Shirley is a beautiful man-eater, Glamrou is a 44-year-old sexpot, Chrystal’s a Republican glamour nana, and Aphrodite’s immortal – she’s a goddess with 24 kids. Together, they are Denim, the drag extravaganza breaking down gender binaries with their erotic, chaotic comedycabaret. Partway between a club night and a cover band, Denim blends activism with pure hedonism, transporting its audience into a world where categories for gender and sexuality dissolve. The trick? Everybody comes in drag.
Drag has made an art form out of marrying contrarieties, but even by these standards the DENIM story raises eyebrows. Alter egos of Hugh Wyld, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Tom Rasmussen, and Charlie Parham, the Denim girls were born in Cambridge University. “I really believe in positive revolutions,” says founder Amrou (Glamrou) Al-Kadhi. Amrou was excited by the idea of using drag, with all its irreverent queerness, to subvert the university’s straight male tradition. He wanted to get people to associate the feelings of euphoria and joy they experienced on the night with Denim’s political message – “that gender isn’t fixed, and that identity should be explored”. The first event was a roaring success. All the boys in Cambridge bought all the dresses in Primark, and the university became a hotbed of gender-anarchy and defiance. Since then the show has just got bigger. The Denims are now sponsored by MAC, and in the last year they have performed at Mario Testino’s birthday party and joined Florence Welch onstage at Glastonbury. But despite all the commercial success, their motivation remains ideological: “The problem with society is that people don’t respect the ‘other’”, Amrou tells me, “Drag helps us to recognise the ‘other’ within ourselves”.