From Harlem to Dalston, Mykki Blanco is becoming something of an omnipresent. Or rather, the essence of Blanco is this infinite as dense Yank accents enrobed in sarongs float around the corner of Truman’s Road; Barrett’s Grove. She (the gender into which the artiste is most intimately assimilated, as I’m insistently assured by her seemingly somewhat anxious PR team) is the momentarily wigged figurehead of queer rap – a relatively self-explanatory genre construction entrenched in everything NYC, which also comprises the modish likes of Zebra Katz, Cakes Da Killa, Le1F, and so forth. It’s an intrinsically audacious movement of sorts, given the innate and indeed at times devastating homophobia to have long since pervaded hip hop at large. It feels reactionary; insurrectionary, its growing prominence in no small part prompted by Frank Ocean’s widely publicised declaration of enlightening revelation. Though whereas the most placid of the Wolf Gang pack came out gingerly, Blanco and her fellow so-called “foremothers” carry with them an indestructible air of self-assurance. Yes, they’re all openly gay (or rather “cunty”, to revert to relevant nomenclature) and no, they couldn’t give two flying shags whether you’ve an issue with it. They’re affronting the indwelling prejudices of the genre to which they loosely belong whether its forefathers approve or avidly oppose, and for that and that alone they’re meritorious of utmost attention.
As such, London duo Peepholes appear a rather incongruous, if by no means inept proposition. Like a prototypal Factory Floor polished with the mania of !!! by members of Comanechi down on hands and knees and so on, The Overspill broils over into broody post-punk irresistibility. It’s all pretty invigorating, Katia Barrett’s guttural vocal a sultry gurgle in the swelling belly of Birthdays. Approximately three last one’s perpetuate the pulsating lunacy of it all – a lunacy which is more or less the usual alloy of Can, Neu! and whatnot though one which is executed with a heck of a load more conviction than the stock stuffs inferred of such a comparison. Offset would surely return to existence were just one of their schizoid, primordial tub-thumpers to veer into earshot.
If Peepholes are incongruous, then their crowd is rather more inconspicuous – it’s disappointingly ordinary in here for a prodigy of Blanco’s ilk. I’ve often been led to believe in Dalston flattering to deceive although on tonight of all nights, it appears to have lost its edge all but entirely. And to paraphrase a certain someone insufferable, this is the closest thing to Barley I have ever been. Where be the cannibal smiles and bloodied teeth referenced in a lyrically sanguinary Betty Rubble later spat out? Even Birthdays’ unorthodox birthmark bloodstain has seemingly been scrubbed from the ceiling.
Inevitably the room’s heaving, but in place of the supposedly inferior quality “hoes” cited in what is tonight a visceral and unaccompanied YungRhymeAssassin, the place teems with wide-eyed and sexually perplexed teeny somethings in weeny rucksacks who diligently bop away to a crunky Sarah McLachlan redux. We’ve by this time already set prying eyes upon Blanco – having strutted right through the centre of the (wo)manhandling throng, she arrived amid an opalescent gust of ganja before pledging to “tear this bitch up!” A twisted firestarter she quite patently believes herself to be, although we’re then left in the lurch for another half hour while DJ Open1 reels off some exasperatingly tinny claptrap. (Firm impetus placed upon that snappier second syllable.)
It’s an unequivocal club vibe, though that it’s a Tuesday ensures Blanco’s absence makes for an uncomfortable interlude of sorts. It’s a club nobody’s down with other than those who would have ordinarily been vetoed at the door, and it’s kinda testing both of our patience and her dreadlocked crony’s CD stockpile. Both fray like split ends, though this is Blanco puffing up her chest – buying into the conventionalised diva complex; believing her own hype; and rather literally compensating for the void occupying the quite ample bra she later strips down to. Flanked by bouncers, she bounces grapes into the gaping mouths of a hardcore front few. She postures; she pouts pseudo-seductively. There are more than a few gobs a-gawping.
For Blanco is as much an anomaly to routine in the flesh as is on record. The gender inconclusively titled début mixtape, Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, even begins with the frenetic delirium of a newsflash monologue which states agitatedly: “Today, the downtown area was rocked by another outbreak of violence. The fact that the perpetrator is believed to be a mutant has fuelled current anti-mutant hysteria now growing nationwide.” Now, of course this is an only gauzy shrouding of society’s inability to come to terms with drag queens and cross dressers, etcetera but it is so too difficult to come to terms with the schizophrenia of Mykki Blanco/ Michael Quattlebaum. Quattlebaum is a poet and performance artist first and foremost, with Blanco assuming both of these capabilities – one of which transpires to be rather more debatable than the other. For if Quattlebaum is a poet first, then he is a performance artist foremost – the sort that’s as much at home in the insalubrious environs of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, or underground on the extempore stages that are its Subway platforms. Whoever he is (and his character composition is necessarily complex), he was produced to perform.
