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MondoHomo Dirty South: The other side of the rainbow

Celebrating the cool in queer arts

The South is known for two things: down-home hospitality and the go-nuts attitude of crunk. If you attended the Atlanta Pride Festival's headlining act, the Debbie — sorry – Deborah Gibson concert on the Coca-Cola Stage at Piedmont Park on June 24, you probably didn't get heaping helpings of either. But you probably were handed packets of aspirin, hair conditioner and long-distance calling plans – all the while wondering if Debbie would sing "Electric Youth" or if she was above that now that she's "Deborah."??
The MondoHomo Dirty South festival is on a mission to change this by breaking free from a corporate-dominated atmosphere and providing a platform for independent arts and culture from the adventurous side of the rainbow. It's a gala of indie and DIY culture featuring bands, DJs, hip-hop and various spoken word, drag, arts and crafts events.

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But above all else, MondoHomo is about having fun. Politics is also one aspect of the festival, which is underscored by it coinciding with the U.S. Social Forum at the Atlanta Civic Center. The aim of MondoHomo, however, is to provide radical entertainment for the scores of concert-goers and USSF politicos descending upon Atlanta in the name of positive social change.

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"It's not the average Pride festival," MondoHomo booking agent Ria Pell says, adding that nearly 60 bands from as far away as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Cincinnati are performing at MondoHomo one week after the Atlanta Pride Festival. "These artists are coming to play Atlanta and all we're giving them is a travel stipend. They're playing for free because they believe in the festival and they want to have a good time."

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Pell is the owner of Ria's Bluebird Café on Memorial Drive. She knows firsthand the challenges of maintaining an independent business and adds that any kind of "gay gathering" is a wonderful thing. However, she is distraught over the corporate push to utilize any large gathering of people, such as Atlanta's Gay Pride Week, as an opportunity for carpet-bombing with advertising and product placement. Hence, there is no Coca-Cola Stage or Verizon Wireless face-painting activity for the kids at MondoHomo. "We're not shoving marketing down anyone's throat," she says. "We are completely funded by individual businesses, artists and people giving us $20 at a time on PayPal because they're down for the cause."

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The festival's founders, Nikki Chotas and Pell's partner, Kiki Carr, modeled MondoHomo after the like-minded Homo-A-Go-Go yearly festival in Olympia, Wash. Location plays a large role in the kinds of diversity presented at the festival. Since Atlanta is the heart of the Dirty South, hip-hop has a major presence at MondoHomo. Homo hip-hop, that is. Acts like Seattle's Team Gina blend electro-clash beats and nerdy rhymes in a set of tongue-and-cheek party anthems. Other acts, including NYC female rap duo KIN and Athens, Ga.'s MC BadKat, approach hip-hop from a queer angle while crafting hard-hitting rhythms and intelligent rhymes.

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There's much more than hip-hop featured at MondoHomo, though. New York's Lez Zeppelin, a band whose name says it all, performs at the Variety Playhouse (Friday, June 29, 8 p.m.). Athens Boys Choir is the moniker for Harvey Katz's solo performances, which he describes as a "gender deviant multimedia spoken-word fiasco" (at Lenny's, Saturday, June 30, 10 p.m.).

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Katz addresses issues of gender, politics, love, sex and terror with biting sarcasm and comedy. One spoken-word piece, titled "I'm a Motherfucking Genius and I've Got the Answer to World Peace," addresses global hostility by simply pleading, "Stop blowing shit up!" "I try to have fun and bring up pointed issues in ways that make them not so uncomfortable to talk about," Katz says.

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Perhaps the most notable name at the festival is transgender glam punk Jayne County. County is a native of Dallas, Ga., who moved to New York in 1968. Over the years she has worked with everyone from David Bowie to Andy Warhol, and inspired the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She was a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village where a three-day police riot became a flash point in the legacy of gay rights in 1969. County will sit on a Radical Queer Elder discussion panel at the Renaissance Hotel (Thursday, June 28, 3:30 p.m.) The following afternoon she DJs at Eyedrum (4 p.m.), followed by a performance with her group, the Sexual Side Effects.

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"She is such a driving force," Pell adds. "She makes no bones about who she is, and she's such an activist. That's what inspires us all. After hearing her talk, the hairs on my arms raise up and it just feels like it's time to throw things back at these giant corporations' faces and say 'Hey dude, you're not going to tell me what's cool.'"