Though gothic music was birthed across the pond – maybe unwittingly, given the protestations of Peter Murphy and Andrew Eldritch – over the years, Florida has played a hand in keeping the dark torch burning. (SNL's "Goth Talk" skits were set in Tampa, for god's sake!) Continuing that proud tradition of Floridian darkness beyond just "tropi-goth" kitsch is Miami's Donzii.
A relatively new band, having only issued their debut vinyl EP Mines on Los Angeles' Greymarket label last year, Donzii is already a familiar presence on stages large and small across Florida. Though the band shies away from the "gothic" or "darkwave" tags of late, they're gothic in the way peak Siouxsie and the Banshees or Lydia Lunch circa Queen of Siam were – a kinetic, sonic, physical force of nature. Orlando Weekly had the pleasure of seeing them several times around Central Florida last year and we were left floored every time.
And for such a young band, Donzii are an important and fresh new voice in a post-punk scene that needs more diversity. The twin engines behind Donzii, vocalist-artist Jenna Balfe and bassist Dennis Fuller (also married), may cut an intimidating profile onstage – all sharp cheekbones and cold stares – but are unfailingly kind and thoughtful in conversation, reminiscing about the origins of the project. "The very beginning of our journey was experimenting in Doug Weber's music cave at the 'Pine Crust Mansion' in Pinecrest," remembers Balfe. "We would mess around with beats. ... Eventually this shifted into us wanting to make songs that had an Italo-disco vibe."
Moving past initial experiments with noise and electronics toward a more streamlined post-punk propulsion, Fuller and Balfe took the plunge and played live. "We were invited to be part of an art show in Miami called 'The Collabo Show,'" says Balfe. "In about a week, we wrote five songs for the performance. I made dances for each of the songs."
The name "Donzii" came to them at the eleventh hour. "There's an Italian speedboat company called Donzi and we added an extra 'i' to the end," explains Fuller. "It's sort of the punk thing of taking something that's fancy and fucking it up. ... We are referencing Italo-disco and that luxury boat company, but we're making it our own. This is ours now."
Whether on stage or on record, Donzii's music is heavily evocative of the heat, humidity, music blasting out of car windows, push-and-pull between development and natural beauty, and the slightly enigmatic vibes of Miami. Both Fuller and Balfe agree. "Miami is a tropical paradise in peril," says Balfe. "This reality shades my creative output with heavy references to time, death, decay and opulence as diversion from truth."
Fuller adds: "In South Florida, bass rules. I grew up with that. ... You want to hear 808s and stuff like that? This is where it came from. Now, we don't do that style of music but ... it's got to be rhythmic, it's got to make people dance."
Besides a commitment to the rhythmic kick at the heart of their music, one of the other signature elements of Donzii's live work is their unself-conscious embrace of performance art to propel a show into surrealist realms. "Jenna is a performance artist and we feel a responsibility to carry that art form into our music," says Fuller.
Balfe goes further: "Being on stage is a time of giving, receiving and exorcising the tumult I build up through being alive. Through the performative aspects of our show, the costumes, or the skits I am trying to create visuals and scenarios that ... are expressive for me and cathartic for the audience at the same time."
"We want it to stick in people's minds," says Fuller. "So people will be like, 'Oh that was the band that came out in different colored sheets and were playing recorders or that was the band that came out all on the same dog chain or wearing a bunch of USB cables tied around their necks.' ... It's a very important part. It's not just a gimmick."
Though the Fuller-Balfe leads the band, they are fulsome in their praise of bandmates Monroe Getz (drums), Miles Hancock (keyboards) and especially guitarist Danny Henize, a South Floridian goth OG who did time with cult faves like Agony in the Garden and Life in Sodom. Donzii are working on new material at this very moment with an eye toward releasing another EP and a full-length next year. This Friday will inevitably be a hot and muggy night, and that's the best time to see this band on the rise cast their spells.