Get To Know: Denim
This Wednesday, drag supergroup Denim are hitting Soho Theatre for the opening show of their 12-date one-stop world tour. Denim members Glamrou La Denim, Crystal Vaginova, Electra Cute, Shirley Du Naughty & Aphrodite Jones have been out here fighting the queer fight and smashing pop stereotypes for the last six years, and along the way they've made fans of the likes of Simon Amstell, Ian McKellen, and Stephen Fry. Rarely have we been so excited to see a show, but before we dive into their world of glitter and eyelash-glue later this week, we thought we'd get in touch with the girls to learn a little more about their personal icons, the politics of drag and, of course, their plans for world domination.
Hi girls! Okay here we go - when and where was Denim born?
Glamrou: I set it up in my second year as a student at Cambridge University.
Crystal: Glamrou then created four other drag queens from her own rib.
Electra: The question isn’t when and where were Denim born, but why… and when.
Aphrodite: When our global solo careers were too big to function.
For those of our readers who’ve never seen one of your shows, what can they expect from Denim: World Tour?
Glamrou: Pure, unadulterated joy - the Denims are happy to the point of delusion, and we want audiences to be bathed in queer joy. We want every person to leave our show thinking “wow it’s fucking fun being queer.”
Crystal: A marriage of old drag and new, tradition and tomorrow if you will. We sing live, dance semi-live (Crystal has a hologram to dance for her). It’s political, but not confrontational — a tour de force to change people’s perceptions of the idea that drag queens are glamorous accessories: we have voices, opinions and emotions… and really great shoes.
Shirley: The biggest band (girl or otherwise) of all eternity singing their hearts out for their thousands of adoring fans (The Buttons) in Wembley Stadium, with the bodies of drag queens, in Soho Theatre
Electra: It’s a postmodern deconstruction of the notion of “Denim”, “world” and “tour”. Interestingly enough, Denim backwards is “mined”. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Aphrodite: Hydraulic costumes, intergalactic makeup and Grammy-nominated vocals.
Do you each have an icon, or even an amalgam of icons, who you channel when you’re performing, or is it specifically a personal alter-ego, Sasha Fierce kind of process?
Glamrou: Drag for me has been a way to re-connect with my Middle-Eastern heritage, and to remember the bits that I loved about my upbringing, rather than the things that traumatized me. So I suppose the women from my childhood - my mother especially - inspire my drag alter-ego on many levels.
Crystal: Crystal is an icon, and has been for over 108 years, and so when I’m lacking inspiration I just watch old movies I starred in — All About Eve, Citizen Kane, Burlesque starring Christina Aguilera and Cher — and listen to old albums I recorded. Aside from myself, Crystal gets a lot of inspiration from her twin sister Celine Dion, as well as the other four Denims!
Shirley: Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Peggy Lee, Martha Stewart and the Texas Horned Lizard
Electra: My icon is the baddest of them all. Queen of mean, Avril Lavigne.
Aphrodite: I don’t have a specific icon. But sharing a dressing room with Meryl and Millie Bobby Brown in the recent live-action film adaptation of The Minion Movie will continue to inspire my everyday decisions.
You said earlier that your show is political. Would you say that all drag is inherently political or is that optimistic?
Glamrou: I think this is optimistic, as I have seen a lot of drag that replicates problematic tropes of femininity in an exploitative way, and a lot of drag can be a bit too much about the aesthetic rather than the politics. But I think drag should be political first and foremost, and this has always been our intention with Denim. Drag should challenge, not replicate.
Crystal: Glamrou’s right, but it also depends on context. In a drag club for example drag alone isn’t that political, but on the street or in a regional gay bar the act of dressing and acting purposefully provocatively is still a political act. It challenges people, and sometimes that feels scary, hard, and certainly political.
Shirley: And no matter how sugary sweet and harmless we feel (a la 5 Disney princesses) I'm still shocked by the impact we generate when out and about. It still feels very subversive being on the streets in drag no matter what you do. By just existing in dresses, heels and wigs we disrupt and that feels very political indeed.
Electra: Being authentic is always political, imo. My fellow Denim kweens empower me to be more myself than I’ve ever had the courage to be on my own. And with their support hopefully we can encourage other would-be kweens out there to be themselves.
