“Cameron is to the working class what the Pope is to queers” - Ste McCabe speaks
Queer punk activist Ste McCabe talks to Artrocker about his new album, gay marriage and what Londoners can expect from his Edinburgh-based club night Pussy Whipped
Your last album cover featured an image of the Pope juxtaposed with Nazi concentration camps. What was the point you were making and how did people react to that?
I was going a bit crazy at the time with so much intense hatred towards queer people coming from religious leaders all over the world. It was in the run-up to the Pope visiting the UK which I was so against in terms of how much money it cost the public – many of whom he promotes hatred against.
The cover itself was a design by Owen J who is part of the obscure and wonderful electro band Tingle in The Netherlands, who makes some really great and challenging images and artwork. Some people loved the record, some people hated it. I got a some people really angry with the things I wrote, sang or have said about some people in religious cultures promoting homophobia / biphobia / transphobia – specifically the stuff around Islam.
But I don't think it's healthy to ignore hatred coming from anyone, and writing about nasty religious leaders spouting hate and the inevitable effects it has is very different to being a member of the EDL or something, which frankly I feel is ridiculous to even have to point out.
How's the new album coming along and what can we expect?
It's ready to record very shortly and will be out in late October. It'll be more pop than my last record, and lyrically more varied. Murder Music was a bit like feeling sick for a long time and then vomiting in the form of a record. It probably sounds a bit like that too, but who cares, it felt great!
[On the new record] there are certainly queer themes on there because challenging homophobia is one of the main reasons I began writing songs, but it will be more playful and there's some class-related stuff on there. David Cameron is to the working class what the Pope is to queers so I couldn't help it. I also celebrate my official bankruptcy on this record! Oh and I've got a posh synth now. I can barely use it, but you'll hear that it's dead posh when I try to!
You run the Pussy Whipped club in Edinburgh, which showcases the "most talented female and queer bands from across Europe". Whose show has bowled you over recently?
Well I have to say that every band we have put on has been tremendous but my favourite show was when Räuberhöhle came over from Berlin. Think of a riot grrrl version of Daphne and Celeste meeting Crystal Castles with a live puppet show and She-Ra projections thrown into the mix! They're amazing.
The LGBT band scene seems like a genuine underground movement, in that a straight - or even gay - mainstream audience who're used to ITV on Saturday afternoon's might find it challenging. Is that fair to say?
I'd say that's fair comment. It's a difficult thing to put into a “scene” context as the music and approach varies so much between bands and performers who refer to themselves as queer.
Poetry and performance is just as much a part the movement as music. There's a lot of very creative people involved, many of whom challenge the notion of the commercial gay scene and it's exclusivity, as well as challenging mainstream music approaches. I'd say it more of a network of completely different artists, musicians, performers and promoters supporting each others unique style, rather than a scene of similar bands.
One thing that seems to chime with what you're promoting is Antony Hegarty's line up for Meltdown, which draws on his days in a drag theatre troupe in New York, and seems to feature music acts that embrace the performance side of things.
Yeah I saw what Antony Hegarty was doing with Meltdown and think it's so brilliant that a big festival like that is in queer hands. Yoko Ono is a legend and her music is still sadly underrated due to pure sexism, well done to him in getting her to perform!
During the recent Bowie documentaries a lot was made of his "I'm gay and always have been" interview, and the transgender nature of Ziggy. Does Bowie still matter to LGBT bands?
Those documentaries passed me by so I can't comment on the interview itself! I love 70's Bowie but I don't know that many queer bands who cite him as an influence.
What he did with Ziggy in the 70's was clearly one of the first queer moments in music and without a doubt very inspiring to a lot of queers at the time. Ultimately though, no, I don't think he directly influences that many queer bands nowadays as Ziggy was always presented as a character, and there's only so far that a character from the 70's can be inspiring for a new generation of queer people, no matter how brilliant it was!
I'm going to get hate mail now. I'll state here that I'm shit and David Bowie is great, that will save people pointing it out for me.
Phrases like 'Queer Punk' feel awkward for some people to say, because they assume that the word 'queer' is homophobic. Has it been re-appropriated, or is it all about context?
Haha, yes, it's totally about context. For me, “queer” generally refers to anyone who's gender or sexuality is different from what the dominant culture expects us to be, as well as a reclamation of a hateful word. It also saves me saying it's LGBTQIA etc culture. Those letters keep growing every time I blink!! But someone else might tell you different, we all have our own interpretations of it.
In a personal context, I still say I'm gay as I'm very happy with that term, but in a cultural context I always say that what I'm doing with gigs, events etc is queer as being gay is just one part of the picture. Saying that, “queer” is still a term of abuse for many people so I totally understand some people hating it. I did for years. I trust that this response hasn't cleared that question up remotely, but what can you do...
Finally, obviously gay marriage is a big issue at the moment, and it's tempting to paint those who are against gay marriage as misinformation spewing, out of touch relics from an irrelevant era. But to say that has the same ring of simplicity as Good vs Evil - surely the argument can't be split down such fundamentalist lines?
I think that “misinformation spewing, out of touch relics from an irrelevant era” is quite apt for the majority of the anti's to be honest. A lot of what you hear is so similar to what people against “mixed” marriages were spouting all those years ago, it's embarrassing.
Having said that, there's a lot of queer people who just don't think that the institution of marriage is important at all, so it is a divisive topic. Personally if I was going to make that particular kind of commitment, I'd get a civil partnership anyway as the history of marriage has been so homophobic, but it's a very personal thing. It's just about choices: it doesn't matter what choice you make, the options should be the same for everyone. If they're not, it's an unequal society, and the UK can be very hypocritical when it comes to treating people equally.
On the other hand, I'd be interested to hear what the biggest piece of misinformation spewing, out of touch drivel you've heard on the subject is?
My favourite is those horrible straight couples who talk about “defending” marriage for themselves. It's like, look love, I'm not taking anything away from you. You can still have your £1500 cake, crippling debt and a honeymoon in a poor country if that makes you feel special. What exactly do they think is going to happen when same-sex marriage is legal?
It's the logic of certain uninteresting privileged people, they feel more special because marriage is only for them. Terribly dull people need something as everyday and common as marriage inequality to make themselves feel special. Well fucking move over, and get a personality while you're at it.
You're bringing Pussy Whipped to London soon: what can we expect from that?
Loud, bonkers and crazy sets from Maria and The Gay, Shrag, Citizen 2 and me! We're teaming up with London's gender-fucking amazing promoters Wotever World for the night, so it really is going to be an amazing night where anything can happen and all kinds will!