‘I’m always in some kind of drag – maybe we all are’: Roisin Murphy on drag and how it’s shaped who she is today
With her eccentric style and naturally camp sensibilities, singer Roisin Murphy has always had an affinity with the LGBT+ community.
It’s reflected in her kaleidoscopic costumes and even more kaleidoscopic music. Far from appropriating or mimicking the culture, she’s more of an honorary member of it, despite the fact that she is, in her own words “pretty cis”.
Her music has earned her critical acclaim and cult infamy, both as a solo artist and the smoky vocalist of trip-hop duo Moloko.
Now, Roisin Murphy is back with a new track in ‘Narcissus’, a sparkling homage to arrogance and disco (it doesn’t get gayer than that). She’s also on the lineup of one of the most hyped queer nightlife events of the year, Homobloc, hitting Manchester this weekend.
PinkNews chatted to her about raving, politics, gender and her intense and emotional relationship with drag.
Hi Roisin Murphy. First, the question everyone’s asking each other right now – have you been watching Drag Race UK?
I don’t have a TV, so no. But there’s definitely a connection between me and drag. I’ve been dressing up since I was a kid. I would dress up in my aunt’s 60s wedding dress and go round the town. Or go round with a pram, dressed as a Victorian ghost. Sometimes I’d sit in the window of my bedroom dressed as a Chinese woman with lots of naked dolls around me – cherubs and nymphs.
No reason. Well, I suppose it adds something to your life. Having a story for what you’re dressed up as. Today, right now, I look like a sort of Belgian architecture tutor. There are various fantasies going around in my head at once, and they express themselves outwardly.
Particularly your Overpowered era – that was very drag.
I’m always in some kind of drag – maybe we all are. What blew my mind was seeing Paris is Burning a few years ago, and getting my head around the realness. Serving a version of something that’s very real – like a college kid, or an office executive. Archetypes that aren’t your usual fare like Marilyn Munroe or whatever. That fascinated me. At the same time as being outrageous and sticking out, you’re talking about fitting in.
It’s interesting that it’s become such a huge thing now – why?
Because everyone’s got a bit of drag in them. It was a big release for me as a teenager in the mid to late 80s – coming out of a time when everyone was on one side or another. There’s something about drag that counteracts that. In the face of everything, and in all the confusion, all you’re really saying is “I’m dressed up as this”. There’s a lovely freedom in that. You can be whatever you want to be. Growing up I chose that over the other slightly boring, khaki path of not being an idiot.
What would you say your relationship is with gender?
I’m pretty cis.
Gender… I’ve got a lot of tremendous creative relationships with men. I do think there’s a gender thing going on there. I work well with fellas. I’ve only known working with men in that capacity, rightly or wrongly. It’s a gender connection – and it works. Not in a sexy way though. Well, sometimes it is sexy. I was a bit sexy with my first producer.
That was a heterosexual cis relationship, but I was still very camp. Go figure.
As we’re speaking, gay marriage and abortion have just been made legal in Northern Ireland. How do you think the nation will respond to it?
I think they’ll take it in their stride. When the marriage bill came into my country [Republic of Ireland], it was nice to see that it was able to change and evolve. Growing up, I went to a Catholic school and I’d get in trouble for not going to Mass. But there’s been such a massive change. There’s very little religion in Ireland now.
While we’re on the subject of news – what are your thoughts on the recent hate crime stats that have been published?
There’s such an awful climate at the moment, of antagonism and partisan behaviour. Everybody’s in their own camp, everybody’s fighting each other. It’s just escalating. It’d be nice to see it nipped in the bud but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Back to music – this event in Manchester, Homobloc. It’s gonna be amazing.
It’s gonna be scary as s**t. Ten thousand people in a massive warehouse. It might actually feel like a proper old rave. That might be really nice.
Do you think UK nightlife has changed?
Changed, evolved, taken over the world. It can be good and bad. I think you can listen to too much boxy music – there are certain beats that can box you in and make you feel trapped.
It must depend on loads of stuff – your mood, the setting, the people…
You said it not me! I was asking in a more literal sense.
Oh, as in “the decline of real club culture”?
I don’t buy that. I know how easy it is to frame things as total b******s if you’re only on social media and don’t even go out. I went to Berghain last year and it was like the old days. I was livin’ la vida loca. I was on the dance floor until five in the morning, my friends lost me, the security guard was shouting at my boyfriend saying “HOW COULD YOU HAVE LOST HER?” I wasn’t even lost. I was surrounded by some strong and stable lesbians.
All of that sounds like exactly what you’d want in a night out.
Mate. You’ve got to get lost in it.
Roisin Murphy’s new single ‘Narcissus’ is out now. Homobloc is on November 9 at Depot, Mayfield, Manchester.
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