"I know I'm a genius, but some people think I'm shit," says Scottee over a plate of posh chips. "But I love that people hate me, babes."
He's half taking the piss and half deadly serious, but whichever way the 22-year-old performance rebel (and long time Run Riot contributor, we might add) is taking over the capital, one oversized, sequinned bow tie at a time. Brash and fash, he'll confront you with issues to discuss over your fois gras, while being deeply personal and subversively dark. His one-man show, 'Buy A Better You', comes to the Soho Revue Bar on October 24, so we caught up with him to stuff our faces and talk (a lot) about what he thinks about London's performance art scene, why his work means something, and… Lisa Stansfield.
How did you come up with your performances? "I just do, I don't know how. Theatre bores me because it's about 'making up a story' and I think it's far more interesting to show people what is already there. It's about breaking the rules. Instead of having the audience in a theatre, take them into other spaces and explore how they can be used in performance. I totally disregard the whole thing about the 'fourth wall' – not having your back towards the audience – and I also try to break the relationship between audience member, participant and actor. Audiences can't always expect to be entertained – sometimes they should make their own entertainment, and that can in turn by entertaining."
What if the audiences act everything incorrectly? "There's no wrong because the show is what the audience makes it, so there will never be two performances that are the same. But there's never a wrong thing to do because I don't preconceive what I want them to do; there doesn't necessarily need to be a narrative to link them all together."
Who influences you in that way? "It's kind of Shunt Lounge-y, but it's more about this guy called Augusto Boal. He's a South American theatre practitioner and he developed 'Forum Theatre'. It's a bit like 'agitprop', where you engage your audience to become actors, but he calls the audience specta-actors. They would look at a worst case scenario while a joker tries to get them going and questioning right and wrong, asking to be shown what to do, and then the specta-actors show what to do and in doing so become the performers. They become performers with an opinion. Shunt still adheres to a lot of rules. Their early work didn't, but you look at their new stuff and it's all like 'We've got some friends who are aerialists, let's put them up in the air'. It's lost its grit for me. I think they've got Arts Council funding and they've done what everyone does who gets Arts Council funding does and that's tick boxes and think 'Bums on seats'. That's not on my agenda.
What else don't you like about conventional theatre? I think there's a real lack of development bases for performers. There's a place called Arts Admin and I've had so many run-ins with them. They are funded by various different bodies and provide services, training, information and development for live artists, and they have this weekly mail out where they choose a certain selection of work they think is new and interesting and send out to about 30,000 contacts. They denied me for two weeks running when I wanted to publicise my show. And I just sent this really snotty email, like, "How many fat trannies from Kentish Town do you know who are 19-years-old and are producing and directing their own shows, developing the skills of mime, drag, theatre and fringe theatre?"
Why do you think they denied you? Because I don't have drama school training and I didn't go to RADA and do all that. That's the reason I do what I do, because I haven't been mentored into a certain way of thinking, or been institutionalised. In their eyes I'm young, uneducated and doing work that they think has been done before. But on closer inspection, they'd see that I know my references, but I'm not covering any used ground. I'm young, but I'm ahead of my years, and I'm also educated in other ways. But I suppose people only see what they want to see.
Who do they think you're copying? The comparison I get all the time is Leigh Bowery. Just because we're both fat and we wear funny clothes. I worked out why we're different the other day, though: I've always been a performer and I've always wanted to perform and Leigh became a performer. He was a fashion designer first, and then he was more of a musician, so he didn't really perform that much. I think that's one clear difference. I'm also much more political. I think his work was more about shape and perception and wearing clothes, whereas mine is a lot to do with taking off my clothes, gender and body politics. But most people just see fat person that dresses up funny and thinks, 'Oh, it's Leigh Bowery!'
They could also draw comparisons because you both ran cutting edge nightclubs? Yes, we have brought that back, but I think most people use it as a slur. I'm Scottee actually and I'm alive and it's 2008. There's a clear difference.
You do have a very Leigh Bowery-esque outfit on in the video you made at All You Can Eat… But it's made out of paper, some Christmas decorations I found and I just put them all together. The whole point of it was for the outfit to be destroyed throughout the course of the evening and if you compare that to Leigh's work, Leigh would never get anything on his outfits. They didn't have the same punk aesthetic; it was much more a glamour thing for him. Because I know his work inside out I can see how people may think how it's like that. No actually, I can't. I can't see what outfit of his mine is like. So anyone who wears anything spherical is trying to be like Leigh Bowery? I'm just being pedantic because I know his catalogue so much. And yes, little things like it was made and destroyed on the night, and it was made out of paper, and it was covered in jam tarts, make us different.
