It was late July 2016 in downtown LA. My belly dance partner and I were gigging at Haus of ATM’s (short for Art, Talent, and Music) bonus Sunday night event. To say the venue was a dive bar would’ve been an understatement: there was no air conditioner and people hung out by the entrance to breathe; the changing room was three feet by seven feet and it was pitch black; and I’ve seen much cleaner bathrooms at Macarthur Park.
And yet, I had one of the best nights of my life, thanks to Valentine Anger and her Haus of ATM crew — besides Valentine, the mother of the Haus, there are the queens (Spike Prince of Cats, Ursula Major, Bang Galore, and Cherry Sur Bete), DJ Young Samuel, Rob Sanchez the photographer/media liaison, and Les Sterling who takes care of videos and their YouTube channel.
It was also the first time I met Valentine. That night, she was a snake. She had on skin-tight long dress that went all the way to cover her neck and head like a hijab, sealed with a vest/bodice with snake skin motif. Dark lipstick with blue glitter was carefully painted on her lips, there were faint scale marks on her cheekbones, and she wore faux sharp teeth and yellow contact lenses. For the finale of that evening’s show, Valentine performed with a fire staff. In that getup.
“Haus of ATM is my brainchild,” Valentine tells me. “I’d been working on it like a year before we launched. I’ve always been a fan of the arts scene and performance arts in general, so I thought, ‘What can I do to start crossing borders and building bridges and all that?'”
She had known all the members before gathering them to establish the Haus. Their first show was in February 2016. Less than a year later, Haus of ATM has found a new home at the industrial-chic Resident, in LA’s Arts District on 4th and Hewitt.
When all the glamorous drag queens flock to cookie-cutter West Hollywood, Valentine sinks her claws into downtown LA, where the scene is more diverse and eclectic.
Valentine modeled Haus of ATM after the coffee shop she managed (and later owned). There’d be live music on weekends, beer and wine, and artworks on the walls by local artists. When she moved to LA, she longed for the same thing while also infusing her own drag aesthetics, but she knew she needed help.
“I was searching for specific people to build [Haus of ATM] with, I didn’t want it to be just a one-person show, I think it usually takes a village to get something going really well,” she says. “So I said, ‘Let’s get local artists, let’s get local performers that aren’t just drag queens. [Let’s get] performance artists like drag kings, live music. Let’s really make this an event that’s not your average drag show.
“Because you can go to any gay bars and you can go to a show and see a girl ‘shablam’ [do a voguing dip] for a dollar. And that’s not a bad thing at all, that’s drag and that’s a part of drag. It’s cool and I like that it’s there, but there’s more to drag, there’s more to art, there’s more to what goes on in the LA drag culture than what’s in the scene.”
Haus of ATM aims to give performance space to drag queens who don’t get booked as much as they deserve or feel like they belong in any other places for whatever reasons.
“[Maybe] she’s not glamorous, or she’s not a shablaming queen, or she doesn’t do blood-guts-and-gore, so she doesn’t know where she fits. Well, ATM is where she fits,” Valentine says.
“I love what RuPaul has done, but I also hate what RuPaul has done, because it kind of pigeonholes what drag is or what is acceptable drag. There’s so much more to drag than just being fishy,” Valentine says. She admits that the show has been showcasing more edgy queens, “but it still borders on the very pretty, very high-polished, very seasoned-veteran, put-together queens. And if you don’t look like that, if you don’t meet the RuPaul’s Drag Race aesthetics, then [venues] won’t have anything to do with you most of the time.”
A “fishy” queen is a drag queen who passes as a real woman when in drag. THe term “fish” came from the long-held belief that vaginas smell like fish.
Indeed, a Haus of ATM show always is always so diverse it feels like a vaudeville. Cherry Sur Bette, one of the queens of the Haus, once did a live-painting session. And although drag queens remain the majority of the performers, Haus of ATM likes to showcase a multitude of artists from disciplines, such as drag kings, burlesque dancers, and musicians.
This inclusive attitude is a breath of fresh air from the drag scene that’s becoming more and more mainstreamed thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“If you don’t have ten thousand followers, if you can’t bring more than five people to a show, [venues] don’t want to book you. And I don’t see how that works. If you have people who want to perform, you should give them a shot. You should give them a room to grow.”
But that doesn’t mean Haus of ATM’s shows are on the lower end of the bar. Themes and performers are planned and booked three months in advance, slots are much-coveted as well as limited, and it takes more than just a pretty face to be able to perform at a Haus’ show. All of the Haus queens are stunning and consummate performers, and their costumes and makeup are a work of art.
Valentine, who’s been doing drag for four years and counting, at first didn’t feel comfortable being a fishy queen. One night, she shaved her sideburns and left her big, curly mustache. She combed her mustache, and started painting her face and her mustache with “weird” colors. She put on a top hat, and Valentine was born. (“Anger” came from her drag mother’s name, Arty Anger, after being inspired by filmmaker/actor/author Kenneth Anger.)
These days, Valentine runs her own beauty business and has been on Hey Qween’s YouTube channel as well as WOWPresent’s Transformation episodes with James St. James.
One of the ways to be a featured performer at one of the shows is to connect with the Haus over the Internet, but there’s a better way: by showing up to one of Haus of ATM’s events in your look, and introduce yourself to Valentine, and “boom! You are on my radar,” she says.
Haus of ATM’s shows are on every first and third Sundays of the month, at Resident (428 S Hewitt St, Los Angeles, CA 90013).
They’re throwing their second annual Blacklight District this Sunday, March 19 and will feature performances by Sissy Spastik, Xochi Mochi, Crepe Suzette ala Mochi, Nikki Leathers, Scarlet Moon, One Million Moths, Kimber Lee Champagne, and dancer Skiiitch, as well as Haus performances by Ursula Major, Valentine Anger, and Spike Prince of Cats.
Featured image: (L-R) Ursula Major, Bang Galore, Valentine Anger, Spike Prince of Cats, Cherry Sur Bette. Photo by Rob Sanchez/Pix by Prana.