Last night I attended the launch of the Gag Collective. And it was ace.
I haven’t seen drag of this calibre in Wellington since Kneel Halt’s avant avant-garde in the late 1990s.
And what was more surprising to me was a new scene forming around the performers.
Cuba St has changed since the 1990s, when it was full of hippies, alternatives, and unemployed teenagers who had escaped small town New Zealand (that last one was me).
Now, after the bypass and the removal of low rent properties being held by Transit New Zealand, Cuba St has cleaned up its act. ATMs have been installed. Apartments meet code, and the effects of gentrification are being felt.
But Cuba St has a history of nonconformity that seems hard to shake.
The venue for the Gag Collective launch was an unremarkable doorway, one left of San Francisco Bath house. On the first floor is a heterosexual BDSM play space, complete with stocks, crosses, cages and slings. Gag Collective, I’m told, are the first to use this space for a public event.
I don’t know how much they spent on sound and lights, but it was a divine experience, being bathed in multicolored hues, or the staccato of the strobe light.
And so this new club filled with the, mainly Pākehā, 20-somthing denizens of central Wellington. The tumblr generation perhaps? Certainly not faces I’ve ever seen at the gay bars. Some were cross dressing, some were bioqueens, some were just dishy young men at the height of the sexual prowess. Studio 54?
And the crowd was so damn nice. I’m from the old-school of clubbing, where you put on your best frock, stand by the bar posing, and making sure everyone sees your platinum VISA. In my day clubbing was about status, and cool. This scene was full of wide eyed wonderment, and I had to drop my posing-façade, because there were no scornful arrows to defend myself from.
This gave me hope, as I have seen, over the last 10 years, more and more of the original Cuba St scene being forced out by rising rents. And this new crowd, the privileged millennial, well heeled, and well behaved, have got money to spend and an appetite for drag. Who’s children are they? Are their parents senior policy analysts and lawyers? Or are they refugees from provincial New Zealand, seeking the tolerance of the city.
On reflection I don’t know why this is surprising to me, my own online success should have been a clue that there is a local audience. But most of what I do is so virtual, and my feedback is though various analytic dashboards. To be in a club, face to face with fans, was really something. It seemed I was Facebook friends with most of the room.
I hope Gag Collective grab hold of this new scene that is orbiting their newly born constellation of drag stars.
As for the performances, they was stunning, it captured the edginess of a new scene as audience and MC bantered. It was standing room only (and chairs were in short supply), and so people (myself included) started to sit around, adding to the blurring between stage and audience, creating a reality distortion that was transcendent.
I can’t do a blow by blow account of all of the acts, because I got home at 4am and it’s taking all of my strength to set up this new blog and bash out this typo ridden quasi-review. And I’m doing it because Gag Collective deserves to be chronicled online. For it’s freshness, it’s wit, it’s mastery of the dragly arts and for giving this space-queen the biggest thrill she’s had in quite some time.
Not only that, Gag Collective makes me proud to be in Wellington in 2016, and gives me a reason to stick around to see what they’ll come up with next.