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The secret pagan, pro-sex, feminine utopia hidden in France

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We go deep into the story of the band Rockbitch and its clandestine commune where liberation is achieved through sexual freedom

“One of the main misconceptions floating about,” says Suna ‘Kali’ Dasi, “is that ‘we are always recruiting’. We’re not. That’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Dasi is part of a sex commune hidden away in a zealously guarded location in France. Described as a feminist, matriarchal, tribal retreat, its predominantly female members further pursue it as a “pagan, pro-sex, feminine utopia.” Among those members is also Lisa ‘Babe’ Wills, who explains that the central core of the community have been together for over 25 years.

“In such a length of time you will have people join and move on,” says Babe. “Some found it not to be to their taste, some got as much personal growth as they could and needed a new journey, some were fuck-ups and left or were kicked out, some died – and some were diamonds and stayed.”

Both women are – or were – also members of the band Rockbitch. Eventually the subject of a BBC documentary and countless country-wide bans, Rockbitch megaphoned the commune’s polyamorous, pansexual politics to the masses via pointedly unashamed whorishness and sounding a bit like Faith No More. Most riotously active from 1998 to 2002, Rockbitch toured the world and recorded three albums only to be dropped in 1999 by their label, Steamhammer, before they could release the third, Psychic Attack. An indefinite hiatus followed three years later. At the apex of their performing years, Babe functioned as “backing vocalist, lead guitarist, fistfuckee and essentially the prime instigator as regards to the outward sexual politicisation of the band.” Kali served as a ‘Sex Magick Priestess’, “interacting with the girls onstage and with the crowd, performing pagan sex rituals and general acts of joyous filth.”

“Some were fuck-ups and left or were kicked out, some died – and some were diamonds and stayed”

The performance of Rockbitch’s art frequently became the artful performance of ritualistic, onstage orgies. These displays had a tendency to involve the crowd either organically or by virtue of ‘The Golden Condom.’ At no appointed hour during the set, a literal golden condom would be thrown to the hounds. The recipient’s presence was then demanded backstage by “one or more band members,” their intentions neither ill or uncertain: No clothes beyond this point.

Rockbitch’s recorded legacy includes 1992’s Luci’s Love Child, 1997’s Rockbitch Live in Amsterdam and 1999’s Motor Driven Bimbo. Though this trilogy is sonically “of its time,” the agenda slavering away under more retiring fare like “Fistfuck” and “Whore” was so far ahead of it as to be unknowable. Ironic, then, that their progressive attack would be rooted in tradition. “We adhere to an offshoot of a very old, hereditary pagan tradition from Kent and elsewhere,” Babe explains. “No books on it, but the closest thing I have ever found is one called Demons of the Flesh, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the Left Hand Path and Sex Magic.”

“We believe in liberation through sexual freedom,” Kali declares. “We believe in the strength of women who come together without the cultural impetus to be competitive, hostile and ungenerous to their own sex. We believe in obliterating boundaries through the universal bonding mechanism of sex. We love sex and love to practice it freely – and safely! – with whomsoever we choose. This is not cause for judgment or outrage. It should be a natural birthright. The fact that the natural birthright of humanity and possibly how we gained consciousness has been suppressed by millennia of religious and political control is where the outrage is directed.”

THE BITCH AND THE BEAST

Founded as Cat Genetica in 1984 and reborn as Red Abyss in 1989, before finally becoming Rockbitch after drummer Jo Heeley joined, the band came first, predating the commune that now succeeds it. Initially conceived by bassist Amanda ‘The Bitch’ Smith-Skinner as a siren call to like-minded carnal partisans, its sexual liberation frequencies also served as an unorthodox vetting process.

“When Amanda was very young, she had an unusually keen eye for the inequalities between men and women,” Kali says. “Coupled with the fact that patriarchal religion simply didn’t cut the mustard, she began to try and articulate what a pagan, female-oriented society might be like. She then took it one step further and started to actively pursue that idea as a way to live. Early on in this process, she met The Beast, though no one has called him that for years. He had always been a true feminist. “The Beast,” she sighs, referring to former guitarist Tony ‘The Beast’ Skinner, who left the band to assume production duties in 2000, making Rockbitch’s lineup completely female. “One of the very few truly feminist men I know. He is still with us and as fiercely pro-female and livid at his own gender as ever. He’s quite macho in many ways – very ‘alpha’ – but he’s serious about his politics.”

