Following Yony Leyser’s 2017 documentary Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, which chronicled the explosive and innovative movement that intersects punk and queer culture to make a whole new vibrant subculture, writer for the documentary Walter Crasshole teamed up with Liam Warfield and Leyser to release the book Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution: An Oral History.
It’s a compelling overview of the Queercore movement – from its origins in Toronto and San Francisco to today – featuring interviews with protagonists like Bruce LaBruce, G.B. Jones, John Waters, as well as a treasure trove of photographs and reprinted zines.
With the book now available in the EXB online shop, our film editor spoke to journalist, DJ, and Exberliner columnist Walter Crasshole his experiences with Queercore and the future of this hard-to-pin-down movement.
What was your first contact with Queercore?
Oh, that’s easy – Bruce LaBruce’s The Raspberry Reich. I was working at Tower Records in San Francisco and they have a giant beautiful cinema in the gay district, the Castro. I was always into film and The Raspberry Reich completely blew my mind. I knew Bruce LaBruce from his first film, No Skin Off My Ass, but not all of his stuff was super available on DVD at the time.
What struck you about the film?
It was this cross between Goddard aesthetic and the new radical left of the 70s. It was kinda punk rock, because of its activism and hardcore left-wing politics, mixed with pornography. His cinematic style was a tribute to the greats and it was the big epiphany!
You came to Berlin in 2009 – you mention in the afterword that the city was experiencing “another queer punk explosion”. What was this explosion for you and what was there at the time that might not be present nowadays?
I just felt it. In retrospect, it was all this punk culture that had already been breeding for a while. I had just got here and it was everywhere. And everywhere I was, everyone was gay, queer, pan… From parties at Silver Future when it first got started to Ficken 3000. I hate to say this, but punk rock was slightly fashionable again – and that was convenient for me! I always had a mohawk, I always wore cut-off shorts, leather jackets… It’s not like today – I think punk is still an outsider thing, but in Berlin it’s part of the uniform now! (Laughs)
“We don’t claim that this is Encyclopedia Britannica of Queer punk rock!”
You met Yony at that time – how did the project come about?
Well, Yony approached me. We had seen each other at various venues and one day he reached out and asked to meet. He wanted to bring me on to work on the documentary. I had no idea what he wanted! (Laughs) He asked me to be co-writer and I didn’t know what that meant in terms of a film!
How did the collaboration go for the film?
In the end, the film is Yony’s thing. I was there at the beginning, giving cultural reference points and ideas about who might be good to interview. I ended up doing a good handful of the interviews: Bruce LaBruce, John Waters, Larry Livermore, who is lesser-known but important, as he’s the guy who founded Lookout Records, which was the label that gave Operation Ivy, Rancid and Green Day their chance when they were just kids. He’s queer but Lookout Records was never about being a queer label, so it was cool to get his perspective.
Was the goal always to have both the film and the book?
Not at all. The film came out and was successfully received. And as per usual when you’re telling these kinds of histories that span decades and continents, some people feel unheard or pushed out. Film is a hard medium – you only have so many minutes to tell a story and it’s inevitable that some people don’t make the cut. A book can service history so much better – you have so much more room and you can tell a lot more. So, we had all this material and we wanted to do justice to some of the material we didn’t get to use.
The book is by you, Yony and Liam. How did the three of you go about putting it together?
Yony handed the material to Liam and I – Liam structured the first part of the book, and I came in, did a bit more restructuring and added some more interviews. Then we both put together the queercore books, filmography and records list at the end of the book.
The queercore movement is a tough one to define – there’s no neat category and you say in the book that “it cannot be pinned down”. How do you go about making the book a comprehensive overview when it’s – again, in your own words – “wild and big and frenetic”.
