What were the greatest turn ups in history?
The Bacchanalia seems like it would have been fun if a little freaky. The Egyptians definitely knew how to have a good time–after all, they did send their dead royalty off with an afterlife’s supply food and booze. And politics and blatant disregard for the brutal realities of peasant life aside, you just know Marie Antoinette used to blackout and scream along to whatever the 18th century equivalent of “Wonderwall” was.
To this list of historical blowouts, I’d submit this date for inclusion: Monday, February 27, 2017. Monday night, in the belly of the newly renovated Neumos, Cakes da Killa, Mykki Blanco, and a host of local performers threw Seattle an enormous, kaleidoscopically diverse party. It was the kind of thing we need more now than ever.
The performance was part of Mykki’s and Cakes’ aptly named North American “Stunt Queen Tour” in support of Blanco’s recent self-titled debut LP. Blanco and Cakes are two of the most highly regarded artists working within the queer hip hop movement/genre (there’s considerable debate about what exactly “queer hip hop” is, and even whether the label should be used at all), though stylistically they differ substantially. Cakes traffics in up-tempo dance rap-lyrically dexterous and delightfully crass- like Lil’ Kim if she were more fun and had spent substantial time walking in balls. Mykki Blanco, the stage name of Michael Quattlebaum Jr., spends less time at the club and more time in the ether. Blanco is a persona and a conceptual musical project that uses rap as her primary idiom but borrows heavily from the realms of poetry, punk, and performance art–Vaginal Davis meets The Haxan Cloak meets Kevin Aviance. Blanco’s music has morphed from the early experimental hip-hop and heavily electronic music of their early-2010s EPs. Mykki Blanco, by contrast, is an elegantly crafted set of songs that utilizes everything from orchestral avant-rap to catty ballroom house tracks to explore self-hatred, violence, and queer desire.
The first major point of interest in the night was the chance to explore the remodeled Neumos. For those who’ve been unaware, the popular Capitol Hill venue has been closed since January for renovations. This concert was one of the first events produced in the new space. Overall the reaction to the updates seemed positive. The wall that (strangely) divided the upper levels has been removed, thank heavens, and the new floor/disco ball combo gives the main performance space a roller rink vibe. You can’t go wrong with a roller rink vibe.
Rather than a single local opener, the gay deities (read: producers) gifted us with a mini drag show. The takeaways were predictable for anyone who pays any attention to drag in this town; Butylene O’ Kipple is great and criminally underrated. Jade Dynasty will vogue you under the house, under the pavement, under the very crust of the earth and then she will collect all your money in return. James Majesty has a nice wig. Business as usual. Additionally, the tremendous DJ talents of DJ Sissy Elliott (THAT NAME) kept the momentum going between sets–impromptu voguing commenced whenever there was nobody onstage.
Next was Cakes, who, coasting on the overwhelming power of his stage presence, could have read a Teriyaki menu and managed to be engaging. As a very sweaty person, it was truly astonishing to watch somebody seem cute while mopping off their face with a towel. He exploded on to the stage, “SOUND GUYYYYY! My sound isn’t working! You’re embarrassing me in Seattle.” Later, after blowing through his hits (“Goodie Goodies,” “New Phone (Who Dis),” “I Run This Club”) he prefaced an unreleased song–no title was given, but I assume “Have We Fucked Before” is close–by announcing, “This is new. If ya’ll don’t like it you can turn around.” No need to warn us, though. Everyone loved it.
By the time Mykki took the stage in an oversized camo jacket, a tie-dye Pink Floyd t-shirt and a metallic pink skirt, the room was thrumming. We’d witnessed drag queens! Death drops! Lyrical fireworks! Fabulous femmes in fabulous fashions! WHAT MORE COULD WE EXPECT?? As it turns out, quite a lot.
The polish of Mykki Blanco the album belies the grittiness of Mykki Blanco the person. It’s easy to believe, listening to the string arrangements of “High School Never Ends” that Blanco is some kind of effete rap intellectual. They are not. Watching them live, I remembered the no-holds-barred quality of their early work, the aggressive sonic experimentations of Betty Rubble: The Initiation, and Gay Dog Food. I remembered that Mykki Blanco is punk fucking rock. As first stirrings of “Loner” oozed out of the speakers, they breathed loudly into the microphone and declared, in a voice like broken shale, “You are now in Club Mykki Blanco.” And it seemed like somehow, we were transported.
Blanco’s set was an almost unbroken stream of songs, spoken word, and aggressive antics. They tore at the backing curtains, wailed on audience members with a pillow, humped the air with a spare mic stand between their legs, and, at the end of the night, doused themself in candle wax. They began the night in a teased wig and full face and, by the show’s end, had been reduced to an unrecognizable mess of sweat, dripping eyeliner and wax, the stylized gender signifiers crushed and broken by the power of their unmitigated energy. Not the most elegant visual metaphor one can imagine, but a highly effective one nonetheless. It was a powerhouse performance, one that balanced spectacle, raw energy and musical brutalism in equal measure.
Hot off the heels of our discussion about the need for queer events and venues to create and enforce an atmosphere of radical inclusion, my colleague Nome and I both expressed a wariness about the show beforehand. Our discussion had initially been prompted by a negative experience they’d had the week before at a similar event. The event had taken place at a smaller venue that has traditionally marketed itself as a space for queers, POC, and various artsy, freaky-deaky types. The event resulted in a number of queer people feeling uncomfortable enough in the space that they felt it necessary to remove themself, despite wanting to support the performers.
Mykki and Cakes’ performance could, in my mind, not have been any more different. The room was a blaze of positive energy. Looks were served. People danced themself into a frenzy. The energy was so infectious that both Cakes and Blanco came back out onstage after performing to host impromptu audience performances. It was the kind of party that people remember for a long time. The kind of party that gives you hope, even in these Nickelback fever-dream, garbage pail times.