Even if you’re schooled in the Bushwick drag scene, you’ve probably never heard of Olympia Bukkakis. The fact that Olympia/Taylor lives in Berlin and performs every Friday night at The Club, located in the super hip neighborhood Neukölln, might have something to do with it. To solve this unfortunate shortcoming, we highly suggest you make your way to Verboten tonight, where Olympia will join a throng of others for the first iteration of a new circuit party called The Party by Ostbahnhof.
Derek explained that the international party series will act as a creative “bridge” for artists to traverse between the respective New York City and Berlin scenes. “It’s not just about importing Berlin culture,” he said. “It’s more about creating interesting spaces where we can bring some elements of Berlin to New York City but also, in a humble way, plug into all the cool stuff that’s already happening here.”
To understand what you should expect from The Party by Ostbahnhof, you need to understand The Club and the people behind it. Derek and Taylor came to Berlin from very different places, but they stayed for similar reasons. When Derek was a teenager, he spent time traveling around Europe on his own. “The first time I came to Berlin and I remember getting there on the train,” Derek recalled. “It was the day of the Love Parade, and there were millions of people, like, naked and, you know, I was from the suburbs of Boston and was like, ‘What is this place?!’”
He ended up staying in a dingy old squat house called The People’s Squat. “It was the first night I smoked a joint, and it was my first 24 hours in Berlin,” he laughed. “After that I was like, I need to live in this city.” Derek continued his devotion to the city, returning intermittently throughout college, before finally settling down there permanently ten years ago.
The Club is something of a legendary spot in Berlin. In a city with a “very strong queer scene,” Derek described his bar as “one of the real centers of underground queer culture.”
The surrounding neighborhood provides an interesting contrast to what goes on inside. “Neukölln’s like a Turkish area that’s been gentrifying over the last five years and it’s become the cool queer center of Berlin– really cool stuff is possible there,” Taylor said. “There’s always shit dealing with the neighbors and stuff, but in contrast to Australia there are much fewer rules about what you can do, so it means it can be really wild.”
Events go down at The Club almost every night of the week, including Taylor’s Friday night party, Bump Day. The bar describes Olympia Bukkakis and her performance night in glowing terms: “Berlin’s premiere alternative drag performer/puddle of molten slag is not a woman, she is an idea, and an idea can never die. Olympia has decided to make absolutely sure this is true by pushing everything to breaking point, looking you directly in the eye and saying ‘What’?”
It’s not hard to imagine that things get pretty wild at The Club, something that Derek relishes in, even as a bar owner. “I just love pure and utter belligerence, one way to blast through all the bullshit is to just lay it all out there,” he explained. “I remember someone was just giving out drugs to people in the audience. I’m sitting here as a bar owner, watching this happen, and thinking in my head, ‘If the police come here, we are all fucked.’”
Taylor also loves the bar for its balance between unfettered hedonism and creative effervescence. “A lot of times people walk into this little bar that’s out of the way and something really intense is happening in it,” he laughed. Needless to say, Olympia’s performance fits right in. Bump Night is basically a performed diary of recent events in Taylor’s life. The emphasis is less about being the picture of glamour and more about being completely rotten and emitting a sense of “monstrosity,” what Taylor calls “trash drag.” The mission is to shocking the audience with over-share, but in a way that inspires a connection too.
“It’s quite intensely personal,” he explained. “I went back to Melbourne recently and got depressed because I didn’t have my weekly counseling session where I unloaded all of my dirty laundry to fifty people I didn’t know.”
Taylor admits that he gets very “theory-ish” about the whole thing. “Orchestrated failure and the destruction of glamour, they offer the potential to have an intimate moment with your audience,” he explained. “I guess my style is also aggressive. I talk a lot. I will talk about stuff that happened in the last week. If I go out and get super wasted, I’ll get in a fight with my boyfriend— he’s often there when I tell the stories but he’s very patient.”
As entertaining as this all is, Olympia combines the personal with the political as a means of confronting important issues. “So this guy was pressuring me to bottom for him at this party when we were super wasted, and I told him this big elaborate story and went into all the reasons why he was the biggest piece of shit,” Taylor explained. “It’s not just stuff inspired by my life, but also stuff I think is important, like consent in gay sex. We get such a strong anti-drug and anti-hedonism message that, often when we actively decide to reject that we’re kind of lost without having a moral code. I’m interested in the question of how to construct an ethical way of being wasted or being a slut.”