Aphrodite: Drag is certainly always provocative. And it’s highly personal. But, like the other kweens have said, it can and should be political.
What would you say to those who'd try to suggest that commentaries from men regarding the experience of women aren’t necessary to a conversation about feminism?
Glamrou: I don’t think drag is a commentary on the experience of women - it’s a celebration and exploration of femininity, not the female experience; as a male-bodied non-binary performer, I would never want to try and comment on the experience of being a woman, as I am not a woman, and have had the privilege of a male body my entire life. What I would say is that drag deconstructs femininity rather than assumes it (as such, drag, I think, should be consciously artificial - hence it is useful in feminist discourses that want to demonstrate how constructed gender performance is. Also, there are many women and female bodied drag performers who also use drag to play with their femininity - Victoria Sin is especially my hero.
Shirley: I absolutely agree and can add that for me I think what's important is that Shirley has agency over what she is doing. I would hate to feel that she is ever a ‘ditsy blonde housewife’. That feels offensive. No, she has power and ambition and there is absolutely nothing that can stop her. A lot of her aesthetic is what the patriachy think she should be/act like and she always uses that to her advantage.
Aphrodite: Like the other kweens have said, drag has the potential to explore the signifiers and societal expectations of femininity in a positive way, without undermining or exploiting female experience.
I've read that you put on a queer night while you were at Cambridge - what advice would you give to anyone else thinking of doing the same at their uni or in their towns?
Glamrou: MAKE IT INCLUSIVE. DON’T MAKE IT ELITIST. DON’T REPLICATE THE HIERARCHAL STRUCTURES THAT PLAGUE NORMATIVE SPACES.
Crystal: Think about who isn’t represented in a lot of other queer nights and then make space for them — people of colour, women, trans and non-binary folk, religious queers, working class people. I think if your night isn’t doing anything to support and be inclusive it’s not a queer night. I also think there’s power in removing the focus on sex sometimes — sex is great, and sexy nights are great — but there’s lots of them, and there’s also something radical about having mad amounts of fun and not worrying if you’re dancing sexy or looking as good as the person who’s got the six-pack.
Shirley: And to add to that engage with your local community and try to embed outreach and socially minded events into your programming
Electra: Invite me.
Aphrodite: Prioritise the remuneration of queer talent who take part, unless it’s an event in aid of charity.
Following your run at Soho Theatre, what’s next for Denim?
Glamrou: The Superbowl Half-Time show (or the Edinburgh Fringe festival 2018)
Crystal: Crystal is off to the Maldives for a three-year long model hobbyist retreat! And, what Glamrou said…
Aphrodite: A spa retreat in Kidderminster.
What’re your New Year’s Resolutions?
Glamrou: World Peace.
Crystal: To stop telling cis str8 men that their art is good when it’s bad.
Shirley: Make my beehive bigger
Electra: Use fewer Ubers and more black cabs.
Aphrodite: Acknowledge the privilege of my global superstardom every fortnight.
What track do the Denim girls put on to get the party started?
Glamrou: Nessum Dorma.
Crystal: Charlotte Church ‘Even God Can’t Change the Past’
Shirley: 'Go Tell Aunt Rhody', the lesser known, classic American folk tune
Electra: Tradition, from Fiddler on the Roof.
Aphrodite: Our own acoustic cover of the Lord’s Prayer
There’s space for one more on the Denim tour bus - who are you taking with you?
Glamrou: Dianne Abbott.
Crystal: Just me, my juicer and my Bible!
Shirley: Donald Trump, so I can cook him in a pie.
Electra: My pet snail, Engels.
Aphrodite: My 6 kids.
Spice Girls or Josie and the Pussycats?
Glamrou: Little Mix.
Crystal: Pussycat Dolls?
Shirley: Timmy Abel (who sung Go Tell Aunt Rhody)
Electra: Neither – don’t tell me what to do.
Aphrodite: Remaining faithful to our longstanding support act: Spice Girls
Cats or dogs?
Crystal: Sex with cats, long term relationships with dogs!
Shirley: Gotta be the dogs
Electra: See above. I’m my own kween. But I love cockapoos.
Catch the show from Weds 10th Jan - Saturday 3rd Feb. Buy tickets here.
Thanks, Denims! See you at the show!