Meet Dornika, an extraordinary artist defying genre norms and challenging societal boundaries. Born in Tehran, she found solace in art while navigating shifting environments, ultimately embracing music after discovering the empowering queer scene in Berlin. As a performance artist and researcher, her sound transcends genres, influenced by diverse musical styles and inspired by women of color and queer musicians. Through her EP “Revolution,” she fearlessly addresses themes of body autonomy, racism, and the female-led revolution in Iran. Dornika’s music serves as a powerful medium for activism, raising awareness, and promoting change, as she strives to create a world where multiple identities thrive harmoniously.
Can you tell us about your journey as an artist, from growing up in Tehran to becoming a prominent figure in the Berlin music scene?
So I was born in Tehran and moved to California when I was 6 then back to Tehran when I was 10. I think these shifts made me feel like a bit of an outsider growing up and art was kind of my way to entertain myself and not feel alone. I started learning music on my mom’s childhood piano back in Tehran and in my late teens I started singing and writing songs in my bedroom. As singing for women is illegal in Iran, it can only happen underground. Although the scene I was part of was extremely sexist so I kind of put my dream of music on pause. Shortly after moving to Berlin, I stumbled into the queer dance and drag scene here where I got access to a whole new world to experiment and find myself. After years of working as a dancer and drag artist, I finally got the courage to go back to music. During the pandemic I really decided to go for it and released my first single “Fatbulous”. It’s been a pretty stellar rise from there.
Your music is described as defying genre expectations. How would you personally define your sound, and what are some of the influences that have shaped your unique style?
I feel like more than a musician I am a performance artist and researcher. I study how the body and memory works, how the voice is related to our psychological state and how music and dance play a role in human societies. I love to embody different voices, genres, archetypes and experiment with the power our words and music have as the role of artist. Like most of our generation, I’ve gone through many music genres and feel like the lines of genres are fading. It’s not like back in the day where you had to be a punk or a goth or rock head. We can be many things and embrace multitude and this is apparent through our fashion, the media we consume and just modern day information flux. I have many inspirations from different eras of my life, I grew up listening to everything from classical music to metal to pop and hiphop. Linkin Park, Radiohead, Tool, Metallica, Chopin, Bach, MCR to all the pop icons on the illegal satellite channels growing up in Tehran. Now I am inspired more by the women of color and queer musicians that I can feel a connection to and see myself in. Perhaps not just by sound but by their existence. FKA Twigs, Lizzo, Sevdaliza, Nathy Peluso, Doja Cat, Dorian Electra, Shygirl, and the list goes on. Getting to their level to build my own sound and give out my own message inspires me.
Your EP, “Revolution,” carries a powerful message. Can you share with us the inspiration behind the EP and how it reflects your activism and concerns about the ongoing revolution in Iran?
I decided to put out the EP following the events of last October in Iran. Except for the first track, I made everything in the last years before the death of Jina Mahsa Amini and they touched on the personal side effects of living in both the oppressive system in Iran and then as a racialized “immigrant” in the western world. I also talk about very personal journeys of what I want to change. The whole body of work is about all the ways we need and deal with change, and we need it in Iran as well as all over the world.
The lead single from your EP, “KoOkOo,” is an energetic and empowering track. What was the creative process behind the song, and what message do you hope listeners take away from it?
KoOkOo was my way to process the Berlin winter depression and of course when going into any current internal crisis there is all the effects of the past. I feel everyone can relate to feeling a bit crazy because of all the things happening in the world that is heartbreaking and infuriating but feeling unable to change it. But I wanted to make the music and the ending in a way that processes these traumas and gives hope that the things we’ve seen actually makes us better leaders and means we know what needs to change. I feel marginalized people should be at the forefront of creating change and this has always been the case.
In your music, you tackle important subjects such as body autonomy, racism, and the female-led revolution in Iran. How do you approach incorporating these topics into your songs while maintaining a balance between art and activism?
I feel like the art definitely needs to go even further than the lyrics somehow, because at the end of the day, no matter how radical the lyrics are people listen to the music first. It’s considerate of the listener to make innovative and listenable/danceable music that will push in service of the message. It’s a bit tricky to find the balance but I feel I try to hit the sweet spot with my work. I think also pop music allows as much directness as it censors, so I think it’s always good to take a bit of risk.
As a drag persona, Many Faced Godx, you have gained recognition in the Berlin queer underground. How does your drag persona interact with your music and activism? Do they influence each other?
I feel like my drag character is born out of my philosophy and my inner being. In the beginning I kept changing my name and never wanted to stay to one character, that’s where I came up with Many Faced Godx to allow myself to keep experimenting and also to embrace my gender fluid being. The way I approach art and life is also from a place of multitude and keeping in mind the power of archetypes as well as the fact that our brain’s belief in concepts is what makes them real. I try to play with this and also existentially I don’t feel like I can land on one thing, I feel too questioning to do that. I think humans should be allowed to be many things and experiment with life.
Could you share any personal experiences or encounters that have shaped your perspective on the ongoing revolution in Iran? How do these experiences fuel your passion for creating music that sheds light on this issue?
I think I try to rely on my personal experience as a default to how things have affected my body as well as listening to others experiences that differ from mine. I feel the traumas that affect me even until today play a big role. The anger I had growing up within a sexist society and the strong sense of justice I had even as a teenager. I feel compassion for myself and don’t want anyone to go through that pain. So I guess that is a big motivation for why I do what I do.
What role do you think music and art, in general, play in raising awareness and promoting social change? How do you see your music contributing to these efforts?
I think music and art has always been part of movements throughout history. Art and music is used for advertisements and propaganda because it is powerful and a very human way to relate to things. I think I recognized this power early on. Music and art is a big part of our daily lives, most people listen to music everyday but why not have music that uplifts and also touches on the systems we are all affected by? I feel like even on a smaller scale the effects I manifested through my music is coming into being. I get feedback from my audiences about how they are touched and relate to my music so I already feel like I’m accomplishing the change I want. But I guess ultimately I want to make the soundtrack to the revolution.
Being an Iranian artist based in Berlin, what challenges and opportunities have you encountered in expressing your identity and sharing your music with diverse audiences?
I think Berlin have me enough distance from the environment I grew up in to be able to process my past and put it into art. There’s also such a big pool of creatives in this city and a lot of them are doing things DIY which is a big inspiration. I definitely appreciate the support for art in Germany and the opportunities for newcomers, whether within the queer community or through funding. Although the catch is that as a racialized and queer person I feel like I always have to exploit myself and my traumas and be tokenized in order to be given a fraction of the resources that privileged people already have. I don’t like to always feel like an identity checkbox but it often times feels like that’s the world we live in. I do embrace my identity and try to use it in an empowering way, but at the end of it we are all human, and that’s the way I try to connect with people.
Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of your music career and your involvement in activism? Are there any specific projects or collaborations you would like to pursue?
I am an ambitious Capricorn so I really want to go all out. Spread my music and message internationally, make a huge show with amazing queer artists and make the music and music videos of my dreams. Of course a lot of this needs big money but I believe in my vision so I feel the universe is behind me. I also would love to collaborate with my idols, too many to name but especially female and queer BIPOC artists that have paved the way and been a huge inspiration. Big things are coming and I will keep working till I get there.