Though the schizophrenia runs deeper still – it afflicts his entire performance. Reappearing to the ominous glitches, bloops and “sinister beat” of Haze.Boogie.Life in a silky kimono and short weave, Quattlebaum looks inspiringly effeminate and yet Blanco’s live vocal is acerbic, and gravelly, and above all distinctly blokey. One moment he’s there baying; looming over us as may a stereotypically egotistical hip hop heavyweight, revelling in the fervid, breathless exclamations of “Mykki Blanco! Mykki Mykki Blanco!” which ring around. The next, however, he’s pirouetting about in next to nothing – his unmistakably male torso glinting in swathes of marijuana green spotlight as it perspires frantically. He does away with the wig for an unprecedentedly Hi-NRG Riot, before recomposing herself for the electro-flecked Fuckin The DJ. “Sweat drip on the floor, now gimme some room” she pleads, though there’s not the room to lick even the beadlets from a moistened upper lip. Is Blanco tonight doing the dirdy with Open1 as she recurrently avows? Quite possibly. Most probably even, perhaps. Though the lyrical verisimilitude is immaterial, and often ignored in favour of endemic smartphone photography. Naturally.
However another way in which the show is itself two-faced looks back over this splintering of Quattlebaum between poetry and performance, and Mykki interweaves backed tracks with a cappella rhymes with the punctilious dexterity of her ever busied Uptown coiffure. So not only generically speaking does the night shift wildly track to track, but the whole feel tends to differ dramatically from one moment to the next: whereas Fuckin The DJ is indubitable Blanco, and with that queer rap at its most louche, YungRhymeAssassin provides a rather more personal portrayal of its author. “I need all my pretty boys in the audience to scream!” Quattlebaum implores come its close and they willingly oblige, one removing himself from the fury only to practically pass out against the back wall. It’s understandable: the show has by this point taken an astounding upturn in intensity, and the pits begin to swirl with the famished vim anticipated of a Mission of Burma gig. And yet still, Blanco may be perceived to be an abnormal creature even here in the warm adulation of the avid: they evidently believe her to have been endowed with the repeatedly accentuated “Midas touch”, but one can’t help sense that even above these murky, illicitly perfumed doldrums she will again be disregarded as a dangerous beast – one vaunting its own anomalousness and self-absorbed transgression without even an iota of shame attached.
Though we are the lowly “maggots” adduced in Betty Rubble – a track which, muddy chorus aside, again proves ruddy exciting. Lyrically, she blows cover with that couplet (“I taste my own flows on this beat, hmm delicious/ I pull my dick out, skeet skeet, so nutritious”) though musically, it’s as though a more refined Death Grips with Blanco’s conscientious, brawny arms akimbo posing directly redolent of a certain Burnett. It’s next up with the ante again, as the self-styled “Young Castro” entices us “down the rabbit hole” that is Feeling Special. Only in these depths do we find Wavvy: its bass bowel-slackening; its lyrics starkly terse (“What the fuck I gotta prove to a room full of dudes/ Who ain’t listenin’ to my words cuz they staring at my shoes” seems a fairly apt excerpt for these ends), it’s born of that roily corner “in the back of the club” in which reggaeton molests dancehall. A heavily bastardised, and arrant banger in its own right, it’s tonight replete with extracts of Where’s Your Head At and Marilyn Monroe’s I Wanna Be Loved By You.
Which makes for an unanticipated turn for the downright obscure that ties neatly in with the closing moments of what Blanco perceives to be “our liddle cabaret.” Though Mykki’s jamboree ends where it first began – with MB’s First Freestyle. The clanging of distant chains on record interchanged with an acute still in reality, it’s fully a cappella and with that, Blanco’s most accomplished performance of the night. “Dark Joan of Arc, now gimme my veneration!” she demands, pausing strategically to absorb the unrestrained whooping before dropping to her knees. She may, or may not yet prove herself to be the ever elusive “fifth element”, although what is apparent is that Quattlebaum is absolutely in his element when dolled up as Mykki. And she leaves not without flailing one parting jab, as she snarls barbed: “You fake motherfuckers ain’t relevant.” In the context of the contemporary, and moreover within that of the changing atmospheres of hip hop Mykki Blanco at least for the time being epitomises what it is to be significant right around now. She’s hyperactive, and sketchy, and inconceivably seductive – the incarnation of the every prerequisite for this musically ADD-addled “double penetration nation” of ours. Right on, sister.