Dasychira and the Paradox of Childhood

Dasychira and the Paradox of Childhood

Some days it feels like it would be great to be young again. To look at the world with childlike wonder, full of limitless possibilities and potential. To go back to a time when your imagination was its most fertile and magic hid around every corner. It's no wonder we tend to look back on childhood so fondly, even if we sometimes forget how awkward and embarrassing it could be.

For New York-based, Johannesberg-raised artist Dasychira, youth has always been a point of fascination. Their debut album, xDream, released last year on FaltyDL's Blueberry Records, is an exploration of the death and rebirth of childhood, unpacking repressed elements of their identity and embracing newfound fluidity. Full of unsettling music box melodies and borderline cartoonish sounds, xDream unfolds like a gothic carnival ride.

From the album opener, "Toon World," which sounds like Aphex Twin if he was really into the Kingdom Hearts franchise, to the creepy fairy tale monologue laid over a jittery organ vamp on "Windmill," Dasychira channels the same spooky energy that children have in horror movies. Full of experimental electronic compositions, xDream is spell-binding even if it feels like at any moment that spell could turn into a curse.

Enlisting the help of Kamixlo, Golin, Charity and Yikii for a brand new deluxe edition of xDream, Dasychira caught up with PAPER to talk about the death of childhood, a chosen second puberty and their new limited edition line of plushies.

What made you want to revisit xDream as a deluxe edition?

Making xDream was a process of unearthing and opening Pandora's box, to revisit a piece of myself that for long had been buried within. Once it was open there was this colossal chaotic rush of energy encircling me, and immersing myself in that chaos I realized an entirely new understanding of what childhood meant to me, and how I could re-assert myself as the person I've always wanted to be. The deluxe edition was to repackage Pandora's box, wrap a ribbon and present it to the world. xDream was a snapshot of my life, a new beginning, so the deluxe edition marks the beginning of the next era of Dasychira.

What are you excited for people to experience this time around?

The experience of exploring this delicate, twisted, dark dream I lived in for so long. Almost like this all-access ticket to a haunted house that's as humorous as it is frightening. When you're writing an album it's often difficult to communicate the intensity of emotion and metamorphosis you're going through, so until now all of that stuff felt like a secret to me. I had the pleasure of having Kamixlo, Golin, Yikii and Charity reinterpret my world from an outsider perspective, and to have them create an extension of this world visually and sonically is a big honor for me. With the remixes, plushie babies, interactive website, the new videos and some more secret eggs coming up soon, I think it's a chance to share the elation of my rollercoaster ride.

"I find myself toying with the idea of being the puppet master of my own persona."

You mention this Deluxe Edition coincides with you tapping into an inner voice that you likened to Pinocchio's "internal conscience." Could you delve into what you mean by that a little more?

When I first moved to New York in the years leading up to xDream, I felt hyper-visible for the first time in my life. It sometimes seemed like the persona I was wearing had holes in it, and that passers by could see through me. Reflecting on this, I now realize the gender-dysphoria I experienced was something that was always present, yet hard to confront. When others sensed it, I started to deflect. It wasn't until I voiced this to myself and people I felt safe with, that I understood what I was going through was rather "normal" — that is to say we all have inner demons that are very much a part of ourselves, and the masks we wear socially.

A voice in my head was daring me, "Take your biggest fear and manifest it." Once I accepted that dare I felt a tremendous sense of relief. That voice had been there since I was a kid, telling me to share things I often didn't have the courage to express. The moment would pass, and those thoughts evaporated. I'd come up with all kinds of ridiculous tall tales to get myself out of uncomfortable situations I didn't want to be in, and that made me grow into someone who I felt estranged from. It wasn't until I was ready to listen to that Jiminy Cricket who was always whispering this inner wisdom, that I became the true person that I am now, and I've never felt more real. The deluxe edition is an acknowledgment of how closely connected I am to this voice, and how it's a very beautiful tool in my array of creative devices.

Disney and Mickey Mouse are recurring motifs across xDream. What made you gravitate towards that?

In the early stages of making xDream I was working with Yikii on the song "Pandora," and we would often share inspirations with each other. After listening to the instrumental, she showed me a Sega Genesis game called World of Illusion. I was immediately inspired by how scary some of the game scenes were, depicting Mickey in a cursed world. I was struck by the story in the beginning of the game: "One night, Mickey and Donald were practicing for their big magic act. One of the magic tricks surprised Donald, and he fell backward, tipping over some scenery. Behind the scenery was a mysterious magic box with a drawn curtain." They both stepped into the box through the curtain and disappeared, falling into darkness. An evil voice said, "You are good magicians in your world, but here in my world of magic, you'll have to learn many more tricks to find your way home." They disappeared into the world of illusion, and so did I. Puzzled by the hologram around me, I channeled my inner magic potential to escape, and xDream was born.

The theme of Disney is interlaced with my work, and the connection Yikii and I share with that is precious. I truly felt its potency when we visited Disneyland in Hong Kong last year. That's the biggest inspiration for our upcoming album DASYIKIILAND.

Is there a particular movie or show you watched growing up that still holds a special place in your heart today? I'm still obsessed with Code Lyoko.

