Deli Girls I Don’t Know How To Be Happy

[Sweat Equity; 2019]

Styles: dance music, real emo, noise punk
Others: Blacknecks, Dreamcrusher, Black Eyes

Touch is a problem. Each instance infused with intents, feelings, and histories that are opaque in the moment of being touch. Then exploding as the touch continues. Do I want you to touch me? Do you want me to touch you? What happens when the boundary between the two of us is broken?

New York duo Deli Girls, composed of vocalist Danny Orlowski and producer Tommi Kelly, stretch club music to the noise-infused edge of the dance floor and the bar, the moments in between dancing and thrashing, where yearning touch becomes entangled in violence. On I Don’t Know How to Be Happy, Deli Girls confront the question of accessibility central to noise music with dance’s immediacy. The beats aren’t pastiche, but a warm-hearted embrace of club music. Orlowski’s screams and yelps refuse to contradict the grove, instead serving as another rhythmic layer built around narratives of isolation and power abuse. These yelps, squeals, moans, and laughs texture the rhythmic trance conjured by Kelly. As ad-libs, the amorphous vocalizations haunt the vibrating bodies dancing or moshing — the distinction built on a sentimental attachment to touches that Deli Girls trouble.

The problem of touch, the unknowingness and potential violence of coming into contact, lingers beneath these infectious tracks. The sour touches of dancing are intertwined with excess, the overstepped boundary. The unwanted, the rough, the accidental, the confused, the strike — soft skin, broken. In the same spaces exist another way. The wanted, the embrace, the sensual, the consensual, the caress — skin against skin, together. Touch’s danger lies between the two, the unknowing attraction gifted by music that some violate, lingering too much on selfish desires, only taking.

Deli Girls’ domineering dance floor presence condemns the predatory touches that claw at club culture. The duo’s danceability is undergirded by violence, as both beats and vocals complement and crash into one another. As clubs put up signs to encourage appropriate touch, to present themselves as guardians, there is an attempt to sidestep that knowledge that the unwanted is ever-present.

The correction lies in a cultural shift, an examination of the underlying interwovenness of violence and pleasure. Orlowski’s lyrics soundtrack the violence of touch in order to take back power. At the duo’s shows, the crowd finds a chaotic unity in collective violence, a cathartic touch that redeploys pain in service of being with one another. The refrain of “I’d Rather Die” extends individual self-loathing to the audience, offering a sense of community in the pain of modern life. Deli Girls adopt the crowded dance floor as a space for depressives, deviants, outcasts, queers, punks, club kids, survivors, and vigilantes. Mixing scenes and styles, they eschew the coat-check where we leave our baggage. “Abortion” redeploys screams as punctuations to the beat, injecting a euphoria before the crashing weight of the “never ending pain” emphasized in Orlowski’s lyrics. The despondency of “Here We Go Again” erupts as the beats and rhythm struggle to find themselves — the disorientation of another day, a lost step, a bed too difficult to crawl out of, a collapsing desire. The song grasps for something that only remains as a deep stain, but in a community where we are all stained.

Not all stains are the same.

Another stain on the white shirt from a spilled drink on the guy who everyone wants gone but who refuses to leave. Who violated the space of the community, who found himself reaching for a touch that was not his. The stain, sitting on that pristine shirt, the momentary reflection of a boundary crossed, but against him, to make him feel small. But his touch, his power momentarily remain. The sign hangs listlessly against the wall. So, you find power in the stain and punch him in the face.

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