of 1982, just as the 80s British goth scene was beginning to take flight.

The club and its patrons would play up the dark, ghoulish horror theme of goth, and many bands which had begun prior to its creation would soon transition to becoming goth-rockers.

DD12

Danielle Dax played her first Batcave gigs wearing black rags and appearing in extreme face and body makeup, her hair wildly disheveled, which was the same macabre look that other acts — including the club’s house band, Specimen — would adopt as well.

As the 80s progressed, her proto-goth look all but disappeared, and soon she was turning to an experimentation or at least flirtation with sixties-era psychedelia (much like those other Brit goth heroes, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees).

DD11

With the new sounds came a new look that favored hairstyles which would tower high above her heavily made-up face, and the black clothing and torn lace was being replaced by lavish jewelry and colorful, exotic fabrics.

She began looking more and more like she’d combined elements of sixties psychedelia and with certain Middle Eastern (or Eastern European gypsy, perhaps) affectations. However you described it, though, Danielle Dax’s look was uniquely her own.

In addition to writing all of the songs and producing, Dax also played all of the instruments — guitar, drums, keyboards, banjo, bass, flute, sax (tenor and soprano), trumpet, tapes, drone, Tr808 drum programming, and assorted percussion and toys — on her experimental first solo album, 1983’s Pop Eyes, released by the indie label Awesome.

DD5

It was mostly a sparse, often harsh mix of electro beats, tribal rhythms and an eclectic array of vocal sounds, her voice ranging at times from a feral rasp to an eerie falsetto.

The cover artwork — a facial collage called “Meat Harvest,” which Dax created from assembling horrific medical photographs, including what appears to be a rotting testicle for a nose — perfectly captured her abiding interest in the grotesque, although it proved to be too much for her record company, who later reissued the album with a more demure sleeve, designed by Holly Warburton, which showed vintage medical illustrations projected on Dax’s face and torso.

DD13

Warbuton would end up designing eleven Danielle Dax album covers in total, most of them showing Dax’s face but often she appeared with an animal body, often a mythical one (Dax would also appear in Warbuton’s occult-inspired 1986 film, Fragments Towards the Chimera).

Speaking of films, in some circles, Danielle Dax is likely best known for her cameo role as “Wolf Girl” in Neil Jordan’s 1984 film The Company of Wolves, where she rises naked from a well to be taken in by a village priest before returning to the darkness she came from.

She had no actual dialogue in the movie, but she was nonetheless memorable in her performance, and appears on the French film poster.

DD8

Her next album, 1984’s Jesus Egg that Wept was named for a tabloid story and later purloined for part of the title of a collection by Oklahoma band the Flaming Lips (The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg: The Priest Driven Ambulance Album, Demos, and Outtakes, 1989-1991); about Dax’s title, Wayne Coyne said “I don’t know what it means, but it has great imagery.”

The album showed considerable growth from her debut, featured several songs with future co-writer and guitarist David Knight and the reappearance of one-time bandmate Karl Blake on one track (“Ostrich”).

The mini-album was rife with Eastern exotica sounds, Indian ragga, vaudeville and soft pop, but it was also steeped in Southern Gothic imagery, which may be one reason it was called “a murky orchestral swamp blues” by one reviewer. The album is also favorably compared to Captain Beefheart for it’s skronky bluesy rock vibe.

DD20

Overall, it was less experimental and more melodic than its predecessor, with the voodoo-drenched “Pariah” — a chilling depiction of a lynch mob — being one of the standout tracks, showcasing her impressive vocal range.

By this point in her career, Danielle Dax was taking charge and handling virtually all of the responsibilities, something that was still quite rare for any performer, male or female, to be doing at the time. She tour managed her own tours, assembled her bands and arranged press, acting as her own manager.

DD15

Her 1987 album Inky Bloaters was an even more polished pop album, spawning three singles which revealed that Dax’s vocals were now being influenced by country & western and the blues, sometimes sounding a bit like Karen Dalton.

DD10

In 1988, she signed with Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records in the U.S., who released Dark Adapted Eye, a compilation of her early material (including most of the songs featured on Inky Bloaters), in addition to her first straight-forward love song, the dance-rock hit “Cathouse,” with its accompanying semi-psychedelic promo video — its the one ‘“Night Flight” featured in this episode of “New Sounds” — featuring Dax miming the song run through a battery of cheapo video effects that were popular in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax on Channel 4’s “Star Test” (part 1 of 3)

In 1989, she appeared on the British Channel 4 interview show, “Star Test,”, where she talked about her love for the work of both David Lynch and novelist J.G. Ballard.

DD17

In 1990, as a kind of last-ditch effort to achieve pop stardom released Blast the Human Flower, with an overly reverent cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which reached #5 on the U.S. “alternative” charts, her highest charting hit.

The album — which was probably still a bit too strange for most mainstream listeners — would be her only release on Sire, which dropped Dax, who was dealing with a debilitating illness at the time.

DD18

She released a new EP, Timber Tongue, on her own label, Biter of Thorpe, in 1995, which saw her returning to a more experimental sound again.

That same year saw the release of a best-of and obscurities collection with the somewhat sarcastic title, Comatose Non Reaction: The Thwarted Pop Career and she would eventually re-issue her entire catalog on the imprint.

DD19

She gave up the music business and began a new career, this time as a designer, and two years after her last release, she was awarded BBC Desinger of the Year, appearing on the BBC interior design show “Home Front” several times.

Danielle Dax returned to school, studying fine art ast the Chelsea College of Art, where she focused on sculptural work which revealed an ongoing interest in both feminism and abjection. She graduated with distinction from the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden too.

According to her official website, she currently “continues designing, painting and music making at her home in London were she lives with her husband Adrian and four cats.”

DD3

Check out our December 10, 1988 episode of “New Sounds,” which in addition to Danielle Dax’s “Cathouse” video also features Belgian synth act Front 242 (with a video from iconic photographer Anton Corbijn), Australian punk act Lime Spiders, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’s massive hit “What I Am,” and some fantastic Joy Division-inspired coldwave from Siglo XX. You’ll find it exclusively on Night Flight Plus.

DD9

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.