A glam rock musician, model, youth worker at charity AKT and performer with the pan-Asian drag cabaret collective The Bitten Peach, it’s safe to say that Jason Kwan has many plates spinning. Moving to the UK from Hong Kong at the age of 14, the twenty-something is now blazing his own trail through London’s creative underground with a vibrant on-stage persona. Using his music and performance practice to celebrate his multifaceted identity, he’s empowering others to find the strength to be uniquely themselves.
While lockdown has placed the stage off-limits, he’s continued to carve out a safe space through his work with AKT, where he has been supporting young LGBTQIA+ individuals experiencing hardship, and by speaking out online about his experiences of anti-Asian racism. Not to mention the videos and songs he’s released to help tide his audience over until his next live show…
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martens 1461, we called Jason up over Zoom to discuss why his Dr. Martens are his “heels”, the importance of queer Asian joy and the power of chosen family.
Great to meet you Jason! How has your work changed during lockdown?
I’ve not been able to see many people but I have been able to put out three songs and three videos in 2020. That meant I was able to keep connecting with my listeners and my creative team. It’s important for us to not stop making art: we’re not making it for the world, we’re making it for ourselves.
You mention the importance of making art for oneself. What does making music offer you in the spiritual and emotional sense?
It’s a celebration of all the darkness, vulnerability and struggles I’ve faced in the past. I take my past and the dark narratives I have and find the light and liberation through them by celebrating how dark they actually are.
What brings you joy?
My chosen family brings me joy. My drag, cabaret, music family really brings me joy because they live authentically as themselves and they see the world through art and creating things.
It sounds like you’ve got a real musical community around you. What does community mean to you?
Community for me is family. It’s a sense of belonging but it’s also a support system where we look after each other. We have to make sure that no-one in our community is left behind, that we bring everyone forward with us and that we lift everyone up.
If you could do one thing to change the world what would it be?
I would continue to spread Asian joy. In the midst of all this darkness we have to remember that joy and light will persevere and come through. We have to be the ones to keep amplifying those experiences to make sure that people are heard and that we can do more to support our different communities and be better allies in the world.
What’s one issue that you’ve become passionate about over the past year?
With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Stop Asian Hate campaign, 2020 has really exposed how racist systems are. I’ve found my voice and I’m speaking up more and affecting change in my workplace and within my family and friendship groups. I’ve really been able to question why systems are built the way they are and ask for change. Specifically with East Asian hate, I released a video [on social media] talking about my own personal experiences of racism, which I found very vulnerable. I’m not used to doing that, I’m used to singing about [my experiences] on stage. But the influx of messages I got from other Asian people who are nervous about speaking up or who struggle to talk about it has been really empowering. It feels worth it for me to put myself out there for that reason, just so that [other people] can also feel seen and heard.
Your music explores your identity as a queer, non-binary person. What does being non-binary mean to you?
Being non-binary does justice to the different aspects of who I am. I perform drag because I can heighten the performance of my gender outside of what I would do within heteronormative society. When I’m on stage, the way I move, dress, talk and what I sing about are ways to reject the binary very explicitly.
There are so few non-binary people being celebrated in the mainstream right now. Why does representation matter?
Every single person in this universe has a different experience we need to make sure that we are representing people in their authentic selves and also to give each person a platform and a voice to know that they’re important and are being heard.
What message do you want people to take away from your work?
That queer Asian joy exists and through dark, we can celebrate light. I make glam rock music that is born out of punk. Punk is all about going against the system and glam rock is about giving them theatre. One thing I want people to take away is; “give them theatre when they don’t want it.”
We’ve spoken a lot about joy so far. Tell us, why is joy so important?
Without joy we cannot exist. We struggle so much in our daily lives with sadness that we have to celebrate joy to bring out our true inspiration and express ourselves authentically.
As someone who’s a part of London’s music scene, what are your thoughts on Dr. Martens own roots in subculture and music?
Dr. Martens represents a queer, grungy, underground energy. I feel very cool and empowered when I wear my Dr. Martens.
What’s your Dr. Martens story?
Before I found the confidence to wear heels, Dr. Martens were my heels, they would go with every outfit that I wore on stage. They represented power because they’re so sturdy and strong.
The 1461s you’re wearing now have just turned 60 — are they looking good for their age?
They definitely feel classic to me. They remind me a bit of when I was at school and would wear shoes in a similar style. But there’s an elevation because of the classic yellow thread and the rubber soles. It’s almost like I’m flipping the script and wearing something rebellious to school. It’s nice to have that feeling of nostalgia, but elevated.
Stay tuned for more Activism At Home stories throughout the month of April. Shop the 1461 at drmartens.com.