“The song ‘Lucifer’ was written for him,” Babe says. “The lyrics to that would sum him up well: A much-beloved, outspoken, loud, opinionated, physically imposing alpha male. Most people believed he ‘trained’ us, or that we were some kind of harem. Some of the questions and reactions he got, you simply would not believe. Some thought he would be a wimpy little yes-boy – as if the only way to be a strong female is to surround yourself with weak men. Other men came and went. It simply was that he was the sole male over the many, many years we have all been together who could drop his shit and be honest. Simple survival of the fittest.”

“We believe in liberation through sexual freedom... We love sex and love to practice it freely – and safely! – with whomsoever we choose. This is not cause for judgment or outrage. It should be a natural birthright” – Suna ‘Kali’ Dasi, Rockbitch

The only people to shy away from claiming the lottery of The Golden Condom at the last minute, Babe has noted previously, were male. After the band were literally censored offstage in Southampton in 1999, by way of apology they offered to return to host an orgy featuring themselves and the day’s crowd. This open invitation was answered by hundreds of resounding cheers and, later, expressions of genuine interest from 40 of the cancelled show’s attendees. When Rockbitch did return for the sexual feast as promised, only two men were there to display their appetites.

“Being both pagans and musicians, Amanda and The Beast very quickly formed a band,” Kali continues. “From that band were born the roots of what would become the matriarchal commune that still exists to this day. Very often band members who bonded through the music seemed to grasp a deeper understanding of the female-focused life they were living. Some stayed and never left, some took what they needed and moved on. The growth of the community was very much a case of osmosis. There was no leaflet, no membership fee and no t-shirt!”

Kali considers this for a moment, and in doing so, finds sadness. “I would say that the first truly long-standing member who left us in recent years was Jo, our drummer. In 2011, she contracted an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer. Within six months we were gathered round in hospital, watching her breathe her last. It was unexpected, brutal, quick and rocked us to the very core. She was 39. Other than that, most of the other members that formed Rockbitch are still part of the pagan commune, currently about 14 people all told.”

Though the band would stop performing live in 2002, they returned under the name MT-TV circa 2005 for a brief and unusually clothed tour of the United States before lapsing into silence again. Subsequently, Amanda would start the group Syren with Jo and a singer-songwriter by the name of Erin Bennett. After Jo passed away in 2011, Amanda seemed to lay her music to rest along with her.

NOT DEATH BUT SEX

Ultimately it was not death that was the end of Rockbitch, but sex. As the band began to play globally, their live performances became the stuff of a virulent moral frenzy spread by an unvaccinated public and a delirious media. As the shakes set in, these increasingly apparent regional mobilisations against the band would prompt them to opine, “When a woman can’t even strip to the waist and play a bitching, head-down guitar riff, have her lead singer fuck her with a strap-on whilst a stage surfer licks her feet without authorities wanting to ban over-18s from coming to see it – well, what has the world of rock and rebellion come to!?”

By the year of Rockbitch’s dissolution in 2002, even Interpol was pressuring the band to quieten their adult themes. “I think we were profoundly naive in thinking that our very extremeness would force a mental confrontation in the general public,” Babe says. “We misunderstood the depths of the perfidy of the press and its relentless appetite for scandal and untruth. We thought that our combination of depravity and high-standard musicianship would force people to look beyond the headlines. Many did, but the general public are too easily media-led. Only being actually confronted with us in a live scenario did they get it, and as that arena was continually removed from us, we lost the greater battle. However, that knowledge wouldn’t have made me not to have done it, but it would have hardened my heart to not being generally seen for what we felt ourselves to be: Feminists, activists, performance artists, musicians and pioneers.”

Though Rockbitch’s onstage titillation was steeped in spiritual significance, for many the sudden sight of candle wax fisting and cunnilingus en masse was nothing but a spectacle. Their sexual politics were misunderstood and attracted backlash. Rockbitch were banned from playing in Scotland before they could even get there.

