Christine and the Queens: the politics of dancing - Artists - Mixmag

Christine and the Queens: the politics of dancing

The runaway star of Coachella and Glastonbury, Christine (and the Queens) is putting the dance back in dance music

  • Words: Louise Brailey | Photos: Carsten Windhorst
  • 13 September 2016
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But if she’s exultant onstage, offstage she’s a little awkward, battling shyness by telling jokes or making faces. At one point, asked what she learned from her time hanging with drag queens, a key plot point in her story, she deadpans: “Contouring”. The joke is given charge by the glint in her eye – and her downtime garb of men’s slacks and Fred Perry T-shirt. She proudly displays a layer of festival dust obscuring her tattoo (‘WE ACCEPT YOU’) and refuses, tellingly, to wipe it off. “I like to roll in the dirt,” she explains, gleefully, her accent veering into a clipped, British approximation for effect. When she says the club she was born in was the now-shuttered sleazepit cabaret venue Madame JoJo’s, it all falls into place.

Back in 2010, she’d arrived into London to escape a difficult break-up. What’s more, she’d just been expelled from her theatre school, École normale supérieure de Lyon, for defying her male teachers by staging her own play, something they’d forbidden. “It was misogynist,” she says. “They told me that I couldn’t be a stage director because I’m a girl: ‘You’re going to be an actress’”. London opened its arms to yet another outcast, and she took refuge at a queer night in Soho. “I was searching for my people, my family,” she recalls. In a plot twist that sounds like some footnote in a Warhol biography, Letissier was taken under the wing of three drag artists who encouraged her to catalyse her pain into something creative.
The Queens of her name? A tribute to the performers she met that night.

On her return to France she taught herself Logic and began reformatting her emotions into three-minute vignettes, processing influences ranging from club literate bands like Hot Chip and The Knife to – for ‘Chaleur Humaine’ at least – Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D. City’. The central protagonist of these songs, Christine, enabled her to explore not only her then-current heartache, but internalised shame stretching back years. When the subject turns to Paris Is Burning, the seminal documentary that told the stories of a set of poor, black and Latino New Yorkers who found expression through the playacting and performance of ballroom culture, she’s quick to draw parallels. “I saw it six years ago and I thought it was incredibly moving, this idea of creating a safe space,” she says. “Vogue is about that. It’s about owning what’s stolen from you. [Christine And The Queens] is the same for me. Even as a young girl I was like, well, if I’m not wanted like that...”

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