Brontez Purnell in 2016 Fresh Festival, San Francisco, image by Joshua Clayton

Brontez Purnell in Conversation with Amelia Bande

Brontez Purnell lives in California so we did this interview via email. He has been publishing, performing, and curating in the Bay Area for over ten years. I know more of his work as a writer. Last year I found his novel “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” while staying at my friend’s house, and read part of it. I wanted to take the book home, but my friend wouldn’t let me. And then I read his new novel “Since I’ve Laid My Burden Down” at the end of this summer. Two very hot nights, read half of each book, very quick and automatic. I was sweating, but the book was too. I kept on thinking of a body alive with feelings, impulses, desires and disappointments. It isn’t a surprise that Brontez also works as dancer and choreographer with the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, along with founding company member Sophia Wang, where they build works that combine punk rock subversion, free jazz improvisation, and a company comprised of movers and artists of all disciplines. And even though I must confess I’ve only seen BPDC’s work on video, I still wanted to talk to him about these intersections - Brontez also plays music, with his band The Younger Lovers and makes the zine “Fag School”. In the early 2000s he was a dancer with queer electro band Gravy Train!!! He holds his work in different mediums, but it seems to me that these are not boxes, separate from each other, but an organism where dance, music and writing are open elements integrated to the hards and softs of life. Here’s Brontez.

-Amelia Bande, co-editor

Amelia Bande: You said “I was dancing and knowing that I had to find a way to feel like this the rest of my life.” What was that feeling that needed to stay forever in your life?

Brontez Purnell: Movement- plain and simple. If you don’t use it you lose it, right? Also, I’m such a fucking fidgety soul I can often fly in my dreams at will.

AB: As a kid you watched Flashdance and then the Janet Jackson’s Pleasure Principle video and said “I HAVE TO BE A DANCER WHO LIVES IN A WAREHOUSE. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?” and then you moved to San Francisco and became a dancer who lived in a warehouse. So, how cool was that?

BP: It was Oakland actually! Lol. But yeah it was amazing. I also recorded records and wrote books at that same place. I started my dance company in fall of 2009 and we had our first show Feb 2010 at Berkeley Art Museum. It was so totally fucking worth it.

AB: Is being a go-go boy for live punk bands and having a dance company part of the same thing?

BP: I would say one fed the other but so different. I think in Gravy Train!!!! it was my body and spirit on display mostly. With my company I get to be a body moving, a poet, and a filmmaker. It’s very intense.

AB: Are outfits important?

BP: Depends, really. I mean if yr LaBelle - then hell yeah....

AB: What’s that space called, between energy and exhaustion, that appears when we move?

BP: I call it “existing”.

AB: On the film Free Jazz we see choreographed scenes and then other parts, like an exercise routine, running away in the street, unrolling paper and drawing, some ritualistic dances, a Soul Train moment and a party scene. You make zines, and watching the film reminded me of that. Do you choreograph using similar cut and paste techniques? What’s your process like?

BP: Oh my god it’s so different depending on what I’m working on! Lol. But yes, the idea behind Free Jazz was a Mixtape feel. I was big into that philosophy at the time- now I engage in other secret methods.

AB: The idea of talking to you came after I read your new novel Since I’ve Laid My Burden Down. I felt the book was very alive in the body with sex, sweat, body image and death linked closely to the emotional landscapes of DeShawn, the protagonist. The title is the name of a gospel song, and it also suggests movement. To go horizontal with burdens, to put the more frantic states of hardship to rest. Can literature be movement? How do words dance?

BP: Well I don’t know about movement per se but I do consider writing theater, you know? The flow of text (or even the refusal of “flow”) is all about that process for sure.

AB: You also have a band, The Younger Lovers. What music do you play? For how long have you existed? Has the band ever provided a soundtrack for your Dance Company?

BP: I started The Younger Lovers as a bedroom Demo Tape project in 2003 (yikes). We are a rock n roll band. TBH I’ve never mixed the two but am working on an upcoming project that will marry my two loves.

AB: Why collaborate? Who are important collaborators of yours?

BP: Sophia Wang who I started BPDC with. She’s my main squeeze.

AB: You say “We are still looking for maps”, in relation to ancestry as something particularly important for queer and black people. Do you see your work on Ed Mock as a collaboration with him? Can we collaborate with the dead?

BP: I think we are in constant conversation with the dead. It’s crucial that we are in fact. They paved the highways for us.

AB: Is making art a way of distracting ourselves from lovers who don’t reply to our texts? Or from the news cycle? Or from other unpleasant sensations?

BP: You fucking bet it is.....❤

AB: What are you working on now? What’s coming next?

BP: My children’s book comes out next year, and new records. I’m gonna stop eating like a trash panda and maybe even go vegan. I’m gonna start swimming again. I have two records in the works. Blah blah blah- movement. Lol

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Brontez Purnell

Brontez Purnell is a choreographer, dancer, writer, filmmaker, and performance artist. His career began with music and dance, founding Fag School Fanzine in 2002, a post-queer core underground music f...
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Amelia Bande

Amelia Bande is a writer working in performance, theater and film. Her plays Chueca and Partir y Renunciar were staged in Santiago, Chile. She is part of the Gel Film Series (2012- present) and she co...
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