Berlin's nightlife scene is overstuffed with colorful characters, but few make an impression as immediately striking as MIKEY. I still recall the overwhelming awe I felt the first few times I saw them; striding purposefully in scarlet stilettos through a crowd that would immediately part for them, as though they were a Moses with a face beat for the gods and the throngs of dancers merely ocean waves.
But of course, MIKEY is first and foremost a consummate musician, marrying profound concepts about gender and identity to sounds that are rich with human warmth. I wept openly the first time I heard them perform the song "Genitalia", an incisive condemnation of the barriers and labels that continually stand in the way of connection and intimacy for those of us who don't conform to binaries. Strumming their guitar as they stood resolutely alone on stage, the deep affectation with which they sang was spellbinding, leaving all of us in the crowd in reverent silence.
"Genitalia" is one of four tracks that will appear on MIKEY's debut EP Paths, a collection of songs that serve as a perfect distillation of both their sound and ethos as a performer. Ahead of its release, they have created an immersive visual in support of the title track, one that I had the great honor of being asked to co-star in. After years of refining their craft, it is a thrill to have MIKEY's art become readily available to the rest of the world.
To celebrate its release, I caught up with MIKEY to chat its conception, creation, and the inspiring journey that brought them here.
OUT: Tell me a bit about the concept behind the video.
The concept of "Paths" is basically one's journey through life -- not just human life but the universal path or journey. I had this idea of five wonder-warriors which were played by friends slash people who I see as genderless creatures who are also amazing artists in their own work. There are also dancers who represent devils or the darkness that we go through in life, things that hold us back or things that pull you in different ways. Essentially it's a choreographed journey through universal existence.
And Paths is also the name of the EP.
The song, in general, is a very important song to me. I wanted it to be the first song I released into the world as my own personal ritual; to lay my foundation in the world as an artist and a musician. It was an important thing to do. I had a lot of people telling me to put out the more pop-y songs, or the songs that they thought would connect with people more. This track has more of a spiritual message, but I needed to have it out first for myself.
Are the songs on the EP ones you've been working on for a while or are they more recent?
We started work on the EP a year ago now. When we first started I decided it would be the last 4 songs I wrote, just because they were current with who I was. They're very strong songs, they have strong messages in them. Just like "Paths" is the first song I want the world to hear, these four are the first of my catalog that I want people to hear. They represent who I am now.
When you say 'we' you mean?
I worked with Jane Arnison from the band Evvol. I met her through mutual friends and we wanted to see if we had good chemistry. I already had a lot of the ideas for the EP and she nurtured them really well. That was the trouble with producers and previous people I worked with; I always felt like my idea was never valued. So it was good to work with Jane, she really gave me a confidence boost and trust in my own musicality.
Would you say you're a spiritual person?
Since moving to Berlin, yeah.
Why did you move to Berlin?
I wouldn't say accidentally, but I was in New York originally and then London. Because I'm Australian it's hard to get visas and be able to stay in one place for more than a few years. Germany was the first place to give me a longterm artist visa.
Berlin has built a reputation for being the place for gender expression right now. Would you agree? Is it a good place to come to for that reason?
No, I think it's a good place for people to come to once you've already established that side of yourself. If I wasn't comfortable with who I am and I didn't have all the experience of gender expression in London and New York, it would be very hard for me here. But because I've already had this experience with it, it trained me to be a tough individual. When I'd go out in London, I'd have a whole group of friends all expressing themselves in different ways, but when I first came to Berlin, I felt like I was one of the few in the nightlife scene that was doing it and doing it unapologetically.
Has that changed at all since you've been here?
I do see more of it, and there is a good scene here for performance art and drag. But I wish that more people wouldn't be afraid to express who they are, or wouldn't be afraid of embodying that freedom.
Do you consider what you do drag?
I've always called it drag as it's the easiest way to describe it and it's what other people know. But no.
How did you start your career? I know you're from rural Australia, which is not generally known as a queer-friendly place.
I've always wanted to do music ever since I was young, and I made music as a kid but locked up in my room where no one else would see. When I was in high school I gave it up because I was so scared of what other people would think of me. I gave up music, I gave up singing, dancing, all of it. It wasn't until I was living in Sydney when I picked it back up, I happened to live across from a music school and I ended up enrolling. So I got back into music, I started learning songwriting and guitar. Within six months I was pushing myself to do shows on the Sydney acoustic live scene. That's where it started and it just kept evolving over the years through my travels.
In New York and London, did you find yourself inevitably part of the drag scene or were you focused on music?
In New York, that's when I first discovered... I still wasn't comfortable and out with my sexuality yet. That's when I discovered the New York nightlife scene. It was a place where I felt like I belonged, and through looks and drag and makeup, I was able to challenge who I was and keep evolving and keep pushing myself every week.
In Australia, you weren't experimenting with looks at all?
Not at all. I wasn't even out with my sexuality, I didn't go out clubbing. Before that, I used to sit at home every day of the week writing songs on my guitar. I used to push myself to write songs constantly, and now it's getting harder for me because I don't want to write about songs I'm not connected to; I really look for that connection to an idea.
Is there anything you've learned specifically from Berlin nightlife?
Berlin is very special. When I left London I thought I was part of a family, but in Berlin, I've learned about so many more things that I never thought existed or never thought possible. I came here and I grew and I became a different person.
If you could go back in time and tell 10-year old Mikey something, what would it be?
I wouldn't tell him anything. What I've learned is that the things you experience are part of your journey. As bad as those fucked up things are, they become part of who you are.
In "Paths" you sing, "One must learn to embrace, nurture, protect a sense of wonder." How do you embrace, nurture and protect your sense of wonder?
Living life without fear of the things you don't understand or know. And keeping an open mind to everything. Not only with my journey of gender expression -- there's all these expectations of what you're meant to fit into and it can be very scary. We're all trying to fit into a certain something -- whatever it is -- and there's the pressure of not fitting in. It's scary to feel like you don't fit in. I've only just stopped being afraid of not wanting to fit in, and it takes a long time to overcome that. To realize you don't have to fit into anything -- and that's how you become a wonder-warrior.
MIKEY's debut EP Paths will be released on June 8.