A sold-out crowd is gathered on a packed dance floor at The Lexington in Islington, London. The crowd is mostly young and – while a few have gone to whole hog and donned glamorous costumes – most have pink glitter streaked boldly underneath their eyes, just like their heroes on stage. As the noise swells, each one nods their head in a vicious rhythm, with some raising their fists in the air. Sweaty bodies near the front collide and twirl and dance with each other in appreciation for one of the most eye-catching and engaging live acts in the UK right now: Queen Zee.
“When I go to a show, I don’t want to see something that’s bland and apathetic and boring,” Zee, lead singer of Queen Zee, says. “If I wanted that, I would live my normal, boring life. I feel as if, when people come to our show, they want to see a show. They want to have an experience,” they say. When we speak to Zee and bassist Frank, two hours before their sold-out show, they both acknowledge that there’s expectations loaded with the band.
But if their debut album – out last week – is anything to go by, they don’t really give a damn what you think. “The album continues to eschew convention in surprising ways,” we said in our recent review. “Beneath the polished exterior, the music carries a sadness; there are heavy political messages here.”
This rejection of expectations and convention is what at the core, makes them so vital. “There’s two sides to the expectation to us,” Zee says. “Some people expect us to be a queer indie-pop ban, which we’re not. Then, I think people expecting us to be a scary punk band are shocked when we come out with pink jeans and lipstick.”
Queen Zee straddles these two worlds with an unparalleled tact. Birthed out of a desire to see themselves represented in culture, Zee found that they were “very much in between the punk world and queer scene in Liverpool.” Finding that elements of both cultures appealed to them, as a whole, neither of those worlds housed the aesthetic that Zee wanted for themselves. The punk scene was “too masculine, tops off, big guys who were just beating each other up.” But Zee “loved the music and the energy and the chaos.” On the other hand, the “queer scene was centered around Kylie and Gaga – feminine, Ru-Paul-looking queens.” As someone who battles gender dysphoria, this didn’t feel right either. So, they created an alternative drag-punk persona: Queen Zee.
“Humour is not the enemy of serious topics” – Queen Zee
Being true to themselves and to what they believe is one of the band’s biggest focal points, though it isn’t always in ways you expect. The band came to fruition when guitarist Jay approached Zee saying their songs were, er, not very good. “His exact words were ‘this is absolute shit, but do you want to make a band anyway?’,” Zee remembers. Jay plays guitar on stage with a fastidious intensity. He stays in the background while Zee takes centre-stage: “I really struggle to think musically,” Zee says. “I always have to visually think of stuff, like concepts and so on. Jay is the total opposite of that. He is completely audio-focused.”
Realising how small their frames were for the sound they wanted to create, Jay and Zee then invited Frank to join the band. He could carry their sound on stage. Initially playing drums, he gave way to Dave. He seems to stay still while his arms fly over the kit at a furious pace. It was Ash, the fifth and final member of the band, that truly gave Queen Zee life. “We got Ash because she’s a great vocalist,” Zee mentioned. “It gave me the confidence and someone to pitch to.” With a voice that skips flawlessly between melodic harmonies, growls and contorted shouts, Ash’s vocals juxtapose Zee’s personality.
Queen Zee managed to amalgamate glam, punk and pop seamlessly, possessing a rare ability to marry these genres together in a way which stands in sublime contrast to cookie-cutter indie-rock. Through their lyrics, they manage to effectively communicate messages that are both heavy and tragic in a unique way. “Humour is not the enemy of serious topics,” Zee mentions. “There’s that humour to it that allows us to talk when we could just be depressed. It’s easier to get someone to laugh along to a point than it is to drill a point into someone.”
“If a football stadium can’t chant it and jump up and down to it, it’s not going to end up on the album” – Queen Zee
Comprised of soaring hooks and bone-deep emotional honesty, there are no outliers in Queen Zee’s work: each part is assembled with the precision of a plan. On crowd-pleaser ‘I Hate Your New Boyfriend’, usually the closing number of the night where the entire crowd starts singing along. “I always have the vision in my head,” Zee explains. “Can a football stadium chant it? If a football stadium can’t chant it and jump up and down to it, it’s probably not going to end up on the album.”
It’s all well and good having numbers on your side, but the band’s connection with their audience is what makes them such a unique prospect. “At the Leeds show that we did, there was a guy that was so close to me that when he was putting his fists in the air I could see his nail polish,” Zee says. “That’s such a beautiful moment – that’s why we exist. We don’t exist to just play spaces where we’re already accepted. That’s pointless. We’re here to try and break the echo chamber.”
Queen Zee’s debut album is out now – they play the following dates this week:
Attic @ Garage, Glasgow (Feb 20)
Think Tank, Newcastle (Feb 21)
Bodega, Nottingham (Feb 22)
Yes Basement, Manchester (Feb 23)