Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle
On Friday 6th April, queer art collective Dragpunk took over the middle floor of The Nightingale Club. This was the venue for their brand new performance night, Dragpunk Presents. For the uninitiated, we caught up with host Amber Cadaverous – who began by explaining the origins of the group’s name.
The ‘drag’ in Dragpunk recognises that, “drag artistry is the expressive and creative art for anyone regardless of their gender, sexual identity and orientation,” tells Cadaverous, “it knows no gender but subverts and mocks all gender and art norms.” The collective’s values of “expressive, individual freedom that is anti-establishment and anti-mainstream society,” are where the ‘punk’ comes in.
“Whether your interest is makeup, performance art, drag art, queer politics, or you’re simply in need of a safe space for fun, self-expression, and excitement, we want to provide this,” continues Cadaverous. “We plan and run all events as safe space for those across the LGBTQ+ community and allies. We only encourage fun and freedom – dress how you want and be who you want. We welcome all of those who just want to feel the love of a community.
The theme for tonight is Candyland. Paul Aleksandr runs the door. Head to toe in neon pink, complete with bedazzled facial hair, he offers cakes and sweets to guests as they arrive. Hands are stamped and drinks are bought.
Around midnight, Cadaverous totters on stage. She wears platform heels, a paint splattered prom dress, and an enormous purple wig topped with an even bigger pink bow. Her face is painted with a Glasgow smile and heavily lined eyes, but her excitement about the evening shines through. She welcomes and introduces fellow Dragpunk, Lilith.
Lilith looks like she’s stepped straight out of your MySpace top friends from 2004. She’s dressing up a cinched and contoured club kid look with buckets of kimo-kawaii accessories. A dynamic routine to Blood on the Dance Floor’s ‘Candyland’ sets the tone (and the pace) for the night. Strobe lights illuminate her backcombed wig.
Eva Lution follows, serving a look described by Cadaverous as “glamour granny”. Her glamour is certainly timeless, as she performs the evening’s most articulate lip sync to ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’. Lution’s floor length gown ripples across the stage. It looks effortless, but the costume designer and fashion student later confirms that it was sewn by her own fair hands. When the music switches to Def Leppard, Lution shrugs the gown to the floor. She reveals fishnets and thigh high boots. This girl is no granny.
Ginny Lemon brings a change of pace to the stage next. Some may remember Lemon from an appearance on ITV’s X Factor in 2017, or perhaps from her regular turn as a host at The Village Inn on Hurst Street. Either way, her face is not one you’ll forget in a hurry. Looking like the bastard daughter of Marge Simpson and Velma from Scooby Doo, Lemon emerges from the DJ booth gesticulating along to Tori Amos’ ‘Sugar’ followed by ‘Candy Shop’ by Madonna. These go down like a delicious citrusy treat with the crowd, but her original composition (an a cappella ode to biscuits) is even better.
After a short interval, the room fills again for Mama Mamba. The 2017 winner of Church of Yshee has set the bar high. She perches on the side of the stage, legs bound into a mermaid tail. The room goes quiet. ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid fades in.
Mamba flirts with the crowd, winking and pouting throughout the lipsync while she’s photographed. She checks her flawless makeup in a shell-shaped mirror and combs a fork through her turquoise hair. Slowly, she pulls herself up onto her fins and shimmies out of the tail, flaunting the best bum on Birmingham’s drag scene. Mamba struts across the stage in a iridescent miniskirt, and when the song reaches its falsetto climax she gleefully removes her seashell bra to reveal matching nipple tassels. It’s what Walt Disney would have wanted.
A new face on the local scene, Stormy Carl’s creator describes her as “a messy woman zoomed in on.” She wears a pink satin slip which clashes against her emerald curls. If you look down, pink stripy socks peep out the top of her platform sandals. Carl has taken the evening’s theme and run with it, crafting a playful mix for her routine that features Aqua, Austin Powers, and a smattering of Spongebob Squarepants dialogue.
She drizzles caramel over herself and throws her sticky dress to the ground, untangling it from her feet as the room takes in her pink paisley bikini. Her athletic, chaotic routine leaves the crowd wondering where she’s been hiding.
“Drag at its core, to me anyways, is just about playing dress up,” explains Carl. “Historically it was a way to entertain and escape from society. You can be ANYONE in drag: yourself, an egg, a celebrity, or just whatever you perceive as beautiful. I like to take the idea of ‘woman’ that society has constructed and just times it by 100.”
Nora Virus opens the third and final set of the evening. A key player in Birmingham’s club kid community, Virus is a part of the Opulence collective and founder of another new drag event coming to Birmingham, Mother’s Meeting. Wearing a cropped, tie dye t-shirt and candy floss pink wig, she delights in completely desecrating ‘Pure Imagination’ from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Beckoning fellow artist Liam Layland from the crowd, Virus invites him to reach inside the large, plush doughnut strapped around her waist and try his luck. What follows can’t be repeated here, but it ends with them skipping off stage together to the tune of ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’.
Self-described ‘burlesquer and activist’, Petite, is a bundle of cardigan and big frothy petticoats. She dances to Jackie Wilson’s fitting ‘Reet Petite’, grinning at the crowd. This saccharine tone quickly dissolves when ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ starts playing for the second time this evening.
Petite takes this more literally than Eva Lution did and strips down to lingerie before liberally pouring a whole a bag of Tate & Lyle over her body. When the song’s over, the performers all scrabble to clear the floor of sugar, whipped cream, and cupcake crumbs in time for the final act.
The fourth and final member of the Dragpunk collective, Tacky Alex, is here to close the night. Joined on stage by Stormy Carl and Mama Mamba for a choreographed routine to Katy Perry’s ‘California Girls’, Alex begins pulling audience members up to join them. After the show, Amber Cadaverous picked this out as the highlight of her night.
“It felt so silly and fun but had a real community vibe and spirit; everyone was laughing and smiling. It just felt so right!“
It seems a fitting ending to a night celebrating the playful and inclusive nature of drag as an art form; everyone left feeling pleased to see the Dragpunk team pull it off.
”There is always something really magic about seeing all your plans come to life,” Cadaverous agrees. “Our ‘Presents’ night is going to be regular throughout the year, each time with a new theme and a production showcasing local and national UK drag of all genders, sexualities and abilities… expect us to release the next theme and line up shortly! As well as our performance night we also run a queer alternative party called I’m Not Okay and our next one of those will be at Birmingham Pride in Nightingales on the Future Stage.
We are also working on some events that will run during the day and outside of club spaces so our fans and friends under 18 will be able to enjoy queer performance art and community based events. Plans include film viewings, drag makeup workshops, drag queen life drawing, open mic performance segments and more!”
For more on the Dragpunk Collective, visit www.facebook.com/dragpunkcollective
For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk