The large living room inside aging mansion and performance space HM157 is packed. We stand with fingernail-sized spaces between faces and the backs of heads, inhaling the scent of strangers' party sweat as Geneva Jacuzzi takes the stage. It's almost impossible to see her. In fact, it's hard to see much more than matted, late-night hair and the backs of L.A. winter jackets.
Jacuzzi likes it that way. “If they can't see the show, they can't see the show,” she says when we meet for coffee a few days later. “They can see what's happening to the other people who are seeing the show. The show can bleed out in its own way.”
Every once in a while, someone moves a head, revealing the performance artist and synth tune-maker decked out in a sailor cap and Siouxsie Sioux-style eyebrows. There are dancers on stage wearing eyeball masks and white nautical suits. It looks like The Residents took over The Love Boat.
The peephole closes as the onstage crew throws large, inflatable tentacles into the crowd. Jacuzzi continues performing, but, now, these long, balloon-like appendages are taking over the show. At times, they sit perched atop the heads of people near the stage. Later, they're pushed back like crowd surfers. By the time they reach the far end of the room, the tentacles have deflated.
Jacuzzi woke up on the morning of the show with little idea of how she would perform. “I was kind of in a dead zone,” she explains. Then she came up with a story about a giant squid that devours a nuclear submarine and opens an inter-dimensional portal. The sailors on stage were part of the submarine crew and now work for the squid. As for the audience, we were like a school of fish that's about to become the sea beast's next meal.
“No one really gets it,” Jacuzzi admits. “But I think, on a psychic or [sub]-conscious level, there's a sort of unity happening with these performances.”
For a decade, Jacuzzi (real name: Geneva Garvin) has thrilled underground music fans and art crowds alike. Musically, her style is firmly in the minimal synth camp. It's stark, danceable, and brings to mind a slew of very early '80s dance classics. On stage, she is a performance artist, eschewing the traditional band set-up in favor of interactive shows filled with symbolism. Take those tentacles as an example. Jacuzzi likes inflatables because they can represent egos as they inflate and deflate.
“I insert too much meaning into things and I over-analyze things,” she says, which she thinks is probably a result of her background. She was raised across Southern California — living in San Diego, Riverside and Orange Counties at various times — in the Jehovah's Witness faith. As a child, she preached through neighborhoods and says that experience may have helped her with performance art: “A person at a door is way scarier than a crowd of 100 people.”
Eventually, Jacuzzi rebelled and ended up in Los Angeles. She was 18. After a “shitty year” of working odd jobs in a big city where she knew no one, Jacuzzi finally started to make friends. She went to clubs and fell for the synth-based sounds she was hearing. It was all new to her. “I remember the first time I heard Kraftwerk,” she says. “I was 21 and I thought it was a new band.”
Even though Jacuzzi came late to electronic music, it didn't take her long to realize that she should be making it. She started recording songs at home. When she played them for her friends, they suggested starting a band. That group, Bubonic Plague, existed for a few years and made waves in the L.A. underground. Jacuzzi says she mainly remembers those shows for the time it took to set up the band's “big jungle” of gear.
When she went solo, Jacuzzi didn't intend to play live, but people kept asking her to do it. She didn't think a band would work for the collection of songs she wrote and she certainly couldn't play all the parts herself. No matter how she tried to configure the show, most of the music would have to be pre-recorded. Finally she decided, “Fuck the keyboard!” By hitting the stage with pre-recorded music, she was able to explore the performance side of her persona.
Jacuzzi says that presenting her music as performance art gives her an advantage. It's more about the spectacle, less about her individual appearance. “The music industry is very shallow,” she says. “If you're a cute girl, you can't get old.”
Now 34, Jacuzzi is intent on embracing the power that comes with age. It's something that she addresses in her music video for “Cannibal Babies,” which she also edited. The clip features close-ups of the artist striking work-out poses. She does leg lifts, flexes muscles and pours inky liquid over herself. The camera zooms in on her face.”I like the video a lot,” says Jacuzzi, “because it looks like I'm in my 30s and feeling good and sexy in my 30s.”
“Cannibal Babies” is the most crucial song on Jacuzzi's new album, Technophilia. She wrote it after the album's deadline had passed, at the end of a dark period. “It's almost like a part of me calling out to get better,” she says. She entered rehab shortly thereafter.
“I had struggled with drug addiction and stuff for a long time,” she says. Everything came to a head while she was working on Technophilia. “I actually woke up and said, I'm preventing myself from making this music and this music is important to me,” she recalls. “And I'm not even that important to me, because I'm wrecking my body with drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.”
Jacuzzi was “humbled” by the experience, and that's impacted her career as well. “I feel grateful to put out a record,” she says. “It's already a success as far as I'm concerned.”