“Drag can be resistance through radical joy”

Billie Manning

The Spice Girls might be reuniting, but DENIM is the queer pop girl band on everyone's lips. Currently taking over the world with their triple threat talents of singing, dancing and comedy all rolled into one mind-blowing stage act, the band, made up of members Glamrou La Denim, Aphrodite Greene neé Jones, Crystal OBE, Elektra Cute & Shirley DuNaughty are to grace the Soho Theatre stage once more for a limited run this autumn.

We caught up with Tom Rasmussen, AKA Crystal OBE, to chat about the state of drag politics present and future, where to experience drag in London, and of course, the Spice Girls. Crystal even made an appearance to put the record straight on the band's future appearances.

Image: DENIM via Facebook

London Calling: How did you form DENIM?
Tom Rasmussen: We met at university, and there was no real queer scene, so we had the idea to create a club night. Over time, the five of us gelled and decided to make a girl band called DENIM. We left uni and came to London about five years ago and ever since we have been doing live shows all about the plights and joys of being a globally famous girl band.
LC: Two of your members are heterosexual men, which is unusual. A lot of people believe only certain types of people can do certain types of drag, or do drag at all.
TR: Anyone of any gender can do any type of drag they want to do, but drag is obviously born out of a need for space for queer people, so if you’re going to be consuming space and you are, say, cis and heterosexual, like the two people in our group, you have to work doubly as hard. You have to be an amazing ally and you have to de-centre yourself. As long as you work really hard and you examine your position in the structural hierarchy of the world, you absolutely should be able to do drag and be celebrated for that.
Image: Ellen Pearson

LC: How excited are you for your run at Soho Theatre?
TR: We’re so excited! We did a run here in January already and it’s such a wonderful place to perform, they really do take care of us. Soho Theatre has housed and produced so many amazing artists so we’re very lucky to have our show recognised. It’s nice to be contributing to some culture within Soho, which is rapidly becoming the Muriel’s Kitchen of central London!
LC: Do you think it’s important that drag is challenging?
TR: I think drag can be resistance through radical joy. As a queer non-binary person myself, by being given a space, by being celebrated, watched – and paid properly! – it makes you feel like you aren’t being erased.
My friend is a drag queen in Blackpool and her drag club just got shut down. Her drag isn’t political, but actually to get in drag in Blackpool at all – where it is very difficult to be a visibly queer person – is a radical political act. But we’re lucky enough to have a place to perform, a director and rehearsal room booked for us. So it’s not enough to just get on stage and sing some songs. It’s absolutely our responsibility to be challenging and questioning. So I think drag should be challenging, but that depends on its context.
LC: What can old and new fans expect from the show?
TR: Well there’s still live singing, five-part harmonies, and more dancing. But last year was an introduction; this year we took it a step further. It’s more emotionally raw, for me personally anyway. I don’t want to give it away but I’m going somewhere I never thought I’d want to go. So it’s more emotive and a bit more politically charged, but still with this wonderful cape of pop and mainstream cheese.
LC: Who’s your ultimate 90s icon?
TR: Céline Dion, but she’s my constant icon so I can’t put her into a decade, it’s always Céline Dion.
LC: If each of you were a member of the Spice Girls, which one of you would be Geri Halliwell and selfishly break up the band?
TR: Oh, definitely me. No, I would never break up the band, but I am Geri - we fit quite nicely into the Spice Girl tropes. Shirley’s Baby, Glamrou’s Sporty, Electra’s Scary and Aphrodite’s Posh.
LC: What are your favourite places to see drag in London?
TR: Go and see the Shay Shay show! Their work is amazing; it’s the most cutting edge drag and their nights are always about community. And come to see DENIM! That’s where the best drag in London is. No, but support your local queen, you know – look up drag brunches in London, tip them well, be aware of how you’re taking up that space. Enjoy yourself, but don’t be a dick. That’s how to experience drag in London.
Image: Ellen Pearson

We also managed to snag five minutes with Crystal OBE herself, in between her appointments with various presidents, of course.
LC: Any other plans for world domination after Soho Theatre?
Crystal OBE: We’ve just been on a global tour, so really we wanted to take time off. We’ve played Madison Square Gardens, we’ve played Twickenham, we’ve played Milton Keynes Bowl and really what we’re doing with Soho Theatre is giving back to the fans, letting them see us up close and personal. It’s the smallest venue we’ve played in 50 years. After that I think we’ll be going back on the road. We’ll be headlining Glasto next year.
LC: Coachella too, I assume?
Crystal: Well actually, we’ve done Coachella 6 times already, so we want to give someone else a chance, you know?

Denim: The Reunion Tour, 14 Nov - 1 Dec, Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE

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