Wow, so many! It's honestly hard to choose, but I think the first Digimon movie had a really profound effect on me. I saw it in theaters in 2000, and it blew me away with its futurism. The concept of obtaining a digital egg through your computer was the coolest thing in the world. The whole movie has this Y2K feeling, a corrupted digi-egg hatches into a virus and takes over the internet to wreak havoc. I felt a connection between the physical and digital world becoming more intertwined. It excited me that there was a world of creatures living and duplicating themselves across networks.

What was your childhood like?

Dreamlike. I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, which as a child felt like an idyllic playground where the streets are literally paved with purple trees (Jacarandas) in the springtime. I had a very close connection to nature from a young age, bug collecting in the garden, visiting the lion park, and having space to imagine all the worlds I could fathom. I watched a lot of cartoons and was also introduced to mediation at a young age, so I had an almost spiritual connection between the noise in my head and the absence of it. I identified more with my inner being than my physical one, playing into my personality to create worlds that I could interact with.

High school is where things started to get hard, settling into a physical form that defines one on a surface level frightened me. Even though I knew that wasn't what I wanted, I felt somehow coerced into it from the pressure of societal expectations. Early in high school I was definitely a little trouble maker, skipping reading period to play guitar with my friends, lighting stuff on fire at home with deodorant, going "ghost-hunting" in my garden taking fuzzy photos on a Motorola Razor and blowing up the grainy image on my computer to find some kind of visage. My childhood was a paradox because I knew who I wanted to be, but I let that slip away to conform.

"The power of imagination in childhood is limitless and it allows you to have a versatile understanding and interpretation of life."

The end of childhood is often conflated with the loss of innocence. Do you agree?

Absolutely. Looking back, I had this awareness that I could be whatever I wanted to. The power of imagination in childhood is limitless and it allows you to have a versatile understanding and interpretation of life. Being free from the biases of adulthood is the utmost form of innocence. When you conflate imagination with capitalism it's a losing battle — a lot of hope dies. You see that in art too. In my opinion, a drawing by an imaginative kid reflects art in a more sincere and honest way than what you see in an institution.

I love the concept of a chosen second puberty, which feels really intrinsic to the queer experience. I remember when I bleached my hair for the first time, it felt like the start of me really coming into my own. What was your experience like?

Yes! A transformation in appearance definitely feels like a foray into a second puberty. When I think about the concept of puberty, I also think about what that means, becoming comfortable with who you are in your own body. For me, I would point to the final day of shooting the video for "Swirl" as the beginning of this chosen second puberty. I remember falling face down into the sand, being directed to lie down as the water washed over me. Once Gui (the director) called it a wrap, I felt like I was able to accept the death of innocence in my life for the first time. Thinking about growing up, the path of what you can do becomes narrower and narrower as you get older, but now knowing this narrowness is guiding me to my true path gives me hope. Gui and I shot this impromptu video with me walking into the ocean in full costume and heels, following the light around El Matador. I felt such a strong connection to the motherhood inside of me, ready to let this child go and to embark upon the quest of self-affirmation. After that shoot I decided to let my hair grow out for the first time in my life, and to show my face more.

Have you come to any sort of realizations about yourself throughout this process?

The biggest realization I've come to is that this is going to be a transformative process throughout my life — one thing will lead to another, parts of me will grow, change and die. Perceptions of "who you are" will ebb and flow in the different stages of life, and that the deepest trust of self comes from the internal conscience. I guess I've always perceived identity as this performative thing too, and I find myself toying with the idea of being the puppet master of my own persona.

Before we go, tell me all about Monstro, Mimzy and Marlow.

Monstro, Mimzy and Marlow are the manifestations of a long creative process that started with the original artwork ideas for xDream. I had my friend S.A. Mayer over at my apartment in Bushwick and we watched Digimon: The Movie on the balcony, then went back inside to do some drawing for fun. We sat down and Stephen played me this horror podcast he'd been listening to called NoSleep, and we drew this weird character together that was our re-imagining of Cherubimon. That drawing was the original idea for the cover of xDream, but Stephen must have gone through almost 10 versions of it before he decided a chibi (cute, short and chubby version) of it would be better, and then threw Pinocchio into the mix. The baby creature was called Monstro (like the whale in Pinocchio).

At the time, Stephen was working with Happy99 and we all linked up during fashion week for their Spring 2020 show in Chinatown. H99 created the cutest plushies of their mascot and had them hovering in the air attached to helium balloons throughout the show. A few weeks later, Stephen asked me if I wanted to make a plushie of our character and I thought, Hell yes! I had been touring and performing with my entire plushie collection, so I thought it would be great to create a new plushie that had a special meaning to me. I contacted a toy maker based in Shanghai who took on the project and created the most beautiful prototype that was shipped to me in LA. After a few adjustments and the invaluable creative input from my friend Sofia Pujol (Warm Blossom), I decided to make baby Monstro in three colors. Monstro, Mimzy and Marlow are like my Powerpuff Girls: three superpower beings in different colors, and they may or may not get up to mischief when you're not looking.

Photography: Gallow Hill/ Cover: Spencer Sherk