You know a compilation is “peak New York club” when it features Joey Arias. On Blacklips Bar: Androgyns and Deviants—Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels, 1992–1995, the cabaret star and former Fiorucci store manager (who’s also executor of Klaus Nomi’s estate) appears right out of the gate with a breathy, aching rendition of “Good Morning Heartache.” The song is track two of the record’s 28, all of which are artifacts of the Blacklips Performance Cult, a ragtag collection of musicians, drag queens, and other artists who performed weekly at legendary East Village venue the Pyramid Club. The group was founded in 1992 by celebrated experimental theater performer and musician Anohni, along with performance artists Johanna Constantine and Psychotic Eve. The album documenting its three-year lifespan also includes notable contributions by goth rockers Christian Death, croaking queen of darkness Diamanda Galás, queercore pioneers Dean & the Weenies, and John Waters collaborators Edith Massey and Divine (the former performing a bratty punk song and the latter growling through his signature disco track, “You Think You’re a Man”).
Part of what makes retrospective compilations like this so special is the way they situate more widely known artists and their work within larger scenes of people, styles, and ideas. Blacklips Bar underscores queerness not just as gender and sexual expression in opposition to heteronormativity, but also as creative expression that eschews many normative approaches. For example, in their only known recordings, transsexual menaces Meng & Ecker provide two immensely danceable tracks celebrating the joys of ejaculation (“Shoot Yer Load”) and piss play (“Golden Showers”). Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo has a short, impassioned discussion with Gary Reynolds about respectability, homophobia, and the AIDS epidemic (“Disrupt Their Lives”). Undersung gender-bending dance freak Princess Tinymeat describes gender panic (“Angels in Pain”). Blacklips Bar is a sublime document of the diverse artistic tendencies of night creatures inhabiting New York, and shows how queerness and the avant-garde are often linked. It captures an almost supernaturally creative scene at the height of the AIDS epidemic, which decimated the art world while creating the perfect cultural and political conditions for the Disneyfication of New York. As queerphobic legislation sweeps the nation, Blacklips Bar is a timely reminder of what’s already been lost—and the raucous, weird, wonderful things that continue to be worth fighting for.
Blacklips Bar: Androgyns and Deviants — Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels, 1992–1995 is available through Bandcamp.