SONIKKU’s Debut ‘Joyful Death’ Could Be the Gayest Dance Pop Album of the Year
SONIKKU, the name under which the artist Tony Donson records, knows the history of dance music, entwined, as it is, with our own. He spins under the moniker DJ Sonikku at Adonis — a queer Tottenham rave — and he may have just released the gayest dance pop of the year with his full-length debut Joyful Death.
“It’s not something that I consciously do,” he has said. “I’m not thinking, ‘I only want to do that’ because I don’t want it to just be a queer interest record, but because of who I’ve worked with they’re probably the people it’s gonna resonate with the most. But, yeah, I guess it is important to work with likeminded people and support the community.”
Community for SONIKKU includes collaborations with Douglas Dare (whose Milkteeth we featured recently) on the Pet Shop Boys-meets-Madonna of “Let the Light In”; the manifesto delivered by performance artist/educator Tyler Matthew Oyer in robotic sprechgesang on the Italo-disco title track; Little Boots presiding over the electropop confection “X Hopeless Romantic”; and Albertina doing her Stacey Q/Spice Girls impression while SONIKKU parlays his best “Let the Music Play” joyousness on “Don’t Wanna Dance with You.”
Two tracks stand out, however: “Remember to Forget Me,” co-written with Dare and featuring the vocals of gender-neutral actor/singer Chester Lockhart, and “Sweat,” co-written by Little Boots with vocals by the American actress/singer LiZ.
“‘Remember to Forget Me’ is the most personal song on the record,” Donson has said. “Douglas helped me write it by treating the writing sessions like a therapy session.” Whatever psychodrama unleashed in those sessions is captured in the hypnotic New Order rhythms, Lockhart’s Dave Gahan keen, and lyrics with the emotional forthrightness of a great Robyn song, as well as in the accompanying video featuring the queer dance collective Pierre & Baby.
“After producing the instrumental for ‘Sweat,’ I knew I had to enlist the help of Victoria (aka Little Boots) to help me pen the lyrics,” Donson has said. “With our shared love of Kylie and unapologetic pop, we wrote it after just one session. Then LiZ fell in love with the track after I played it for her whilst I was on a writing trip in L.A. Her Britney-esque ’tongue-in-cheek’ vocals on this track were a match made in heaven for me.” As it was for SOPHIE, who brings her trademark surgical precision to a remix that begs for a packed, steamy dance floor (and to be a bonus track in a future edition of Joyful Death; it is sadly not included).
If the songs of Joyful Death sound familiar, it may be that SONIKKU hasn’t fully digested his influences yet. That’s not a bad thing; half the fun of this debut is recognizing the inspiration and then humming or dancing along, happily. We all pay homage to our past and SONIKKU is fully aware of it.
“Where the inspiration came from,” he has said, is “those clubs in New York in the ’80s where people would gather at the time of the AIDS crisis, and people would really resonate with the empowering lyrics, often from black female vocalists, like ‘I Will Survive’ and songs like those. I know it sounds corny now, but they were the only safe spaces for queer people to congregate and feel free back then. Loads of people like to dance, not just queer people, but during that time it was hedonism and escapism and I guess it’s evolved now to a point where that historical moment is still ingrained in the music people make now whether they know it or not.”