Scottee interview

Scottee Scottee - © Will Robson Scott
Posted: Mon Jan 18 2010

To some he's the reincarnation of Leigh Bowery. To others he's London's most out-there showman. Time Out says that Scottee will be the performer of 2010

Scottee's audiences require protective clothing. For 'Mess' at Stoke Newington International Airport in early December, floral-print frocks were provided to shield against the fluids sent flying: by the show's end, the floor was sticky with ketchup frothed with Diet Coke, aerosol cream splurged from a smashed cake and a red-wine-and-salt mixture aggressively puked towards an audience member - not to mention the aftermath of 'Lady in Red', rendered as an increasingly hysterical stalker's anthem at whose climax the performer repeatedly plunges a knife into his fake breasts, which explode with red goop. Get too close and Scottee's work is literally in your face.

The impression of performance space as crime scene was strengthened on the show's second night, when two members of Her Majesty's police force arrived to investigate a suspected breach of public indecency laws. ('I saw the write-up in Time Out,' the WPC told Scottee. 'It wasn't very good.' 'It was!' he replied indignantly. 'I got “Critics' choice!” ') After nosing around and finding nothing more incendiary than empty Dolmio jars, they parted with a cryptic admonition: 'There's a fine line between “art” and “aren't”.'

'I was really intimidated,' Scottee admits. 'When you create work, you don't think: I'm going to do this because I'm being lawless. You create it because you think there's a valid message there, or something poignant. It isn't about trying to create the most disgusting thing ever and piss people off, it's about highlighting things in human nature which we sanitise and pretend don' t happen.' From compulsive eating to the BNP, and from domestic abuse to the erotic uses of piss, Scottee engages visceral subjects with thrilling directness, wit and theatricality - not to mention old school bawdy relish. It's as if he's gone off the end of the pier, dredged the waters and returned bearing slime with a glint in his eye. He puts on one hell of a show.

At 24, Scottee has a decade's worth of performance experience behind him. Growing up on a Stoke Newington council estate, he was expelled from school at 14 but worked with various youth and community theatre projects, including Camden People's Theatre, Spare Tyre, the Roundhouse and the Hampstead Theatre. 'I was very avant-garde at 14 but didn't know it,' he says. Teenage projects included a heavy metal immaculate conception and messing with audiences by hurling water at them, or posing as a homeless man.

Scottee won a couple of community awards but his relationship with his parents, who he says had various addictions, was dysfunctional. At 18 he had a nervous breakdown and severed links with them. 'I realised it made me ill to have a relationship with them so I decided not to,' he says. 'Ever since that moment I've been on a steep hill to being a well-balanced human being.' Soon he was making a name for himself on the club scene, performing as one half of Shoreditch DJ duo Yr Mum Ya Dad.

Recently he has cemented his move from clubland turn to performance artist through ventures like 'Buy a Better You', about his troubled relationship with his family, and Eat Your Heart Out, his monthly party at the Hackney Empire's Marie Lloyd Bar that brings together work from club culture and the academic performance world. Playing host to the likes of Bourgeois & Maurice, Myra Dubois, Nando Messias and Theo Adams, it celebrated its first birthday in December. He's also worked with Jonny Woo, Dickie Beau and Ryan Styles, collaborated on video work for Kings Of Leon and the Pixies, and released a collection of short films called 'Never Trust a Man in a Wig', which includes some hilarious food-porn vignettes. 'I just think it's funny that someone would want to buy a DVD of me deep-throating a banana,' he says.

The DVD collection pays tribute to John Waters, Bettie Page and Marlene Dietrich but Scottee sees himself in a more populist vein. 'People think my icons are Leigh Bowery or Ron Athey. Totally wrong. It's Lisa Stansfield, Dawn French, Diana Dors, Hattie Jacques.' Although he acknowledges Bowery was 'a huge inspiration' and cites other avant-garde influences, those mainstream cues are clear in Scottee's comic technique, which allows him to flip in an instant from confrontational poise to awkward self-consciousness, and such trad numbers as a quick-change act. It's perhaps plainest in his guise as half of the Tenor Ladies, the more conventionally glam outsized drag act he does with Sami Knight. 'The Tenor Ladies are about singing, not lip-syncing, and being glamorous and gorgeous and comfortable in your own skin,' he says. 'The idea was to create a space where you don' t have to worry about being thin or having the right handbag.' In March the Tenor Ladies will have a four-week run at the RVT, 'The Weight-Gainers' Club':

'We'll have six entrants who want to gain weight for whatever reason, and one will be voted off each week for not putting on enough.' The XL-Factor, if you like. Scottee is also collaborating on 'Licking Wounds', the current run at the RVT by David Hoyle, an obvious forebear and inspiration (Scottee calls him 'my avant-guardian'); there's talk of a possible summer project at the Royal Albert Hall; and a show inspired by the police's visit to 'Mess', to be called 'Nice', about 'whether being overly nice can be nasty - playing around with that idea of grotesque and vulgar versus twee and nice'.

Tweeness is a pet peeve of Scottee's. His antipathy towards burlesque is well known on the scene and he's bored with Weimar nostalgia. 'It's not revolutionary any more,' he says. 'Let's find the new. If we' re ever going to be revolutionary and show people that this art form is valid, we need to get our fingers out as artists and become much more political. We' re looking at unemployment and debt. To go to cabaret nights and spend £18 on a ticket and then £8 per drink? People don't want that. It's too bourgeois.'

Eat Your Heart Out - which will visit Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield in 2010 - is Scottee's antidote. The birthday event in December included a version of 'Hurt' (the Nine Inch Nails song that Johnny Cash covered) delivered by Miss Annabel Sings dressed as the Elephant Man and backed by a powerful video; Bird La Bird dressed as the bastard offspring of Valerie Solanas and the Baader Meinhof gang while pickling a spliced Damien Hirst doll in vinegar; Jordan Hunt's moving violin rendition of 'Bleeding Love' performed like a scene from 'Swan Lake'; and discussions of bullying, coupledom culture and uses of the word 'cunt'.

Scottee's paunch-flaunting costumes included a leopardskin cape-and-shift outfit, a body stocking with a marker-pen vagina and a prim white blouse and lilac skirt in which, at the end of the show, he delivered his version of 'Lady in Red'. 'No, not the coat!' shrieked a girl at the front as the Dolmio sprayed forth. 'It's mink!' Like Scottee cared.

For more on Scottee including upcoming shows, visit www.scottee-scottee.blogspot.com