Ashley Huizenga is a fiercely intellectual singer and performance artist, who has a hard time keeping her clothes on. Tonight, at a Valentine's Day show at Cheetahs strip club in Hollywood, she saunters onstage in a thong and a red bra, draped in a piece of white, translucent fabric, which she slowly claws through.
Backed by self-produced beats, an electric guitarist and a synth player, Huizenga launches into her "porn pop," as she calls it, full of clean, catchy riffs reminiscent of '80s radio hits. It's literally made for fucking. "Feel the power," she sings. "You're a man/You used to pay, but now it's free." She lies on her back, kicking her legs into the air and clapping her stripper heels together. Then she rises and swings around the pole before sliding her ass up and down it.
The crowd, composed mainly of art kids — Ariel Pink is out there somewhere — is enraptured but also giggling at the spectacle. The club's regulars also are feeling the vibe, though they're not quite sure what to make of Huizenga.
Five-foot-9 barefoot with a curly mop of bleached-blond hair, she has chipmunk cheeks and the heart-shaped mouth of a Dutch farm girl. A former member of L.A. synth-and-guitar-driven bands Hard Place and Wet Look, she won't reveal her age but is likely in her mid-20s. She performs under the name Actually Huizenga, and her body recalls the curvy figure idealized in the '80s, when her mother, Wanda Huizenga, was appearing in Playboy.
Her father, Robert Huizenga, meanwhile, is a Harvard-trained sports medicine physician who examined O.J. Simpson shortly after the infamous murders and now serves as the doctor on the NBC series The Biggest Loser. He seems to have mixed feelings about his daughter's work. Though he was at her Cheetahs New Year's show mingling with dancers, he kicked her out of the house for filming explicit videos.
Trained as a classical pianist since childhood, Ashley Huizenga has been producing invigorating dance-pop for a decade. But it is her recent foray into strip clubs and porn shoots that is drawing increased attention. This is not surprising, of course, and it's all part of her plan: As much performance artist as traditional singer-songwriter, she navigates the boundaries between music, fine art and porn, specializing in provocative video pieces that are artistic enough for Paris' Pompidou modern art museum — if they weren't so smutty. (In fact, two video art pieces featuring her having sex on camera were chosen for a film festival there, until they were scuttled at the last minute by the museum's directors.)
Huizenga's electro-tinged, as-yet-unreleased debut solo album, Wet Look, named after her last band, is atmospheric and genuinely sexy, and stands in contrast to all the tarted-up girls on Top 40 radio going through the motions. "You're giving it/I'm taking it," she sings on "Driving." "Who's driving this car?"
It also can be quite funny. Huizenga mixes the highbrow with the lowbrow, and nowhere is she more successful than in her monthly Cheetahs show, which also features artists like Geneva Jacuzzi, who performed at the Valentine's show with a giant phallus around her waist before a pair of blood-soaked, loinclothed women draped over crosses.
Huizenga is a highly proficient, inventive musician whose voice has remarkable range, but her greatest talent might be as curator of a highly sexualized musical subculture focused on the ecstatic, the masochistic and the absurd. Having sprung from a sexually idealized mother and a supermacho father, she's obsessed with the dark side of lust. "I like to take sexuality as far as it can go," she says.
Huizenga's grandmother was a model in Boston, and her mother, Wanda, was still in her Playboy heyday when Huizenga was a toddler. When she was a year old, Wanda put her into high heels, joking around with some of her Bunny friends.
Huizenga herself didn't want to model, but that doesn't mean she isn't concerned with her image. She calls her body her artistic medium, and sometimes consumes nothing but fruit and alcohol for days at a time in an effort to slim down for shows. "When I don't eat, I just get dizzy," she says. "I think it feels kind of good."
Huizenga's body-image fetish likely also stems in part from her father, whose tousled hair and strong jaw line evoke David Hasselhoff. A former All-American wrestler at the University of Michigan, he pushed his daughter to excel at sports in school. She had success in cross-country and — having taken piano lessons since she was 8 — joined a band with a high school boyfriend. But she had a troubled academic career, bouncing around schools before landing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study painting. Returning home to attend Art Center, she focused on performance and music and video production.
She moved into the basement of her family's Los Feliz mansion. The home proved an ideal set to shoot her music videos, including one involving a dozen nearly nude gay boys circling around Ashley as she lay, also almost naked, on top of a grand piano. Unfortunately, these types of antics mean she's now looking for a new home. Her parents have split up as well, and the mansion was recently put up on the market. Morrissey came by for a tour.
While at Art Center Huizenga joined Hard Place as singer and keyboardist, and the group developed a cult following stretching to Europe. After that outfit dissolved, she founded Wet Look. Nowadays her solo act features both Hard Place alum Freddy Christy on electric guitar and Wet Look alum Chaz Windus on keyboards.
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Both can shred, but it's clearly Huizenga who is running the show. "I'm turned on by playing shows and working," she says.
Before returning to L.A. this month for gigs, she's floating around New York and Europe, shooting the third and fourth installments in a series called Soft Rock, video art pieces that combine live sex on camera with original Actually tunes. She's filming the works along with her romantic interest, photographer Socrates Mitsios. She's also searching for management and preparing to release her album independently.
It's probably not surprising that Huizenga has had difficulty finding representation. Her talents are not easily summed up in a press release. Her recorded music, in fact, doesn't really get to the heart of what she's all about; to really appreciate her you need to see her unpredictable live shows. To this day, she remains underground-legendary for a performance five years ago at L.A. gallery White Slave Trade. Clad in a swimsuit with a high hip cut, she proceeded to rub cherry pie all over her body. She then adjourned to a shower at the back of the venue, turning on the water as the pie began dribbling down her legs and eventually began to resemble blood and guts. It was sexy. It was grotesque. It was great spectacle. It was everything Ashley Huizenga is about.
Huizenga performs at King King on April 19.