Sometimes, for whatever reason, great art slips past audiences and remains woefully underappreciated. Which is why we’ve created an essay series called Fossil Records, devoted to helping people discover lost and obscure work that never got its due. Today, we look back at Gina X Performance’s innovative debut LP Nice Mover, a seminal work from a group that had a cult following in underground dance circles in the ’80s but is largely forgotten now despite being lightyears ahead of its time, both in regards to its sound and its radical queer politics.
During the early days of the shutdown, when it first became clear that covid was going to keep us relegated to the indoors for a lot longer than just a few weeks, one of the cabin fever defense tactics I took up was going through old Trouser Press Record Guides to explore the catalogs of artists I was unfamiliar with. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those artists who had fallen into obscurity (or who were never unobscure to begin with) weren’t worth the time it took to look them up on streaming. But there were a few that weren’t just refreshing finds but actual treasures, worthy of every crate digger’s most selective praise: why the fuck haven’t I heard of this before? Chief among those few was Gina X Performance, whose album Nice Mover felt like a claustrophobic electronic cabaret emceed by a gender fluid goblin, a work that was unsurprisingly rejected in its own time (including in the pages of that Trouser Press guide) but felt all the more striking in the here and now.
Hailing from Germany, Gina X Performance enjoyed some notoriety in the dance music underground during their all too brief run, fitting in with both the krautrock end of the scene that birthed Kraftwerk (and co-founder Zeus B. Held’s prior group Birth Control) as well as the burgeoning New Romantic movement (singer Gina Kikoine preceded Annie Lennox on The Associates’ “The Best of You,” and Held would go on to produce the likes of Dead or Alive and Nina Hagen). But the unique blend of Berlin cabaret, punk aggression and soaring synths that runs throughout Nice Mover and Kikoine’s unflinching gender fluidity in lyrics and aesthetic make Gina X Performance that special type of act that exists simultaneously behind and ahead of their time. In their pursuit of success, GXP would go on to soften some of the elements of their sound but Nice Mover is bold, challenging and righteously confident, even as its creators seem to be questioning every aspect of their identities during the process.
“No G.D.M.” companion piece “Be a Boy” brings that battle to the surface with explosive results. Stripping out most of the shimmer while dialing up the aggression and tempo, “Be a Boy” predicts everything from the modern darkwave movement to Riot Grrrl and electroclash and yet still sounds new and powerful. Delivering on the promise of the title while borrowing elements of the melody from “No G.D.M.,” “Be a Boy” is body dysmorphia turned into an anthem, giving voice to the frustration and longing of being trapped in the wrong skin. Propelled forward by an insistent bass line and beat, it’s a song that feels at war with itself until it hits its chorus, with vocoder backing vocals pushing Gina forward until she turns an elongated, full body growl of “boy” into the sound of freedom itself.
Kikoine’s criticism of “plastic performances” in the song also seems like a subtle dig on how critics reacted to her group and her peers. Ira Robbins’s Trouser Press blurb on Gina X Performance is condescending and clueless even by the standard of the times, beginning as it does with a dismissal of Kikoine as merely a “beautiful” presence who creates “expressionless,” “lifeless,” and “boring” music that “reaches for a fey artiness that isn’t worth finding.” Like Nico before her, the Robbins of the world sought to diminish Kikoine as a pretty, frigid figure with nothing to say, who wasn’t worth hearing because she rejected a more stereotypically feminine approach to vocals and also rejected male attention. As Kikoine puts it on the surprisingly funky “Exhibitionism,” which notably begins with softly cooed vocals that are at odds with Kikoine’s normal approach, “I just have an eye for me/Do not like to let it be.” Kikoine and collaborator Held didn’t set out to make music for critics or fans but for themselves, which is probably why Nice Mover remains so fresh. As a modern review of the 2005 reissue of Nice Mover stated in the pages of Exclaim, “this new wave avant-electro art prancing is so similar [to] today’s product that I actually looked on the CD case to see if this was secretly made in the past year and packaged as a reissue for authenticity.”
Nice Mover was reissued earlier this year with third album Voyeur by French label Les Disques du Crépuscule, you can order it here.