This confessional/political element recalls a recent talk with Vaginal Davis, who is also residing in Berlin indefinitely. The legendary performer is renowned for pioneering “terrorist drag,” a bizarro, confrontational method of getting people to think critically about a variety of issues while totally freaking them out. And it seems to be the drag genre of choice in Berlin.
Derek recalled one particularly enthralling show at The Club. “There’s this one performance artist named Gabi, she’s probably in her 50s and she’s been living in Berlin since the ‘80s. She delivered this spoken word performance, a diatribe against American-style capitalism and consumerism and at the end, she’s getting drunker and drunker and she took off all her clothes and walked directly out of the bar,” he laughed. “My jaw hit the floor, because we live in Neukölln, which is interesting because it’s a queer center, but you also have a Wahhabist mosque right around the corner, so there’s definitely a conservative element to the area as well. So here’s this 50-something-year-old woman walking around naked outside– it was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.”
Clearly, things are a little bit freer in Berlin.”There have been times when I’ve been completely and utterly blown away,” Derek said. “I mean, everything goes in Berlin– sex in nightclubs, gay sex dungeons, drugs everywhere– it’s a very wild and free city.”
We’ve all heard the comparisons– Brooklyn/Berlin, Detroit/Berlin, and even New York City in the ’70s and Berlin now. But by now, the word “Bushwick” has probably popped into your head. “I think absolutely there are parallels between Neukölln and Buswick,” Derek said. “It’s funny because I used to say, Kreuzberg is Williamsburg, and now that I’ve come here I’m starting to realize Neukölln is Bushwick.” The parallels between the drag scenes are particularly distinct as well, and if any drag show belongs at The Club, it’s Bath Salts (RIP). “Bushwick has an amazing reputation,” Taylor confirmed.
While Verboten isn’t exactly Bushwick, the fact that The Party by Ostbahnhof is happening there shows that the club is capable of moving beyond the EDM-and-molly crowd and appealing to a bit more radical set. And actually, Derek says the Williamsburg venue reminds him a bit more of German clubs.
The Club is still up and running in Berlin– meanwhile, Derek has settled in New York indefinitely. “I still have an apartment there and stuff like that,” he said. “But I’ve reoriented my center to Brooklyn.”
Derek originally moved back to the States as a means of settling down with his then-fiancé, “a shaman” who wasn’t feeling the vibes in Berlin anymore and wanted to return to the West Coast. Though, things didn’t go exactly as Derek had planned. “When I say I crash landed here, it’s like actual crash landed.” The shaman broke off the wedding.
With the West Coast move off the table, Derek was floating around Boston, his life in shambles. “I was in this state of devastation,” he recalled. “I was like, I can’t stay in Boston because I’m gonna go crazy.” After a visit to the city, Derek decided to move to Greenpoint. “I took my wedding ring and threw it off the Brooklyn Bridge,” he said. “It was like a big, symbolic action.”
Once he arrived in New York City, things started to come together once again for him. At a party one night Derek met the owners of Verboten and told them all about what he’d been doing in Berlin. “They said, ‘Wow this is really interesting– run with it.'” Fast forward to now, and Derek’s back at the nightlife game.
Though tonight is just a warm-up event for The Party by Ostbahnhof, there’s already some seriously wild stuff in store. The lineup, of course, includes Olympia Bukkakis. “I’ll be presenting Tom Hanks and Wilson, the ball from Castaway, as the greatest love story ever told, set to the music of Evanescence,” Taylor explained. “I’ll be deliberately forgetting Wilson, using an empty glass as the prop for him– just being fucking stupid.”
Eventually, when Williamsburg’s version of The Club (The Party) is in full swing, Derek hopes to extend it to the impressive length of a “Berlin weekend,” or a party that starts on Friday night and doesn’t stop until Monday morning. “We’d like to keep it as legal as possible,” he said. “It would start as an art gallery opening then go into this warehouse rave sort of party with performance art, and then would go into an after-hours party.”
The first iteration of The Party by Ostbahnhof is happening at 9 pm, Wednesday December 2nd at Verboten, 54 North 11th Street. Tickets: $20