The staff at London restaurant Bistroteque have some work to do before they open for service. The tables may be set, the menus printed – but splayed across the grand piano, wearing a torn muscle vest, stilettos and not much else is Christeene – the punk/drag artist described as “Beyoncé on bath salts” whose musical oeuvre includes such family-friendly hits as Fix My Dick, Tears from My Pussy and Butt Muscle.
“It’s so clean in here,” she says in her deep south drawl, hopping off the piano to take her place at one of the pristine white tables. “I hope ahh don’t leave too much smudge.”
Given that Christeene has spent 15 minutes smearing mucky marks over her legs and face – the perfect accompaniment to the thick green stripe across her eyes, the piercing blue contact lenses, the blackened tooth and the finger tattoos – the likelihood of smudge is high.
Christeene enjoys making her mark. The creation of Paul Soileau, who has described her as a “switchblade” through which to channel his anger, she can certainly be shocking – a dirt-poor, highly sexualised, twisted southern gothic vision whose live shows involve raunchy dance routines, on-stage peeing and butt plugs sent over the crowd on balloons. Yet she’s also vulnerable, kind and warm, and it’s this deft balancing act that allows her to expose hypocrisy wherever she goes. In the video to her song African Mayonnaise, we see her let loose on the streets of Austin, Texas – dancing in grocery stores, running up against shop security and even entering the Church of Scientology, which causes a stir.
But we also see plenty of people in the video who can’t help but get swept up in Christeene’s colourful choreography, from children to checkout operators – it’s all quite heartwarming. Is it especially pleasing to have this effect on everyday people who might not be familiar with her art?
“You kidding me?” she shrieks. “We probably have more of an effect on some of the clean-cut LGBTQ crowd. Some of them fuckers are heteronormative up the ass! They more straight than most of the straight people I know! Getting married, having babies and houses … I shock them more than I shock the people at the grocery store!”
Christeene, who as you might have guessed is a total hoot to hang out with, is currently using London as her base while she plays live dates across Europe. Her second album, Basura, came out earlier this year. It’s a messy riot of industrial and electronic sounds that locates the unhinged point at which Alice Cooper, Divine, Peaches, Bauhaus, Throbbing Gristle and Fischerspooner meet. She sees her music as the perfect tool with which to shake up the stale live arena.
“I’m giving y’all what you haven’t been getting,” she says, her blue lenses twinkling. “It’s powerful. It’s dangerous. I like to say it’s an unsafe space, ’cos I’m tired of this safe space stuff. There’s NO SUCH THING! There’s danger everywhere. I might spit on your face or jump on top of you!”
Or you might get hit by a floating butt plug, I offer.
“Oh, but they’re a gift,” she says.
“For all of us! Because it taps into your childhood.”
I quickly delve into my childhood memories. Maybe they’re buried too deep, but I can’t recall any airborne sex aids …
“But didn’t you grow up with McDonald’s and weird clowns holding balloons?” she asks, all innocently. “That shit’s internal, for all of us. People all say ‘ahhh’ when they see the balloons. And then when they see the butt plug they get slapped with their mackerel and they gotta process what the fuck just happened.”
In addition to the mischief, there’s politics. As befits a character conceived through anger, Christeene likes to rail against intolerance between songs. And the Trump administration has served to make her targets increasingly visible.
“I sometimes wonder if that son of a bitch had not won, how many statues would have gotten taken down, how much we’d be listening to certain groups? With Obama, we were discussing certain things and moving forward. But look at what we’re really digging up now. It’s always been there, but them white folks were covering it up real tight.”
Christeene doesn’t claim to have the answers to society’s ills. But she’s sees signs of hope on the horizon. Shows such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race, she says, are important because children are getting to see traditional heteronormative structures being challenged. “And because of that the Lord is gonna make some strange people who are gonna have the courage to fuck their gender, fuck the norms and fight this shit.” Still, she has reservations about Drag Race’s competitive angle: “I do not like how every drag show is a competition. I think that can be harmful to queens who are vulnerable and maybe afraid to come out and show off what’s inside of them.”
Instead of competing, we should all be collaborating, she says. It’s what she’s been increasingly doing through her music and fantastic videos. And it’s the only way she believes we can mount a true artistic resistance to the world’s mounting horrors.
“It’s time to get out of your fucking ego throne and start spreading your legs for other creative people,” she says, as a final rallying cry. “Because we all have to build this tank together. Then we can start shooting lube all over this shit and let those people slide right out of our lives.”