A new wave of cyber-horror drag hits club stages. Plus: Gigamesh, Disquiet Night, Accidental Bear, Tormenta Tropical, more nightlife
SUPER EGO Scene: Midnight, Tiara Sensation drag pageant, Rickshaw Stop, September. A naked, enormously white-and-purple-bewigged figure in two-foot-high Plexiglass heels, laid across three raised Plexiglass pillars, faces away from us. The pitched down strains of Frank Ocean's "Pyramid," his voice syrupped into a slo-mo Judy Garland phantasmagoria, drown us in waves of bass. Sheee's wooorkiiing at the Pyyyramid toniiiight.
Awkwardly, riskily the figure rises almost to the rafters, its back still to us, spreads its legs, and begins to pull a tangled string of multicolored Christmas lights from her crotch. It performs this deliberately, turning the Rickshaw stage into a pressure cooker of strobe lights, sexual horror, and incipient danger — a strip club where no one can hear you scream. The atmosphere is so tense that when the figure finally turns around to reveal her eyeless, bloody-mouthed, death-pale self, as Ocean's voice tweaks a level higher, shivers and gasps run right through the audience. Shiva the Great Destroyer, her tits bound with duct tape, a makeshift pouch at her crotch the source of her glittering lights.
It's an out-of-body look that works. And it's emblematic of a new glitchy-nightmare drag style (or the reboot of one) that's bewitching clubgoers.
The performer was the amazing Dia Dear, one of a number of recent young arrivals who've zapped nightlife to another level by unselfconsciously — and quite organically — raiding the shelves of performance art, horror films, contemporary R&B, club kid history, and the Walgreen's down the street to create striking personae for themselves, and electrify the city's drag stages. They're also so freaking smart it scares me, no Christmas crotch lights required.
Drag as confrontational, sometimes blood-spilling performance art has a long history here, of course, from the Cockettes in the 1970s, through the Popstitute and Club Uranus scenes in the early '90s, through Trannyshack into the '00s. It's currently found a home at the Some Thing party every Friday at the Stud, High Fantasy every Tuesday at Aunt Charlie's, and the Dark Room monthly party at Hot Spot. Iconic, sensibility-scrambling club kid styles like those of Michael Alig, Desi Monster, James St. James, our own Phatima Rude and Ggreg Taylor, and the ultimate drag inverter-perverter Leigh Bowery are all the rage in this retro-minded, post-Gaga moment. But something about this fresh wave, something about how it's coming from people with no nightlife background at all, is different. Drag stages have become the affordable breeding ground for committed performance artists, expressing essential truths about our moment. Mere lipsyncing is so last century.
"I never even knew who Leigh Bowery was until people started mentioning his name this summer," boychild, another of this new tribe, told me over the phone. (I live next door to boychild, and it's not rare to find a neon-yellow spray-painted birdcage, a chandelier made of wigs, or an entire store display case sitting outside, waiting to become part of a perspective-shattering outfit or brandished onstage in a cyber-Wiccan, dystopian android ritual.) Like Dia, boychild just started going out to clubs very recently — pretty much arriving out of nowhere, both of them declining to share their pasts — and when she did she was almost fully formed as a stage presence, with a genius sense of makeup and a cerebral agenda.