Ahead of her performance at LadyLand, the BDSM-inspired pop princess joined Document to discuss the transformative power of pleasure
Last Friday, under the Kosciuszko Bridge, time disintegrated into a world of skin and sweat. LadyLand—an annual outdoor queer music extravaganza—found a new home on the edge of Queens, where the sounds of the city are lost in the background.
Tending to the luster of a queer Coachella, the festival was born in 2018 under the direction of nightlife luminary Ladyfag, with the intent to create an authentic space for queer self-expression—which she calls “political and a party,” wrapped into one. This year’s iteration featured the talents of Honey Dijon, Peaches, Big Freedia, Junglepussy, Rebecca Black, and COBRAH—Sweden’s best-kept secret.
In surrender to the crescendo of Pride, LadyLand soaked up the energy of its sea of eclectic outfits, bare bodies, and unabashed love. COBRAH took the stage, and attendees were swept away by the shimmery glow of her chrome-cast graphics. Only here could you find yourself in a harness-ridden congregation that sang, “I just wanna feel good / Gotta lay down with some good kush / Got a good girl a real good bush / Come and go get a real good puss.”
Like a disco ball hung at the center of a sex dungeon, COBRAH channels drama and play in equal measure. After her emergence from the pop underground, the artist embarked on a journey of self-discovery, unifying her experiences from Gothenburg, Sweden’s metal wonderland, BDSM clubs, and her career as a primary school teacher—an illustrious sonic profile, topped off with a ball gag uniform. Her musical approach is embodied by defiant club anthems like “GOOD PUSS” and “DIP N DRIP”—a slinky celebration of the self.
COBRAH’s latest single, “SUCK,” is no exception; it’s a seductive invitation to break free from the confines of reality, and immerse oneself in a world where individuality reigns supreme. Conformity crumbles beneath the majesty of transgressive electropop, breaking down into a mosaic of bouncy and sticky synths. Intertwining sensuous melodies with gritty textures, “SUCK” compels the listener to submit to seductive sound.
In the days leading up to her performance at LadyLand, COBRAH joined Document to discuss self-actualization as an artist and human, pleasure’s many dimensions, and so-called “queer” music—an sincerely unofficial genre categorized by the celebratory.
“I find a lot of pleasure in doing things that I know are uncomfortable or hard to do… You’re breaking free, you can’t see, can’t hear.”
Erin Ikeuchi: You just wrapped up your ICON tour. How did that go?
COBRAH: It went really well. Usually, when I do a show, there are always, like, five things that go terribly wrong. This time, that didn’t really happen—the only thing that happened was I smashed my in-ear [monitor]. I was performing the next day, and I just had one earpiece then, and I was like, Why is there glass on this riser? But apart from that, I thought it was fantastic. It was my first ticketed tour and it sold out, which is pretty wild. I didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded.
Erin: And you just released ‘SUCK.’ Could you tell me about your creative approach to this song?
COBRAH: ‘SUCK’ was the first track that I made after my last EP, so I was getting back in the studio with two producers that I’ve worked with before. It was supposed to be something really stupid, just to get going. But after a while, we really liked it. It’s cool and silly at the same time. It’s one of my favorite videos I’ve ever done, and probably ever will do. It comes from a place where I’m trying to be very easy and funny and practice music—so I think you should take it not so seriously. It’s a funny, stupid, silly thing, and we made this extremely serious music video about it.
That’s why it’s so fun, too, to do those really serious visuals—because it gives it an extra dimension. We wanted to not be too sexy, in a one-note way. Like, Suck my clit and now I’m gonna look really hot, being naked, and that’s it. We wanted this fun twist of actually sucking, but not that type of suck.
Erin: A lot of your work, visually, is so close to the body—fleshy and medical in a sensual or euphoric way. In your art practice, how do you balance the ideals of being watched and watching others?
COBRAH: I don’t know if I find too much pleasure in being watched. I find a lot of pleasure in doing things that I know are uncomfortable or hard to do. I think, maybe, that’s where the BDSM thing plays a role, because you could do quite a lot of stuff that hurts—you’re breaking free, you can’t see, can’t hear. For the ‘SUCK’ video, I couldn’t move for five hours because they painted the chairs, and if I moved, you would have seen the paint on my body. I had to lay still for five hours, which was quite horrible, actually. It’s more about the visceral experience, rather than people looking at me on-stage.
