Q&A with Leon Markcus: Hello from Hot City
Leon Markcus takes us on a dive into another side of this pink dot with a re-release of his EP: ‘Welcome to Hot City’. Behind the EP’s bubblegum beats and cherry-hued melodies, he tackles the discrimination he faced and describes how he found his confidence and self-acceptance at the end of his journey. So, brew up a nice cup of tea as Tropika Club gets real with Leon Markcus.
*The interview below has been edited for clarity.
Q: Your music and your music videos are always creative and different. For example, your ‘Hot City’ (featuring Bilal Hassani) is filmed in a vertical format on YouTube, while your ‘SXW’ is filmed in an extended landscape format. What is the inspiration behind your creative genius?
A: Thank you! I’m really humbled that you enjoyed the content I’ve put out so far! Well, I’ve always tried to live by this rule when it comes to my art, “everything has to be better/different than my previous body of work.” I take loads of inspirational queues from Cher, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, David Bowie and the world around me.
For Hot City, the vertical format was largely inspired by Spotify Videos, mostly, Nicki Minaj’s ‘Chun Li’. I wanted to incorporate Bilal into the music video as naturally as possible. Since he’s from France and it’s almost impossible to fly him over for a music video, so why not have a video call? To make it seem like the different sections of the videos were deliberate. As for SXW, I was largely inspired by the vaporwave aesthetics and wanted to make the video look was futuristic and cinematic as possible.
Q: Your music and videos all tell a story. Do you see yourself as a musical champion of LGBTI issues?
A: I’m going to be real honest right here and say that, although I do champion for LGBTQI issues as an individual. But when it comes to my music, it’s universal, though I do touch a lot on LGBTI issues here and there, because that’s a part of who I am.
There isn’t a deliberate attempt in trying to represent the community. But a lot of my content, especially for this era, is inspired by the queer culture and my own life. I think it is amazing how creative and insanely talented queer individuals can be. I aspire to be as honest and authentic in my work as they are. Although this era is largely camp, so the songs could still be applied to anyone.
Q: Can you share a bit of background to your album ‘Welcome to Hot City’’? How long did it take you to get the album ready?
A: The entire record, apart from ‘Forgotten Natives’ and ‘Hot City’ was done during the release of my debut EP ‘Mannequin‘. There were about 30 songs and we chose 5 songs out of 30 and replaced 2 of the songs with ‘Forgotten’ and ‘Hot City’. The concept of the EP didn’t really happen till early last year? initially, the EP was supposed to be a sequel to the first record I released. But when I got to meet new people over at Pride festivals around Asia, I thought: why wait for representation I wanted? Imma just share my experiences.
My journey of finding my gender expression also played a huge part in the EP. who says boys can’t embrace being femme/fluid? imma do it. From start to finish the EP took 1.5 years.
When I was putting the E.P together, I realised that the content of this EP really just spoke about my experiences as a social outcast in my own home and community, as well as the people I have met through this journey of self-discovery. I titled it ‘Welcome to Hot City’ as I wanted to welcome people to a side of my home that they might not have seen before.
Q: We do think that ‘Forgotten Natives’ has a catchy tune. What was the inspiration behind this single?
A: Yeah, I got the inspiration to do a slower track because I realised that every time I’m performing my songs, I’m hopping all around and by the end of it, my back really aches. I’ve become too old to catch up with the young, hahaha.
But in all seriousness, ‘Forgotten Natives’ is really just a track inspired by feeling like an outsider my entire life. Getting bullied back in my school days, getting rejected by the industry for being too different, getting abused online for my sexuality. It just feels like, no matter where I am headed to, I’ll always feel like an outsider. ‘Forgotten Natives’ really is just an anthem to bring together the “outsiders” to embrace being different to let people know “Hey, I am here!”
Q: Your single ‘Foolish’, which premiered on 24 April 2020 on YouTube, shows your amazing creativity; being able to self-direct and release this during the Circuit Breaker. Will we be seeing more of this?
A: Most definitely, though ‘Foolish’ was the first music video I’ve edited and shot on my own. I usually am very hands-on with my content. Apart from writing my own music, my visuals are mostly made by me. I did all the sets and costumes you in my music videos in the past.
You could say I am a perfectionist, but it’s just that it’s very hard for me to articulate what is going on in my head, so in the end, so I’ll much rather just do it on my own. I’m involved even when it comes down to the physical copies. Like for this era, the physical copy is in the form of an IC and passport to represent you becoming a citizen of Hot City.
But yes, i am currently in the midst of creating what I feel would be my most daring venture yet? And I hope to be able to share that with the world real soon.
Q: You have created many personas throughout your various music videos. Which of the personas do you personally identify with, and why?
A: That is very true! And refreshing to hear. Well, there isn’t a particular persona I really identify with, as they’re all just small parts of who I am. I think that especially for this era, I expanded on a part of myself that is considered bold and daring as this EP was dedicated to queer culture. I would say that exploring this part of who I am made me proud of being in my own skin. Because in person, I tend to be very distant and introverted as communicating and socialising is a huge task for me. Hence, through the personas I learnt so much that I can apply in my own personal life.
Q: Do you have an evolving fashion style representative of your evolving music style?
A: Yes. OMG. Fashion is so important to me when it comes to my music. I think that for every era, it is necessary for me to adapt and change according to what the record is about. My first E.P ‘Mannequin‘ was in my perspective viewed through the lens of a child and hence, the themes of pink and blue as well as teddy bears as accessories, oversized jackets, overalls were the main theme of the era. As for Hot City, it was a homage to queer culture, hence I drew inspiration from drag queens, art, camp and pop culture. also because it linked back to being Singaporean, and incorporated a lot of the colours red and white.
Oof, I also drew a lot of inspiration from the 60s! I have so much love for a well-planned and well-themed body of work. Really, I mean I look one of the most versatile and flexible artists of this decade – CHER. Getting old does mean getting obsolete!!
Q: How are you taking care of yourself during this COVID-19 period?
A: At this point, everyone knows that I struggle with depression, so I am really just taking this period to adapt and get my mental health sorted out. Change can be a very hard and slow process for me. So I thank you all for the patience.
Q: What’s your grooming regime? How do you take care of your skin?
A: Okay this might seem too much but I kinda have an 8 step skincare routine. It takes me forever to complete it but it really helps me. Through puberty, I had terrible skin and my mother would love to pop my pimples hence, loads of scars. I tried many methods to help my skin out, but this is what I found to be suitable for me. After the Cleo Bachelor 2017 and winning the title of the Freshest Face really taught me to be more aware of how I should take care of my skin. So I usually do an oil cleanse then a normal cleanse, then proceed to tone my face with Khiel’s Calendula. I have really sensitive skin so this is good because it causes my skin to be red. After that, I would apply a night/day serum and then moisturiser and sunblock. That’s for the morning.
At night everything stays the same, but I would add a Vitamin C serum and eye cream, and then end it with a mist spray. Once every week, I will use an enzyme exfoliator followed by a sheet mask and then my toner, etc etc. Some people might think this is excessive but, you know, prevention is better than cure. Skincare is not done for immediate effect but rather to preserve what you have when you’re ageing.
Q: What is one message you would like to give to your fans?
A: There’s nothing to prove, only to share.