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The Beat’s Alive with Bunny X’s Campy Brilliance

YouTube Premiere & Interviews: NYC-Based Duo Bunny X’s New Video for ‘Lasers and lace’

We live in bizarre times, but not really terribly weird times. I find this disappointing. I want my life to be weirder, campier, and more seductive — that includes the music I listen to. Thankfully, there’s NYC-based Italo Disco duo Bunny X and their camp-as-hell, Dylan Greenberg-directed video for new song “Lasers and Lace.” It’s a whole lot of fun.

The cut itself is great. It’s got this tight drum machine driving a bouncy, octave-up-octave-down synth bass, bright synth swooshes, and devil-may-care vocals. It’s a darkly sweet Italo cut that, if I didn’t know any better, I’d have pegged as an actual song produced in 1980s Italy.

But Greenberg really brings the song to life with some pretty wild scenarios.

There’s a dark, smoky club with Bunny X’s Abigail “Abbi” Ferguson and Mary Hanley and others dressed in sexy black get-ups akin to Elvira, other women in black lace, and others in gold lamé. There is a bearded bear in a giant pink shirt and impeccable makeup joining them. Also there is a masked marauder presenting a plastic skull as if performing Macbeth at bizarro version of famed watering hole Trailer Park. There is also an office setting laden in kitschy ephemera with workers having way more fun than they should.

Overall, the video presents a New York City with a little more edge. Or, if not edge, at least a little more overt personality. Both the song and the visuals are a fun time. The moment I heard the song and saw the video, I was enthralled — truly brilliant work right there.

To elaborate more on what I’ve written, or to even correct it, are Ferguson of Bunny X and director Greenberg. Both did interviews recently with Vehlinggo.

Abbi Ferguson (left) and Mary Hanley of Bunny X. Photo courtesy of Bunny X.

Abbi Ferguson

VEHLINGGO: Why’d you folks choose the Italo route for your musical expression? It’s quite refreshing that you’re influenced by that segment of the 80s, and not doing another Miami Vice thing. More people need to pay homage to folks like Fred Ventura, Ryan Paris, Gazebo, Ken Laszlo, Scotch, Lime (though not Italian, quite Italo)… early Madonna and Depeche Mode, too. Your tapping into that is one of the things that caught my attention about Bunny X.

Ferguson: Thanks to my awesome older brother, Brian, I grew up listening to Italo Disco. He had me on a steady diet of Ken Laszlo, Savage, Valerie Dore, CC Catch, Sandra, Gazebo, Jules, Silent Circle, Joy, Roger Meno, Fancy, Bad Boys Blue, etc., since I was a little kid growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

My brother is a collector, so he still has a ton of great vinyl to this day. I always stayed true to Italo and still listen to it all the time, but I also got really into Madonna, Depeche Mode, Erasure, and the Pet Shop Boys growing up as well. So those and other similar artists have definitely helped to shape and inform our musical expression as far as the Bunny X project. I think our producer, Conrad Kaneshiro, probably feels the same way.  

I’m curious about how you feel in general about modern culture’s obsession with various aspects of 1980s retro-kitsch. It seems like an interest that’s gone on for nearly 20 years. I recall in high school in the 1990s watching Grosse Pointe Blank and Romi & Michelle, both of which involve high school reunions for people who graduated in the 80s. They were heavy on the 80s references, especially the music.

You’re totally right about this, Aaron. I think the 80s represent a really fun and wacky time for a lot of people. I’m dating myself here, but I literally grew up in the 80s and, I have to say, that shit was fun. All I cared about was collecting the latest Garbage Pail Kid stickers and riding on the pegs of my friend’s BMX bike. It was a very free and imaginative time, unlike now where we are all glued to our phones and kids’ play time is extremely structured.

Back then we had more time on our hands to create, and I think this overall feeling comes through in a lot of music from the 80s, as it was a very creative time for music. Personally, I think 80s music is the best music. I have always felt this way and I probably always will. There is a genuine earnestness to new wave and Italo Disco and I don’t know that this same type of sincerity holds true today. Maybe it does, though, and I’m just not being fair. I think the recent 80s/Italo Disco movement is really cool though and a lot of artists like FM Attack, Heartracer, Kavinsky, Desire, and Electric Youth (hello Drive soundtrack) are giving it a fresh outlook. Mary, my Bunny X counterpart, and I are personally obsessed with Kavinsky’s song “Nightcall” and perform it often as a cover. Hopefully, he doesn’t mind.

How’d you get into music-making in general? What do you love about making music? And what’s your role in Bunny X?

I probably made my first attempt at songwriting in like 2008 or something. I started off doing karaoke several times a week with my co-bunny, Mary, and then we both ended up singing backup vocals with our buddy Ash for his music project Ash Gray and the Girls.

Shortly following this, Mary and I joined a Queen cover band and performed a fair amount in NYC with that project. Eventually, I decided I wanted to focus on making original music that was truer to my favorite genres of new wave and Italo. I wrote a bunch of songs and put out an EP called Lovespy — hi Mike Mareen — in 2012. My main influence on this release was Madonna and also Phil Collins, because Phil Collins is the fucking bomb.

By this time, though, Mary and I had befriended a unicorn in the form of producer extraordinaire Conrad Kaneshiro of Disco Success Records and the amazing Italo/dance project Male Room. Conrad and I went on to co-write “If You Say Yes” with help from Mary and the rest is history.

At this point, Conrad is the brains and Mary and I are the brawn; but we all come together to make it happen in the end. “Lasers and Lace” is all Conrad, though. Mary and I are largely just the portals in which to get it across. Mary and I still write all the time too, though, and we have a bunch of new songs that will be coming out this summer — probably in the form of an EP. Conrad will be producing some of these songs, [and so will] the super talented Miles Maxwell of GGGAMESSS/Colossal Squid Records.

