Much more than just ‘a dude in a wig’, Lorna Irvine catches up with the genre-straddling phenomenon that is Christeene
Queer performance has never been in ruder (some may say filthier) health right now. From Scottee’s mascara tears, to moreish slices of Le Gateau Chocolat, there is a whole new wave of artists embracing queer culture, who don’t fit into any particular genre, straddling cabaret, live art, music and theatre, eschewing any rigid definitions of their art. From Austin, Texas, performer Paul Soileau, aka Christeene Vale, is a prime example of this. Not some mindless drag act, at the heart of Christeene lies a plea for tolerance of LGBTQI people everywhere; part deep-fried Southern grotesque, part loving homage to the strength and resilience of the women in Soileau’s family.
As Soileau explains: ‘A lot of earlier characters and things were more traditional, y’know, and I was kind of in a state of mind where I wanted something more dangerous, something like a switchblade, where I could address some things that were brewing inside of me that were more aggressive, ugly, but coming from a musician’s stance on a stage rather than just MCing or a traditional form of drag.’
Many critics have pigeonholed Christeene as female, but Soileau insists that Christeene is neither male nor female. ‘It’s definitely an adventure, in terms of maneouvering around the gender of it all. People are quick to call Christeene she rather than he – I wanted to draw a line there, where it’s merely the performer, just Christeene. Christeene has taken on an almost mythological persona. There’s a lot of freedom in that’.
Musically, too, there is a hybrid of styles – a bubbling sonic cocktail of hip hop, punk,R&B and electro. Christeene seems to be drawing from many influences such as art pop provocateur Peaches, the trash aesthetic of John Waters‘ raw early films, psychedelia, and the industrial crunch of Revolting Cocks, the latter of whom Soileau got into in high school. Live, there is a sense of liberation in Christeene’s song lyrics and many audience interactions (with gifts from unexpected places) and a rejection of religious indoctrination and widespread capitalist domination. It’s a call to arms for outsiders everywhere.
This punky spirit has led to other comparisons too. ‘In London,’ Soileau says, ‘I have been told by some of the older gang that it [the show] reminds them of going to see Iggy and Bauhaus, and that’s really nice. It’s bringing some of that energy back. That’s one of the most flattering things I could hear – that’s what I love about coming to Britain.’
Christeene’s recent show at the Latitude festival won some new converts, too. Those who get it, really feel evangelical about the character. Not everyone however has responded so positively. Some places in America are slow to pick up on the subtext and wider messages of the show, and it can be frustrating for Soileau.
‘In America, they like to focus on, “Oh, it’s a dude in a wig”. People don’t always look at the theatricality or the costumes, or the movements of it. It stays at this one level, unless we can get to the academic performative platforms where you are sharing with other artists. I want people to dig deeper, and to archive it,’ he says.
With that in mind, where better than the biggest arts festival in the world for Christeene to spread the word and the sexually charged music? Christeene’s endlessly inventive, well-oiled, ass-shakin’ persona will doubtless win a whole new audience of admirers when new show Trigger rocks up. The Edinburgh Fringe won’t know what’s hit it.