Artist, illustrator and ringleader at Judi and The Doodlecats, Judi Thomas talks exclusively to Title Sussex about Party In Your Pants, the topless, feminist UV bodydoodling club night that she runs together with her glorious tribe of Brighton 20-somethings, and explains why it’s definitely a sexy art thing, not an arty sex thing…
Party In Your Pants was born at The Sidewinder back in July 2014, and came about the way most of our events do. There were paint pens, there were humans, there was sunshine and a sense of humour. There was me failing to do what I had set out to do (win an art battle), and, by the end of the evening, half the pub were topless and covered in paint and glitter.
‘By the end of the evening, half the pub were topless and covered in paint and glitter’
Always one to be able to spot a good thing, Hannah Waddington – then manager of the Sidey, now the North Laine – booked me to come back and do it again. From there, it developed into a monthly pop-up, and a year later we were hosting naked raves under blacklight, doing our trademark bodydoodling, but this time with UV paint pens.
Now our regular venue is The Devil’s Disco, upstairs at The Joker. PIYP sells out every time, and our capacity over three rooms is 120 people, so it’s fairly easy, by the end of a night, to feel that you kind of know everyone by sight – which is important if the event is to feel safe and welcoming.
At any given party, about a quarter of people are first-timers. We are constantly bringing in new people to our tribe, but there’s a sense of responsibility felt by the other three-quarters of people there for making sure it is awesome, which means keeping it safe.
You are greeted at the door by Simon Diamond in his trademark solidarity bikini. Simon makes sure everyone knows where everything is, points out the rule (respect) and daubs you with your first bit of doodle.
You follow his direction through to the cloakroom, where our gender-defying cloakroom Mxtrix Crysi De Milo or helpful helpers, Es and Nina Doodlekitten, will give you a number and a bag for the night. You can remove as much or as little of your clothing as you like.
Some people take an event or two to go pants only; others prefer to keep a vest or a bra on, but sooner or later they all relax and realise the sky isn’t going to fall in because they have a body.
It’s an important point, this – there is ZERO pressure on anyone to get topless. If we don’t believe a woman should be shamed for showing her breasts, we’d be pretty hypocritical to shame anyone for not showing them! But body positivity is really important to us.
I am a 45-year-old woman with three kids and about six years’ worth of breastfeeding stretch-marks and sag. It’s true I’m not overweight but one of the reasons for that is a lifelong relationship with anorexia, so being ashamed of my body for not being flawless is something I understand.
At PIYP our thinking is this: You were born into a meat suit. Some people have fat suits, some have old saggy ones, some have suits with legs that don’t work, with the wrong genitals for who they are, with scars, with wrinkles, with too much or too little hair in the right or wrong places.
Some people are born into beautiful suits, but many of those, too, struggle to find a place where they can enjoy the freedom to shine without their suit stealing all of the attention. At PIYP it is YOU that we want to join us; we don’t care what suit you wear. (Also, you know, blacklight is really flattering!)
Once you’re set, you can head to the bar and get a drink – you’ll find pens and mirrors in here, and even if you haven’t come with friends to doodle you, you’ll be pounced on pretty soon by myself, my wing person, Bam Hatter (she’s the one with the unicorn horn) or one of the regulars. Before you know it you’ll be covered in art and in all likelihood wearing a balloon hat too, courtesy of Jme, our resident Twisted Balloonatic.
I like the music to be real with good beats, good bass and a lot of heart, and our DJ, Arther Shillin, is a Manchester-born bit of MAGIC. He’s one of relatively few club DJs who plays his decks, and the crowd, like an instrument. He also happens to have excellent taste in music and a record collection that stretches way back in time, so it isn’t uncommon to realise you’re raving to The Doors, Nirvana or Nina Simone.
We are incredibly lucky that the sort of people who are attracted to our event are naturally playful and less interested in looking good than in having fun. Whether it’s 100 metres of UV ribbon or a 20 length of neon tulle, water balloons, Holi powder, glowsticks or inflatable flamingos, we don’t do anything more than hand them out – no instructions, no rules; we just watch what happens.
We’ve had spontaneous double-Dutch skipping, parachute games, made a giant cobweb out of neon thread that joined everyone on the dancefloor into a big knot of silly, and we have a splatter wall where Bam and I paint people with house-painting brushes and flick gallons of UV goop at them. Anything goes – the key is that it is silly and there is no wrong way to do anything, and no pressure to join in.
We have grown mostly through word-of-mouth, so our ethos is passed on as one of the features that attracts people. How we bill it the event is really important. I bang on about feminism all the time, and there is nothing that turns the stomach of a misogynist more than the idea of being surrounded by feminists at a feminist-run event where everyone, including all the lovely cis-het men, is a feminist.
This is a fantastic filter. We have had the odd idiot, but we have a lot of signage throughout the venue encouraging people to tell us if anything is feeling uncomfortable and we have a zero tolerance, one-strike-and-you’re-out rule.
We’re unable to do what we do without touching each other, so we all agree to the declaration, for one night, of a Desexualised Nudity Zone. And if somebody’s hand connects with our butt, we aim to assume first that it is in the cause of making mess or the result of mayhem, and to not immediately assume we’ve been violated. It is surprisingly easy to spot a person who has ulterior motives – they look like vampires and they never hang around for long; it’s too silly for vampires.
I think our parties are popular because what we offer is authentic, homemade and healthy. I think the millennial generation has been so thoroughly gas-lighted by my generation; been helicopter-parented by a kind of love that has bred enormous amounts of fear; had their individuality and uniqueness shoved down their throats while simultaneously being educated as if they were animals on an industrial farm…
When your entire life has been target- and outcome-driven, the opportunity to play with no goal, no winners or losers, no rules but respect, is a pretty magical thing. And it is immensely empowering to take part in something like this, to laugh till your belly aches and to remind yourself that human beings are creative, joyful, co-operative creatures.
‘It is immensely empowering to take part in something like this, to laugh till your belly aches and to remind yourself that human beings are creative, joyful, co-operative creatures.’
The future for PIYP is looking colourful. We’re due to hold a mega sunrise one in August at The Volks club, and have been approached by some London-based venues about appearing over the summer.
As well as PIYP, I’ve been running the Playpen (adult messy play and pub-based silly games for grown-ups) and The Frippery Factory (boozy hat-making) at The Sidewinder for a few years, and I do regular Mayhem and Brew Ha Ha nights for the North Laine. The venue is a big supporter of our work and recently booked us to launch its human-size whack-a-mole!
In the summer, you’ll probably find us in parks around Brighton hosting G&T parties, where we play flamingo croquet and indulge in the odd cake fight or game of squeaky-fish badminton, as you do. And we have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to get a bus, which we’ll take on a Doodlecats tour of Brexit Britain!
Find more info www.facebook.com/JudiandtheDoodlecats/
To help support the bus cause https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/doodlecats-bus-fund-feminism#/