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Creating a magazine is no easy feat, but creating a piece of literature that captures the beating heart of a subculture is a true work of art. That’s what we would call Louche Magazine, the brainchild of Drag King Georgeous Michael. The magazine itself is beautiful, it feels weighty and real, and captures intimate and intricate moments between radical drag performers and the audience, an important relationship we’re all missing.

After stocking the first edition in our store, we decided to interview Georgeous Michael about creating Louche, the journey and reasons behind what is printed on the page.

You can also buy Louche via Brother, just click here.

Louche Mag Issue 1

Hi Georgeous Michael, first off, tell us a little about yourself!

I am a drag king, I’ve been doing drag for about 4 years, though it’s been a very quiet year this year because of the pandemic. I am Georgeous Michael, it’s quite a camp fantastical exploration of masculinity and 80s pop stardom. Through doing drag and being involved in the drag scene, especially in London, is how I got the idea to start Louche Magazine.

How would you describe Louche Mag for people who may have never read it?

It’s the UK’s first independent print magazine that covers the full spectrum of drag including performance. It’s very much a DIY grassroots project that comes from my experience in the scene and my idea to document the scene. I guess I’m conscious that as drag performers and as a lot of cabaret performers are, the work is very ephemeral and ‘of the night’ and is subject to being lost. I wanted to create a platform that would archive and document the scene. To think about the ephemeral nature of drag, I think that’s what also makes it so great and also what I’ve really missed in the last year, that live nature and I really do like the experience of being in a space with people and experiencing something that’s of that moment, and in some ways that’s the beauty of it. I’m conscious that as a print magazine it’s not going to necessarily replicate the live experience, but a way of doing a different type of drag.

Georgeous Michael in the flesh

Was there a turning point that made you decide ‘I want to start it now’?

I think I was conscious of watching how drag has become very very popular, specifically moving a bit more into the mainstream, among straight audiences for example and moving outside of being primarily an LGBTQ artform and community practice. With Ru Pauls drag race moving onto Netflix and coming to the UK, that has been very formative in pushing a definition of what Drag is. In some ways it’s been really great as it’s brought drag into a broader audience and allowed lots more people to get involved but it’s also created a bit of a monopoly on what drag is and what drag performers look like. It’s very exclusionary of Drag Kings or performers who aren’t cis men performing as Drag Queens, that’s specific of Ru Paul, who has said comments to that effect. So I was watching as the scene was becoming more popular and as someone who is involved more in the radical drag scene I just wanted to make sure that we had something for us, something that was more representative of what drag is; radial elements, trans performers, non binary performers, performing masculinity, people of colour. The idea is to very much come from the position of artists.

The way you described the monopolisation of the scene is very interesting to me as I am a poet and poetry is having a very similar (though different) moment, and there is definitely a discussion about whether popstars publishing poetry is a good or bad thing for the scene as a whole.

It also brings up stuff around resources, for example popstars releasing poetry books, they have a massive platform anyway and they obviously have the resources to push that through. The same thing happens in drag and it creates a feedback loop. For example, Ru Pauls drag queens are better resourced because of the popularity and fame that comes off that as a project, then they continue to expand and it can further marginalise other performers who don’t have the same resources. It’s something that’s spurred the project, it's important that Louche is a project on its own and operates as its own thing, not as an antithesis.

You said that Louche can act as an archive, considering how much the world has changed over the past year we’re definitely in need of that as going to an intimate show feels so out of our reach at the moment. We don’t know when we’ll be able to do that again or what these small, intimate spaces will look like. It’s as if Louche is historical proof that these spaces exist!

Yeah! I can see it as part of that, for example. I’m really happy the first issue came out when it did because it managed to capture a moment and a vibrancy. I don’t know what the effect of the pandemic will be. A lot of queer spaces have taken a hit in this time, and in some ways the spaces are integral to fostering the scene because without spaces it’s very difficult to create a safe environment for people to do the work they might want to do. I was definitely thinking about Louche as an archiving project when doing it because I felt like it was really hard to find records of drag throughout history so it emerged out of that. Personally I love archives and history, it’s a personal interest of mine generally.
From Louche Magazine: That Ray by Holly Falconer

Is that influenced you to make the magazine a physical thing?

