Big Freedia & Katey Red, photographed by Mel D. Cole for Okayplayer
Friday, May 2nd, 2014 will be immortalized in certain circles as the night that NOLA Bounce and Vogue danced together, at a mad masquerade ball at New Orleans Wax Museum–and Okayplayer is proud we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren we were there to witness it. We’ve already given the OKP reader some glimpses of what it felt like to be court-side at this momentous occasion–but mostly what it felt like was a historic event that demanded to be recorded in more novelistic, cinematic form. Accordingly we brought the journalistic dream team with us, comprising Vivien Goldman (she wrote the first book about Bob Marley and directed the video for Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke,” among a few other things) photographer extraordinaire Mel D. Cole and our fearless video team, lead by Okayaplayer’s own Allison Swank. What resulted is the following feature and mini-documentary putting the struggles and celebrations that lead to Bounce and Vogue’s meeting at the proverbial crossroads. Watch, read and learn below. -ed.
“Keep your shine!” Katey Red, the reigning glamazon of New Orleans Bounce music, commands a passing admirer on the grounds of Tulane University. She power-scats, freestyle, as she walks. With long auburn tresses tumbling round the broad shoulders of her cropped camo blouson jacket, the lanky grande dame strides across the campus as if she was its primary benefactor. But higher education was not in Katey Red’s destiny; her higher ed. came in NOLA’s rough Melpomene Projects, the hard-knocks school of the NOLA Bounce. Along with fellow bounce artist, Big Freedia, (on whose Fuse TV reality show she appears) Red is a transgender titan of a sound that’s controversially known as “Sissy Bounce” —a moment in the music’s evolution which has changed the sexual politics of club music in New Orleans.
Red is heading to a somewhat landmark event for Bounce music; part dance class, part rehearsal, part creative exchange. It’s all part of the build-up to an imaginative cross-cultural clash curated by local arts collective New Orleans Airlift, who have assembled a group of local artists, tinkerers, dancers and DJs, for 1MSQFT–Microsoft’s One Million Square Feet of Culture initiative. Conscious of multinationals’ role as art patrons—playing Medici to modern Michelangelos– Microsoft has been connecting with regional creative communities on the ground to support and promote local happenings in a vast survey of progressive culture that provides a platform for everything from film to food to visual art to dance.
The present beneficiary is NOLA’s fecund underground arts scene. Key organizer DJ Rusty Lazer, AKA Jay Pennington–along with Delaney Martin of New Orleans Airlift–corralled some of the community’s most stimulating visualizers, such as surreal installation artist, Ben Wolf and his collaborator Heidi Tullman; gold-sprayed performance artist Sohlid Gold, AKA Daniel Poole, who mimes before a wall of golden boomboxes; and Louisiana Whipz, who transform muscle cars into unexpected art. The audio and dance element is all Bounce. In this concept Bounce’s primal pounding is plucked from its gritty playgrounds and projects in the primarily black Ninth Ward and pitted in a clash with New York’s more elegant, stylized and storytelling Vogue scene. The unusual pairing is being dropped into a fresh context for both styles – an avant-garde, interactive, mutant arts party at the somewhat scary Wax Museum, in the city’s storybook Creole French Quarter.
Voguing is the dramatic, highly stylized technique popularized by Madonna’s 1990 track, ‘Vogue,” and Jennie Livingston’s documentary, Paris Is Burning, released the same year. But Vogue has grown since then. “We’re not just a novelty and a passing fad. We’re a thriving community trying to keep out there,” explains House of Mizrahi’s Jack Mizrahi (AKA Jacques Ceran). Mizrahi is the clash’s empathetic Commentator, an on-stage booster whose role is, as he describes it, is: “Coming up with different chants, making the people Voguing move to a narrative.”
To further buff Vogue’s luster, Mizrahi is Commentating on “Ten,” a track he recorded with Jennifer Lopez, slated to be released on June 17. “It is her ode to Ballroom because she loves Ballroom culture. In the studio she was gracious and humble, able to both give and take direction,” he enthuses. Lopez’s thumbs-up is an indicator that, as Mizrahi affirms, “Voguing now does not have a class. It may have started in Harlem because of oppression and the search for identity, but it has surpassed that…”