Here Comes The Bride
Azita Youssefi has a reputation as an exhibitionist. A couple years
Post No Bills 8/4/00
Peter Margasak's weekly column in the Chicago Reader
written by Liz Armstrong
ago she posed at O'Hare for the Lumpen spin-off Easy Listener wearing
nothing but a pair of angel wings, and as bassist and front woman for
the theatrical no-wave band the Scissor Girls, she performed in
everything from a Catholic school uniform to a two-piece made of
bubble wrap. Offstage she could be seen loping around in heavy raccoon
makeup or aviator goggles, and though her look is now more demure,
she's fond of practicing classical piano in the game room at the
But in her new group, Bride of No No - whose first record, B.O.N.N.
Apetit! (Atavistic), will be released on Tuesday - Youssefi and her
three bandmates cover themselves completely in all-white outfits inspired
by traditional Islamic women's clothing. The long tunics and veil-like
masks ensure that the women's personalities emerge only through their
music, a heavy, strategically loose kind of denatured doomsday rock.
But the masks also allow them to turn the tables on the audience,
watching them as if through a surveillance mirror.
The idea for the costumes came in part from Youssefi's childhood, which
was split between the U.S. and Iran. Her parents, both doctors, were
completing their residencies in the U.S. when she was born, then moved
back to Tehran when she was almost two. When Youssefi was old enough to
go to kindergarten, they sent her to the Tehran American School, which
catered to Americans who'd come to Iran to get rich in the oil business.
She says she was singled out there for not speaking English well. "It's
like the kids didn't even realize they weren't in America," she says.
(In a yearbook from the school, a good number of her classmates are
wearing Mickey Mouse paraphernalia.)
One day in late 1978, when Youssefi was seven years old, she noticed
a soldier across the street from her house carrying a machine gun. The
Iranian revolution had begun. Her school let out early for Christmas
that year and was bombed shortly thereafter, and in early '79 the
Youssefi family permanently relocated to Bethesda, Maryland.
Her parents were used to a lifestyle that included parties at the shah's
palace, where monkeys would dance on guests' laps, but in the States,
Youssefi says, they were "just more doctors." Still, she was sent to
Holton-Arms, an elite all-girls' school where most of the students were
the children of government officials. It was a bad time to be an Iranian
kid in America: "You took our hostages," her classmates sneered at her
on the bus. Meanwhile her home life was regimented down to the minute:
her father would post detailed after-school schedules on her bedroom
door, and when she began taking piano lessons, he took them too. As soon
as she was old enough to drive, Youssefi took off for D.C. whenever she
could, attending punk shows and hanging out with a bunch of people "who
tried to outdo each other on being totally psychotic. Criminal. I mean,
just out of the blue they might decide to beat you up and steal
At her high school graduation, she wore elbow-length fingerless lace
gloves and a platinum-blond new-wave do. Bob Hope, whose granddaughter
was in the class, was the guest speaker. "He was late," she says. "After
hours of waiting, he finally landed on the lawn in his helicopter....And
he told some dumb joke about when he was in high school, `back before
the wheel was invented,' he said, and everyone laughed like it was the
funniest thing they'd ever heard."
In the fall of 1989 Youssefi came to Chicago to attend the School of the
Art Institute, where she studied drawing and sound, but she found the
relaxed atmosphere unfulfilling. "Basically," she says, "if you showed
up you passed." She says she lost interest in visual art as a primary
medium because there was no way of telling how people were responding
to it, and in 1991 her craving for more immediate audience interaction
gave birth to the Scissor Girls. For her thesis project she created an
intimate sitting room, placed so people had to seek it out, and decorated
the walls with her paintings. Her solo record, Music for Scattered Brains
(rereleased in 1996 by Atavistic), lay on a nearby turntable, waiting for
someone to deliberately set it in motion.
Around this time, Youssefi says, "there was a lot of potential. A lot of
things were happening around Wicker Park before all the gentrification,
so many bands and so much inspiration. There was the idea that anyone
could be in a band....And there was no hierarchy to getting a gig." But
in 1996, after five years and two guitarists, the Scissor Girls broke
up - just as Atavistic released their second full-length record, We People
Space With Phantoms. The scene, which had expanded exponentially in the
mid-90s, no longer seemed as exciting, and "there was this feeling of
`What are we doing this for?' No one really seemed to have long-term
In the years following the Scissor Girls' collapse, Youssefi played music
with several women in hopes of forming another band. But Bride of No No
didn't officially form until April 1999, and at first it was even more
mysterious than it is now. Shows weren't announced in advance, and the
costumes were part of the act from the start. "This isn't `Azita's band,'
like a lot of people are saying," Youssefi explains. "This is the first
band I've been in where we're all equals, all strong individually, all
take initiative. We're all interested in studying what we're doing and
developing as musicians."
Youssefi says the lineup's no longer a deep secret, but that her bandmates
are enjoying the anonymity and don't want their names published. (They're
identified in the CD booklet by initials and what seem to be surnames.)
"When people know who you are, they automatically think they know what
you're all about," she says. "We don't want anyone to have preconceived
ideas based on who we are as individuals. . We want to present ourselves
as an entity. It probably won't be like this forever. The way we are now
is just a millisecond in Bride of No No history."
Reprinted without permision from the Chicago Reader website.