Yo! Sissy: a festival blurring the lines between audience and performer, the personal and political, art and gender. Here is a review of all that happened at this year’s juiciest international queer festival, including an exclusive photo report by Dánae Cuesta.
When I first moved to Berlin, about 5 months ago, a friend of mine took me to a place called Monster Ronsons, a karaoke bar located alongside Berlin’s famous long bustling street Warschauer Strasse. Walking in, all I can remember was seeing a tall, platinum blonde, hair-chested looking woman, underneath a pink transparent evening gown, gleaming fiercely through the spotlight as she stood next to a dancing pole. Venting about her anxieties of going back home for Christmas but how nonetheless we should all be happy we have mothers because whoever they may be, they did a hell lot of work to get us out of their vaginas, little did I know back then that was to be Pansy, the Drag Queen persona of Parker Tilghman, a performance artist and head of Berlin’s renowned drag house the House of Presents. Alongside Scout Wölfli, Parker and him make the core founders and organizers of Yo! Sissy, Berlin’s international queer music festival that just happened for the third time in a row last weekend, from Friday till Sunday morning, the 28th and 29th of July.
“Yo! Sissy is not a festival with one style, one genre or one scene, but it aims to a create a space for all people to be their fabulous selves while supporting emerging queer artists with the stages they deserve” lays the festival’s opening statement. As I came for this year’s Yo! Sissy I couldn’t help but notice anything more true. All around me stood beautiful people of all genders and orientations, dressed up in their most extravagant selves, respecting and loving one another and those who came to perform for them on stage. At some point behind me I heard someone say “everybody here looks like they’re somebody.” – which, for me, represents exactly the essence of Berlin and its inhabitants. The imagery felt like an urban version of fantasia candyland, with colorful inflatable canes and especially two particular Queens whose illusion brought me to the dream of Mexican pinatas that definitely got me feeling their fantasy. This Berlin-based DIY project based on community and volunteer support to create spaces and representations for the LGBTQI couldn’t have come stronger this year.
One could really see how the festival paves way for both established and emerging queer artists alike. In this year’s lineup one could find renowned artists such as Berlin-based British singer Planningtorock together with 97’ electroclash classic, Chicks on Speed, as well as Hercules and Love Affair vocalist Shaun J. Wright performing as a solo artist alongside Alinka, another established DJ from Chicago. At the same time one could also find more local and amateur-like emerging performers like Fatma from Islamiq Grrls or Afro-futurist goddess Rebecca Ubuntu coming all the way from the U.K., or one of the audience’s ultimate favorites, MIKEY, a talented musician and fashionista prominent in Berlin’s nightlife circles.
Amongst the drag performances, I loved how the festival mixed up more experienced drag performers like those of The House of Presents with more amateur acts, such as Faux Real and the Real Housewives of Neukoelln, who all performed alongside each other on the same stage, Labryssa’s Labyrinth, outdoors on Saturday evening. The program began with a performance by Faux Real, an amateur and much younger group of performers in Berlin, whose work are exclusive to female, trans and non-binary artists. From the beginning it was clear that they were baby-drags, the shakiness in their voice and hands clearly said that. Yet, that did not diminish the entertainment of their performance. In much opposite, it enhanced it, making it more charming as one saw as an act of bravery to get out there and perform in disregard of their experience. Favorites of the night was definitely Gieza Poke, a veteran from the House of Presents, wearing a tight black latex bodysuit reading in a hilarious, thick Scottish accent a chapter of her new book “Memoirs of a Gieza,” and later that evening Ida Entity from The Real Housewives of Neukoeln singing a very own heartfelt version of Whitney Houston’s hit “I Can’t Live Without You” as “I Didn’t Cum”. Classic.
On Saturday, the second day of the festival, a free-to-all daytime program called “Marketplace” took place where one could come check out different workshops and stands of local queer businesses, as well as get free HIV and STD testing which adds a double plus to Yo! Sissy’s aim for inclusivity. What I also found amazing about that day was that you could really see how performers and audiences engaged freely with each other, exchanging smiles, greetings and even phone numbers. I remember having a brief but intense conversation with Viva Ruiz, a NYC based musician who openly revealed undergoing two abortions during her performance the night before – you’ve probably heard of her in the unforgettable track “This Bitch is Alive” by The Carry Nation, also an act at this year’s Yo! Sissy. Even though she was wearing a shiny plastic cape that made her look like some sort of a scandalous superhero, allowing herself to be so openly honest and vulnerable on stage made her appear in fact, human. And I loved that. At Yo! Sissy, most performers actively chose to bring the personal on stage. Although I’m not an active member in the queer community, having been able to experience that was enough to make me feel invited, as if already I was part of something. If there is one thing that makes Yo! Sissy truly special it is exactly that; the fact that it projects the feeling that no matter who you are or where you come from, in the end we are all in this, fighting while dancing for whatever it is, together.
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