That’s one of the things that influenced the decision to put it out as a print magazine, which is maybe quite a foolish business model! But I think there are some very key assets to something being in print. Firstly, it’s a physical material thing, which is a lot nicer to read, it’s much nicer than reading something on a screen. Also, I think you engage with it in a slightly different way. Secondly, As queer people, I think it’s really powerful and affirming to see our lives in print as print does have a weight to it. Not only a literal weight, but also a legitimacy. Drag is so beautiful and people put so much time and effort into putting their looks together that it’s nice to have something printed with a high production value. There’s different textures of paper, and putting all the pictures and images in a format where they can really be and how it shows off what the artist is doing. I think it shows off the vulnerability and archives. Digital archives are actually very vulnerable and can very easily be lost, whereas I think - obviously there are definitely problems with print, it could be subject to water damage or lost, but having a hard copy, there’s something that’s nice about that.

I am also conscious of algorithms and the way social media works. Algorithms are quite biased, they’re imbued with an ideology that is very abelist and racist and homophobic, whereas the way a printed physical thing can be shared is slightly different. People will share it person to person. You might leave a copy at your friends house, people may give it as gifts. It’s an interesting way that it will be distributed in a slightly more DIY way. Also, you can’t troll print. I mean, you could take a picture of it and put it on social media, but there’s something nice about not [doing it in real time.] Lot’s of gender non-conforming people post images on Instagram and as well as getting lots of likes from their community there are also lot’s of trolls, and I guess I was conscious of that which is why I like it being in print.

There’s definitely a much more personal element to print, it’s a lot more meditative. It means you’re taking the time to sit there and read something with your hands and your body. On a screen I feel sometimes you’re not really there.

I think that’s a great point, and I think I would agree that Louche is quite meditative. It’s about reflection. We’re working on issue two at the moment and a lot of the pieces are going to be quite reflective, thinking a lot about this time and what the impact has been on people’s practice. It’s kind of a place for people to put forward quite in depth thoughts whereas a lot of digital media can be quite fast paced. The advantage of digital media is that it can respond quite quickly to things, whereas the advantage of print is that it can be more in depth.

Would you say that drag as an artform is inherently political?

Well, it’s an interesting one. I do think that it is inherently subversive, because it’s taking norms and switching them and the history of drag is very subversive. But then I also think it’s difficult because it is so varied there are so many different ways of doing it. There are performers who put the volume up on the political elements a bit more than others, then there are some that are definitely A-political in how they’re approaching it. Historically it is a political act to, I guess, shine a lens on the performative aspects of gender.

from Louche issue 1: Lasana Shabaz by Holly Falconer

I think personally some things are an act of defiance because of the way our society or our culture is, but perhaps in the future it might not be so disruptive to dress in drag. Perhaps we’ll get to a point in the future where society will accept that gender is a fluid spectrum, and maybe then drag won’t be so inherently political. I think art in general is inherently political, as you’re creating something which has an opportunity to alter society, however small or large the change may be.

Yeah! I want drag to be political personally. I do hope society becomes more accepting of gender fluidity and that the idea of putting on what is perceived to be the clothing or performance of another gender is less disruptive - I want that - but I still want drag to be political because I like to see drag that is continually shifting and pushing boundaries and continuing to grow as we grow. I am not personally into the corporatisation of drag and the mainstreaming of it and drag queens advertising Coca Cola - that’s not a goal for me, to be assimilated into corporate capitalism. The goal for me in terms of what drag can do and should do is to be a radical performance practice that is questioning norms. Not just gender norms but also questioning different forms of oppression in our society, like black lives matter for example. I know performers who identify as drag performers but it isn’t really about gender it’s about challenging racism or celebrating being neurodivergent, so I think that’s what I want to see for the zine.

How did you become Georgeous Michael?

