Tragedy, Glamour and Clissold Park
Pop star Saint Torrente answers questions from their friends and collaborators alongside a dramatic photo series
Photography by Faith Aylward, styling by Mia Maxwell, lighting by Vicky Georgisvilli, assisted by Malaika Munshi.
Wearing designers KAWAKEY, Benny Aldo, Fennuala Belle, Karolina Brown.
What I love about your work is to me, you bring both the fun, glamour, drama but also tragedy of pop music allure. It feels like a play. What are your non musical inspirations, and how do they influence your work?
I feel like the work I'm trying to do is about queer fantasy, and trying to create worlds that are full and reveal a lot in a short space of time. I like density and world-building, so I think a lot about films as I'm writing. I’m obsessed with putting queer stories in big contexts, with a sense of grandeur. I think about that when I watch Fellini movies. Like, I see those incredible Italian fantasias and I think about how I wanna see a cathedral full of drag queens, or a huge gang of leather daddies riding down a highway on their motorcycles.
It's about putting queer people in an unlikely space - pulling us out of the margins and showing us at the centre of the narrative.
You so gorgeously explore the tragedy of passion within your work. Is love your biggest influence?
I think it has to be. I think pop music, as a medium, is a lot about desire and passion. Love is like the dominant text of pop music. And I’m a queer performer who uses pop as my medium - if I’m trying to access my interiority on stage, I can’t make it about lukewarm feelings. The stakes are too high! It’s supposed to feel vital; you’re supposed to feel how my heart feels. Love!
Pierre Babbage @pierrewiththegoodhair
Tom Rasmussen @tomglitter
It's just nice to hear music I would listen to performed by, written by, produced by one of us. It feels like the music industry can be really nefarious, and so it's powerful to watch someone nail it on their own terms. To make their own orbit. Very Kate Bush, the ultimate icon. But when fame and money can be so attractive yet so exclusionary - especially for queers who are seeking different forms of love - how do you deal with ambition?
That’s the thing, right? The music industry isn't really designed to make anything happen for queer gender non-conforming people. Becoming aware of that, and having real challenges over the last few years has changed my focus and made me rethink my expectations of the career I want to have. At the end of the day, I’d rather the work I do be about the people around me. I’m paraphrasing Matt Rogers, but, “don’t think of it as a career, think of it as a community.”
I want to make work with my friends, and I want to build things that really make the lives of the people around me better, more enjoyable, more interesting. That doesn’t mean I don’t aspire to stadiums and couture, but I’d rather it happens on my terms. I feel like over and over again I get frustrated by an obstacle, and go start my own thing. That’s why I started running my night, Nightplayer, in uni - I wasn’t getting any music gigs! It’s like, at the end of the day, I can either fight against the framework that is built in opposition to me or I can find ways around the framework.
How has the dance you watched and grew up on influenced the music you create now?
When I was a kid, my mum took us to see the Lion King. A local dance company was doing it as a dance piece. I think that must have been the first time I knew I was watching a performance. It didn’t make sense to me how the people we were watching on stage were, like, normal people in Gibraltar, or how the kids in the show were my age. I felt kinda cheated, too. Like, “why did no one tell me this was an option?” I left that show dancing down the street, making shapes against the wall, pointing my toes. I was obsessed with Britney Spears at that age; obsessed with how she radiated energy out at the audience, but seeing it live that day was probably when I decided I was going to be a performer.
Faith Aylward @didudietho
What was hardest about not being able to perform during the lockdown and are you looking forward to returning to it?
Yeah, I am. The hardest thing was losing my sense of my physicality. Now that I've started to do a couple of performances, I feel like I'm really rusty and like I'm having to relearn how to move and what movement means for the songs. All the songs have a physical core: “Gasolina” is all about the back of my heels, like I’m waiting in anger for a boy that won’t show up; “Les Immortels” is seductive, it’s all about convincing someone to whisk me away.
Now, I feel like I've got to remember those worlds each time. I'm really looking forward to coming back to it and getting to find new characters to perform as. It feels like the pandemic changed every part of my life and opened up so many things for me personally that it all requires a new focus. A lot of the songs from the first EP that I've been performing were written about my teenage self. And I just feel so far removed from that person now. I feel like my adulthood was born in the pandemic. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way.
Hasti Crowther @fresh.lip
What have been the positives to have come out of the pandemic for you creatively?
