DISCO DYKE DIVAS with Lorraine Segato, Suzanne Nuttall, Jennifer Gillmor, Suzi Richter, LiLia, Joanne Mackell, Jenn Moxon, Celina Carroll, Janet Whiteway, Gloria Shreve, Morgan Doctor, Isabelle Noël and JJ Sheppard, at the Pride Stage South (Carlton and Church), Saturday, June 28, 8 pm. Free. 416-927-7433. www.pridetoronto.com after sondheim-style musical theatre and earnest granola lesbo-folk, disco's got a long-standing reputation for being the gayest genre of pop music. Thing is, with its campy divas and poppers-and-polyester pandemonium, disco culture has traditionally been a bastion of queer male expression. Think big bulges, Village People fetishism and glory holes in the bathrooms at Studio 54.
But Suzanne Nuttall and Jennifer Gillmor , organizers of the Disco Dyke Divas event at this year's Pride, are liberating disco from its boys' club shackles with their slyly subversive live musical take on camp classics. The duo have rounded up a phenomenal roster of local queer lady talent to perform old-school hits in over-the-top costumes.
Gillmor, a kick-ass bassist who's played with everyone from Roach Motel and Dropdeadbeats to Tamara Williamson, agrees that the all-grrrl approach to macho-man tunes adds an arch twist.
"The singers range from folk to rock to reggae, but as far as doing a disco show, there's a chance to take the piss out of the old diva act from the 70s. Most of these women are the furthest thing from typical feminine singers. When you've got someone like Suzi Richter doing a macho love tune, it becomes totally campy."
"And some of these songs are subversive," adds Nuttall (ex-of Sue de Nym and Bare Bones), who claims out, queer female belters have more op-portunity to be sexual onstage.
"Like, one woman is covering a Kiss song. We all grew up with Kiss and probably assumed they were sexist bastards, and this turns that around. I get chills just thinking about it!"
The ladies are mum on their choice of tunes - they're stoked about the element of surprise - but fess up to a love of the irreverent performative nature of disco. In fact, Nuttall came up with the Disco Dyke Diva concept back in the winter, when she was trying to rediscover how to make music fun again. She'd been on hiatus since Sue de Nym's last show in December 2000, claiming that the cutthroat business side of things killed her love of performance.
"I had to figure out a guaranteed fun form, which is how I came up with disco. How could it possibly take itself seriously?"
Reluctant to plan such a large-scale event on her own ("I learned from experience"), Nuttall invited pal Gillmor to be her partner in crime. Gillmor agreed on the condition that she be the bassist in the house band - now dubbed the Funk Sisters, after the legendary Funk Brothers, recently feted in the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown doc.
"First off," says Gillmor, "the idea of rounding up a whole bunch of local dyke musicians was very exciting for me. I was thrilled by the idea of organizing an event with so many of the women I've enjoyed working with over the years.
"Also, the music is funky! As a teenager, I was really into Patti Smith and the Clash, very much a proud member of the Disco Sucks campaign. But now, with the homogeneity of contemporary dance music, what I call "doof doof" house music, I've realized that disco's actually very well crafted. I just hope I don't discover the same appreciation of gay house years down the line!"
Scanning the wildly eclectic lineup - from erstwhile dyke icon Gloria Shreve , whom Gillmor and Nuttall claim had "dropped off the face of the planet," to Claudia's Cage and Nancy Sinatras powerhouse Richter - you realize that the majority of these singers were hand-picked from cult acts in the past. Where are all the analogous out-there lesbo legends today? Other than Ember Swift and Random Order, is Toronto's dyke musical community going through a dry spell?
"It's difficult to say that, 'cause there's always something percolating under the surface," ponders Nuttall.
"There was a time around 98 when it seemed like there was a lot of stuff going on. But speaking as somebody who's been playing for a while, I think it's really hard to keep a band together. Maybe it's just a question of people not being able to stay at it long enough to build up a reputation.
"Maybe there's also an element of what's popular at a certain time. When I started out, Joan Jett influenced me to start playing electric guitar. Is there anyone like her out there to be a role model for young queer girls?
"It's hard. I don't wanna put down DJ culture, but there's also a big push for DJs right now, so maybe there aren't as many places to play live music any more."
"Sometimes I think it's because I'm 37 and I'm not going out clubbing the way I used to, but I wonder if it's just the way the DJ scene is taking over the nightclub thing for young people. I realize that's just a trend sweeping the West, but as a musician I'm looking forward to the time when the trend dies and live music comes back again!"