SEX + MUSIC “A lot of dominatrixes are artists,” says Oakland’s Hether Fortune. “I know a girl who’s a tattoo artist, I know models, painters, fashion designers.”
The BDSM pro-domme Fortune has a creative side as well. She’s the lead singer, songwriter, and major driving force behind darkly gripping East Bay post-punk band Wax Idols. After some haphazard searching on my own and prodding of Fortune, we came to the conclusion that neither of us could think of anyone else in a comparable rock and domme position.(Not that there aren’t the rare exceptions out there.)
“A lot of dommes I’ve met have musical talent or are involved in underground bands, but there’s nobody I know who is in a band full-time, up in the shit, playing shows, touring on the regular, in the public eye, who is also a professional domme.”
No one except of course for Fortune.
“So I guess that’s kind of my thing,” Fortune says, chuckling. Bold and confident, Fortune ends every sentence in our phone conversation with a hard punctuation mark. She’s speaking to me from the road on her cellphone, after a quick trip down to LA and on her way back to Oakland. Her striking poise works in both major facets of her life — her time at East Bay dungeon Fantasy Makers and her life within her band, which this year released sophomore LP, Discipline & Desire (Slumberland), following 2011’s full-length release, No Future (Hozac).
While Fortune’s domme life has slowly bled into press coverage of Wax Idols, this is the first time she’s spoken of both quite so openly.
“Almost two years ago I got in at Fantasy Makers…that’s where I’ve been working ever since,” Fortune says. Fantasy Makers is a kinky dream dungeon, at which no actual sex is allowed, that offers safe bondage and fetish play.
“I’ve never actually said publically where I work, because I’ve been weary of the overlap of music-related fans coming to find me in that space. But I’m totally ready and comfortable with it now.”
Part of the reason she’s coming out with her actual workspace is because of the upcoming Folsom Street Fair (Sun/29) — Fantasy Makers will have a big booth at the fest again this year, and she’ll be there. And part is due to the empowerment she’s gained through her domme work (and play).
Fortune became a dominatrix almost on a lark, although, it was something she was long interested in, and she was already practicing various forms of fetish and role play in her personal life. But the actual journey began three years back, when the Midwest transplant (now in the Bay Area for more than half a decade) was working at vintage store No Shop in the Mission. Her then-bandmate, Matt Jones from Blasted Canyons, wrote her an email in which he mentioned that she should seriously consider becoming a pro-domme, perhaps as a joke. She was laughing about the email when a customer came in and noted that her best friend was a professional dominatrix, and could put her in touch. Her name was Domina Colette.
“We hit it off right away,” says Fortune of Domina Colette. “And then she invited me to her dungeon and I just shadowed some sessions for awhile. It was a several-months-long period of immersion, talking to her…learning about bondage and all the various forms of fetish play, sensory deprivation, flogging. She is an amazing flogger.”
Fortune then went off on her own, trying out at different Bay Area dungeons until she found one that was the perfect fit: Fantasy Makers. She’s been working there ever since and became close with the other women who work there. They often come out to her shows when Wax Idols plays. “Usually at my local shows, there’s at least one to four dominatrixes there at any given time. You don’t even know because they’re just in their streets clothes.”
It’s a far leap from her mindset when she began in the music industry. While the band is her first priority, her work as a pro-domme has grown tied to her daily life, and she’s come to see it as a life-altering step.
“I was worried about [working as a pro-domme] at first, how I would feel as a feminist. Sexually, I was worried about how I would feel interacting with mostly men. But what I found is that it made me actually much more empathetic towards human beings in general.
“It’s also been really empowering for me intellectually and sexually, and on a psychological level. I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of people and sexuality now than I ever could have without doing this.”
And it’s given her strength in other avenues of her life — namely, her music.
“As an artist, it’s been really empowering because, you know, it’s theater. It’s erotic theater. And dominatrixes have an incredible amount of artistry in what they do. It’s really empowered me artistically. It’s taken me to a whole new level.”
The band is a separate entity, though, and consumes most of her time and passion. She began writing songs as Wax Idols in 2009 and formed the live band in 2010, after playing in other people’s bands (Hunx and his Punx, Bare Wires, Blasted Canyons, and many other, less-notable acts) before that. The Lansing, Mich. native first played in a band at 16, moved to Detroit, then Chicago, and eventually ended up in the Bay Area.
She started writing her own music at age 18 (she’s now nearly 26), but says she didn’t really have it figured out, dialed in, until starting Wax Idols, which has shifted lineups throughout the years, with Fortune as the central figure and songwriter. The current lineup is Rachel Travers on drums, bassist Amy Rosenoff, guitarist Jennifer Mundy, Keven Tecon occasionally on synth, and Fortune up front.
Wax Idols gave Fortune her first enticing taste of creative control, and she liked it.
“The only limitations on Wax Idols are limitations I place on myself, which I try really hard not to do,” Fortune explains. “I need the freedom to grow and morph and change and reinvent myself. It’s a big part of who I am. Wax Idols enabled me to do whatever the fuck I want, because nobody can tell me I can’t.”
The band has shifted and matured over the past few years, from the raw, punk-edged early release of No Future, to the darker, deeper Discipline & Desire.
And throughout its output, Wax Idols has received favorable comparisons to acts like Love and Rockets, Lydia Lunch, and Siouxsie Sioux but, in form at least, Fortune’s biggest influence has long been late ’70s British post-punk band Wire.
“My music doesn’t sound like Wire, but I come from the school of Wire.” Fortune explains. “I’ve been listening to Wire obsessively for years and years, taking the way they combine intellect and thoughtful song construction and mix it with various forms of aggression and avant-garde sounds and odd changes and socio-political lyrics that are also sometimes about love. This kind of overall conceptual approach to music that is still filtered through pop is definitely something I feel like, as an artist; I subscribe to it and I identify with it.”
There’s also been some confusion about the direct links between domme life and songwriting with the album Discipline & Desire, which at a cursory glance seems to be a reference to Fortune’s work as a dominatrix. The reality is more complicated. The records speaks more to passion, reality, and discomfort through anxious harmonies, intimate lyrics, and aggressive riffs.
Fortune says people tend to read into the title of the record a bit too much. It’s really about Fortune’s personal juxtaposition of being a disciplined artist who is also an incredibly romantic, lustful person, and how those get in the way of each other.
Those big emotions often play out on Fortune’s robust Twitter feed, which also gets a lofty amount of traffic and has whipped up media hype, though that too she says is a bit misunderstood.(Recent tweets include thoughts like “Androgyny is the actual sexiest thing” and “Never apologize, never explain.”) Fortune swears that the feed has taken on a life of its own at this point, and is separate from her day-to-day reality. It’s only one channel, she notes.
“[It’s] programmed in a specific way to create reactions and engage in discourse with people, that’s how I choose to use that medium,” Fortune says, later adding, “Regardless, it has been an extremely effective medium for me.
“And I really get off on the idea of making people uncomfortable. It’s been an interesting ride.”