Do you think you make this explicit enough? I could do, but I quite like annoying people so if they think I'm like Leigh Bowery and think I'm a rip off, then I quite like that attention. I like that people get annoyed and feel the need to voice their opinions.
How did you get into performing? What's your background? I'm originally from the west coast of Northern Ireland. My father was a soldier in Northern Ireland and my mother was Roman Catholic: conflict. So we moved to London and I grew up with both of my parents having major addictions. My mum had food and alcohol and my dad was a coke head basically and that proved to be a turbulent time for me, especially when I was about twelve and they were beating each other up quite regularly, which is quite dark. And I was thinking, 'This isn't what relationships are supposed to be like, I don't think?' So I started voicing my opinion, even though I was always put down for it.
Then I had a partner when I was 14, which was ridiculous. And I got chucked out of school for having a relationship with him. He was the same age, but because I was larger than him people thought I had raped him, when in fact he was quite willing to have sex. So I was taken out of school and I had to talk to the police and then the council came round one day and said they needed to carry out a risk assessment because I had a little brother and he was 'at risk'. All this happened and then I had a nervous breakdown. After that I wasn't re-schooled.
So I was out of education from the age of 14 with no qualifications, nothing. And I didn't know what I wanted to do. My mum was running a day centre for old people and there was a theatre company called Spare Tyre who were working with old people in Camden producing a show about the 1930s and the war and it just so happened that they used my mum's day centre. They needed a runner for production week and they brought me in and thought I was amazing. That show was called 'Same Meat, Different Gravy' and after that had finished one of the company members approached me and said that their next performance was called 'Stinking Pink', at Stratford Circus, and it was a workshop where we're going to do a tour in schools. Then I did the Roundhouse Youth Board and I found the Camden People's Theatre's Youth Theatre. When I was 17 I became CPTYT's company trainee and I worked myself up to company associate. At the same time, at the Roundhouse I became the leader of the Youth Board there and then Hampstead Theatre started to work with me.
But then I thought, 'This is a bit shit actually, I don't know if I want this'. So I became a youth worker, teaching gay young people who had slipped through the net like me to get back into education through drama. Then I kind of disillusioned with that because everything had to be signed off and you couldn't be in the room with a child on their own, which I understand, but there were certain things that they wouldn't want to say in front of other members.
So then I started drinking alcohol and I found nightlife. And obviously the whole Yr Mum Ya Dad thing happened. Buster Bennett who I met in a lesbian pub in Soho and he asked me if I wanted to DJ together. We started Antisocial pretty soon after that because a Saturday night slot at Trash Palace came up. And then Antisocial broke up and decided I wanted to be a performer proper, so Buster and I went our separate ways.
And I've been performing solo for two years. Look at that, the abridged version!
How has all this affected your work? My epitome of female beauty is women in distress. I think women in distress, or women with panda eyes, are really gorgeous. And I think that comes from watching my mum cry and thinking that was quite pretty. I have this obsession with Lisa Stansfield too because my mum would always put on her make-up the same as Lisa Stansfield while listening to Lisa Stansfield, so I thought that that was what normal women were supposed to look like. There's no irony in this at all: I firmly believe she's the beautifullest woman to ever walk this planet. It's strange. My childhood and my background has informed me. With relationships I had to really sort out my family life and I no longer speak to them now because I gave them the opportunity to and said if we talk, we need to talk about what happened in my childhood otherwise I'm going to take this on and I'm going to fuck up the relationship I'm in now, and since I've got rid of that my mental health has been amazing.
I do explore those issues in my work. I wouldn't say what I do is drag, but I always have big panda eyes. I think there's something quite interesting about violent behaviour too. I explore self-harm with another show, 'Lady in Red', where I basically stab myself to death. I like exploring the dynamics of losing love and losing your loved one too. I think when I get older there'll be more of that in my work. But at the moment I think it's more about femininity and my perception on females – it's quite Hitchcock!
Are you the damsel in distress? Yes. I think the more mature I become the more woman I'll become. I've got this really strange idea that I'll become a woman when I'm 50, physically and mentally. I'm mentally quite feminine anyway; I'm quite domestic. But I think there's something great about wearing smocks and shopping at Hampstead Bazaar. That's when I'll think I've made it.
At the moment you seem to do and be everything anyway! Yeah. I'm quite greedy. I host a segment on Queens of Noize's BBC 6 Music radio show, I DJ and I guest DJ quite a bit, I make clothes and I make films that I use in my shows, and I perform as a club performer and a performance artist.
