Festival Review:


Alex Jeffery

Growing in support and recognition, Berlin based festival Yo! Sissy, now in its third year, is fast becoming one of the key international queer arts events.

Its new home in Festsaal Kreuzberg is expansive and immaculately draped, providing a magical environment of indoor and outdoor space with three stages and (*whisper*) a gender-neutral dark room.  A platform for queer musicians and performance artists at various stages of their careers, Sissy’s reputation is spreading, and I speak to a virtual coach load of Londoners who have come over especially to perform, participate and queer out.


The convergence on Berlin as the queertopia-in-mitteleuropa seems not to be letting up, and on Saturday night, particularly, Berlin-based artists are well represented in the line-up.  Their journeys to Berlin have started in other parts of Germany, the UK, America and Australia; one of the most fascinating journeys is Mary Ocher’s, who arrived here via Russia and Israel.  A highlight of the evening, her assured act tonight is backed up by the twin drum pummellers Your Government. Ocher herself tonight comes across part-iamamiwhoami, part-Lorraine Bowen.  Draped in cream-coloured silken ropes, as are the drummers, she’s a one-off and her just-the-right-side-of-cheesy keyboards make an intriguing counterpoint to the pounding drums.



There’s no shortage of new queer anthems around tonight, often ending sets as mass feel-good moments.  If planningtorock’s recent material has tended towards sloganeering (like the closing ‘Let’s Talk About Gender, Baby’), here the songs can resonate easily in the environment as celebrations for the enlightened, rather than potential thought-provocation for the uninitiated.


But if it’s thought provocation that you really, really want, you’d best head to the drag stage, Labryssa’s Labyrinth, where various collectives are running riot and having the time of their collective lives.  Here, enthusiasm can sometimes triumph over art, but art may sometimes catch you beguilingly unawares.  You’ll find here all the gender politics and carnivalesque you’d expect on a stage called Labryssa’s Labyrinth.  Yet an important part of the festival (and its commitment to diversity) is the acknowledgement of the difficulties that migrants go through, including many performers whose lives began across the Middle East.  Local doyens of trash the Real Housewives of Neukölln wrap the stage up with a rambunctious finale.


Speaking of diversity, one of the most impressive aspects of the festival overall (which has gone down as the best-organised to date) is how very different the assembled performers are in terms of style and genre. The audience may have gathered here under the banner of queer experience, but there is an open-mindedness to genre that means they respond with enthusiastic force to any kind of music put in front of them.  Whether this is Afro-Futurist R’n’B of Rebekah Ubuntu (a dazzling vision of goddessliness tonight with sci-fi visuals to match) or Gurr, the fresh-faced German female garage-punk duo with a bag full of hip-shaking party numbers, the queer music scene demonstrates its refusal to be pigeonholed; Sets overall can have a tendency to be overlong, but hopefully as the festival grows and attracts more artists, the flow of acts will get punchier.


Closing the show like a gonzo electro Bananarama, Chicks on Speed’s aesthetic has always included a good dose of the shambolic.  This may not be to everyone’s tastes, but by the end of this gloriously messy weekend, it might just be making the right kind of sense.  If the long set threatens to flag at any points, they know how to bring the crowd back under control with some rousing covers, including Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ and Talking Head’s ‘Burning Down the House’.


Towards the climax of the festival, organisers Pansy and Scout get up on stage to take bows, feel the love, give acknowledgements and shimmy.  They lay out what has been an astonishingly well-achieved manifesto for the weekend –  ‘love, appreciation, smiles, diversity’.  

At the rate it’s developing, Yo Sissy could easily expand over the next few years into a much bigger affair. Catch it next year while it still feels local.


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