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Artist Feature: The Raw Emotion of Israeli Rapper DMZL

On her 2019 SoundCloud album, DMZL (also known by her previous name Damsel is Depressed) prefaces for listeners by writing: “This is my nonsense brain trying to make sense of itself. you are welcome to eavesdrop or to look away. this is all poetry based unproduced raw emotion carried out via a simple phone app named Voloco. Not easy listening. if you're sad or trying to get happy I advise against it”.

To be sure, DMZL is not in the business of getting happy. Her music inspires a sense of embrace towards feelings that most of us don’t let come to the fore on a day to day; the more treacherous parts of the human spirit that many of us choose to ignore.

DMZL’s eccentricity can be traced back to her untraditional childhood, raised modestly by her loving parents and sisters in the city of Lod. In discussing her upbringing, DMZL said “My life started off kind of weird and then got weirder over time”. When I inquired further, she spoke of a family friend that was an Elvis Presley impersonator and her sister starring in a reality TV show about the secret lives of four year olds, amongst other things. But perhaps more important than this glaring individuality was her feeling that all of her family members are artists “at least in expression if not choice of lifestyle”.

DMZL embodies that artistry not just in her music, but also in her multitudes of cover art that span across her many platforms of music. One cover is from an artist that asked her to be the face of his installation on the cosmic universe. Another is made by an artist who rewarded her with a piece of original artwork because she won a local radio song competition as a budding artist. In discussing the visuals that DMZL has compiled over the years, it became clear that she is a collaborator at heart, serendipitously working with local artists to create her vision.

The singularity of DMZL’s life experiences and her vast array of colorful anecdotes translate seamlessly into the spirit of her sound. DMZL’s lyrics read as a stream of consciousness, mirroring her internal narrative. She brings listeners down mental rabbit holes of self deprivation, anguish, and anger. Her style is marked by her freestyle rap origins, but often transcends genre, venturing into alternative emotive melodies. What becomes most striking about DMZL’s music is her ability to create an uninhibited bridge between her emotional experience and her vocals. Her pain-ridden lyrics are not made easier to swallow by traditional pop ballads, rather, her sound is made to accentuate the effects of the words themselves. When discussing this, DMZL said “...I really dont think music should sound good. I have zero musical knowledge and background. I do music because I have something to say and I want to portray emotion. When someone is crying their heart out it doesn’t matter what it sounds like. I care about what they’re saying and how it feels”. Her artistic choices are inherently transgressive, not just in her willingness to speak authentically to mental turmoil, but also in her expansive understanding of what makes music valuable.

Behind DMZL’s music, there seems to be a demand that we wake up and attempt to understand our inner worlds, even if they may not be as dark as hers. When asked what the importance is of sharing her music, she described the responsibility we have as human beings to be attuned to and value what our gut has to say. DMZL has always been a natural feeler, saying “I don’t know many things. I am not driven by facts ever, I don’t care about facts, I care about emotions and people and ideas but not numbers. So then I think it’s important people feel free to say what they feel and think even if they don’t have the knowledge to back it up- everything in the way someone is brought up is very relevant, everything you learn from government and school and media… you can’t know anything for certain”. As a self-scrutinizing individual, DMZL does not spare us any illusions from the often painful, deprecating thoughts that can ensue. She is the first to admit that she envies those that have a lighter existence free of over-analyzation. Nonetheless, her repertoire is unfailing in its hard-hitting, heart-wrenching honesty. In a way, DMZL’s music is equally introspective as it is pointing an invisible finger at listeners, asking: don’t you ever feel this way, too? As a listener- captivated and connected to her undeniable resonance - one may not even have to answer this question.

When discussing her audience, DMZL makes it clear that she is only singing to those that are ready to listen. For DMZL, fame is deeply irrelevant to her ultimate desire as a musician: reaching listeners in an authentic way. To this end, DMZL has built an intimate reciprocity with her listeners, discussing the ways that her music has spoken to their often difficult lives. Despite gaining critical acclaim for songs like “Laundry Day” and working with some of the most famous bands in Israel such as Girafot, DMZL has remained “a pro at maintaining anonymity”. When discussing this dynamic, she seems content with the space she has created for herself in the music world because it is conducive to the real conversations that she hopes her music will elicit. To this end, she said, “A lot of people play a certain game when they talk to you and are afraid to say what they really mean, but if you say what you really want then certain people are drawn to you and certain people aren’t”. The self-selecting crowd that is drawn to DMZL’s uninhibited nature make up what she described as “the little dots on the map all around the world”.

Because her community is small, there are often only one or two listeners in the audience who know her music when she performs. I got the chance to be one of these people at her performance at Shenkar’s Graduate Class Fashion Show. Standing in the center of a circus tent, DMZL- fashioned in a black lace-collared blouse, chunky boots, and bleach blonde hair- belted out in her signature, improvised tone to an audience of Israel’s posh elite dressed in black tie attire. Standing no taller than 5’3, her voice soared to the back rows, ending her set with a final proclamation “I don't think you can afford death”. DMZL was a sight to see: disrupting the formalities of the fashion event with her raw, transgressive sound.

It felt fitting that her performance was in a circus tent, a place where DMZL’s absurdity and extremity lend themselves to the equally daring acts of tightrope walking and flame throwing alike. I could only hope that perhaps there was a kindred soul in the audience that evening that heard DMZL’s anguished ballads and felt the way I did: a sense of deep admiration for an artist that is committed to tapping into her untamed inner world through music.

by Izzy Silver

Photography by Noa Tzur

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