these are the new faces of amsterdam’s drag scene
Showing that drag is more than exaggerated femininity.
Photography Jaimy Gail
This article originally appeared on i-D NL.
The term "drag" used to evoke images of campy divas in glitter dresses, but the arsenal of artistic interpretations within the scene has become almost infinite. With aesthetics ranging from demonic, with lizard lenses and face piercings, to fantasy-like with pointed ears, to couture-like à la Alexander McQueen, the scene is more diverse than ever. The new generation of queens disengages from the classical idea that drag is just about exaggerated femininity. Today, in 2019, drag is all about using your imagination – expressing the ideal version of yourself in an artistic way. i-D met five new faces of Amsterdam drag who take the lead in revolutionizing the scene, and asked them where they see drag going in the future.
Madame Madness (22)
Two and a half years ago I was introduced to drag for the first time, when I saw Salem Reed, my drag mother, perform in Utrecht. I thought to myself: this is what I want to do. The first steps into the drag world are often accompanied by a search for your own aesthetic. You look around and try to figure out what inspires you, and you gradually integrate new things into your look. If I had to describe my current style I would say: genderfuck, club kid, bearded lady, fantasy and alien. I want to make people think about what truly makes us male or female. I constantly play with that dividing line.
My drag is totally at odds with the older generation of queens, who were much more focused on the classical image of strongly accentuated femininity – divas with big hair, sequin dresses and over-the-top makeup. This older generation has paved the way for the younger queens though, who have been able to make a living out of drag. Drag has become more than just entertainment. I really see it as a statement about expressing your gender identity, for example. I’ve noticed that young people see us as role models, and it helps them find inspiration to be themselves.
The scene in Amsterdam is very inclusive and diverse. Pageant girls, club kids like us, dancing divas, drag kings, artistic souls – you name it, we have it. I hope that drag will be increasingly understood for what it is: an artistic outlet and a type of performance art. Drag is becoming more and more mainstream, thanks to shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I think we can use this to generate more attention and acceptance for the LGBT community.
I discovered the drag scene three years ago at Milkshake, an LGBT festival that promotes freedom of self-expression. I was impressed by the things I saw there and wanted to experience this lifestyle myself. That’s when Darcvalac was born: a character that I would describe as an alias rather than an alter ego. Initially my drag was inspired by my own "femininity" – whatever that may be – so it was a lot more traditional in that sense. Over the years I’ve started to increasingly ignore the gender spectrum. My drag is now much more in line with themes and topics that interest me, such as mythology, religion, demonology, insects, deep-sea fish, flowers and plants, and modern and classical art.
Drag is not just a passion for me: in the morning I go to bed thinking about it, and in the evening I wake up just the same. I feel most comfortable when I’m in drag – I use it to express my creativity and thanks to drag I have gotten to know myself a lot better. I live for the party scene, the music and everything around it. For that reason, I’ve recently become a DJ – fully in drag, of course. I am grateful that I can combine my interests and passions, and earn my money with it.
There are many different types of drag, and they all matter. Personally I love the variation: sometimes I’ll be watching a drag performance in a pub in the middle of Amsterdam, at other times I’ll be at a techno party with club kids. When it comes to diversity and quality, we’re doing quite well in Amsterdam – by this I mean not only the drag artists, but also the venues that provide us with a platform and a safe environment.
When I was about seventeen years old, I was asked to participate in a drag event at my local pub. I didn't need to give that much thought, since I was pretty good with make-up even then. I got a dress, a pair of heels and a cheap wig, and there I was. At the time I didn't really know why I wanted to try it out, but I remember feeling at home. Looking back on it now, I think I wanted to discover different sides of myself.