What’s in store for the duo? Any future singles or albums — or gigs?

As mentioned just above, we have a bunch of new songs coming out shortly and will likely be releasing an EP this summer. We’ll definitely be releasing a new single very soon, called “Hit Show,” which was recorded by Matt Katz-Bohen of Blondie and written by Conrad, Mary, and me. Dylan [Greenberg] has already agreed to direct the video for the song, so we could not be more excited to work with her again. We have a show coming up on Saturday, June 10, at Trans-Pecos [in Ridgewood, Queens] with GGGAMESSS, who will be dropping his new record that night. We can’t wait!

Dylan Greenberg

VEHLINGGO: This video is wild. It reminds me of public access shows and also the weird, random stuff one could find on Cinemageddon. I know you were going for the VHS effect, but this is super accurate and next level.

Greenberg: Thank you so much! I had a public access show as a youngster called The Alone Show. It ran for one episode and then I was all alone. The VHS effect isn’t just an effect: the scenes in the video were really transferred to VHS and then back. There is no other way to get that perfect look!

Tell me a bit about how you conceptualized it.

The idea at its core is fairly simple; It’s a dance club, and the people in the club are dancing. I based the club off of real Italo Disco videos from the 80s. However, I wanted the people in the club to be very odd — perhaps otherworldly or ethereal beings — with Abby and Mary at the center of the action.

Then I listened to the lyrics of the song, and we all came up with the idea together of a girl, played by Amanda Flowers, who is bored at work and then goes to a club that is like another life for her. Building upon that, I wanted there to be an underlying sinister aspect, so the demon man who holds the skull, played by Jurgen Azazel Munster, acts a bit as a gatekeeper to this other dimension. As a child I would have recurring dreams of going through unremarkable holes in brick walls and entering some sort of warped dance hall or club, and I hope to revisit this idea in different forms.

I’m also curious how difficult this actually was to make.

This video was very easy to make, because Abigail and Mary are two of the most easy-to-work-with-people I know. They trusted me enough to afford me full creative control on the video, and I worked as hard as I could to make sure they wouldn’t regret that.

We shot it in two days about a week apart from each other, and the whole time we were having a lot of fun. I think the most difficult part was building the set itself. My 12-year-old sister Summer, who can be seen in the video, and I worked the entire night beforehand on constructing the set of the club. I basically bought out an entire store’s worth of cello-wrap in order to do so. We built the set in my parents’ dining room and it consists entirely of fabric cello-wrap and creative lighting placement.

You’ve directed music videos in the past. How did you approach this one differently?

I approached this video the same way I approach any video: with the objective to make the best and most unique product possible. Music videos I direct often have a similar process. I usually build a set that will draw the viewer in, because it looks like another world. I then usually either shoot scenes on location or on a different set.

A good example is my music video for “Melt Yourself Down” by James Chance and the Contortions.

I shot scenes on location in the Delancey, and then built a set out of several blown-up images of a Henri Rousseau painting and real-life vines hanging from the ceiling. (I like to have something draped from the ceiling to add depth to the image by creating a foreground. In the James Chance video it was vines; in this video it’s CDs hanging from ribbon.) So, we used a similar process with this video, but the end result is very unique. I feel, due to the special and rare quality of Bunny X’s work and charisma, they have a magic in them that is quite hard to come by, and it glows in all colors of neon on the screen.

And also, do you, too, like this kind of music?

Not only do I love Italo Disco and synth pop, but I make it myself! Vandal Moon and I recently collaborated on a new song entitled “Dancer in the Dark,” that is part of the official soundtrack of my new feature film, ReAgitator: Revenge of the Parody.

My friends Jurgen and Amanda, who are both in the video, introduced me to Italo disco groups such as Silent Circle, Mike Mareen, and Clio. Abigail [Ferguson] later introduced me to acts such as Savage and Roger Meno. They have become, along with Bunny X themselves, some of my favorite musical artists of all time.

How’d you get into filmmaking? What future projects are in store?

I got into filmmaking before I even knew what filmmaking was. I think it is in my blood. As a child I was glued to the television. I would point to the screen and ask my parents how every special effect was done. Because they often did not know, I set out to discover it myself. My mother had won a VHS camera in a raffle, and I began making my own little films starting from age five. So, I was basically learning to make film as I was learning to read and write.

I studied the films of Georges Méliès and taught myself how to do the three original special effects: The stop cut, the trick dissolve, and one of the most useful effects even today, the double exposure. It became a natural part of me, and in time, as I thirsted for more, I quickly advanced to the world of digital filmmaking and taught myself how to do all sorts of strange and wonderful special effects that I’d seen in films I loved. I learned how to create compositing effects like in The Thief of Bagdad — the combination of live action and stop motion — and the use of unconventional tricks and photo manipulation, such as in Forbidden Zone. I plan to continue the legacy of strange and unusual cinema.

I am making a lot of new music right now! I am working with True Groove records on a new single for their album Now New York and am also recording a lot of synthpop and Italo-style songs for various artists. My friend and fellow musician/filmmaker Travis Campbell and I are also working on a pop-metal song written by my dear friend Alan Merrill, who also penned “I Love Rock and Roll.”

(Editor’s Note: The Beat’s Alive is my much too rare column focusing on everything associated with the Italo Disco genre, from the artists and their music, to the culture and history that created them, and anything else that comes up. Because I’m predictable, I got the column’s name from a Glass Candy song. Viva Italians!)

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