Amplifying Dissent with Diana Death
We talked to Diana Death about being anti-establishment when it is no longer cool.
This interview is part of a series discussing mandates, restrictions and censorship with musicians and music fans—read more of these interviews here.
Diana Death is a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, singer and songwriter. She taught herself electric guitar at 12 years old, and has dedicated her life to playing loud, rebellious music — fronting and playing with an impressive list of different bands including Razor Nights.
Music For All: Congratulations on being one of the last principled anarcho-punks standing! Can you describe your experience as a musician during the shift away from free speech and expression in music over the past several decades?
Diana Death: I'm part of Generation X, the era of kids who were raised to be self-sufficient, at least in my experience. I was raised to act and think for myself and come to my own conclusions about religion, politics, etc. My parents also instilled street smarts and mental toughness in me; when I was a teenager my Dad told me I wasn't depressed, I just needed to better occupy my time.
Growing up in the '80s introduced me to the punk subculture, and I immediately felt like I found a way of life that made sense for me. The older punk kids at school weren't bothered by the fact they didn't fit in, they turned it into a strength. So for me, punk represents inner strength and the courage to reject the status quo.
As a teenager in the 1990s, I became more of a loner bookworm delving into books about Anarchist and Individualist philosophy. The juxtaposition of the music I was listening to and the books I was reading solidified the notion of anti-authoritarianism in my mind by the time I was 15.
This was also the era of the first Bush presidency, and although I only scratched the surface at the time, I felt the New World Order he was pushing was suspicious. It wasn't until the next century that I would truly come to understand what NWO globalism meant, and it being far worse than anything I imagined in high school.
15 is also the age I started playing guitar and singing in local punk bands. By the time I was 17, I started my own group called The Vendettas, and wrote my very first explicitly Anarcho-punk song. The lyrics, inspired by being sent to detention yet again, were:
"Sit down, be quiet, be good, shut up
Why can't you follow directions?
Sit down, be quiet, be good, shut up
Rules are for your own protection
Fuck you, I don't care what you say
No, I don't have to obey
Cos I'm an Anarchist, and you're powerless.
I'm an Anarchist, and your authority doesn't even exist"
and I still very much feel this way, nothing really has changed.
When I entered my late teens and early 20s I had more of a goth/death rock aesthetic, and ended up working in the funeral industry, which is where my stage name comes from. I kind of forgot about politics for awhile and started a band called The Gory Details, writing a bunch of songs about true crime, slasher movies, and stuff like that. When that band broke up in 1999, I began the Diana Death Band, but my lyrics still weren't about anything political or serious.
From 2011 and onward I ended up being like a sessions guitarist, asked to join all kinds of different rock n roll cover bands, including the spiritually fulfilling El Vez Punk Rock Revue, but I still wasn't blatantly political, just keeping my Anarchist philosophy to myself. Then the year 2014 came around, and I started feeling a weird shift in the air.
2014 is when I got permanently banned from Facebook. Haters sent in complaints about me using my stage name instead of my government ID name, and after 3 of these complaints I got 'zucced, but my name wasn't the real issue — it was my commentary. Seemingly overnight, my sense of humor wasn't so funny to a lot of people anymore, and they wanted me gone. That was my introduction to online cancel culture.
Then I joined Twitter, which was a lot of fun, but if I posted anything questioning the Obama administration (after having voted twice for him), music scenesters started treating me differently and unfriending me. So-called "friends" would send private messages that my content wasn't as good anymore, and I ought to write about things THEY wanted me to write about while avoiding topics THEY didn't want me to discuss, with shitty guilt trips like "I know you're better than this". To me, it was all the same content — just me being myself and making sarcastic, snide observations — but it was the start of my education in music scene conformity and their adherence to whatever the DNC was pushing.
2015 is when the music scene I'd been doing session work with decided they ALL wanted to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. I wasn't impressed by him and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, so I didn't participate in any rallies or anything for Bernie. This tipped off all the scenesters that something wasn't quite right with me — sorry, but part of my high school political bookworm phase included material about socialism and communism, and I just didn't relate to any of that collectivist shit, still don't.
In 2016, Twitter was an exciting, hilarious place. I discovered un-PC humor in the form of meme magic, and found myself entrenched in the Great Meme War against the Hillary Clinton campaign. We were victorious, meming her into irrelevance. But then, everyone whose content I enjoyed (Milo, Gavin, Pizza Party Ben, and countless edgy shitpost accounts) were being permanently banned one by one, until finally I myself was banned in 2018. I defended a post by Mike Harlow + commented "crazy hag's gonna crazy hag" under an article about Hillary calling Tulsi Gabbard a Russian agent, and these crimes were enough to get me permanently banned.