Like most movements, they are hard to pin down. But I don’t think we did make a comprehensive overview! (Laughs) I’m not saying we didn’t do a good job, but we can’t tell everyone’s history and nor would we claim to! We don’t claim that this is Encyclopedia Britannica of Queer punk rock, but we did our best to cover the groundwork for it. Somebody said – and I think this is fair – that it’s a really great primer. We took protagonists that are, at least on some level, a niveau-up from complete unknown – there’s tonnes of underground shit that we didn’t cover. We did Bruce LaBruce, John Waters, G.B. Jones…
As an offshoot of punk subculture, Queercore deals with gender, sexuality, prejudice… Yony described it as “a farce that became real”. That phrase struck me – is it a reference to the fact that Queercore was a bedroom idea that grew into a vital subculture, or referring to the fact that humour is such a vital part of the movement?
Yes, humour is a big part of it. For a certain segment, I get what Yony’s saying. You’ve got to remember that there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of gay punks in every town – that’s just statistically impossible! I think that the way they were representing Toronto as this hotbed of queer, gay and lesbian punk rockers fucking shit up, they did that very well. And then Gus Van Saint came and said “It’s one guy and two dykes in their basement!” (Laughs) The zines that were created gave the movement iconography and illustrated it – and when you control the image, that’s where people’s minds instantly go. The visual impression of the subculture came because of these zines from Toronto.
For me, Peaches is the obvious inheritor, more so than even Le Tigre.
The book has a visual component to it, and features lots of pictures and zine extracts – was it hard getting these images?
No! The internet is a giant zine. A lot of the photos came from the protagonists we interviewed. As for the zines, they’re there. We’re not printing the full texts – just enough to show people what these things looked like. Most people knew we were writing about them, and they were happy to share.
Do you have any favourites?
Off the top of my head, there’s the one where this guy’s ass is up in the air over a toilet. I also like the photo of G.B. and Bruce when they were kids.
I’m a huge fan of the image on the book’s cover, with G.B. Jones sitting on the cop car…
Yeah, that! Say I said that one! (Laughs) There’s not one single image that I have as a favourite, but the cover is great! G.B. knows how to pose for a photo. The photo is candid, but she’s got that third eye!
You mentioned earlier the filmography and discography at the end of the book. That was an especially nice touch and a great jumping-off point from which people could explore more…
That makes me very happy, because I wrote them! (Laughs) It’s totally fucking arbitrary, because it’s all me. I decided that these were the records and films that encompass it, and no one pushed back! So, great! Hopefully people don’t take it badly that I haven’t mentioned certain records. I did get some pushback for the inclusion of Peaches…
Because people thought it was too late and that we were talking about Peaches all the time… For me, Peaches is the obvious inheritor, more so than even Le Tigre. No one was anti-Peaches or anything!
Film-wise, are there any recent films that strike you as inheritors of the movement?
French thrillers in bisexual lighting! (Laughs) I recently watched Equation to an Unknown (Francis Savel – 1980), which was one of the inspirations for the French film Knife + Heart, with Vanessa Paradis. That was kinda punk rock.
What about today – what’s Queercore’s place in what is now mainstream queer culture?
I don’t begrudge anyone for going “mainstream”. But my little brother doesn’t know who Peaches and Beth Ditto are. Queer visual cues and signalling has been picked up on a larger level, and very much so in Berlin marketing. But there are always going to be marginalised people among marginalised people – it’s just the way it is. There’s always someone who’s going to feel the need for pushback. It could be anything – the mainstreaming of drag culture to the collision of sexuality and capitalism, which is always going to be a thing.
In the afterword, you say that “Queercore can live on in yet-to-be-determined forms”…
Yeah! It’s not for me to determine, and people will always find new ways to make art. Someone will do it, and amaze us, and make us happy!
There was something really heartfelt about that afterword – your last lines really emphasise that the book is a celebration but also a way of not forgetting…
Yes, it’s an oral history. I’m a history buff and I get all sorts of happy about history. The book is a celebration of people being radical and doing interesting things, and as well as being politically relevant, it’s colourful and fun. Who doesn’t love people making them feel uncomfortable and making them re-examine their lives? It’s a great thing.
Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution: An Oral History is now on sale! Order your copy exclusively from the EXB shop.