I got into it through the competition at The Glory and I signed up for it on a whim. It was 2 days before the heat I was supposed to be, I came up with a name and it stuck. Georgeous Michael is quite a joyful display of masculinity, he’s quite pop. A lot of dance routines, definitely more camp than George Michael was, Georgeous Michael is his own creation. It’s funny because I haven’t performed in so long it feels quite abstract now. I haven’t done that many digital shows because it doesn’t give me the same pleasure.

Performing online is different than performing in person. There’s an energy that’s palpable in the room.

Yeah, it’s a conversation. For me, that feedback and that relationship is quite important to the performance. For me, Georgeous Michael is about enjoying it. I want people to have fun. Funnily enough, he’s not a very serious character, he’s quite a frivolous character, but I also think there’s a place for that. I guess there’s a place for having more of a joyful masculinity. A lot of drag kings - quite rightly - explore toxic masculinity in their performance, question that and highlight elements of that. I think that’s valid and I think that’s great, but it’simportant to have representations of masculinity that are quite queer. He’s also been quite important for my own gender expression. It’s been quite a cathartic process to develop that character and explore that part of myself.

In what way? 

I’m gender queer and it’s not always been easy moving through space in the way that I am, so channeling that into a character has been quite empowering, being celebrated for things that maybe previously I’ve felt more shame for, or that I felt awkward about. By dialing those things up I’ve felt like actually I can celebrate those things and have other people celebrate them too.

What do you see as next for Louche?

Well, we just got arts council funding, which is really exciting! We got a project grant which is cool, and issue 2 is due to come out in the Spring 2021. Also it’s looking at expanding the format, so I’m talking to a producer about putting together a podcast.

A lot of people don’t realise how much effort goes into creating something like this! So would you like to give me a backstory about how much effort went into creating Louche?

Many, many evenings at the laptop! Yeah, it is a labour of love and I have put a lot of time and energy into it, also, collaborated with a lot of people to make it happen. Basically, pulling in all favours from all friends. Luckily I think it’s a nice project to work on so a lot of people have given a lot to it, as photographers or graphic design or doing all of those things. I think because i felt so motivated by it you don’t notice how much work it is, but yeah many hours of slogging away. Speaking to people who have been touched by it or people who feel like it represents them is super validating especially in a time or in a year where it’s hard to have those connections with audiences. I think a print thing is a great way to go.

As you’ve released the first issue, do you have a favourite part of that issue or something that you're specifically really proud is in print.

Well, everything! But I think the flagship photoshoot. It was the first photo shoot I did as part of the project and also kinda feels like a very foundational piece. We did a series of photographs in the Bishopsgate Institute and also the London metropolitan archives. It was inserting drag performers into those spaces and they each chose a text that had been really influential to them in their drag then they posed with it. It was so fun to do. Bishopsgate is a very old victorian building and it’s very grand, and the archives are in wall to wall bookshelves and it’s just an incredible space with these big oak tables, then to have someone basically just in a jockstrap in drag posing in the archive was so fun. We got butts in the archive! It was also symbolic of reimagining ourselves into archives where we’re often lost or erased or invisible, so physically being there in drag and doing those images was really powerful. They were also really fun shoots. It really symbolises what Louche is trying to do as an archive.

From Louche issue 1: Orlando by Holly Falconer

Aside from Louche, in your opinion what would you say is essential reading?

I have a really good book which is called ‘Butch Queens Up in Pumps’ which is by Marlon Bailey and is a contemporary ethnography of the ballroom community, by someone who is a part of that community, and that’s really good but it’s quite academic.

The Drag King Book! It was published in the late 90s, but is still a great text about performing masculinity (as discussed, otherwise sorely under-documented!). It’s a collaboration between the artist Del LaGrace Volcano and queer theorist Jack Halberstam – both of whom were part of the flourishing drag king scenes in London, Paris, and New York at that time.

Anything else you want to plug?

I also did a zine as Georgeous Michael, which I think is also in Brother, that has been my drag in Lockdown, writing that zine! I was putting all my thoughts into that.

Get you’re copy of Louche here.

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