A new focus on collaboration! I've always found it hard. Like, I always felt a tension of how much to let someone in, or let someone else take control. I’m a micromanager, by nature. So, at the beginning of the pandemic, I started sending my songs out to friends and collaborators, and friends of friends who played instruments, and just asked them if they could record themselves at home, and then send it back to me.
That's basically how I’ve been putting together the project I’m working on now, and it's been super fulfilling and super exciting. Getting to work with someone else’s material really breathes new life into a song. I feel like it’s made me a better musician and a better curator. “Kiss of Something More” would not be the same without the harps that Ollie Singleton did. To me, they revealed that song’s folk DNA. It changed how I performed my vocals completely!
Anyway, I feel like individualism is a big neoliberal lie. I want it to feel communal. One person is not supposed to hold all the keys.
How does it feel to be the hottest slut in East London?
Imagine if I said, “it’s what I’ve wanted all along,” or something. Yeah, that’s not my energy at all! I’m more like East London’s soppiest introvert. In a nice way.
Laurie Belgrave @the_chateau_
It feels like Saint Torrente and The Chateau are inextricably linked. From performing at our opening party in July 2018 to your now legendary EP launch show in Sept 2019 (which is one of my all time Chateau highlights). Time after time you brought magic to the basement. Is it important for you to show your work within queer spaces? Do you find that your music is received differently outside of these spaces?
So much of what I'm trying to do is about the people I'm singing about, right? Queer people and queer performance is everything to me. I love the way categories break down, how there’s no distinction between music or cabaret or dance: they're all just happening at the same time in the same amorphous space. And I love how DIY queer spaces are, or how, like The Chateau, they are just the downstairs of some hotel that was going unused. And then the people there understand that when they go to a night, they don't know what they’ll see. And that’s a kind of potential… there's a sense of opportunity in the air all the time. I think that really suits the stuff I do, because I want it to be vibrant and feel alive.
But then it's a different game in straight spaces, or normal music venues, because I'm trying to provoke the audience, trying to push them out beyond what a singer would usually do. Especially when I first started, I just wanted to get in people’s faces and shock them out of passive listening. It actually means that usually in the smoking areas of those non-queer spaces, I get more people coming up to me to ask about my performance, or about a detail in the lyrics, or whether actually queer performance is something they’ve been looking for for ages.
Compton Franklin @comptonjfranklin
I like your style - what animal were you in a past life?
I know exactly what animal I was. I was one of the deer in Clissold Park. My God, I stare at those deer every single day, and they are so shy and so soft. Sometimes I don't pay enough attention to the fact that I am also shy and soft. Although I have big dreams and big ideas, I am very sensitive, and I need to tend to that person, you know?
Also, the deer in that park look like they're so caged in, like at any moment they might just jump the gate. And I relate. Like, “There! I did it! Now what do I do?” As if they jumped without a plan and now they need to figure out where to take their freedom. That’s how I feel.
Mia Maxwell @miamaxwelll
Eddie Rius Garcia @ergxx_
When we work together, we’re so bound by our circumstances and by our DIY-ness. In the future, when you have the means to make work that is 100% faithful to your vision: what will that look like? What can we expect from *that* Saint Torrente?
On the one hand, I see movies and huge theatrical productions, costumes, and I see huge venues and big online work. The dream of getting to work with a film crew, actors, or getting to record in a huge studio with all the musical resources I’d like at my disposal, with the best mixing engineers and the best instrumentalists, etc… is exciting to me. Of course it is.
But it would change the dynamic of the work, right? Like, getting access to a big historical collection, or wearing Mugler… it changes my positionality to the the cultural ideas I’m responding to, or the queer DIY culture I came up in. So much of my work so far has been defined by my DIY-ness. And I love working DIY - I love figuring things out, sourcing props from random places, calling in favours from people who care about the projects - all of that is super fun, in part because it’s challenging. But there’s a reason queer people have learned to be crafty: lack of access to resources. Would I be the same girl if I was wearing Versace on a red carpet? Probably not. It's complicated.
What do you desire?
I just want to keep making things that I like for the rest of my life. I want to feel like I’m finding new ways to express myself all the time, and I want it to feel interesting, or experimental, or illustrative of what’s happening inside me. Even just saying that feels exciting and scary at the same time - I really feel it. I like the idea of making things with a focus on connecting to the audience. Because that’s what inspired my performance life since the beginning. Yeah, I’d like to get to sing for lots of people, for people to feel like they can find themselves in my songs and my visuals.