Coming up to its fifth season, Her Upstair’s Not Another Drag Competition is always a highlight. So this year, Loverboy decided to sponsor it! Loverboy’s very own drag queen John Brock aka Taylor Trash spoke with NADC’s HBIC, Meth.
Her Upstairs has been open over a year. Who’s idea was it?
It was mine and George’s while we were very drunk and running Pride at Bloc Bar. We said “We should do it for our fucking selves!” So that’s the story in a nutshell, me and George drunk. The moral of the story is don’t drink.
The bar recently won an innovation award at the Boyz awards 2018. How do you feel about that?
It was an incredibly pleasant surprise. It’s the first time they have ever decided to give an award like that – it’s one that’s decided by the editorial team and not by public vote – and it was really quite heartwarming as Boyz cater largely for the mainstream. It was a night where most of the community was there to support each other. I don’t even know where the award is anymore! I think it’s in my dressing room somewhere buried under my wigs and lashes.
The staff and performers at the venue are like a family. How do you keep such a close knit family?
Corporal punishment. We function like any sort of family. We squabble and us parents have to pull the boot straps out on the kids, and there are times when the kids pull the parents up. We aren’t perfect in this situation but we are quite honest with each other. We endeavour to communicate with each other at all times and just know what we stand for as a family.
Some people say the venue is cliquey. What do you say to them?
I think everyone says that about EVERY venue. Yes, every venue will have a core group of people who work for them frequently. It is the nature of queer, drag spaces and the families they form around them. But if we were to write down every single event we have had in the last 18 months, or write down every single performer we have had, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a venue that has such a diverse range of artists that have appeared.
Is it difficult to maintain a sense of responsibility for the community and also run a viable business?
Financially, you can’t run a space 24/7 on queer nights. They tend to not have very much money and the pool of people, both performers and audiences, is much smaller. So yeah, you do have to have a mix of more mainstream nights. I don’t see what’s wrong with trying to create a scene that’s viable to as much of the spectrum of our community as possible. We are venue owners but we can’t be responsible for everyone who walks through our doors.
This is the 5th season of NADC. What made you want to start your own drag competition?
I did originally pitch it to the Familyyy Fierce when we were doing every Thursday at Bloc Bar and I thought it would be quite good if each family member had a different week where they showed a different skill or performance style and we all rotated as judges and winners would get spots at our shows. Rightfully so to them, a lot of them weren’t up for the idea so I just decided to do it myself. It’s very easy for people to keep practising looks, which I think is amazing, but you can’t practice performance in your bedroom because you need an audience…you need a stage! My drive was to provide that sort of ‘intense bootcamp’ where people could really explore what they can do as a performer.
What can we expect from season 5?
More Kings than we have ever had before! Each season we get a more and more diverse range of bodies and forms of drag styles. There is everything from ‘femme-real’ to genderfuck and some amazing Kings coming in. I feel like it has moved on from being about ‘newcomers’, to being people who have been doing it for a year and are ready to go from that to really push themselves.
Head Judges in the past have been Virgin Xtravaganzah (Seasons 1, 2 and 3) and Vanity Von Glow (season 4). Past Season 5, will you mix up the head judge going forward as you welcome Lilly Snatchdragon for season 5?
YES! We have guest judges every week who are different but I don’t want any contestants to be too comfortable because they can figure out what certain judges will like (Lilly LOVES a rhinestone). Not that competitors should be catering to what the head judge wants. Every week contestants are given a challenge and there is a master class as well from an industry professional whose skills match the challenge of the week.
Whilst the themes of each week are pretty much set, the twists for the challenge are different again. I think it is very valuable to be able to think so quickly and instantly. I mean, five days to turn around a look and a performance is terrifying and some of the best stuff has come out of it.
I think we definitely need a voice like Lilly’s who is so experienced in the world of burlesque and drag. She was recently awarded the number one spot in 21st Century Burlesque UK list, and I think she was 31 in the overall world prize? She is amazing and you know… she has lived her life as a woman of colour. I think those experiences are very valuable. We are getting more and more female identified bodies, more people of colour applying with every season and I think it is important they see themselves represented on the judging panel.
Previous winners have gone on to walk in London Fashion week, open their own Edinburgh fringe show and win Drag Idol UK. What is it that you look for in a winner in your competition?
I don’t go into the competition looking for a winner. I go into it wanting to see each contestant push and challenge themselves. I am impressed by people who have come second, third, fourth, fifth, twelfth as I am people who have won. I mean, this one called Taylor Trash even she is doing alright. Some of our biggest success stories are not the winners.
What do you hate contestants doing?
Being safe. Making mess – unless it’s absolutely integral to the piece. I always encourage people to not focus on the negatives and to learn from them. Not go “Oh I am shit at this”, and yeah, you might be, but what can you learn from that! *laughs* And it’s ok to say “I am shit at something!” Its not beneficial for people to wallow in it.
What do you love contestants doing?
Taking risks, believing in themselves. I like being surprised. We are in the 5th season and we have seen a lot but I still continue to be surprised every season. I have been in this industry for 10 years so to surprise me is quite a feat but you know, people still do it!
You can see Meth every week at Her Upstairs in Camden hosting Not Another Drag Competition every Monday until 04/06/2018 and every Friday at Her Upstairs with special guests for FML.