Interview: Leg Puppy on challenging online abuse with music and masks

Insightful jab at sex pests or misguided dissonant missive? ‘Dick Pic’ is the new single from Leg Puppy to which John Clay uses as the basis for their latest interview.  

Hey there Darren, how are you doing today?

Leg Puppy: I’m great, just got back from the JR Chronicles expo at the Saatchi. Very inspiring. Expect some black n white giant posters of ‘Dick Head’ around London.

Care to give a short synopsis for those of us who are unfamiliar with the JR Chronicles?

Leg Puppy: JR is a TED Prize winner, Oscar nominated filmmaker, and one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018. He has received critical acclaim for his global art projects that bring together diverse groups of participants and create dialogue around critical social issues, from women’s rights to immigration, to gun control.

You said their work inspired you. Could you talk about one particular piece before we talk about your latest single?

Leg Puppy: He started out taking photographs of his friends on his housing estate in Paris. He gave these people a voice by posting large posters of their image around Paris. He then went on to make heroes of people who would otherwise be marginalised in society.

So did a particular piece inspire anything you do, or when you say inspired do mean to distill that impact in a future work of yours?

Leg Puppy: The street is your canvas, you don’t have to rely on someone else to give approval to say if your work is good enough or not. This is very inspiring and so true.

So, their overall process was something that grabbed you. Gotcha. Let’s talk about your latest song. What is the main driving force behind it and were there any concerns about handling the subject of sex pests given the current heightened and often extreme views which are shared on and offline?

Leg Puppy: I have quite a lot of female friends who are sick and tired of dick heads sending unsolicited dick pics. I mean, do they really think that’s how you seduce a woman? I did an installation at a gallery last year with three pieces of art and three masks. Each mask had a friend’s story of online abuse written on it. One was a mate who got abused after a dick head sent her a dick pic. I knew then that I wanted to write a track but needed to think how I would approach it.

The song can be interpreted as a satirical short essay from a warped POV. Not an easy idea to execute. What lyrical ideas were considered but left by the wayside? Is there anything you’ve stuck with in the song that you occasionally reassess? I’d imagine it healthy to be a little unsure of the ground you’re covering here.

Leg Puppy: I originally used content from some of the messages my friends received, but decided against that and thought a more satirical piss take vibe would be a better solution. The lyrics are full of online dating profile cliches. ‘Friends and family are important to me’, ‘I’m looking for my partner in crime’.

Yeah I picked up on that, and I do get the vibe that you’re pointing a finger at those men who employ insidious tactics in order to create faux intimacy. Do you think there is any room for doubt in your intentions in regards to the video treatment for the track?

Leg Puppy: I created the character ‘Dick Head’. The video of course, like all art can be open to interpretation. I don’t like to create an obvious narrative. The track and video took me well over a year to plan. You can overthink an idea until you talk yourself out of it. With this I just went with it and I’m pretty pleased with the result. I must mention my lovely friend who also stars in the video. Ekertina totally got onboard and understood both the track and the video.

Warning: video contains flashing images

I found it simultaneously ridiculous and uncomfortable. There were moments where I was laughing at the ludicrous nature of Dick Head’s bizzare public libidinous antics and then I felt uncomfortable considering the context of the subject matter. What was your brief with Ekertina, if I may ask?

Leg Puppy: Bingo! That’s 100% my intention. The whole campaign for this track needed to be quite childish, hence the baby head mask. We actually met on a dating app, bonded really quickly and realised we have the same sense of humour. She’s also a producer and quite successful techno DJ. It was very important to get a female perspective on the track. We played around with a few ideas but this one felt right and was pretty easy to execute. Granted, we did get told to clear off by the Tate Modern.

The danger in your appointment of one female means that her perspective is used to justify something that isn’t necessarily to the taste of all females. Such are the potential potholes on the uncertain path of identity politics. The use of the baby’s head is appropriately unsettling. Hard not to consider the end scene in Gilliam’s Brazil. Will we be seeing more of Dick Head in the future, or are they a one-off agent fit for one purpose?

Leg Puppy: A DJ can never truly please everyone. It’s the same with art. Take the ‘Selfie Stick‘ video, some people hated it, but most people loved it. I’m creating a little world of unsettling characters, who knows where this may lead. I’ve always liked the idea of performing a stage show to music. Now that is an idea worthy of a Terry Gilliam film.

Oh, I’m not saying your job is to please everyone, however, there is no disclaimer more questionable than the ‘my female friend said’ this behaviour’s fine. Or how about ‘my black friend laughed at the joke’, so I’m not racist. All that being said, your cited history of social justice in art regarding invasive cultural persuasions such as selfie sticks, not to mention your aforementioned exhibition of masks/abuse work to absolve you from unresearched naysayers. Would you have put a video out like this before all that history took place is the question, or would you have considered that male privilege in action?

Leg Puppy: What an absolutely fantastic question. Which I’ll do my best to answer.  I do think humour – however uncomfortable it makes the viewer feel – is a good way of getting a message across. It should not be taken literally! I guess my disclaimer would be, this video is by no means intended to offend anyone and should not be taken literally. Just enjoy it, do the dance and have fun!

So, would you have decided to put out content like this if you hadn’t committed yourself to the aforementioned work?

Leg Puppy: As in ‘Selfie Stick’? Yes, I think so, it definitely follows a tradition of Leg Puppy videos which make you sit up and take notice.

So, to be clear, if you had no content or exhibitions regarding abuse you’d release ‘Dick Pic’? Wouldn’t that be problematic in the messaging? Can one release a statement (however well meaning) into a culture that is fixated on cleverly curated online history? Given the state of the culture wars your song and particularly the video would be greeted as a commodification of a social ill, unless of course the money was going to a charity?

Leg Puppy: Ah, I didn’t think you meant my content in an exhibition. Well, I probably wouldn’t have written the track, so no, the track wouldn’t have existed.

You must be anxious to know how the content will be received? Satire is such a tough convention to handle. Does your work on ‘Dick Pic’ qualify as satire? Thinking of it as such provides some sort of safety blanket, right?

Leg Puppy: I was anxious when I put out ‘Selfie Stick’, ‘Twit Machine’ and even ‘Paycheck’.  I’ve never set out to be safe. Our live shows are quite controversial and there’s definitely an element of that missing today (Pre Covid).  But at the same time I never wanted to offend anyone, You get it or you don’t. At the end of the day it’s a music video.

And your last line means that it’s inherently harmless, or do you mean something else?

Leg Puppy: It’s most definitely harmless. I just hope people don’t overthink it and just enjoy it.

It’s a tough one, as the relationship between humour and sex in this country has gone through so many phases. Seaside postcards and Benny Hill humour being used albeit for a sociopolitical statement is going to inspire some thought. Hopefully having a laugh at the sex pests via the shared experience of hearing the lyrics on the dancefloor will shame potential perpetrators into non action. Time will tell. When’s the single and video out, and where can people go to purchase it?

Leg Puppy: Let’s hope so! It’s available from all the usuals. Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Beatport etc…

Thanks for your time, Leg Puppy.

Leg Puppy: Always a pleasure and thanks for the support.

‘Dick Pic’ is out now – find out more on Leg Puppy’s official website

Interview by John Clay

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