Torture Garden Redux: Five Days of Flesh and Fantasy in May

Madness!  This love was a part of me, like my own flesh; it had taken the place of my blood and marrow; it possessed me entirely; it was I! ~ Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden, 1899

Brace yourselves, rabid and feverish fetish party enthusiasts. The seeds that were planted last summer have taken root, and they are growing. Those roots are strong; as strong as the finest Japanese bondage rope, and they run about as deep as any exploration of individual desire would dare to descend.

The mind-exploding fetish party experience, known universally since 1990 as the exotically-named Torture Garden, makes its return to Toronto – and just in time to help devotees celebrate the May long weekend. In a somewhat appropriate yet potentially risky move, the venerable old franchise started over a decade ago by the British DJ “pair extraordinaire” David Wood and Allen Pelling has been expanded. This year, Torture Garden Toronto has evolved from a single evening’s festivities into an entire, exhilarating long-weekend of flesh, fantasy, revelry, indulgence and ecstasy.

The main motivating force behind bringing the legendary DJ pair and their franchise festival to Toronto, Craig Galbraith, is no stranger himself to organizing a large-scale “good time” for the over-all benefit of North American fetish party enthusiasts. For several years, he has been one of the prime (and most popular) event organizers in Canada’s largest city, and he is the tireless, brilliant mind behind the wildly-popular monthly Subspace Fetish Nights in Toronto. His efforts have become so admired (and so adamantly supported) by a good percentage of the gargantuan Toronto-area fetish scene that he’s generally and simply known as either just “Craig” or, more playfully familiar if not somewhat colloquially as “Craiger”.

“I’m just a regular guy who really just loves to throw parties”, Craig has been quoted as saying on more than one occasion. “I’ve only ever wanted everyone who wanted to come out to simply have a great, great time.”

Craig’s evolution as a major event organizer certainly mirrors that of his Torture Garden “mentors” David and Allen. His events started simply enough, with small gatherings in intimate settings either in private abodes or in much, much smaller nightclubs. It wasn’t long before demand, however, made him realize that he was soon going to have to look for ever-larger digs in which to satiate the rapacious appetites of his patrons. “Each time we held a party, they got more and more popular and even more in demand,” Craig said. “We needed to get larger venues just to accommodate everyone who wanted to come.”

The need for larger space eventually evolved into his well-patronized, exceedingly popular Subspace nights, held once a month at one of Toronto’s largest tri-level nightclubs (the legendary Toronto landmark nightclub, The Big Bop, which sadly closed its doors, forever, earlier this year). And yet, the demand for even greater bacchanalian and hedonistic pursuits still continued to clamor ever louder. Craig wasn’t entirely sure exactly what, let alone where, his ever-burgeoning party plans would allow for the accommodation of all who demanded entrance through his doors. It was sometime during the early months of 2009 that Craig realized the solution: he would organize another gathering, in a different location, and give the alternative crowds exactly the mystical, frenzied and adrenaline-fueled atmosphere they were collectively demanding.

Enter Dave TG and Allen TG – the aforementioned Messieurs Wood and Pelling, of course. Without going into a dissertation on the negotiation process involved that would eventually land the Torture Garden franchise in Toronto, suffice to say the first TG event (held at a venue known as The Opera House) in the summer of 2009 was, by all reviews and reports, nothing short of a runaway, smashing success.

Naturally, Craig’s crowds still demanded more. While other event organizers, in any community in any town in any number of countries, are undoubtedly envious and would give their metaphorical left arm to have the kind of “problem” that Craig has, it truly is a testament to the work ethic, dedication and drive that Craig has to simply give the “people exactly what they want.” What he decided to do wasn’t revolutionary by any means. Other event organizers were putting their names to more than one event on a regular basis: why couldn’t he do the same? The biggest difference, of course, being that for all intents and purposes, other events produced by other organizers tended to be rather viewed as virtually the same party, but slapped with a different name, or “theme”. There were exceptions to that, of course: Northbound Leather’s fetish nights (the longest continuously running fetish event in the world) and Sir Alex Dark’s monthly gatherings have always pushed the envelope in Toronto when it comes to keeping large-scale parties exciting and fresh. But Craig knew he had to do something a little bigger, with a little bit more of a “bang”, in order to once again raise the bar on his own uncompromising level of quality.

Striking a deal with the Torture Garden franchise, one which hadn’t quite been embraced by North American audiences in some large American cities with same degree of enthusiasm as their European counterparts, certainly managed to turn more than a few skeptical heads. Craig himself wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the initial 2009 Torture Garden Toronto event marched inexorably towards its debut date. He needn’t have been too worried: The Opera House was full of locals from every part of the Greater Toronto Area, and had attracted a sizeable crowd of attendees from not only all over North America, but from Europe and other parts of the globe as well. By all accounts, Torture Garden Toronto in 2009 was an unmitigated, unquestionable success. No sooner had Torture Garden Toronto 2009 ended, that the demand (of course!) for more started from the masses.