“In one sense, none of those misconceptions got to us,” Kali says. “The strength of being in a group that has each other’s backs is that you face the turdblossoms of the world together. On the other hand, the vitriol from both men and sadly, women too, could be a bit much. Mostly because it seemed that the loudest naysayers seemed to desperately need us to be a gimmick, or unhappy beneath a cheerful façade, or use the nudity to hide inept musicianship, or psychologically damaged to do what we were doing. They lashed out in order to assuage their own hang-ups and discomfort. That kind of dishonesty I did find really painful, particularly from feminists. They really attacked us in several countries. It was bizarre to see feminists and born-again Christians standing together outside a concert in Sweden. Both were waving placards and shouting abuse at us. Together.”

“The thing that pissed us off most was the denial of our level of skill as musicians,” Babe adds. “We always thought that that would be a pivotal point, but in the sense that it would highlight that we did not need to behave ‘outrageously’ to hide a lack of talent. We had all been musicians and earning a living quite nicely, thank you, for a long time. However, we got tired of hiding our lifestyle and beliefs, despite continually writing songs about it. Then we thought fuck it, let’s evangelise, let’s agitate, we are feminists and radicals at heart, let’s move the Movement on.”

“The internet is ridiculous as the mainstream press in many ways. Its egalitarian potential is often hijacked by moral crusaders with time and funding. The facet of feminism that has become mainstream now is so PC that I think it would still loathe us” – Lisa ‘Babe’ Wills

That movement quickly became mired in the animal panic of local governments and a mainstream media more than eager to rendezvous with horrendous physical violence, but still somehow unprepared to objectively receive female sexuality as anything other than moral violence.

“A common occurrence was having fantastic interviews with journalists or TV presenters who, during the course of the interview, would get exactly what we stood for and what we were trying to convey,” Kali says. “Their resulting positive piece would be radically redacted by their editors or pulled altogether, with the demand that the piece be represented comedically or negatively. Several journalists phoned and apologised.”

“To censor an event which is private and attended only by adults truly demonstrates what a threat we were. Attack morality and you attack the very structure of society – that made us dangerous on multiple levels,” Babe asserts. “Stopping us was surprisingly easy in the end. We were professional musicians earning our income through music. Underhanded methods were used against us when it became apparent that press misrepresentation, although emotionally painful, was not enough to stop us.”

“Venue owners would receive a phone call from the local authorities, making it known that if the Rockbitch gig went ahead, something would be found lacking with their fire security or alcohol license, which would result in their business being shut down,” Kali adds. “Plain old-fashioned blackmail.”

Firstly, the venue owners were threatened if they asked Rockbitch to play. “Every venue has to have a performance license, a liquor license and to follow fire regulations,” Babe says. “Increased inspections, pressure that licenses would not be renewed, faults and demerits found... these and a multitude of other dirty tricks were the tactics of local councils and government.” Secondly, there were bomb threats. “Fake threats phoned in by those opposing us, resulting in venue evacuation or performance delay – all costing the proprietor money and threatening their income.” Finally, booked tours would be pulled days before they were about to begin, resulting in massive financial losses. “You hire a tour bus and the tour is cancelled – you still have to pay big money that you haven’t then earned,” says Babe. “We simply could not afford to continue under the endless body blows.”

PEACHES AND SCENES

“Another part of the reason we stopped was our growing ire at the continual plagiarism of our concepts and ideological expressions, watered down to make them palatable for mainstream consumption: Titillating enough to catch the eye and sell a product, but lacking in truth and conviction,” Kali says. “Pop ‘stars’. They know who they are.”

If Rockbitch again proved that nothing will confront society like sex seemingly always will, they also proved that, like sex, what people say in public and what people do in private are often strangers. Of their more high-profile haters, Peaches was one of the most surprising. “We were pretty goddamn surprised, too,” Babe says. “Seems that despite her experience of being vilified as a sexual, outspoken woman in a predominantly male-value orientated industry, she fell for the press bullshit when we were tarred with the same brush. Then again, as we learned, you can get away with being outrageous but not too outrageous. Maybe she knew that reacting to us in a positive manner would be a bridge too far for her own career. I do ponder it. I do imagine Miley Cyrus would actually understand us. I wonder how Pussy Riot would find us?”

Alice Cooper, however, found them delightful. “He hosted a top ten countdown of the most outrageous and banned videos, our ‘Breathe’ being number one, of course,” Babe says. “He was very nice about us! But to say more about others would be name-dropping and that is simply vulgar. The irony of what I find vulgar! We have some truly legendary stories and encounters that we occasionally indulge in around the fire of an eve. Some good people in unexpected places, and some complete fucking dicks of both genders.”

