Video Courtesy of TomRasmussenVEVO on YouTube
“If you’re gonna stare, you may as well f***ing stare.” Cue the pulsating bass, cue the resolute vocals, cue the transposed piano sample from Madonna's ‘Vogue’. Tom Rasmussen’s track ‘F***ing look at me’ fulfils every want as a joyous meditation on the politics of being seen, with a danceability to boot.
Some may take such a sentiment for granted, but for Tom, who came to London to pursue writing and performance art as Crystal Rasmussen and later realised they had “spent five years trying to disappear'', this song is a statement of uncovering. Their upcoming solo project Body Building comes out through Globe Town Records, marking Rasmussen’s first foray into songwriting, with a show at Pickle Factory kicking off this new era.
Tom was supported by London electronica duo Awkward Moments, who had a much darker sound but an equally charismatic presence. Their trancelike music and latex outfits created a different sensibility entirely, and in fact the contrast between the two acts suited the night best, as a celebration of diverse expression. Mimi Xu took care of the beats, which veered between serious abandon and synthy optimism, and Maguire’s soaring vocals and soupy violin helped push the techno-ey cocoon of their creation into much more expansive territory. A highlight was definitely the moment when they each held a torch and scanned it around the audience - one on the floor at this point, and one behind the synths. As a duo, Awkward Moments combined performance and sound experimentation in a way that felt unified and formidable. They closed their set with a robot-effect filtered “Thank you” and an increase in the BPM of their music, their long hair waving in time to the throbbing beat.
Enter Tom Rasmussen. Opening with ‘F***ing Look at me’ and Rasmussen’s new Arthur-Rimbaud-inspired single ‘Fabulous Opera’, the gig began on a buoyant high which soon gave way to more intimate, piano-driven songs. Tom’s glass of champagne on stage and easy rapport with the audience spoke to an ease in the spotlight stemming from Tom’s drag past, but the songwriting took centre-stage this time. And that voice! Tom’s soprano moments had strong echoes of Jimmy Somerville and even Anohni, their starkly full-bodied vocals almost belying their decisively pop-song structure.
The closing track ‘Dysphoria’ is Rasmussen’s self-defined ‘Trans banger’, dealing with the temporary dissolution of dysphoria through falling in love on the dancefloor. The classic 90s piano and ecstatic vocals turned ‘Dysphoria’ into a space of euphoria, a testament also to producer Noah Ings’s slick pop prowess.
Riding the joyful wave the set ended on, we were able to catch up with Tom backstage for an illuminating chat on drag, songwriting and transitioning between the two.
How do you feel after your first gig for this project?
It was good, I was worried this week that I wasn’t gonna enjoy it, but I really did!
The energy was amazing! This project is so different to anything you’ve done before, as you’re writing your own music now. Is that a different experience emotionally from doing covers, or that a bit of a false dichotomy?
No, it’s not a false dichotomy at all, it differs a lot. You’d think it would be the same, that would be the easy answer, but with covers people judge your voice and what you’re wearing, your makeup in drag… but with this, people judge the lyrics, the sound, the vibe. Not that it necessarily matters what people think, but it is more exposing. Ironically, because drag is so garish, and people are so violent towards drag, that would seem more exposing. But although this is more exposing, it’s also way more rewarding. I feel more full now, doing this.
Choosing to be a performer is such a specific life path as it is, what inspired you to make this creative jump?
I guess I’ve always wanted to do it. I’d done drag for ten years, and in the end it felt like it had become a creative dead end. I’d learned in the first seven years of drag how to put on the perfect show, the perfect arc to make people feel really good, how to use my voice, all those things—but in the end I was like, ‘I can’t keep doing this thing that’s dead’.
Did you feel it was dead in terms of your own artistic expression, or the scene more generally?
All of it—drag is in a complicated place right now. I did a job, a job that I did for the money, and I found myself on a set in drag saying something I knew was a lie. I felt super uncomfortable with that. I had a big emotional breakdown. It was a decade of doing this thing, I was getting paid well, I was on this glamorous set, I had a car—all the things you think are right—but I’m saying nothing I believe in. I thought, ‘was this the price, to sell my soul?’ So, I wanted to do something that felt truthful. Drag is so truthful, but in different ways—it’s truthful in expression, this is truthful in the words.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor