Before he was Lynks, Elliott Brett was trying to be capital-S Sad. His music from this period, released under his own name before he transformed into a self-described ‘masked drag monster’, has been variously recounted as indie-pop, dream-pop, and folk. The thought is somewhat baffling to anyone who’s seen him in his latest iteration – his new EP, ‘Smash Hits Vol. 2’ is far more Peaches than Passenger.
Of his past life, Lynks says the folk label is “the least correct”.
“It was me desperately, desperately wanting to be James Blake. was just doing a very poor impression of him,” he laughs. In some ways, it’s the usual queer origin story. Try on something you think is right, realise it doesn’t fit, then shed it and flourish.
His current persona was born at a houseparty back when such things were still possible. Late in the night, a friend asked if Lynks wanted to perform something using the weird beats languishing on his laptop. He dressed up in drag, played the beats and improvised lyrics over them – and had a revelation.
“It was like night and day going from my sad, James Blake-ish thing to my drag, crazy pop-dance thing,” he says. “I was like damn, I guess when you’re performing you’re trying to make people have fun, right? I forgot about that.”
There’s no risk of forgetting it now. Lynks is uncompromisingly entertaining, bringing the aesthetics and atmosphere of the most raucous drag shows to his pop performances. While he was once booked in more gay bars than music venues, over time the ratio has flipped as his DIY drag theatrics have helped his avant-pop bops stand out to a broader audience. At first though, the masks and wigs, makeup and glitter, all functioned as a disguise.
“I used to find it very scary, when I was performing as me. Oh my god, fucking terrifying. Horrible. Why would I do that to myself? But the reason it’s scary is because you’re putting yourself out there to be judged. And as soon as you disguise yourself, you’re no longer putting yourself out there; you’re putting out some weird, freaky thing. And people are judging that already.”
“As soon as you disguise yourself, you’re no longer putting yourself out there; you’re putting out some weird, freaky thing
He figures it can’t get any weirder than how he looks onstage. Kitted out in a full-face mask and leotard or Barbie crop-top, his live shows are full of flashing strobes and choreographed dance numbers, like the best club night you’ve ever been to in your life.
While his new look helped defeat the nerves initially, it’s now taken on a life of its own. The anxiety is gone, but Lynks remains. “Looking in retrospect, I think I could get onstage and do these songs and it would be fine. I think people would like it. But if you’re walking through a venue and you see some little Jewish twink onstage singing some funny little songs you’ll be like, ‘that’s cool’, and keep walking,” he says. “Whereas if some masked drag monster is on stage you might be like ‘oh maybe I should stick around for a second and see what this is about’.”
Club-ready and comedic with a sensitive heart, Lynks’ songs often show slices of queer life outside the realm of love songs and heartbreaks. His first EP ‘Smash Hits Vol. 1’ – released under Lynks Afrikka before he changed his name – featured ‘Str8 Acting’, a tongue in cheek banger about the unique nightmare of being a gay person in a straight club, watching heterosexual culture unfold at a remove as if on safari. The song captures a sense of alienation and otherness, but there’s a barb underneath too as Lynks asks, “so why would I wanna be straight acting?”
This careful balance – walking the line between unapologetic queerness and surprising vulnerability – carries on through his upcoming second EP, ‘Smash Hits Vol 2’. New single ‘Brand New Face’ takes the tiniest scrap of insecurity and exaggerates it, beginning with a new set of teeth and building outwards until Lynks-as-narrator is literally carving out pounds of flesh in pursuit of the perfect body. It’s a bold and bouncing pop song, but an early version of the track ended on a downer, with the narrator looking in the mirror and being horrified at what they saw. Lynks had them finding their body unrecognisable, and mourning the loss of the old version of themselves.
“And then I thought, ‘would they do that?’ No! Of course they fucking wouldn’t,” he says. “They’d look in the mirror and they’d think ‘this is fucking amazing’. So that’s how the song ended up, with this person just walking around in a daze of beauty looking in car mirrors.”
Meanwhile, the dizzying and danceable second single ‘Everyone’s Hot (And I’m Not)’, takes the opposite view. It’s an anthem for anyone who has ever found themselves standing in the corner, watching everyone else flirt and feeling like an outcast.
“Basically, I was at this straight gig-slash-club night thing, and there was a guy I met there and we were chatting loads, and he was being what I felt to be flirty. I realise now obviously, it wasn’t,” Lynks says. “At the end, I asked him for his number and he really freaked out. Your gut turns to stone. I was looking around at all these beautiful, straight hipsters like, daaamn. It’s whenever you get reminded that you’re ‘other’ in those spaces.”
It’s a feeling that queer people will recognise all too well. But after a downbeat bridge in which Lynks describes slinking off to the smoking section feeling “like a leper”, he pulls himself up short by asking “everyone’s pretty bored of this, right?” and spinning off back into the fizzing main beat. He takes the hurt and turns it into something exuberant. With ‘Smash Hits Vol. 2’, Lynks leans in to that sense of otherness, and invites anyone else who feels it to do the same. When the world starts turning again, his shows will be there to counter the closed-off spaces, with a slash of lipstick and a PC beat.
Lynks’ ‘Smash Hits Vol 2’ is out Jan 27