“The thing that pissed us off most was the denial of our level of skill as musicians,” – Lisa ‘Babe’ Wills

For their part, Babe and Kali are not female only in so far as that is convenient nomenclature. They are female, and so insistently female as to be enemies of feminism both then and potentially even now. It’s still difficult or even impossible to say whether Rockbitch’s sexual politics might be standardised alongside what marches under the banner of contemporary feminism – or more ostracised by it than they were a decade ago.

“The internet is ridiculous as the mainstream press in many ways,” Babe says. “Its egalitarian potential is often hijacked by moral crusaders with time and funding. The facet of feminism that has become mainstream now is so PC that I think it would still loathe us. Rockbitch always was a feminist creation, but still, when sexuality is involved, walls crash into place. It is my right to be who and what I want to be, yet if that includes promiscuity, radical sexual acts outside the accepted norm, being visceral, non-sensual, confrontational in any way, then it is easy to tar what I do with the brush of demeaning or exploitative. If I do not feel demeaned, I am not. No one exploits me but me.”

“I’d say the song remains the same,” Kali says. “On the other there are anti-sex, anti-joy, cripple-yourself-for-life feminists who hate our guts and say we are artificial, attention-seeking bimbos who distract everyone from The Real Struggle. You know the kind of person. They say, ‘women should wear what they want – rape is the fault of the rapist.’ That’s good thinking. Then they say, ‘sex workers are victims, whether they agree or not – they are too victimised to think for themselves!’ That’s stupid thinking. To each their own.”

THE FANS AND THEIR LOVE

Puritanical howling and outrage will always be louder than any virtue, but all echoes must fade and so Babe and Kali turn inward as their coven has done ever since Rockbitch disappeared from the world stage to wonder: Has their sultry virtue been its own reward? Was it all for better or for ill?

“For the better,” says Babe, “Constantly.” On this she will not be moved. “We had many, many deeply moving and profound moments of feedback from fans.”

“They write to us via our official website and our Facebook page,” Kali adds. “Babe has a whole cache of emails, gathered over the years, of people who were, and are, deeply touched by what we did.”

“I still have a letter from a woman who was nastily raped and abused as a pre-teen expressing her gratitude and astonishment that we had affected her approach to life and sex in such a productive and positive way,” continues Babe. “This was one letter, but the continual theme of real empowerment, a sense of self and direction were a constant recurring element from our female public. Men, too, dropped the macho bullshit culturally expected of them in the face of us and became respectful. Many reading this would not understand how a fistfuck and a lead solo equate to genuine respect, but they were not there. Emails, letters, but most of all, personal face to face encounters all constantly fed our hearts and made the lies that we faced worthwhile.”

“The basic premise of Rockbitch was that human sexuality is the driving force behind everything from art to war. That female sexuality is misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted in modern culture, and that true female liberation would only be achieved when we could express and inhabit our sexuality without cultural constraint” – Lisa ‘Babe’ Wills

“Men and women from all walks of life tell us they were encouraged to look beyond the bounds of their own perspectives,” Kali says. “So many women of all ages, ranging from as far as Borneo to Calcutta, from Slovakia to Iceland, contact us. They say they thought they were alone in their views on sexuality, their ideas about the world and their place in it, until they experienced one of our gigs – or these days, find our website and discover what we stand for. It is hugely heartwarming and gratifying. Some women completely open up and share heart-wrenching stories of rape and abuse, having completely lost touch with themselves, their bodies and their self-worth, until discovering Rockbitch somehow helped them see a way out. This, more than anything, really moves us.”

“The basic premise of Rockbitch was that human sexuality is the driving force behind everything from art to war,” Babe says. “That female sexuality is misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted in modern culture, and that true female liberation would only be achieved when we could express and inhabit our sexuality without cultural constraint. Therefore to lift the veil and show how women actually are sexually, to be expressing it within a creative art – music being a traditional sexual arena within which it is acceptable for men to behave one way and women not – was both a timely cultural attack and appropriate multilayered expression of the next stage of feminism. It wasn’t a po-faced ‘we must be thus’, but a natural extension of our pro-sex communal way of life. It was serious and deeply meant, but still one hell of a good time. I am sure there are Christians still having nightmares.”

“I’ve heard of regrets,” Kali offers, before retracting that offer. “They are those graceful, long-necked water birds, aren’t they?”