behind the scenes at germany's first international queer festival
La JohnJoseph goes offstage, backstage, and onstage at Yo! Sissy!
Photography Mauel Moncayo
After nine month's gestation, and innumerable hours of labour, Germany's first international queer music festival, Yo! Sissy, was birthed this weekend. Delivered by her two mad midwives, Pansy and Scout, two cornerstones of Berlin's queer nightlife, the event was a ladybaby like no other. I was there performing under the guise of Alexander Geist (the pop performance persona I created to investigate masculinity) so I had the perfect opportunity to study the birth of this monstrosity from all angles; offstage, backstage, and onstage.
The extensive efforts taken to generate an atmosphere across the festival venues paid dividends, and for a three-day weekend I felt as though I were living in a queer wonderland. It was a remarkable contrast to the maelstrom of drunken aggression on the weekend streets outside. I saw familiar faces from the live art and music scenes in the US, France, the UK and Germany, who had all come to town expressly for the festival. But, what was really exciting about the inaugural Yo Sissy! was that the usual performer/audience divide was virtually non-existent. We were all dancing together and even the headline acts were front and centre supporting their lesser-known cohorts. It was a remarkably bullshit free weekend: I witnessed no bitchcraft, I felt no aggression, and miraculously I didn't see even a single person collapse in a puddle of GHB.
The Friday night opening party at Schwuz was a treasure trove of unexpected delights, at once incredibly casual, and invigorating, in the way only a night in Berlin can be. Canadian Ben Jackson delivered a curveball set of esoteric electronic music, whilst sometime chart-star Annie threw herself into a DJ set with a surprising Betty Boo focus. Campy synth duo, Hi-Fashion performed a set of their infectious YouTube hits, including Ru Paul's fave, Amazing and the lip-synch staple, I'm Not Madonna. The night was stolen from them all though, by shirtless silver foxes, the Hidden Cameras, who rocked out in backwards baseball caps as if they were New Daddies on the Block.
On the Saturday, we were showered with 16 hours' entertainment from the golden talents of a heady array of performers. Out in the garden, scene lynchpin Joey Hansom span a disco-heavy set that pepped up the afternoon like an Aperol Spritz. On the beautiful birdcage stage, Berlin's finest pop lyricists, Dievondavon, treated us to a shimmering set, before break-out trans rapper, Black Cracker, hypnotised the crowd with his unstoppable charisma. The place was awash with snatched drag queens, intoxicated goths, and bejewelled party girls. Witnessing unearthed icon Crystal Waters perform her irresistible 90s radio hits, back-to-back with London's own drag superstar, Jonny Woo (busting out a number from Hair!) was a remarkable experience. Aérea Negrot proved that she is a living Goddess, with her euphoric performance, and pearls of wisdom, exclaiming at one point, "Even trannies get erections - and that's okay!" As dawn broke, I watched a woman throw her shoes at bewildered onlookers (repeatedly), and thought, "Perhaps now is bedtime."
Despite being undeniably bedraggled during Sunday's soundcheck, me and my band, were thrilled to be performing at S036, on the same stage where Iggy would perform under the admiring gaze of a besotted Bowie. Backstage was a party in its own right, with performers from across the weekend pouring in to catch up. Reality TV stars, the Family Fierce, drank every drop of booze available, and Olympia Bukkakis (possibly the mouthiest queen in the EU) regaled us with obscene tales, whilst I did Peaches'lippy. When stage time came, we killed it, with a guns-blazing set of sardonically glamorous disco-soul. When you're sharing the bill with the steamroller fusion of rap, drag & nu-metal that is Christeene, the critic's darlings, dark-wave duo Evvol, and the still undimmed performance power of Peaches herself, you have no other option really, do you?
There were concerns that the ticket prices at Yo Sissy! were too high, a quibble which raised an interesting question: how can a scene like Berlin's, which has been fostering provocative queer musical talent for decades, grow without morphing into another capitalistic dystopia, another New York, another London? I don't know the answer but I'm glad the question was raised. And questioning is what being queer is all about, lover, so in the opinion of this humble superstar, Yo! Sissy was an self-evident success.
Text La JohnJoseph