Djunah’s Donna Diane Channels Tina Turner to Secure a Woman’s Place in Noise Rock

Djunah, a Chicago noise band, will defy all your expectations at their Denton show on Saturday.
Djunah, a Chicago noise band, will defy all your expectations at their Denton show on Saturday. Danny O'Donnell

This St. Patrick's Day, you're going to want to make your way up to Denton (where there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus) because you have got to see this. Djunah (pronounced JUNE-uh) is a female-lead, two-person noise rock band from Chicago fronted by Donna Diane, a singer and guitar player who performs playing a Moog organ with her feet.They'll be playing on Tuesday at Rubber Gloves in Denton.

"When the band I was in previously broke up, I wanted to be able to perform solo, but I didn't want to lose the bass with it," Diane says. "I started assembling the whole organ, customizing it to fit what I needed. When I actually performed for the first time solo with it, it went so well, I was like, all right, I need to get a drummer and do this for real."

Diane takes the physicality of her performance seriously, maintaining a solid gym regimen both to carry heavy amps without help and just to keep from hurting herself.

"There was a guy at my gym who helped me come up with like the correct body positioning," Diane says. "I'm essentially playing for half an hour on one foot, so I actually have to have correct body positioning to be able to, like, play guitar and sing loudly at the same time. Working out is essential to being able to execute the sound onstage. It's not at all about how I look. It's about being able to function."

In addition to a one-of-a-kind performance style, Diane sings in a voice not heard often in noise rock circles. With comparisons to PJ Harvey or Amanda Palmer, Diane's voice is bold and confrontational, shaped by the characters featured in each song.

"I do a lot of acting with my voice, singing from the perspective that the song is from," Diane says. "I get like pretty dramatic. I definitely, like, get into it and kind of lose myself performing."

For Diane, giving a voice to many types of women in a rock sub-genre that does not see a lot of women leading bands is about seeing those women as something more than stock characters.

"['Nurse and Nun'] is like very much from the perspective of those female archetypes," Diane explains. "There is a nun character and a nurse character that play certain social roles, and the song is about overcoming those archetypes and becoming like a whole person."

"I think people have it in their heads that if you're a woman and you play heavy music, you're supposed to have tattoos and dyed hair and like, look a certain way." — Donna Diane

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Getting into a performance requiring all of her body and mind offers a lot of risk and a lot of reward for Diane, who ultimately sees every performance as a transcendent experience.

"In certain songs I have to sort of leave my body during because of the rapid attention-switching I do between them," Diane says. "It makes performing extra exciting because I never really know what's going to happen. There's just so many moving parts using my whole body for it."

Diane brings it to every performance by channeling one of her longtime inspirations, rock and soul legend Tina Turner.

"She can go pretty high, but she also has a fiery, guttural belt when she like really gets down there," Diane says. "When I'm hitting certain notes live, I think in my head: 'Tina Turner.'"

Just as Turner earned her title as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll by breaking expectations of what a rock singer looks and sounds like, Diane hopes that her performance style will make for a world in which women in noise rock are seen as something more than a novelty.

"There's a lot of women playing, but we're not, like, really represented by high-profile labels or in the media," Diane says. "A lot of times I think people find it almost surprising to see us play. One of the things I would like is to have more representation for women who play heavy music."

Not only is Diane breaking the mold for female noise rock musicians by simply being a woman in that sub-genre, but she also defies any expectations.

"I had a guy come up to me at a show recently and ask, 'Are you dressed that way on purpose?'" she remembers. "I was just wearing like a plain black dress. This is just how I dress.

"I think people have it in their heads that if you're a woman and you play heavy music, you're supposed to have tattoos and dyed hair and like, look a certain way. There's a huge spectrum of women who play aggressive music. Some of us wear glasses and dresses, you know?"
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher