London Lowdown


After a long transatlantic flight with less than three hours’ sleep, there is nothing more comforting than the sound of Murray Hill‘s voice. I was in London—totally knackered, as they say—and as I descended the Bloomsbury Ballroom stairs, I was relieved to hear Hill’s familiar, high-pitched welcome, “Ladiessssssandgentlemen!”, piping out of the sound system.

There he was, Mr. East Village, sweating bullets on a London stage as he hosted “The Immodest Tease Show” (or T.I.T.S.), a benefit for the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. Murray was there with his girls, Julie Atlas Muz and Dirty Martini, and it felt like I’d never left home, exce pt for one thing: the 900-strong audience, bigger than any burlesque night in New York, even at the height of the trend. Produced by Andrew Sutton, the event also featured Immodesty Blaize (London’s Queen B of burly-q and winner of the Best Debut award at this year’s Exotic World contest), Fancy Chance, Sugar Kane, Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams, and Steve Clark of the World Famous Clark Brothers, an actual mid-20th-century vaudevillian tap-dancing act. The lineup performed for over 2,000 people in standing-room-only crowds over the course of two nights, raising big bling for Exotic World. “The grass is ‘greener’ on the other side,” Murray said later.

London is apparently just catching up to the burlesque trend. Good thing for Murray and the girls—as it loses steam here, they can ride the upswing overseas. And London loves them almost as much as they loved hometown headliner Ms. Blaize, who galloped her way into everyone’s hearts via a stage-prop horse. Dirty performed a classic bawdy Mae West–inspired number, as well as her signature ballet-point and balloon strip. Ms. Muz treated us to her bondage burlesque, in which she frees herself from being bound and gagged. And Murray, well, some girl in the audience spent the entire second half of the set screaming, “Muuurrrrrraaaaaay! I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu! Murrrraaaaaaay!” Murray did what came naturally: He gave out all three of his phone numbers.

The after-party served as a double birthday celebration for Murray and Dirty. In between greeting their new fans—including many girls who cooed, “I looooove your show”—they sipped champagne and were interviewed by the BBC for a tentative documentary. The burlesque crowd in London seemed a bit more eclectic than New York’s—it ranged from moneyed, upper-class older men and women to young lesbian couples, along with the usual retro aficionados who came dolled up to the nines. A petite Asian woman was decked out in a goth Victorian getup with lace gloves, a petticoat, and a teeny hat tilted jauntily to the side. Others approximated 1950s Americana with gusto, wearing dresses with broad shoulders and tiny waists while pouting their puckered red lips.

We weren’t the only New Yorkers in London that Thanksgiving week: I was there for the Scissor Sisters‘ Wembley Arena shows, where they sold out three nights at over 11,000 tickets a night. At the after-party Saturday night, I compared matching, newly purchased Topshop shoes with Galadriel of NYC band Pretty Boys. (Nearby, Sir Ian McKellen was rocking some leather pants.) The Rapture were also getting a fine U.K. hello, with a full-page spread in that week’s London edition of Time Out, touting their Sunday-night show opening for the Killers at the Brixton Academy. In that same issue was a gushing article about New Yorker
John Cameron Mitchell‘s Shortbus, which is just opening over there. New York DJs
Sleepyface and DJ Boo were spinning at AKA Bar, and Manhattan house label Salsoul had a showcase at Salmon & Compass. The week I left, Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman were rumored to be in town, too.

Friday night I went out with a couple more New Yorkers (try as I may, I can’t seem to escape this city) to Trailer Trash, a theme night at the club On the Rocks, located in the Hoxton-Shoreditch area. Like other trendy up-and-coming locales, it’s situated far east and impossible to get home from late at night after the Tube closes. (And at 20 pounds a cab ride, it’s not cheap either.) The streets are dirty, and the area is less than pristine, and of course that’s where all the clubs are located. Need I say that everyone I knew who lived in London lived around here? You knew you’d arrived at the Land of Hipsters by all the pointy shoes and jagged haircuts at the Tube station.

London, like other cultural centers, is getting eaten alive by gentrification. Fancy Chance is an old acquaintance from Seattle who got married and moved to London; she lives in Shoreditch. Luckily, she says, Europeans—unlike Americans—throw cash at art. (See the sold-out burlesque events.) But not always enough cash, apparently: At Trailer Trash, ex–New Yorker Conrad Ventur, the photographer who immortalized all the characters in the electroclash movement, pointed to one of his friends and said, “He’s moving to Berlin; he can’t afford it here anymore.” The brain drain that’s hitting New York is hitting London, too. Soon we’ll all be living in Berlin, spinning minimal techno, sharing our warm beer, and collecting unemployment.

On the Rocks proved that wherever you go, there you are. The small-to-mid-size venue was a charming dive: Neon lights flickered above as DJs Mikki Most and Hannah Holland played electro house to a mixed crowd of trannies, gay boys, straight girls, and goombahs (who, it turns out, are an international breed). In other words, we were at Luxx in Williamsburg circa 2002, minus Amanda Lepore and with ecstasy instead of cocaine.

As I whipped out my camera to take a picture of some of the Londoners, I remarked to Conrad, “They don’t have Last Night’s Party here, so people aren’t used to getting their pictures taken in clubs.” I spoke too soon: Not a moment later, a tall man emerged from the crowd with a big SLR digital camera and flashed his bulb. He was Alistair Allan, the Merlin Bronques of London; his site has only been up since August and he’s already the toast of the town, getting invites to upward of 80 parties a week, shooting for Vice U.K., getting photos in Italian Elle, and doing studio shots for the likes of Justice. Soon he’ll be wearing a wig and sunglasses and monopolizing dirty bar bathrooms everywhere. Just like home.