“I feel more and more in tune with myself, especially as an artist. I’m making it warmer for me, rather than pushing and forcing, What songs would I like to write?”
Erin: You talk about pleasure with such wide breadth: It’s not just about sensuality, but also identity, and doing things for yourself. How do you envision pleasure in your life?
COBRAH: I think, for me, pleasure is calmness—although I’m terrible at it, because I love doing stuff all the time. Calmness and happiness is just having a sense of gratitude towards life, both artistically and personally. When everything is perfect and in place. It’s so rare to find that, but some days, it happens.
Erin: You come from all these different corners—teaching children, BDSM clubs, the metal scene in Sweden. How do all of those things fold into one another?
COBRAH: I’ve been doing this for so long; I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with what I want to say and how I like to say [it]. I feel more and more in tune with myself, especially as an artist. I’m making it warmer for me, rather than pushing and forcing, What songs would I like to write? All of that was such an experiment in the beginning. If you’re an indie artist that just wants to start, everything can become quite painful, because you have to do all of the different sides: the visuals and the actual music. Now that I don’t have to do too much bullshit, I feel like it’s even more plush and pleasurable to make [music].
Erin: How do you weave reality and fiction into your sonic world?
COBRAH: It’s like you have a second space in your head, but you can never go there. I work with a creative director and stylist that I really like, and we’ve been able to create this world together—he’s in my head, and I feel like I’m in his.
It’s easy to separate [fiction and reality,] because real life’s always real life. And when we create something that takes so much effort, it’s not easy to feel like you’re blended in with another world. But what’s fun is that you feel like you have your own Harry Potter land or something—you just haven’t written a book about it yet. You’re trying to convey it in ways beyond the music, too. I think that’s why I really like it: It’s challenging in different ways. If I just did music and outsourced the imagery to someone else, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling, it wouldn’t feel as real.
Erin: If you could change anything, and bring some of the wonderful world of COBRAH into this reality, what would you choose?
“We’re trying to always make it really hot and really sexy. But it has to be a little bit scary or disgusting—it has to have a twist.”
COBRAH: Everything in this world that we live in now, we’d have black version of it—that’s what I’m constantly trying to find. I can’t stand color. I try to find things that are not too easy to find in black: a toothbrush, toothpaste, a tampon. I would just make black versions of everything.
Erin: What are some ideas that inspire that outlook?
COBRAH: We’re trying to always make it really hot and really sexy. But it has to be a little bit scary or disgusting—it has to have a twist. Whenever we’re trying to make something, we try to make it hyper-feminine and cool, but it has to be something crazy at the same time to kind of balance it out. When I grew up, I was always really uncomfortable being a girl, because I felt like that was such a weak thing to be. I don’t feel that way anymore. This extremely hot, but kind of crazy and wild and weird person makes me feel less weak, I guess—in a good way.
Erin: In light of LadyLand and New York Pride, how does it feel to be such a prominent queer artist in online and club spaces? Places where the passion for your music is so intense within the community that you’ve built.
COBRAH: It feels really good. I didn’t really realize I’d built community until we went on tour, because you see all the people coming out. I’m really happy if people like the music and it translates. I didn’t know that [these spaces] would be the home for me and for the music that I had. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
In a way, I feel like it’s been something that has evolved with me rather than me being like, ‘It’s queer music’ or, ‘feminist music.’ It’s an interpretation that people make, and it’s not wrong, but in the beginning, it was more about the sounds and the music and the attitude.
Erin: Would you qualify certain sounds as queer music?
COBRAH: No. I think maybe some people do, but I think for me, you hear a song, pick a community, and you can kind of guess if a song could be a bit more queer, because more queer people like it. But in general, I think we should avoid labels when it comes to music, because it puts it in corners in people’s minds. Oh, it’s this, therefore, we can play it here, or it’s not appealing to these people. It’s important to not close people’s minds too early when it comes to how you define music.