What's the difference? As a club performer you usually do something to music and to help the evening along, whereas as a performance artist you're not always about entertaining. It's more about an experience and it's think-y, thoughtful, takes a longer period of time and is not to a dance track, I suppose.
How helpful has the clubbing scene been to you? Clubbing was my footstool into the performance art realm. I started performing in club because 'proper' places didn't want me. All the places I wanted to work in didn't understand what my mission was. And because there's a lack of alternative performance spaces, I knew I had to have arts funding or I had to go past a hell of a lot of red tape to get a space. It's weird, because there's so much space everywhere, but I needed to get a body of work behind me to get accepted. That's why I did club performances. Clubs lend themselves well to my style, but also they allows me to reach people who weren't necessarily expecting to see some art or to see performance.
Has clubbing become it's own art form? Some clubs are artistic because of the people that run them, but I don't think that nightlife itself has turned into an artistic expression. Also, a club isn't art unless it's engaging. It can be – and Antisocial did make that effort to make clubbing an art form – but I think there are some nights which are two a penny now who think they'll get a VJ in and make their night an arty, cool night, when actually it takes far much more production.
With some clubs, like yours (Antisocial, For3ign! and Issue), it's all about having an 'arty' look… Now there's doing 'a look' and there's wearing a plastic bag on your head. I appreciate the latter, but I notice talent. And someone who really starts to push boundaries and get out of their own comfort zone and put people out of their's, that's when I think 'That's a look! That's art!' I wouldn't necessarily call dressing up art unless it makes me notice it.
How would you define what you do? Are you an artist? I hate the term 'artist', because I don't think I am. I'm a protagonist. An entrepreneur.
Why don't you associate yourself with the alt-drag cabaret scene? If I'm going to be really bold, I think maybe they just don't get me. I've never been let into that circle of people, I don't know why. I've performed at Bistroteque, but it's always been on my own, it's been nothing to do with Johnny Woo, or the LipSinkers, or any of that. I don't call myself drag, but what I do is familiarly seen as drag. It's a question I've asked myself many a time.
Would you like to be let in? No. I don't like to be type cast. And I quite like collaboration: I collaborate with loads of people, so I don't mind sharing the spotlight, as it were, but I'm just not sure that that scene's progressive enough for me. I think it lacks a politic. It's not talking about issues, it's not bringing questioning stuff, it's just men in make-up and boots doing lip-synching. There's no issue work there and I suppose I'm a bit of a socialist and I'm all 'Power for the people, let's cause some revolution, let's cause some uproar'.
So you're a revolutionary? I do want to show people what's going on in the world, because ultimately I would like to run the country, and I do joke to my friends that I am the second coming. Performance art in the Nineties was about going in a white room and, like y'know, blood letting. But then I suppose what I am is between Frank OB letting out blood on the catwalk and Leigh Bowery giving birth to a human baby. One is a bit fickle and talking about how useless men are and one is really too heavy, like THIS IS AN ISSUE. So I think I'm saying, 'This is an issue, but this performance is a bit of fun, let's get involved'.
Do you consider yourself subversive? I don't think I am subversive, I think I show the world exactly what's going on on their doorsteps. They just think it's subversive because they've only just opened their eyes to it.
Do you think you'll ever become mainstream? I haven't become mainstream, because when that happens you water down your act like Paul O'Grady/Lily Savage did, when you take the wig off and become palatable. I don't think I'll ever become palatable. If I do, I won't change anything about my look. I've no aim to lose weight or get on television. Do I even want notoriety? Most performers want their name to live on when they die, but do I want that? What I love about performance is that it's so limited. People can only see my performances if I choose to perform whereas if you're a painter, your paintings can exist for hundreds of years after your life. I could video every performance, but then you'd lose that fact that only a certain amount of people are able to say they've seen you perform.
You do have quite a few videos on YouTube… I get loads of inspiration from YouTube because it's so instant. It's good for finding songs to use as backing tracks or to sing too.
I don't get your Bettie Page video? What's it about? Let me just make up an answer in my head… It's about gender, because it's quite apparent that I'm a boy doing girl things. It's just my perception of what women should be like and because we live in this really cosmetic age and my body doesn't fit into that at all, but I'm still doing these things like applying cream or using Botox. I'm also exploring female masturbation. Bettie looks around and thinks, 'Should I be doing this? Is this right? Can I? Can I? Oh fuck it, I might as well fondle my tits'. I'd say it's a feminist piece because I think I am a feminist. Women are so powerful and men are so weak and boring and so useless that they can't give life to the world.
