Interview: Amrou Al-Kadhi

Amrou is the founder and one fifth of the company Denim, a quintet of Drag Queens who will be performing their new show at the Vault Festival, London, this spring.  I caught up with him this week to talk about gender subversion, gentrification and what Denim have got in store for their audiences this February.

Interview: © Amie Taylor 2016 (@spoonsparkle)

AT:  Perhaps you could start this morning by telling us a little bit about Denim, how you formed as a company and how you met one another …

AA:  Denim started in my second year when I was at Cambridge University. There was only one gay night there, but it wasn’t very good; it wasn’t that interesting or exciting or transgressive, so I decided to rent out some cellars and invite some people along.  It wasn’t specifically a gay night, it was just for anyone who wanted to explore their gender or transgress their gender for the night.  I hired a microphone, got my queer friends together who are performers as well and advertised it.  It was amazing because 400 people came on the first night, so there was clearly this thirst for it.  And the second year 800 people came down to the Cambridge Union which was really wonderful for us because it was in such a historic space, it was wood-panelled, so it felt like we were really subverting tradition in Cambridge.  It’s the same place where they hold the ball,  which is a black tie event,  so to be able to do drag there was brilliant.  And then that spurred us on to try and figure out  how to use drag and queer  [performance] in mainstream or heteronormative spaces, subverting them from within. So not having excluding the mainstream, or labelling the space gay as such but creating a place that everyone could revel in.

AT:  How many of you are there in the Denims?

AA:  It’s now five Queens, and we basically perform a theatrical piece, kind of a musical theatre, comedy night.  We like to model ourselves on a girl band like Little Mix, that mainstream pop look, but then we subvert it from within.

AT:   And had you done drag before you started The Denims?

AA:  In a way. When I was at a boys school I would always be cast as the leading lady in the school play.  I mean I come from an Eastern household so I never had the opportunity at home, but middle eastern women, without realising have such excessive drag aesthetics, really lavish costumes – very drag, yet very conservative at the same time.  So when I was growing up, I would be in awe of my mother was wearing, but wasn’t allowed to wear it myself. When I went to Cambridge, away from home and away from the pressures of parents watching over me, I thought – ‘I’m going to do it’, so I went on Ebay and bought some heels and some wigs.

AT:  And your show ‘Denim’ is on as part of The Vaults Festival –

AA: Yes, it’s a new show, completely new concept –

AT:  About space?

AA: Yes, we were interested in the word ‘space’ and what’s happening to queer space at the moment, in London, with Soho gentrifying so quickly and queer London losing its space.  So it’s a play on that.  The idea is that because this space is dying, we have to go in to space, to find a new queer planet to call our home. Also, it’s been a year of space films, so there’s been a lot of stuff to parody.

AT: What can audiences expect to see if they come to see your show, Denim, at the Vaults Festival and what kind of night will they have?

AA:  Uplifting. They can expect to be moved, while laughing throughout.  And also, to laugh at themselves. The whole point of Denim is that we use an aesthetic that’s really recognisable so that people feel comfortable and it’s friendly – it’s almost PG in a way. And when it does get to the more political stuff, it comes in an atmosphere that already feels comfortable.

AT: Do you have a specific audience in mind when you make the work?

AA: We try not to prescribe an audience, but it’s definitely not ‘gay-exclusive’, it’s open to everyone and it’s to show that gender-subversion, and that alternative view of identity is open to everyone.

AT:  And what’s been your favourite Denim gig so far?

AA: We did Glastonbury with Florence and the Machine this summer, that’s was quite different to what we usually do.  It took place in the gay area of Glastonbury, on the day of Pride. It was a really moving moment; it wasn’t filmed, and Florence had kept it a secret, so it felt like something really alternative was happening at Glastonbury while everyone else was still watching Kanye or whatever. Another favourite is a show we did last year called ‘Breaking the USA’, it was about the Denims and a girl band trying to make it in the States, and failing, obviously, because America has strict rules on what success is. That was so much fun.

AT: Can you describe the show in six words?

AA: Surprising, Accessible, Hilarious, Moving, Uplifting and Irreverent.

AT:  Is there anything else we should know about before we wind up today?

AA:  Yes, if you like the show, we’re doing a party half way through the run with Time Out, for 500 people, that will be more like a gig where a big audience will be able to play with make up, and there’ll be loads of different acts – loads of our friends, it’ll be a chance to come and partake in the drag revelry. And also we’d love to raise awareness for the incredible charity Positive East, the funds raised from the Time Out Party will go to them to support the brilliant work they do.

AT:  Thank you so much Amrou, wishing you the best of luck with your run at The Vaults Festival.

You can see the Denims at The Vaults Festival 2016 from 27th Feb – 6th March  Booking: here.

Follow Amrou on Twitter: @Glamrou

And the Denims: @denim_uk



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