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This March sees the release of a book and compilation offering an immersive dive into Blacklips Performance Cult.Blacklips: Her Life and Her Many, Many Deaths, co-authored by ANOHNI and Marti Wilkerson and published by Anthology Editions, will be released March 14th, and its companion compilation March 10th. Both are available for pre-order now.

 

From June 1992 to March 1995, in the midst of the AIDS crisis in NYC, an extraordinary theatrical collective emerged from underground called the Blacklips Performance Cult. Co-founded by ANOHNI with collaborators Johanna Constantine and Psychotic Eve and joined by a cabal of fellow artists, drag queens, punks, nightlife veterans and students, they performed a new play every Monday night at 1:00am at the now-closed Pyramid Club on Avenue A. Blacklips never courted mainstream attention, however, the group left a sustaining impression within New York’s late night subculture by melding hysterical drag, surreal horror, and disconcerting tenderness.

Originally intended as a cabaret and DJ night, the constellation of people drawn to Blacklips soon melded into a late night ensemble in which members took turns writing scripts that were then performed by the group. Blacklips continued a tradition of urban queer subcultural resistance embodied within the writings of Jean Genet, John Rechy, and the post-punk feminist Terence Sellers. Inspired by Lotte Lenya, Candy Darling, and Leigh Bowery, Greta Garbo and Sister Dimension, performers took the stage primarily to entertain and address each other, while entertaining late-night thrill seekers.

Staging collectively conceived plays set Blacklips apart from other expressions of creativity in nightlife of the era, aligning the group with predecessors such as The Cockettes, Angels of Light, Bloolips and Theater of the Ridiculous. Blacklips members built sets from garbage and industrial refuse that they found in the streets of the East Village, in homage to Jack Smith and the aesthetics of post apocalyptic punk. The group staged spectacles that were alternately surreal, slapstick, emotional and absurd. This weekly laboratory also served as the first showcase for ANOHNI’s music.

Some plays included gory revisions of Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein. Offerings such as Clayworld functioned as intergalactic morality plays. Satirical appropriations of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, Adrian Brook’s The Glass Arcade, and Boys in the Band, feasted on a century of queer culture. Plays such as Death! and The Funeral of Fiona Blue often ended with “a pile of dead bodies” on stage, reflecting the impact AIDS was having on the downtown scene.

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In Blacklips: Her Life and Her Many, Many Deaths, ANOHNI and coeditor Marti Wilkerson lay bare the collective’s archives in photographs, scripts, and the assembled ephemera from more than one hundred and twenty original “plays.” Featuring images from newly digitized film and video recordings, texts from participants and audience members, and an introduction by Lia Gangitano, this expansive collection introduces to the twenty-first century the short-lived and ruthlessly creative phenomenon that was Blacklips.

Blacklips Bar: Androgyns and Deviants — Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels, 1992–1995 places you squarely within the shiny black brick walls of the main dance floor at the Pyramid, bathed in shards of light from the disco ball, waiting for the show to begin amongst a gaggle of stragglers, queens, and voyeurs. A montage of sound bites, original recordings, and Blacklips DJ favorites emanate a sense of Blacklips bar’s joie de vivre. Remastered original recordings by ANOHNI, including an unreleased version of “Rapture,” as well as the never before released composition “The Yellowing Angel” suggest the feeling of suspension that would sometimes interrupt the hysteria.

Also included on the Androgyns and Deviants compilation are DJ tracks by artists including New York legend Joey Arias in his incarnation as BIllie Holiday, LA death rock founder Rozz WIlliams, avant-garde icon Diamanda Galás, UK punk pioneer Dave Vanian, underground actress Edith Massey, London surrealist Leigh Bowery and his band Minty, and the fictional characters Meng and Ecker, a pair of transsexual menaces who wrought nightmares across an anarchic landscape, the brainchild of Manchester publishing house, Savoy. Studio recordings by Blacklips stars add depth to the mix, including "Your Cigarette” by Blacklips duo coke, James F. Murphy’s hardcore camp bonanza “Satan’s ‘Lil’ Lamb”, Sissy Fitt’s “Sister Morphine” and Ebony Jet’s soulful rendition of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”. Dialogue, sound effects and ambient textures counter the raging gender panic of Princess Tinymeat’s “Angels in Pain” and Divine’s defiant Hi-NRG anthem “You Think You’re A Man”.

This cacophony of passion, stark violence, beauty, heartbreak and maniacal humor suggests a lost world in which you might once have wandered into a bar on Avenue A late at night and paid $5 to see The Revenge of Blacklips, The Ghosts of the Pyramid, The Shysters, Death, CHOP!, or What a Lovely Day to Control The World, catching a glimpse of one of the final expressions of queer subculture in NYC prior to the advent of the internet and social media.

Blacklips Bar: Androgyns and Deviants — Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels, 1992–1995 will be released by Anthology Recordings on March 10, 2023 as a double album vinyl edition illustrated and designed by ANOHNI, and including previously unseen ephemera and extensive liner notes by the artist.

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