Every Labor Day, New Orleans celebrates gay pride the way only New Orleans can — with a weekend-long festival of dancing, drinking, parades with floats filled with barely clothed men and women, and all manner of beads earned in illicit fashion. Gay Mardi Gras — or Southern Decadence, as it is officially known — comes but once a year, but one New Orleans queer cultural export has been moving from the underground clubs of the 3rd Ward into the iTunes and Youtube queues of hipsters in New York and Los Angeles, not to mention the pages of The New York Times Magazine: sissy bounce.
It’s New Orleans’ indigenous rap form (bounce is to NOLA as go-go is to Washington, DC) but with an LGBT twist. And New Yorkers, watch out: sissy bouncers Big Freedia and DJ Rusty Lazer are coming to PS.1.‘s Warm Up party on August 28th. Gird your asses and brush up on your sissy bounce with our introduction to five of the movement’s essential acts below.
Bounce is like dance music distilled to its purest, repetitive, booty-shaking essence. It emerged in New Orleans some 20 years ago, and sissy bounce wasn’t too far behind. The artist recognized as the pioneering queen of the form is Katey Red, a transgender rap artist who began busting down the barriers of the machismo-obsessed genre in high school. In an interview Red did with journalist and bounce chronicler Alison Fensterstock for Fensterstock’s brilliant bounce documentary photo project, Red explains “I used to rap in the hall at school and out in the courts and stuff, so when I got up there everyone knew what to say back. I was the first homosexual rapper, so I opened a lot of doors for people so that they could do their own thing.”
Big Freedia, who knew Katey Red in high school, is another one of the city’s sissy bounce representatives. Perhaps her (though Freedia doesn’t perform in drag, the preferred pronouns are feminine) best known song is “Make Your Booty Go.” As you’ll see in the video, the traditional bounce show is heavy on the ass-popping and -shaking, usually at speeds that qualify as a rigorous calisthenic workout. Her gigs usually last something like 20 to 30 minutes, and she does up to six of them a night.
Nobby released a mixtape this year called Party Nobby, including the single “Beat out the Frame.” One of the leading figures of sissy bounce, she is also one of the most flamboyant, despite the fact that she isn’t transvestite. She frequently appears at parades and special events to lend some of that bounce flavor to the audience. Along with Freedia, Nobby appeared in a mini-documentary on the scene called “No One’s Safe,” directed by Diplo.
Redu, who went to high school with Katey Red, relocated to Texas after Katrina. He’s not particularly fond of the label “sissy,” though he was part of the original sissy bounce crew. He grew up in the Magnolia Housing Projects and now performs throughout the Southeast and Texas. Redu usually takes the stage with his group, “the Cru,” and specializes in the sweaty, bouncing ass-mosh pit dance party. He dresses less outrageously than his Bounce counterparts — usually in a patterned, collared shirt and a loud sweater instead of, say, a gold lamé mini-dress like Ms. Katey Red. His style is also more relaxed than the hammering party beats of Nobby and Big Freedia.
DJ Rusty Lazer is the Diplo of the sissy bounce set; it’s rare that two or more of the rappers gather without Lazer being present. Together with Freedia or Nobby, Lazer is the fulcrum of the explosive dance parties that sissy bounce is famous for. He’s also acted as their ambassador, booking shows outside of New Orleans and promoting the bounce name in magazines like XLR8R and in local clubs and radio shows.