Thus, Craig being the man he is, he felt compelled to have to raise the bar one more time in 2010 and immediately began laying the groundwork for what very well may prove to become his magnum opus: an entire Torture Garden Toronto weekend. Instead of staging the event during the summer as he and his TG compatriots did a year ago, Craig moved the entire show to May in order to take advantage of a statutory long weekend. The festivities will commence with an Industry Night Martini Party at Toronto’s Club Nocturne on Thursday, May 20th, and wind up an almost-unbelievable four days later on Monday, May 24th with a late-afternoon “wine and cheese wind-down” at a venue known as Café Taste in Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West neighborhood.

It is the Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening scheduled events, however, which are sure to cause the most reverent discussions long after the weekend has come to pass. On Friday, May 21st, in a private location, the official Launch Party will take place as an enticing “warm up” to the rest of the weekend’s festivities. Saturday evening, May 22nd, features the main event at The Opera House (735 Queen Street East). Three of Canada’s most respected and beloved spin doctors – DJ’s Lazarus, Pale and Prospero – will be joined by the aforementioned founding musicologists, David TG and Allen TG, in serving up an enticing and inciting wall of sound: an appropriate enough and perfect companion for the visual, intoxicating “torturous” displays that are sure to assault the eyes, and senses, of every attendee.

In addition to up-and-coming local Japanese bondage artist Lotuslily performing her jaw-dropping solo Kinbaku sets, the stage will be graced by the likes of world-popular fetish performers Satomi, the Tokyo Love Doll and Florida’s popular latex performance artist Rubber Doll. The much-sought after rubber garment designs of Kaori’s Latex Dreams will command people’s attentions during the fashion show segment of the evening’s performances, and Vivid Angel (described as “Freak Show Royalty” by some publications) brings her 10 years of experience as an exceptional vaudeville-style performer to the Torture Garden stage, and the mind-blowing hooks-and-suspension troupe I Was Cured will be doing their best to make audience members cringe in awed respect (and delight) with their high-flying flesh and metal aerial displays. Back as well for a second year is the amazing body painting artist ARK Angel, who has single-handedly raised the fetishistic practice of tribal and animal-like body art to atmospheric levels of appreciation amongst die-hard party-goers. There certainly should be more than enough eye and ear candy to gorge one’s self on, Saturday night alone.

As if a high-octane Saturday evening wasn’t enough, The Opera House will once more swing open its doors on Sunday, May 23, for an evening of “Medical Mayhem”. The expected dress code and the (scheduled performances) should be fairly self-explanatory. Whether Torture Garden guests are contentedly trying to recover from Saturday night’s debauchery, or merely getting wound up to a fever pitch for more, both Saturday and Sunday feature a series of seminars (to be held at two different locations on respective days) that can offer interested parties a little of the usual kind of instruction one would expect from such educational presentations – and a little of the unusual, as well. One of Sunday’s seminars in particular appears to be geared more towards the “Medical” theme that encompasses the evening’s “mayhem” to come.

It is true that Craig certainly has an enormous amount of planned delights for his guests during Torture Garden Weekend. What might be surprising to those contemplating purchasing tickets to any one night will undoubtedly be somewhat shocked to realize that prices are far from prohibitive. Even three-night passes and all-inclusive VIP entrance badges are exceptionally reasonable, price-wise. “We have never-before seen in Canada performers, over 20 acts, and several excellent locations that will make Torture Garden Toronto a ‘can’t miss’ event”, Craig said. “Toronto’s Fetish Weekend is going to be what it was intended to be: a fantastic party and a hell of a good time for everyone! It was important to keep the cost of tickets and passes reasonable so that everyone who wanted to come out and experience something new could really afford to do so.” The top-level pass, the all-inclusive VIP badge, includes access to all nightclub events, all seminars and even the “after parties” – and at a considerably less price-point than other large-scale events of a similar nature. Those who are wavering as to whether they wish to attend one or more of the scheduled events may wish to spend some time on the website, and allow the excellent selection of images and videos to help weigh their decisions. Truly, only the annual Northbound Leather event every fall in Toronto ranks with Torture Garden when it comes to spectacular stage and fashion shows, outstanding performances, and especially the dizzying range in personal selection of fetish attire by the prodigious and visually-theatrical guests at large.

Out of town attendees can still find rooms available at the host hotel, Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel located at 123 Queen Street West (directly across the street from Toronto’s space-age, landmark City hall complex). A full schedule of events, performers, seminars and information about “after parties” and any other assorted, necessary information can be found by visiting the Torture Garden Toronto website. Tickets for any, or all, of Torture Garden Toronto Fetish Weekend are available for purchase directly through the website or for pick-up in person at Northbound Leather at 586 Yonge Street in Toronto’s downtown central core.

After reaffirming that the entire enterprise truly has been a venture “for the people by one of their own”, Craig was asked just how he expected to be able to metaphorically “raise the bar” for next year’s event (and there is sure to be one). “Oh, I’m more concerned with making sure everyone has a fantastic time this year”, he said.

“But, I’m sure I’ll think of something!”

(All photos courtesy of Torture Garden and Torture Garden Toronto.)