Booming Brooklyn Drag Scene Celebrated at Bushwick Festival
BUSHWICK — In zebra spandex leggings, haunting white contacts, a ripped Sex Pistols tank top and lavender, flowered lace-up heels, Aja Injection mingled outside Don Pedro bar before the midnight show “Fifty Shades of Gay.”
Just a few years ago, the 23-year-old Williamsburg native felt stifled walking in the area. Now, she said, Brooklyn drag queens are the city's boldest.
“Before you had no choice but to try and look like a real female,” recalled Injection, (who declined to give her birth name), of the violence she feared growing up if locals noticed she was dressed in drag.
“But now in Brooklyn they’re about twisting things up, it’s so out of the ordinary and respected like that…I come out in Brooklyn to express my edgier side,” she said, next to a pink mohawked friend and a performer donning a wreath of leaves.
The recent boom of experimental drag in Brooklyn (and especially Bushwick) has bubbled up in DIY spaces, bars and frequent parties in the past few years, members of the movement said. It’s led to the birth of “Bushwig,” Bushwick’s first ever drag festival later this month at the venue Secret Project Robot.
“It’s going to be a touchpoint for everyone doing different sorts of drag, all sorts of experimentation, a melting pot,” said Babes Trust, born as Simon Leahy, who conceived of the all-day outdoor festival along with Matty Horrorchata (born as Matthew Mendoza).
Trust, a British musician who started London’s “Tranny Olympics” fest six years ago, which spread to Berlin and Stockholm, said she’s been struck by the abundance of experimental performance and artistic drag in Brooklyn since she moved to Bushwick 18 months ago.
But the burgeoning movement, bigger than London’s and more diverse than Manhattan’s, lacked a central hub — so she and Horrorchata took inspiration from the East Village's past Wigstock drag fest of the 1980s and 1990s.
"I'm kind of scared," she said.
"We're putting 30 drunk queens in one space," she giggled about the upcoming extravaganza as she adjusted her strapless white taffeta gown in the Don Pedro basement Monday before sauntering on stage. "I'm sure there's going to be a teensy bit of drama."
But the Sept. 29 festival — free for kids under 12 and open to all ages (if "parents are liberal," Trust noted) — also promises explosive energy and a string of surprises, with Monday night's handful of performers already captivating their audience.
The Don Pedro show, which opened with a screening of a segment of "The View" discussing women and sexuality in the hit book "Fifty Shades of Grey," then led to a striptease dance by the long-legged host Macy, who drew a lit candle to her mouth and stretched out on stage to Rihanna's music.
Then Merrie Cherrie, cloaked in colorful fabrics, jerked and undulated her body to a tribal sounding Sigur Ros song, followed by more diverse dances including Horrorchata's passionate lip-syncing to iconic singers Christina Aguilera and Adele.
When Horrorchata returned to her seat, her neon yellow afro and glittery lips still flawless, the hour was approaching 2 a.m., but the Texas native and freelance stylist remained effervescent and determined.
"We're the new breed of drag queens," said Horrorchata, who started a drag festival in Austin before coming to Brooklyn.
"And anything goes in Bushwick."
Bushwig will be held 3 — 11 p.m. Sept. 29 at Secret Project Robot on 389 Melrose St. Tickets are $10, or $5 for people dressed in drag.