What do you make of the comments you get under the videos? Some are quite abusive! I love the comments. If people hate me then it means they talk about me for longer. And then fact that I've made someone hate me and made them want to vocalise it to the rest of the world means I've accomplished something. I love negative feedback, because most of the time when people call me a cross-dressing homo weirdo, it's true. Most of the time negative comments are truthful and if you can't accept the truth then, well, you've got a problem!
Are we supposed to 'get' your work? People can take what they want from my work. I'm not like other artists in that I don't have a preconceived answer to what my work is about.
Are you a neo-burlesque fan? No, it's not classy. It's two a penny. It's like, Joan from the Halifax has a weekend off and she's gone down to Harmony and found herself a funny hat and she knows a little swing track that her friend played her and she's like, 'I know what I could do, I could wear sexy lingerie from Ann Summers and take it off really seductively'. It can be really good: Immodesty is at the forefront of what she does because there is an art to her work and no one else can do it. It's about the choreography, it's about the stage, it's about tease, and that dedication is quite nice. If anyone is dedicated to anything, if they're going there full hog then that's a passion and that should be respected. I have a passion and it gets on my tits when people don't respect what I do. But there's so much shit diluting burlesque that it just makes me if I see another burlesque show at the Working Men's club, I am just going to… But that trend is starting to die off, which is really good.
What do you think of the performance art scene in London as a whole? Who do you rate? I think the fringe scene is dire: Venues close down every day. Royal Vauxhall Tavern has a nice feel, but the dressing room is too small. It's just that people are so preoccupied with who has tread the boards there, not by who is treading the boards. Cabaret performance art-wise, there's a really limited amount of work that's good. I love The-O. He's probably one of the only performance artists who I think is good. I love Chycca and I love The-O and I know that's a really small-minded thing to say because we're all friends, but I think that's why we're friends. I like people who are unhinged. Bourgeois & Maurice are amazing too. I've worked with them all but I love them and it's quite natural to collaborate with people whose work you like. No one else really amazes me. I don't even know if I am amazing. I do actually think I'm amazing, that's absolute bullshit.
Why are you not afraid of speaking your mind? I am not here to make friends and I am not excited by shit. So if I think something's rubbish I'll say it's not my cup of tea. That's a trait people need to adopt more of, and when you've got that then you've got something to build from. I do moan a lot, but I can moan about performance art because I'm doing performance art. I'm a bit like a gay Ruby Wax – I don't mind calling people on things.
Scottees one-man show, 'Buy A Better You', comes to the Soho Revue Bar on Friday, 24th October.
For more information about Scottee, go to: http://www.scottee.co.uk
Step back nine decades to a time when nightlife was alluringly illicit. Forget oversized tee shirts and spandex leggings – dinner jackets and luxurious gowns beaded to within an inch of their thread count were the only club wear of choice. Long evenings were spent soaking up dazzling chorus girls and blue comics or, across the Atlantic, trying to find the savviest speakeasy bulging with liquor while dodging the police. Welcome to the golden era of cabaret.
Cabaret was a global affair. In America the Prohibition era of the '20s birthed the 'nightclub' and its seedy entertainment, which was said to bolster the clubs' legitimacy in the eyes of the law. But according to Susan Waggoner's 'Nightclub Nights', by the 1930s, "Nightlife's salvation was the concept of pairing cheap grub with a splashy revue," resulting in an excess of entertainment to suit each themed big-name club, from the Copacabana to the Latin Quarter. Over in France, they were early starters; their cabaret scene grew from the variety shows at famous music halls like the Moulin Rouge in the late 19th century.
But it was the post-World War One climate of Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s where the performance and nightlife scenes were the most free and expressive. Berlin was the epicentre of bawdy after dark performance. In his 2007 book 'Berlin in the 20s', Rainer Metzger reflects, "These were the years of undisguised androgyny; of redefining the roles of men and women; and of constantly changing sexual preferences…paraded in a desire to shock and entice."
Censorship had ended with the demise of the Kaiser and Germany experienced a new and intoxicating liberalism, allowing artists of all kinds and all sexualities to exercise a scathing brand of satire. Cultural commentator at the time, Christopher Isherwood, dubbed it a "sexual underworld" until the Nazis clamped down on the scene when they came to power in the late 1930s. In his review of Mel Gordon's collection of Weimar smut, 'Voluptuous Panic', Stephen Lemons recalls, "A snapshot of Berlin between the world wars includes nudist magazines devoted entirely to children; glittering cabaret shows parading acres of sweaty, perfumed female flesh; and an endless supply of cafes, bars and private clubs catering to gay men, transvestites, lesbians and sadomasochists." Think Marlene Dietrich, art deco architecture, cloque hats and Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the scene starts to take shape.