Life after the 2016 election was crazy. I never came out explicitly in support of Trump, but everyone in the scene noticed that I wasn't all upset, crying and screaming FUCK TRUMP like they were. Suddenly, I found myself being uninvited to the usual holiday parties, and a large swath of people I'd considered friends for years didn't wish me a happy birthday in April 2017. Others either unfollowed my Twitter or outright blocked me, I felt pretty shunned and disrespected.
I soon learned there were other female musicians who felt as alienated as myself, Doris Melton of Dream Machine and Gabbie Bam Bam of BBQT, who I met via the "Intellectual Dark Web".
In San Diego I still felt so misunderstood. These emotions led me to form a new band called Razor Nights and unleash my frustration in a free speech anthem called I.D.G.A.F.
This song was the first time I'd gotten political in decades. During lockdown in 2021, I recorded a song called "Dead Wrong" with a local musician David Robles. The lyrics are a scathing critique of conformity and communism.
Recently, I came to realize I haven't had the Diana Death Band in 10 years, so now I'm in the mood to front my own power trio again and write even more explicitly anti-authoritarian songs.
On Episode 83 "The Death of Free Speech" of The Voluntary Vixens — which was a really great episode, I was excited to hear y'all mention Tipper Gore & Parents Music Resource Center. Frank Zappa really saw the writing on the wall. Do you think the pc culture of today replaced the parental advisory stickers as a way for the government to attempt to suppress anti establishment / subversive music?
At least during the parental advisory sticker era of the '80s, the so-called "offensive" albums were still being printed and released.
Now, music gets digitally unpersoned. This is yet another reason why I stick to buying music on vinyl; we've not yet reached the stage where Decency Police can force their way into my home to check my shelves and remove all my GG Allin, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor records.
Why do you think valuing personal autonomy and free speech & expression has become so rare in the punk music scene nowadays?
I wish I knew why so many people in the music scene in general have turned out to be so flaccid in the face of the big pharma we hated since forever, swallowing whole whatever narrative the TV and NPR barf out at them.
I've noticed that a lot of people of my generation have outdated, 1990s ideas of Democrat v Republican, getting caught up in the superficial Coke v. Pepsi type of politics, and favoring one over the other. Shit is bizarre.
I don't favor any political party, I'm just always on the side of free speech and bodily autonomy. Last century, freedom of artistic expression and free speech seemed to be politically liberal causes, but now these same exact values are described as MUH FAR RIGHT.
I'm taking my years as a punk as preparation for this moment in our world's history, when governments and corporations are working in tandem to tighten their grips on the masses and suppress so much of our language and behavior.
My teenage self found government and mass media to be odious, but none of my pondering could have predicted our current fucked-up reality. To me, the worst part is the gaslighting: being constantly, incessantly, relentlessly assailed with propaganda and lies by figures in so-called "authority".
I'm more irked at 44 years old by the concept of authority than I was at 14, and feel it's my duty to follow my natural instinct to rebel. I was born with an indomitable spirit of rebellion, and my resolve only gets stronger every day. Every day, governments all over the world keep proving to me precisely why I'm the way I am. If this is "immature" or "devolved", so be it; I've already accepted my role as a permanent juvenile delinquent.
If you don't like me, you just don't like rock n roll.
John Joseph & a few other NYC Hardcore bands have been such a great voice of reason these past couple years. Forgive my ignorance, but lately I've been wondering - is there something comparable to the NYC Hardcore scene in California, with regards to what scene has been the most vocal about ignoring mandates & restrictions? Have you been able to perform live shows without enforcing restrictions or mandates in California?
Luckily, San Diego isn't as uptight and authoritarian as LA and SF, so I'm able to still do live gigs while living life on my own terms.
Venues can choose whether to be uptight and demand papers at the door, but it's not mandatory here. I'm honestly not even interested in traveling for tour right now, I don't feel like dealing with any government bullshit that exists in different jurisdictions around the world.
Can you share some likeminded musicians that value free speech and personal autonomy?
I really have to give a shout-out to some legendary voices who are receiving so much hatred and anger: Van Morrison, Ian Brown of Stone Roses, Johnny Rotten, Eric Clapton, and even Right Said Fred.
All of those guys are treated like pariahs for doing the most rock n roll thing ever, standing up for individual freedoms. I wish the list was a lot longer than that, but social media has a way of revealing who's being a corporate kiss ass and toeing the party line.
Thank you for reading!
Find more excellent from Diana on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dianadeathofficial
& on her website:
Read more about Diana Death's different projects here: