Metro Weekly

Chris Cox revives Dragapalooza as a vibrant, rocking film

COVID quashed Cox's plans to establish a Dragapalooza Vegas residency, so he did the next best thing. He made it into a film.

Dragapalooza: Derrick Barry

Some might call Christopher Cox clairvoyant. Others might say he has extremely good instincts. Whatever the reason, the legendary DJ and producer got very, very lucky.

“The whole time we were doing the tour, I’d been setting up multiple cameras on every show,” says Cox on the phone from his home in Las Vegas. “I was just thinking, ‘This might be handy someday. I don’t know for what.'”

Cox recorded every stop on the tour of “Dragapalooza,” a massively entertaining concert featuring a sachet full of RuPaul’s Drag Race-sanctioned drag stars that played periodically from January 2017 through the end of 2019. Cox and his partners were about to settle the show into a Las Vegas residency, but the pandemic quashed their plans.

“We had everything lined up,” he says. “It was going to be a three days a week show. We were planning on soft-opening in April and then by the time we were in May and summer tourist season, we were going to be rocking.”

The opening date kept getting pushed further and further back. By the time August rolled around, Cox says “the writing was on the wall that it wasn’t happening.” That’s when the footage from the tour came into play. Cox whittled hours upon hours of footage down to a crisp, engaging hour and twenty minutes, and the end result will have its premiere as a streaming event this Saturday, January 16.

The official Facebook page describes “Dragapalooza” as a “musical concert featuring the cast of international celebrity drag queens singing live with a world-class band. Equal parts rock concert and variety show.” The show is built around drag queens who — as adept as they are at lip-syncing — are fully able to carry their own tunes: Trixie Mattel, Sharon Needles, Courtney Act, Derrick Barry, Coco Montrese, and Rhea Litre.

“I come from a band and a music background initially, so I was like, why don’t we just flip the script on drag in general?” says Cox. “Instead of being a lip-sync thing, let’s just find the people that can really sing and let’s do it. And not even do it to track. Let’s do as live as you can be. A live band, live vocals, totally without a net, and let’s see what this could be.”

The idea, says Cox, was to find music that was “out of the pop music spectrum and out of the dance club spectrum, and make it more of a rock show and with a rock identity.”

And boy, does Dragapalooza rock. It’s an invigorating, fast-paced 80 minutes that makes you feel as though you are there. It feels fresh and vibrant. Cox affirms this, noting that during the tour’s run, “people would come backstage and go ‘Oh, my gosh! I’ve never seen drag done like this!'”

Dragapalooza: Chris Cox

Cox, who rose to fame as half of the DJ duo Thunderpus, and has memorably remixed every modern musical superstar from Madonna to Mary J. Blige to Cher, is iconic in his industry. During the pandemic, he’s connected with his fans, many stuck at home, through his Twitch channel, producing regular music-driven streams such as “Anthem Generation,” “Morning Cox,” and the amusingly named “12 Inches of Cox.”

“It’s been pretty remarkable,” he says of the live Twitch streams, which remain online after their initial broadcast. “It just feels right. It’s a more intimate connection because everyone is at home, everyone is in their private space. So there are people letting me into their private space, [and] I’m letting them into my private space. It’s a different level of connection.”

He continues: “I think it’s more of an intimacy. We’re not separated by a stage or by security guards or by bartenders. In a club, the people are all amongst each other and the DJ feeds off that collective energy. This is more like, ‘Hey, I’m on your couch in your living room next to you and we’re all watching the same thing on TV.'”

Cox isn’t surprised by the meteoric rise of drag, and remembers the moment he first noticed drag move from the fringes of the LGBTQ world to the center of the mainstream cultural universe.

Dragapalooza: Trixie Mattel

“I was playing a club — Crave in Las Vegas. I was booked as a DJ and they had Jujubee there from season two of Drag Race. I remember she came out, did her thing, and performed for maybe 15 minutes, did a couple of lip-sync things. Then I watched her go over to the other side of the room and sign autographs for the next two hours. Taking pictures with people, doing everything. I was like, ‘What is that?’ That was when I saw the shift happen.

“You hear about older musicians and the seismic shift that happened when The Beatles played Ed Sullivan,” he continues. “There are these shifts that happened where an artform suddenly resonated. [With RuPaul’s Drag Race] not only did a whole bunch of people get exposed to something at the same time, but a whole bunch of people who didn’t even know such a thing existed suddenly had a light go off like, ‘I want to do that!’

“With every generation, you grab what’s already there, and you grow it even more. You take from it, but then you add something else. Or you take something from this scene and this scene and then make something else. So it’s constantly evolving. You’ve also got the networks of people and talent that have just gotten deeper. People start challenging each other and pushing each other and it just becomes this thing that grows.”

He recalls taking his daughters to the first DragCon L.A. convention in 2015. “People there weren’t just lip-syncing, but there were fully-fledged performance artists. And there were people that weren’t doing celebrity drag, but their own personas.

“That first year there were a couple thousand attendees. Then there’s 8,000 the next year. And then there’s 40,000 people the next year. I think the last one I went to was 65,000, or something crazy like that.”

Dragapalooza streams on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 9 p.m. ET. Tickets are $15. Metro Weekly readers can use the Promo Code METRO at checkout for $5 off. Visit www.dragapalooza.com.

Watch Chris Cox’s music streams at Twitch.tv/ChrisCoxOfficial.

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