Jodie Harsh on queer rebellion, Lily Savage and why the Tories need to ‘mind their f**king business’

The drag superstar chats to PinkNews about the beauty of dance music, the hypocrisy of the Tories, and the unexpected gift she once received from Lily Savage.

“We’re in a world of absolute juxtapositions at the moment,” declares Jodie Harsh. As she prepares to open her biggest headline show to date, the trailblazing drag queen, DJ and songwriter is spinning many plates – but that won’t stop her from speaking out about injustice.

“On one hand, you’ve got Drag Race in every country on TV, you have Sam Smith and Kim Petras, a non-binary person and a trans woman, hitting number one with “Unholy” which is incredible progress,” she tells PinkNews. “But, on the other hand, you’ve just got to look at the drag bans in America.

“There’s so much light and shade at the moment. Politics [is] all over the shop. For many, many queer people on this planet, it is not great to be yourself.”

Harsh isn’t wrong. As we speak, anti-drag sentiment is rising in the US, with Tennessee governor Bill Lee pushing an oppressive drag ban that would prohibit “adult cabaret performances” in public spaces. While Senate Bill 3 has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, it’s nonetheless sent shockwaves through the drag community – and as Harsh notes, things “ain’t perfect” on this side of the pond, either, with the UK’s biggest political parties appearing to be increasingly aligned against trans individuals.

In times like these, then, nightlife remains a vital source of respite for the LGBTQ+ community; and for Harsh, who has helped create much-loved queer club nights such as Feel It, music is a way to make everyone feel welcome.

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“This is what I stand for,” she emphasises. “These are the good vibes that I want to create for everyone. This is a fun place where you can come and be yourself. My tagline is literally: ‘Everybody’s welcome in my house.’

“I’ve always wanted [to create] a very safe and very welcoming space where you really can be whatever you want. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you like, or what you do.”

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Drag queen and superstar DJ Jodie Harsh (Provided)

Harsh’s upcoming headline show at London’s HERE at Outernet, which she describes as a “full-on extravaganza” in her home town, is her latest opportunity to create a safe space. Aside from its striking visuals, dancers and “secret little moments”, though, the show had deeper resonance this time around.

“This is the first time I’m doing this show in London,” she says thoughtfully. “It feels like a moment where I’m sort of [saying]: ‘This is me, this is what I stand for’.”

‘For many, many queer people on this planet, it is not great to be yourself’

While unity and acceptance remain the bedrock of Harsh’s philosophy, the importance of fun can’t be understated, either. If music is a powerful tool to drive social change, the DJ is equally keen to highlight the merits of a song that can “take you to a place where it’s just a little bit of joy and happiness”.

“My role, while creating, whether people are singing along or having a dance or just smiling, is to just take them out of their day,” she explains. “It’s a little bit of fun.”

Jodie Harsh
(Provided)

One song bringing the feel-good energy right now is “Hectic”, which Harsh describes as a high-impact, “mid-2000s dance-tune-inspired track”. Quite simply, it’s a call to get on the dancefloor.

“There’s no super deep message,” she explains. “It’s not about love, and it’s not a break-up. It’s essentially: ‘Let’s go out and forget our worries and have a bit of a dance and who knows where the night’s gonna take us’.

“I love that feeling when you’re getting ready to go out and you’re like: ‘I don’t know what we’re going to be doing, but it feels like some fun is incoming’.”

While the “naughty” track, which follows previous releases such as “Good Time”, “Shock” and “My House”, looks certain to keep Harsh at the forefront of the UK’s electronic music scene, she’s all too aware of the heteronormativity and traditionalism surrounding her.

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“Reminding people that house and dance music [were] created in queer spaces [is important], but it’s absolutely for everyone,” she says. “That is the message of dance music and it’s very much a unifying music genre. It’s always been for everyone.”

Occupying space at “straight festivals” as a queer artist, however, definitely breeds something of a punk spirit.

“I’m on stage, in drag… and I feel like when I’m on those main stages, that’s important,” she says. “It’s important that I’m there. I don’t want to sound full of myself, but I think it’s a good thing that I’m in those spaces.

“I’ve always felt different, ever since I was a kid, but I’ve always embraced my difference. I’ve never felt I was so different to other people, but it’s f**king cool.

“That’s my strength. My strength is that I’m different. My strength is that I’m not a straight, white male.”

“One day, we had tea at his house, and he gave me a load of old wigs”

No conversation with a widely-renowned drag queen would be complete without mentioning the recent death of Paul O’Grady and his acid-tongued alter ego Lily Savage, who brought drag into the living rooms of families across the UK and blazed a trail for the LGBTQ+ community.

Not only does Harsh have her own memories of O’Grady, who she calls an “absolute pioneer”, but she also has a few surprise mementos, too.

“I got to know Paul a bit at award shows,” she recalls. “Then, one day, we had tea at his house, and he gave me a load of old wigs. He was like: ‘I’m just clearing out the loft, take a load of Lily’s wigs because I don’t want them, these will go in the bin otherwise’. And I just thought: ‘Oh my God, that’s insane’.

“I think the point was [for me to] restyle them or wear them myself, but I was thinking: ‘I’m not bastardising these, these were Lily Savage’s. So they’re in storage.”

Wigs aside, Harsh is sincere when she reflects on O’Grady’s no-nonsense attitude. An entertainer who stood up for justice and equality at every turn, and used his voice to challenge everything from homophobia to Tory austerity, Harsh is adamant that people need outspoken figures like O’Grady who are “just gonna say exactly what we all think.” And in that spirit, she has a final message for the Tories.

“Let everyone be themselves. Mind your own f**king business. We’re not harming other people, and people are just being themselves.

“Isn’t that the utopia we’re striving for in life? I just don’t get it. And so many of these Tories are, you know, sucking d**k.”

Tickets for Jodie Harsh’s headline show on 15 April at London’s Outernet are available now.

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