It’s hard to tell if the woman on the train is more puzzled by the plush monkey swinging from the ceiling, the hula-hoops or the four-piece rock band riffing on unplugged electric guitars. She doesn’t know it, but she’s just had an encounter with the Violets.
The Violets, an ’80s-style rock band hailing from Flatbush, seem to pop up everywhere, playing impromptu shows in a variety of uncanny places, including the subway. The band will do anything to garner attention. And they’re not alone.
“The Violet Hour: Chronicles of the Violets,” a monthly reality show starring the band and hosted by a monkey puppet, has started running on Brooklyn Community Access Television. The show, whose second episode will air on Feb. 25, is part of the band’s latest effort to establish itself as a staple of the local music scene.
That’s what BCAT is for, said the network’s executive producer, Greg Sutton.
“You can do or say almost anything on air as long as it’s not illegal,” he said. “It’s true democracy in action.”
The Violets use their 28 minutes to spread the news about their band. The first episode, which aired on Jan. 26, featured a small crowd of fans shouting, “We love the Violets!” from a sidewalk outside of a concert. One fan paused and admitted to not knowing who the band was. Not yet, at least.
In live shows, the Violets complement a high-energy sound with a visual display that often includes hula-hoops and projected video. The members have taken stage names for colors that match their personalities, and they dress accordingly. Frontman J. Alexander Nixon, who goes by Mr. Magenta, often wears knee-high boots and a skirt of that particular shade.
“We’re freaky customers,” said Nika Povkrovskaia, the keyboard player who goes by Lady Purple on stage. Sitting on steps to a balcony in the back of the Vox Pop coffeehouse on Cortelyou Road, where they are regular performers, Povkrovskaia, 33, wore her hair purple and swept to one side and sported a long fur-lined brown coat falling over her knees.
“We just love dressing up,” she said.
The band’s name is homage to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which mentions “the violet hour,” an allusion to those rare moments of clarity and artistic catharsis. Paying due tribute to their greatest influence, the song “the Violet Hour,” which Nixon wrote, opens in live shows with an audio recording of Eliot reading the passage.
The child of a lawyer and a professor who met at a summer job as trapeze artists, Nixon grew up in Florida, and attended Stanford University, where he played classical and flamenco guitar, though he switched to electric after graduation.
Nixon moved to Brooklyn in late 2000, but left when his savings ran out a few months later. Back in Tampa, he put together an early version of the band that came to New York to play live shows, but never reached full bloom. Nixon retooled the band with new members — six musicians came and went before the band’s current incarnation.
Nixon said he specifically chose the band members of both genders to explore issues of male-female energy. Trim and standing about 5-foot-3, with blond highlighted hair and clear blue eyes, he said he thinks men are often trapped by an obligation to be macho (which explains Nixon’s on-stage skirts).
“For me, it’s just a question of not having those really narrow distinctions,” he said. “It’s about making new spaces.”
Tableaux lining the walls of Nixon’s Flatbush apartment are evidence of him doing just that. Using New York City subway maps sliced into tiny pieces, he has rearranged the land and water to form four large collages, strangely familiar maps of invented territory. It takes him one or two years to finish a canvas, he said. He likes the slowness of the process and “the thrill of being able to arrange the whole world into something else,” he said.
Nearby hang several of Nixon’s paintings with political messages, often incorporating maps into the design. He keeps hula-hoops behind a mirror next to the door — he teaches a hooping class Monday nights near New York University, where he is working on a master’s degree in performance studies and Latin American studies.
“The idea is [to be] like the B-52s,” Nixon said, describing the band’s performances. “[Having a] big party on stage.”
Other BCAT reality shows
The Violets’ BCAT reality show prompted us to imagine other shows that could be a hit on our local public access channel.
Follow all the excitement as recovering heart patient Borough President Markowitz runs for mayor and tries to walk — and shake hands on — every street in Brooklyn. Can he get past Junior’s without grabbing a slice of cheesecake? Every episode features a “bad cholesterol” update from Markowitz’s heart doctor at Maimonides Medical Center.
Chard of Discord
Friday, 5–5:30 pm
Eight contestants compete for membership in the Park Slope Food Co-op. Weekly challenges include being able to pick out organic, shade-grown, cruelty-free mangoes from their mass-produced counterparts; racing through the streets of Park Slope to return shopping carts; and getting out of having to do two make-ups when they blow off a shift.
Family Feud — Mob War Edition
Sunday, 9–10 pm
Two of Brooklyn’s crime families battle it out for control of a different local business. Next week, an old-line South Brooklyn mob family battles newcomers from Brighton Beach to win a key trade waste contract. Weekly challenges include fencing stolen goods, laundering ill-gotten cash and having items “fall of a truck” without being damaged.
Last Tenant Standing
Tuesday, 7–7:30 pm
The remaining two-dozen residents of soon-to-be-condemned properties within the footprint of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project compete to be left alone. Weekly challenges include coming up with anti-Ratner slogans (“Got blight?” just isn’t working), researching Barclays’ slave-linked past and booking former congressional candidate Chris Owens to play the recorder at daily rallies.
— Gersh Kuntzman
The Violets perform on Feb. 24 at 8pm at Freddy’s (485 Dean St. at Sixth Avenue is Prospect Heights). Free. For information call (718) 622-7035.