Words & Images by Daisy Watson (@yellowdoor.photos)
Olivia Nuclear Bomb and Luna Howl unfurl the world of Medway’s Loco Cabaret
It’s a hot and sticky Friday night in Chatham. Blokes are still in their hi-vis jackets, out for a post-shift drink, while optimistically thirsty students are themselves pouring into pubs and bars around town.
As always, a traffic cone sits neatly upon the head of Thomas Waghorn’s statue. Everything in its right place.
And I’m going to Poco Loco, an old-style underground music venue just off Chatham High Street. The reason? To meet the Loco Cabaret; more specifically, to meet Olivia Nuclear Bomb and Luna Howl – otherwise known as
Olivia Tweedale and Nefi Weller. The pair have built a loving and inclusive home for the unapologetically outrageous, and I can’t wait to discover it.
So, for those who don’t know, what is the Loco Cabaret?
Olivia Tweedle: “The Loco Cabaret is a burlesque and drag performance night that we hold every other month in our favourite venue, Poco Loco, Chatham. We showcase the ‘alternative’ side to the industry. The side of burlesque and drag that you don’t always see in the mainstream media or social scene.”
How did you two meet?
OT: “We met when I was 13 years old! My friend at the time came to ‘knock for me’ to hang out for the day and she brought this very tall, dark-haired, Fall Out Boy-hoodie-wearing teen with her. We were friends from then onwards.”
Nefi Weller: “I was 12 when I met Olivia. We bonded over my Nirvana sweatband that I was wearing and have been friends ever since!”
How did you guys get into burlesque and drag?
OT: “I started burlesque four years ago through a cabaret show called The Cabaret Club. I had wanted to do it for years – the music video for Marilyn Manson’s MOBscene started it for me. I made friends with my now-best mate Lisa Carpendale, who ran the show. I volunteered and it went from there. It was an act called Queen Valentine who taught me burlesque and trained me for my first-ever performance.”
NW: “I drifted into drag towards the end of my fine-art degree. I was looking at ‘gender-bending’ art and started looking more deeply into drag. I joined a drag group in Norwich called Rosebud and we would perform around the town in various venues, the highlight headlining the main stage at Norwich Pride and performing at Norwich Fashion Week.”
How was The Loco Cabaret born?
NW: “The Loco Cabaret was born from me personally experiencing a lack of ‘queer culture’ and expression in Medway. Not having the spaces to ‘live as our queerselves’, we decided to start our own night. In September 2017, with the help of Lisa from The Cabaret Club, the show was born.”
When I came to photograph the show, I was blown away by the buzz and energy. How have you created such an accepting atmosphere?
OT: “Thank you so much! I think we just work together really well and are very organised. We like to involve everyone in whatever detail goes into the show. I especially love making groups, chats and social-media posts about it because it creates that buzz. We want to be really inclusive. We want to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and especially POC, which Poco Loco already is. The crowd are the main feature of creating this show. They are enthusiastic, supportive and anticipate every event.”
Your shows are so creative and eclectic! How do you decide on themes for the nights and curate the line-up of performers?
OT: “Nefi usually comes up with the themes! Performers so far have mainly been friends of ours in the industry that we want to showcase. We have met new performers through them. It’s a big network, but it’s so fun to see different types of performers. We’ve had a lot of interest since we started the show, especially from performers outside of Kent and more! So it will be fun to further broaden our performer line-ups.”
NW: “The themes are things that inspire us, like movies (Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch), music (1970s, punk rock), art, mythology and fairy tales.”
What has the response been like since starting out?
OT: “The shows have been getting bigger and better, from the crowd we pull in to the performers we showcase.
The acceptance and appreciation of our show is very humbling and heart-warming.”
What is the most challenging thing about what you do?
OT: “For me, I think it’s running it alongside a full-time job! Finding time to rehearse my own routine and making sure the performers are just as involved as Nefi and I are. Plus making sure tickets sell and that people are happy.”
NW: “What she said, plus making sure that people are safe and respected, too. That’s a huge thing for us.”
What is the best thing about what you do?
OT: “We love having people tell us afterwards about how much they love it! We have brought this show to
Medway and people haven’t seen anything like it before. Women come up to me after the shows and say how inspired they feel after seeing me and the other performers. It makes you feel like it’s not only a fun thing to do but we are actually making a difference.”
NW: “The best thing is being able to show our art form and have it appreciated.”
What is the broader drag and burlesque scene like in Medway?
OT: “The scene used to be bigger – I don’t know of many nights quite like ours. There used to be a fantastic night called Vintage Tease run by Jemma Arnold, but pubs like The Ship and Riverside Tavern now run regular drag nights.”
What’s next for The Loco Cabaret? What is the goal?
OT: “I have no idea, if I’m honest! For me I think it’s to carry on what we’re doing and maybe take it ‘on tour’. I would love to do some festivals with Nefi, especially on our own stage or something.”
NW: “To keep having fun! It’s a job, but it is also a great experience to share with friends. We aim to keep empowering the local community through our queer cabaret.”
Finally, I’d love to know, who are Luna Howl and Olivia Nuclear Bomb and what do those characters mean to you?
NW: “Luna Howl is the witchy demonic mistress of the underworld. Combining dark and camp characteristics into a sensual otherworldly being. I’ve always been inspired by fairy-tale ‘baddies’ and love seeing the beauty in mysterious or twisted things. So I try to portray that through my character and performances.”
OT: “For me, Olivia Nuclear Bomb is the rock’n’roll star, David Lynch character I never got to be, ha ha! She’s everything I love rolled into one. I was never confident growing up, I hated make-up and even cried when I got my first bra. For me it’s an accomplishment to prove that anyone can do it, anyone can get up there and explore.”