Having only observed Iowa native Dominic Rabalais' Real Dom project via YouTube seems to be the perfect type of coincidence—a ferocious and intimate live performer seen through multiple layers of artifice and disconnect on the same medium that originally started Justin Bieber's career. Speaking to Rabalais by phone, it also seems to resonate perfectly with the themes at play in their all-encompassing persona that celebrates the realness of fakeness, and the absurdity of realness to begin with.
"It's just the idea of how fraught and impossible it is for there to be a condensed, actual, full-on, real, un-changing version of ourselves," Rabalais explains. "The idea of realness being unchanging—like Descartes or different Enlightenment people who say the only thing that is real is what cannot be changed or whatever; I guess it's just a weird embracing and rejection of that."
Rabalais speaks almost exclusively in blocks of dense, excited thought, and in terms of Real Dom, the idea of challenging reality and identity comes in the form of what they describe as "the freak version of Chippendales," with a burlesque-type show that marries their mash-up style of song-crafting and goth/pop-inflected vocals with elements of erotic dance and revealing costuming that changes from show to show.
The songwriting itself is built from an exhaustive digital library of samples. Rabalais indexes books for a living, which makes sense when looking through the full list of samples on the most recent Real Dom album vs. Heaven, catalogued in its entirety online at their website, domrabalais.com. The music does not sound typical of mash-up artists, many of whom seem to rely almost exclusively on the thrill of a listener recognizing one iconic pop jam grafted onto another. There is an almost opposite thrill here. I listened to the eerie, effected guitar on track "Here Are the Materials" at least three times before learning the sample is from someone's tutorial on how to play Three Doors Down's mega-hit "Kryptonite." Rabalais pitch-shifts and abuses every sample to serve the impassioned, confessional vocals, creating aching, original pieces from familiar elements that are twisted beyond recognition.
Even though Real Dom is a solo project, Rabalais describes the use of samples and found object sound sources as augmenting the music beyond simple singer-songwriter fare.
"I got really into gutting millions and millions of samples of CDs and ripping them all to my hard drive; finding CDs on the street, ripping those; my childhood CDs," they say. "Just kind of having this big library of songs. … If I'm stumped on a track, I just listen to those and find parts to put on there. Even stuff that's not an overt collaboration with another conscious thing, there are certain safety nets to fall into and collaborate with. Almost out of coincidence or something."
While certain vocal hooks are definitely recognizable, the results are always phantasmagorical enough to keep listeners unsure of where they are in the vast landscape of pop music. These elements all contribute to a vision with a purpose which seems to rely on dualities and pluralities of self and intention to great effect. Even at its most bombastic, Real Dom expresses something deeply personal that is often as painful as it is celebratory.
"I have this weird mixed-bag feeling about my own masculine body—I both totally abhor this prison and, at the same time, I want to be a hunk. I would love to be Channing Tatum," Rabalais tells SFR. "I also want to completely destroy the idea of Channing Tatum. I think there's something about the combination of the songwriting and the performance of trying to reconcile both of those things. Like most facades, it's both a facade, but it's also the thing that it is pretending not to be. Here, I am really wanting to be desired—but kind of coming off like I'm making fun of the idea of being desired. But secretly also wanting to feel that way."
Real Dom with Belly Eater and Mabob
8 pm Wednesday Oct. 3. $5-$10 suggested donation.
Zephyr Community Art Studio,
1520 Center Drive, Ste. 2.