Making its World Premiere at the Doc Edge Festival, Disco Bloodbath is a documentary that follows Dan Veint, the man behind the drag artist, Drew Blood, as he finds a home to take his performance art to the next level.
That home is Disco Bloodbath, a monthly party that shook-up Auckland queer nightlife in 2015, with its no-limits attitude. But how long can no limits last? As performers pushed the envelope to the extreme, people became offended, blame was laid, friendships frazzled and Disco Bloodbath dramatically disintegrated! Oliver Hall talks to star Dan Veint and director Marcus Palmer about documenting this unique time.
Dan Veint feels burnt by Auckland’s drag scene and he’s not staying silent about it.
“It’s caused me huge anxiety. People out there like playing with your ife because they’d rather not see you on stage or because you’ve got the spot that they want. And you can’t really do anything about it. It’s absolutely horrible,” he says emphatically. Before offering a sad and solemn, “I’ve had some really bad times.”
He explains that he believes some people on the drag scene have tried to ruin his career, by spreading vicious rumours about him. While we don’t see this happen in Disco Bloodbath, we do see a close-knit group of friends (who previously profess to love each other and consider themselves family) turn on each other (particularly Dan) when times get tricky.
“What it really taught me is the lack of professional standards that exist when drag is your career. There’s nobody looking after us. We don’t have agents. You can’t take them to HR, you can’t be like, ‘hey, this person is bullying me.’ People are incredibly unprofessional. They don’t consider it a real job. They’ll do things in the realm of drag that you would never do in any other job. There’s just a huge lack of protection!”
In recent times, Dan tells us he has stepped away from K Road drag life, performing in China, starring in a TV show alongside Lucy Lawless and focusing on his art.
Dan met (Disco Bloodbath director) Marcus at film school, and when Dan posted on social media about performing his first drag show, Marcus asked if he could film it.
“I just thought it would be a wonderful thing to film, and it was! This really beautiful and grotesque performance,” Marcus enthuses. He continued filming Dan’s shows and general immersion into the drag scene, where his love of using liquids and slime in his performances would restrict his bookings, until he met Disco Bloodbath organiser Frankie Tocker and she offered him a regular spot at her monthly party.
“It was a really good opportunity for me to play with ideas that I wanted to create,” Dan tells us.
“Bars like Family don’t like you to make a mess during your shows and that was what I really wanted to experiment with.” And while Dan had found his stage, Marcus had found the scene he wanted to document.
“I really loved the idea of Frankie starting this place where queer punk kids could go. It wasn’t just a traditional drag place. It was counterculture,” Marcus tells us. “I was wondering where [the documentary] was gonna go,” says Dan, who was filmed over a near two year period.
“I started thinking, maybe he was documenting the friendship between Frankie and I, which was quite exciting for us, but she moved to London [during filming] and she’s barely in [the film]!”
Marcus’ focus became the concept of a space where artists were allowed to put on shows, without the rules and limitations regular clubs had.
However in Dan’s words, “people misinterpreted the lack of rules for a need to be edgy, for edgy’s sake! They would take it to places that became offensive. So we did have to put rules on our anarchy a little bit. We didn’t actually mean that you could hurt people’s feelings, we just meant that, as an artist, you should be able to make the kind of art that you want.”
But in a twist that almost seems to foreshadow the culture wars that would engulf Auckland’s queer community in 2018; the performers discovered that line could be a tight rope to walk. A Facebook post that announced the next party would be MC’d by a queen called Abortia Clinics, was met with uproar. “They had to shut the Facebook page down because so many people were fighting about it,” recalls Dan.
“I really loved the idea of Frankie starting this place where queer punk kids could go. It wasn’t just a traditional drag place. It was counterculture,” – Marcus Palmer
Debates about what was acceptable divided friendships and set the party on a downward spiral, concluded by a final funeral-themed event for the death of Disco Bloodbath in October 2016.
To some extent, Marcus Palmer had seen this coming. “I personally thought it was inevitable,” he says. “That’s what I found fascinating. A place of no limits until the limits of expression started to show themselves. That was the story that I wanted to tell.”
The events left friendships decimated and Dan tells us he is in contact with very few of the performers who had once considered each other family. “Looking back, I remember loving those people that I just don’t have anything to do with now. We thought that our drag was enough to keep us together, but it’s not enough to sustain a friendship.”
Marcus is aware of the impact Disco Bloodbath had on its performers and agrees, that “it was a tumultuous time for the people involved,” and acknowledges the impact the film’s release six years on, could have on some of them. “I care deeply for them. So it’s really important that we are sensitive to those people. It’s about celebrating a bunch of people fighting to express themselves.”
Palmer’s film, however, is likely to court controversy. Marcus does not identify as a member of the rainbow community, however, his film is based around queer nightlife and its subjects are, at times, inebriated in the footage. Some are said to be annoyed about its release.
“People are like ‘you let somebody film you for years?’ ‘You let somebody film you when you were drunk?’” Mimics Dan when talking about the reactions people give him when they find out he will star in the documentary. “They’re like, ‘I could never do that. People would find out I’m a terrible person.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I never thought of it that way.’”
Despite all that he has been through Dan is looking forward to the film’s release. “It is a big deal for me,” he tells us. “It’s going to be emotional to reflect on that period of time, but I don’t think it will entirely be a sad thing. I love Marcus and I feel so lucky to have these moments documented.”
“In a sense, this is a historical document that captures a unique point in time and a growth point for the LGBTQ+ community,” says Marcus, who sums the film up as being about, ‘what friendship is at its core.’
“I started to see over time that there were friendships that were ‘temporal’. They were extreme and deep and real. But they were related to a certain point in time in a certain place, and I found that fascinating.”
Disco Bloodbath premieres as part of the Doc Edge festival on Friday 24 June in Auckland, followed by screenings in Christchurch on Saturday 25 June and Saturday 2 July in Wellington as well as online screenings available from 25 June till Sunday 10 July. Docedge.nz