A talk with Austrian artist Tony Renaissance about breaking with conventional concepts of body and gender, the creation of alternative realities and (virtual) spaces and music as a universal art form.
Tony Renaissance is the pseudonym of Antonia Wagner-Strauss. Her work mainly focuses on multimedial ways of re-telling the narrative of binary gender codes and discrimination in the current Viennese music scenes and beyond. She deconstructs the established rules of body and identity politics in postdigital times by using various media as a space for projecting. Furthermore, she addresses the dichotomy between conventional expectations of female artists and the purposeful use of these characteristics.
What does Tony Renaissance stand for?
It reflects the transformative quality of sound and images, radical softness, queer glitches, body-positivity, postgender, rituals of (self-)care and utopian electronic landscapes.
What role does queerness in relation to sound, voice and corporeality play for the project?
I try to work on breaking with conventional concepts of identity, body and gender. There is a great effort to bring queer and anti-colonial topics to the mainstream, although there are obviously reactive responses to it. In the future I’d like to work more in the direction of transhumanism and postgenderism.
How would you describe your working process?
I’m not disciplined, so my work process changes quite a bit. A lot comes from experimenting. Being in the right state and having enough time and focus to create and expand ideas isn’t always easy or possible. When I’m in the right mode I experiment with sounds, lyrics, vocals and instruments for hours and I often end up with something completely different than what I started with.
What is being negotiated on a narrative level?
My music comes from images, materials, the Internet, current events and politics, internal and external dialogues, moods and desires. I focus on the empowerment of queer bodies and consciousness as far as it’s possible – with awareness of my socio-political privileges, as a white, middle-class person with a European passport. My texts are rituals of (self-)care, dialogues with the self, friends and opponents, affirmations – harsh and explicit, caring and empowering, or set on a more metaphoric or mystical level.
How important is a DIY-inspired way of working?
Independence and the freedom of artistic choices are essential to me. My approach has always been DIY. I work at my home studio and mostly by myself. But a feeling of community is also an important factor in the DIY movement. Collaborations can strengthen the scene and individual artists. DIY culture is strong because the Internet offers many possibilities; anyone can produce at home, collaborate online, upload music and videos on websites, sell songs and albums independently, organize concerts and advertise online. There are exciting possibilities online and offline to build independent labels, collectives and institutions and I encourage everyone to explore and create their own DIY projects.
Your songs show a very intimate, almost fragile facet of your voice. By doing so, they also play with the conventional expectations of what a female voice should sound like. The voice is almost dialectically opposed to the texts’ narratives.
I like to connect opposing audio elements, lyrics and performance in order to deceive expectations and manifest a self-determined and intense sound that transmits strength, vulnerability, anxieties, determination, hopelessness, craving, melancholy, confidence, shyness and power through softness. At the same time Tony Renaissance is not a persona, it’s just my machines and me.
How important is physicality as an extension and translation of the live performance?
In my performances I feel an environment of mutual respect and appreciation. I like to play around the lines of opening up and keeping to myself. Performing on the floor is grounding, I am in a position that is flexible and powerful and I keep a heightened energy in my body. For me, this way of performing is equalitarian and intimate, I gratefully share this concentrated energy with the audience. I don’t like to put myself on a pedestal in front of people. My music focuses on an audience that is queer, non-binary, and feminist – we empower each other.
What are your thoughts on the commercialization of sub-, and countercultures?
Capitalist systems always digest any form of resistance, which means, most of the time the commercialization of original ideas and forms of alternative cultures is inevitable. You can just keep doing your thing, share, connect and not hold on to properties for too long.
Is the idea of a hybrid between art and music significant to Tony Renaissance?
Visual arts and music often go hand in hand. I’m seeing interesting ways in which the two are connected these days. I translate my ideas using various media, but music itself is still the tool that offers the most freedom to me, as well as accessibility to others. Many times visual arts are not easily approachable. Music is a universal art form, on an emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual level.
How do you perceive the current Viennese music scenes? How would you position Tony Renaissance in this context?
Many clubs, festivals, parties and scenes are still represented predominantly by white cis male organizers, managers, DJs and artists. But more and more collectives are not only making an effort to create platforms for acts that identify along the broad spectrum of gender, but are also run by female*, trans* and non-binary identifying people, Black People and People of Color, actively claiming space. It makes me happy to see different non-commercial parties supporting and encouraging each other, sharing space instead of competing for it and building communities that also spread to other cities. I am definitely excited to see new emerging DIY organizations, connective concepts of club culture with other art forms, the creation of alternative realities and spaces, and, especially in Vienna, more anti-discriminatory, anti-racist, anti-colonial, inclusive formats.
What are the next steps?
My partner Tao Yan and I are organizing a new regular event for queer and postgender electronic club culture called The Future. The second volume will take place on June 2nd at AU with three great acts to be announced. I’m also currently developing the music and performance for a theater piece directed by Carina Riedl at Landestheater Vorarlberg.