It is this sexual liberation and sharp, satirical tongue (not child pornography, mind) that has captured the imagination of today's hip cabaret slingers in London. Fast forward a century and Weimar Germanys' cabaret is experiencing a renaissance, taking its cues from this dark period via the dazzle and jazz of New York in down town Vauxhall, London's gay epicentre.
Dusty Limits, aka 36-year-old Brisbane-born Mark McInnes, runs his night Kunst (formerly Kabarett) here at subversive performance art's spiritual home, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It is, he claims, a bohemian hang out where anything can happen – but it wasn't always that way. "I moved to London because I thought there'd be an amazing cabaret scene, but there was next to nothing," says Limits, "There was the sequinned dinner jackets type of cabaret, but nothing to shock the bourgeoisie."
Ten years down the line and its popularity has exploded. "In the Myspace world we live in people are genuinely shocked by something that can talk to them," he muses. "There's a huge demand for live gigging now and this has spilled over into other night time entertainment. Plus it's about dressing up, getting your Marcel wave on and and feeling like part of the show. You can be part of the whole package even if you've got an office day job."
New York, he assures, is even more drained of the alternative. "Cabaret never died in the US but it is just songs from the shows with off-Broadway performers – what I call 'sequinned jacket' cabaret. There are no politics in it all. It's awful; it's such a betrayal of everything that cabaret was, which was potentially a genre that people could be subversive in. You know that something was good if the Nazis tried to stop it," Limits laments. "The critics hated my show at the famous Don't Tell Mamas in the Big Apple. They said it was dirty. For them, cabaret was about people moving him with moving renditions of moving Steven Sondheim songs, not challenging their values and pastiching their behaviour."
That's why, he believes, the Weimar-era cabaret renaissance has found its spiritual home in London. Like Berlin was at the time, "London is the creative and artistic centre of the world. The culture coming out of here is extraordinary. You can go out on any night of the week and see something incredible. I did a crazy one-man performance of a wedding in February, which wouldn't have worked in many places, but people were queuing for half an hour to get in!"
Conversely, he believes that London's sticky politics are a driving force behind the cabaret revival. Limits draws comparisons with Weimar-era Berlin's political climate. He says, "Under the Kaiser, censorship was 100 per cent and entertainment was purely to go on about how great Germany and the Kaiser was. If you wrote a song that seemed to make fun of the Kaiser you got thrown in prison. After WW1, the law became incredibly relaxed and suddenly you could smoke a cigar out of your pussy onstage and sing songs that were scabrously satirical.
"Today, we're incredibly blessed in that we live in a very liberal and wealthy culture but as soon as the cash cow runs out everyone's politics will be out the window. Politics now is genuinely terrifying. This government is becoming increasingly intolerant and it's only a matter of time before if becomes incredibly controlled. If there is an art form that allows people to swim against the current, it's cabaret – audiences want to see truthful performers with no biased agendas."
Predictably, controversial performance artist Empress Stah springs to mind. "Empress Stah fucking herself on stage is a very political act and if one person in the audience that nights feels a bit differently about the world afterwards, down the line that might make them question something else. It's a tenuous link, I know, if you can just go out there and shake people up a little bit, it can have a positive knock on effect."
With songs in his repertoire like 'I Hope (Your Children Die of Cancer)', which, he insists, has nothing to do with children dying but is a pisstake of Hugh Grant, and 'Beaucoup de Lifting', it's clear that Limits himself is well on his way to rubbing London up the wrong way too – and we're all the better for it. Bring on the verboten!
Dusty Limits hosts Kunst at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London, on September 26.
Where is the Weimar now? Dusty Limits runs down his favourite performers.
Bourgeois & Mauricewww.myspace.com/bourgeoisandmaurice Heavily painted pianist/vocalist duo who look like the product of Lily Allen and Boy George and do dark, theatrical and acerbic cabaret inspired by art school, Hoxton trendonistas and new rave.
The Germaniaxxwww.germaniaxx.com Anglo-German comedy duo who sing traditional German cabaret anthems and style their performance on musical theatre and slapstick routines in Blackforest hats.
Amanda Palmerwww.myspace.com/whokilledamandapalmer One half of Boston band The Dresden Dolls, Palmers's spooky vocals and Dietrich looks are sehr Weimar and her solo career drives her down the cabaret track even further.
Diamanda Galàswww.diamandagalas.com To Dusty she is one of the world's most important and subversive singers. She's technically extraordinary, a brilliant pianist and almost too impossible to listen to as she's so emotionally intense.