Over the years I discovered that the over-the-top feminine type of drag no longer suited me, so I quit for a while. I soon realized that I belong on a stage, though, which was the birth of my current alter ego. On the one hand, my aesthetic is based on science fiction and superhero films; on the other hand, it is inspired by queer stories from the 80’s, which are romantic and dramatic at the same time. Those two elements fuse together especially well in my show. The show is about the contrast between the larger-than-life fantasy which we can use to distract ourselves, and harsh reality that can be painful, but in which we can find beauty.
I look up to the older generation of queens – they have played an enormous role when it comes to the emancipation of the entire queer community. They have been militant for decades, and fought for our place in society through self-expression. Despite all the pain, they have done it with a good dose of humor. I believe that the aesthetic of magnified makeup, giant costumes and wigs is a very powerful means of drawing attention to the road to equality.
Drag will keep on changing, just like every other art form. It is a form of self-expression that combines many disciplines into one. I therefore believe that drag will increasingly merge with the music and fashion industries, or developments in technology.
Sasa Hara (25)
My drag adventure started about two years ago, when Dynno Dada from House of Hopelezz took me to Milkshake, and then to the Drag Olympics. At the time I only had heels – the others took care of my makeup and outfit. After this crazy first experience, I’d go to the Blue Nights at Club Church once in a while. I would doll myself up; sometimes I’d even go on stage. Later, Taka Taka suggested that I join their house, which was the start of the most exciting period of my life. My drag character Sasa Hara was born about a year and a half ago, and she is still developing.
Sasa Hara is a polymorphic succubus: a female demon that feeds on male energy through sex. Sasa is preferably addressed with "she", but that’s out of sheer habit: her gender is not fixed. She doesn't care about gender and can mutate and adapt herself as she likes.
Drag in Amsterdam is pretty mainstream if you ask me, there is no real underground scene. Drag queens are booked at large-scale events, especially during the Pride season, which really shows the capitalist streak of the city. The general public at these events is not necessarily sensitive to the political issues within the LGBT scene, which is why mainstream drag usually focuses on fun and entertainment. There are few places where queens can talk about HIV, sex work, personal rights, racism and sexual freedom. In my opinion Club Church is the only place in Amsterdam that regularly provides a platform for underground drag culture.
The old generation of drag artists created the subculture and the cultural frame: the words, expressions, techniques and locations. You could say they made a canvas. Although that structure was powerful, it also had a limiting effect. I believe the new generation of drag is pushing the boundaries of this structure. We embrace the weird and the trashy, and we refuse to stick to a strict ideal of beauty. Mixing different aesthetics is getting more and more common and categories such as club kid, drag queen or drag king are less important. Instead, we combine everything into our own, individual creations. No more heroic divas, hail to the dystopian creatures!
Twan Hovius (22)
I used to go to Cirkus Klauterwerck all the time, a large queer party in Amsterdam where you could find the most beautiful characters. I wanted to look as great as them. My looks were modest at first, with green lipstick and some glitter. I started to gradually expand my drag from there. A year and a half ago I became a door host at Club Nyx and from that moment on my drag really took flight – I turned it into something serious. If I had to describe my makeup now, I would say "clown whore warpaint." In terms of styling, my character looks like a dark, androgynous alien clown with military and businesswoman influences.
The Amsterdam drag scene is very diverse – it offers something for everyone. I am surprised that not more people try to benefit from that. I’ve noticed that the younger generation has a lot of respect for the older generation though, simply because the older generation has more experience. What’s new is the fact that people from the current generation are incredibly helpful to one another. You go watch somebody else’s show to support them when you have a day off, for instance.
Drag will continue to develop. We have abandoned the idea that it can only be about super feminine aesthetics. If you have a beard, no problem, you can keep it; if you want to wear a wig or fake tits, that’s fine too. Of course, in the future there will still be queens who prefer the super feminine look, but there’s a lot more freedom now. Fun, individuality and self-expression – that’s what it should be all about. I just find everything less serious and way more entertaining when I have my clown whore warpaint on.
Photography Jaimy Gail
Assistant Jan Hürxkens