Anyone worth one’s salt in the Leeds tattoo scene will know the name Demon Dance who, over the years, has not only established himself as one of the top tat-artists in the eyes of his fellow inner-city professionals and the tattoo community – but also among the ever-growing student scene.
Imagine: It’s your first time living away from home; you’re thinking of doing something crazy like dying your hair, getting a nose-ring or – much to your mum’s disappointment back home – you get a tattoo. Well, you won’t be searching for long before you come across Demon Dance’s distinctive designs.
He’s well and truly a master of his art, whose expertise with a tattoo gun has catapulted his name and style well-beyond Leeds – to the extent where his customers will travel from all over to get inked.
Demon Dance sat down with Soundwave Magazine to discuss his thoughts on the history of tattooing, his love for Lil Peep, and the intrinsic link between his profession and music.
Q1) For anyone with any interest in the Leeds tattooing scene you’re a mini-celebrity. For those that haven’t heard of Demon Dance, can you tell us a bit about you?
There’s no way I’m any sort of celebrity haha, tattooers are glorified hairdressers who for some reason are held in high esteem, I guess because we’re trusted with marking people for life. I’m a regular person, I make art for a living which is brilliant and something I never take for granted but my life outside of work just consists of being a father and a partner and making some music in my spare time.
Q2) You’ve built a following of over 160,000 on Instagram alone due to your unique designs and skill, not to mention thousands more fans on other socials. How important is it to have your own style in the tattoo industry?
I think now more than ever it’s absolutely crucial to have your own style and pave your own way. People want their tattoos to reflect their personality so the art aspect is arguably more important than the tattooing side these days. Gone are the days where coverage by any means was the priority, nowadays my customers usually collect artwork from a variety of artists based on their personal taste.
Q3) Tattooing has always had a place alongside music. Whether it’s the biggest artists getting covered in tattoos or fans getting inked to show their adoration for their favourite bands. Why is there such a connection between tattooing and music?
I think music is art too, anything that makes you feel a type of way could be considered art. Musicians themselves are usually very creative types who gravitate towards expressing themselves in the same way as anyone else with an interest in art by getting tattoos, and fans see their favourite artists covered in tattoos and are influenced to do the same.
Q4) How did the punk-rock revelation of the mid 70s change tattooing?
I’m by no means a tattoo historian but I think any alternative counter-culture movement that pushes itself into the mainstream can only be a good thing for our industry, as much as people don’t like to admit it the slow mainstream growth of tattooing over the last 50 years or so has led to a huge influx of potential new customers who might not have been into the idea of tattooing if it wasn’t for being exposed to it through popular media.
Q5) I heard that when taking a design to a tattoo artist, no tattooist will want to directly copy someone else’s work at the risk of being unoriginal. They may suggest minor changes to make it more individual. Is that something you do yourself, and what’s your advice for people thinking of sticking exactly to what they want?
There are some exceptions to the rule for me, I’m happy to tattoo designs from historic artists who don’t tattoo (Keith Haring is an example of one artist whose work I’ve tattooed multiple times) but as far the Pinterest tracers I’d much rather tattoo something from my own brain than make easy money by copying other tattooers’ work, I’ll gladly take the idea onboard but I’d rather rework it to my own style and composition. I’m very lucky though that my customers know my capabilities and style and it’s rare I’m asked to tattoo from someone else’s reference.
Q6)You say your work is influenced by hip-hop, post-punk, 90s cartoons and modern classics and art. If you had to only tattoo one of those styles for your rest of your career, which would it be and why?
It’s a tough choice but I’d probably have to say 90s cartoons, there’s just so much more choice and fun to be had mashing things together and creating a unique spin on something with nostalgia value.
Q7) You’re a big fan of Lil Peep and have even tattooed references to him on people on many occasions. It was well reported that Peep liked to express himself from an early age with the face and body tattoos he got, even though he often got disapproving looks because of it. Why is it important to not care what other people think, and what can you tell us about Peep being the “Modern day Kurt Cobain”?
For me I’ve always seen tattoos as a way to express yourself in a totally unique way, people can learn so much about you at a glance and if someone disapproves of any tattoo I have or the coverage I have then immediately I know we’re not gonna vibe on any level as it’s such a huge part of my life. As for Peep being the modern day Kurt Cobain I think it comes down to a few things, most notably his love for self-expression at all costs, his forward thinking in terms of being so openly against discrimination (based on things like sexuality, gender roles, etc.) and I guess sadly his self-destructive side and struggles with mental health too. Something which is unfortunately very common among creatives as a whole.
Q8) Peep liked to make ‘sad music’, similarly to how you like to make ‘sad tattoos’. Is it important to express emotion through your art?
I’ve struggled with my mental health for my entire life, the art I produce naturally comes from a very personal place and I just couldn’t bear the thought of putting on a happy face mask and making diluted artwork that pleases people I have nothing in common with but doesn’t reflect my own mental state or experiences in life. You can tell a mile away when someone is doing something to please a crowd versus doing something because they have a passion for it or are using it as an outlet. Whether it’s my drawings, or the music I make, or even the clothes I wear, they all have to reflect my personality in some way because I feel it’s my mission to make something that like-minded individuals can relate to and find a piece of themselves within.
Words and questions: Ellis Maddison
Answers: Demon Dance
Follow Demon Dance: https://www.instagram.com/demondance/