NewFest

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So…NewFest?

As you may or may not be aware NYC hosts an annual NYC Film Festival (this year will prove to be its 51st year). It is the highlight of not only the fall season when it occurs, but is one the big culture touchstones a city known for its diverse culture displays. And within the Film Festival there are short windows of time, sometimes a few days only, when specific films are showcased under a specific banner of type.

This is what NewFest is.

Keeping you in the loop as we do here with ‘lifestyle’ happenings on our Fantasy Event List (and we know how that one word can encompass a whole bunch of concepts and ideas…from a German latex designer’s launch of a new line, to a mistress get together in San Francisco to a Toronto Shibari demonstration) I wanted to let you know about NewFest, running as part of the New York Film Festival, from 9/6th to the 11th (I’ve listed it in our Fantasy Event List as well). The films shown in this series sponsored by H.B.O. are specifically of a LGBT type and presented via a partnership between Outfest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center…as they have been doing for a quarter of a century now.

Films by Stacie Passon, Ravis Mathews, Rose Troche and Malgoska Szumowska will be shown as well as the Kink documentary James Franco produced about the infamous online kinky depository and play space The Armory (a movie I am personally looking forward to seeing).

There’s even a series of shorts to be shown too. Check out the information here: www.FilmLinc.com and don’t forget to check out all issues of Von Gutenberg now available digitally here http://vongutenberg.com/e-magazine/, plus our first ever eBook All The Word’s A Rage, available here: http://vongutenberg.com/e-book/.

 

All Hail Your Shiny New Ambassador, Latexians: Miss Rubber World 2011

“A woman whose smile is open and whose expression is glad has a kind of beauty no matter what she wears.”

~ Anne Roiphe, American Feminist and Author

 

The numeral “five” … is a very good number. It is one of the easiest for grade school students to ‘compute’ when doing their multiplication tables. It’s a convenient unit of currency – eclipsed perhaps only by a nice, round $10-spot or, in some cases, a fatter, newer $20 dollar bill. The number “five” holds significance in most of our daily rituals: everything from designations of degrees on cooking ranges to telling time on clocks are essential, if not completely taken-for-granted, everyday, natural occurrences. “Five”, or multiples thereof, is also an important designation when marking annual events such as birthdays, anniversaries, award ceremonies … and cherished annual events.

Naturally, a 75th Anniversary of a recurring event is a tremendous cause for celebration. Perhaps a 5th Annual Celebration may seem tame by comparison. That is, unless that 5th Anniversary happens to be celebrating the growth and continuous evolution of an exciting new event. Just such a circumstance transpired in New York City, during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend of January 14 – 16, 2011.

It was a little over five years ago, in New York City and in November 2006, that a small but dedicated group captained by long-time latex enthusiast, designer, promoter and New York fetish fixture The Baroness and an ambitious gentleman named Unit1421 decided that the time had come to create a competition that celebrated the allure and sensuality, and advanced the awareness of latex as a truly viable garment medium (and not just for Fetishists). Over the past five years, the competition has been fortunate enough to have had some stellar individuals compete for the title of Miss Rubber World – including such known latex personalities Steffy the Rubber Doll (2008 winner) and Jean Bardot (2009 winner).

According to The Baroness, the competition “really came of age” in 2010. That year was notable because it had “less attitude and more substance”, she said, and featured the work of (then) up and coming latex enthusiast Dawnamatrix, a well-liked and very well respected latex garment designer who calls Rhode Island home. Her journey into rubber life unto itself is incredible: Dawnamatrix spent years teaching in Japan and has become world-renown for her latex Kimono designs, and is viewed within the latex community as the “authority” on producing latex appliqués and overlays on her pieces.

It isn’t a stretch to suggest that Dawnamatrix brought some real positive attention, and some very welcome credibility, to Miss Rubber World in 2010 – she did, in fact, outright win the title. This year, she returned as one of the judges for the 2011 Miss Rubber World competition. Dawnamatrix, according to several sources, was the first contestant who clearly outshone her peers in all three competition segments: the Traditional Catwalk, Question Period, and the piece of latex performance art called Latex Fantasy.

Of the three components to the competition, it is the Latex Fantasy portion that the judges tend to attribute the heaviest opinion regarding their overall decision as to who will become Miss Rubber World. The Catwalk segment, as suggested, does include an element of fetish modeling – but what makes it unique is that it gives the contestants a chance to exhibit creations of their own making, and many Miss Rubber World competitors have manufactured many of their own outfits for the show. The Question Period is vital as it gives the competitors a chance to relate to the judges, and the audience, important answers as to appropriate latex-themed questions – and provides a valuable insight into each of the contestant’s attitude and comportment. The Latex Fantasy, however, is the segment that provides the best opportunity to impress the gathering. This point will become critical to our story a little later on.

The contestants this year for the crown, as outlined above, assembled in New York City amidst an icy, snow-filled cold weather snap. More than just a few of the participants had to battle the ill effects of a determined, and particularly nasty, winter virus. They came together from different parts of the world (mostly the United States) in order to vie not only for the coveted rubber sash traditionally given to the winner of the Miss Rubber World competition, but for an array of impressive prize packages that had been generously donated from admirable fetish fashion and accessory houses across the globe. The list of donations for the Prize Packages reads like a veritable “who’s who” within the global latex community, with corporations from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States all supplying lucrative and impressive prizes for the Crown Winner, as well as the First and Second Runners-Up.

Initially, there were supposed to be eight competitors for the Miss Rubber World sash. Sadly, due to a variety of reasons (mostly illness but in one case because of lost luggage), three of the contestants had to withdraw on the eve of the competition. That left five very beautiful and talented young ladies to figuratively tussle for the covetted Crown. One of the competitors, Toronto’s Archean, had more than just an ugly flu bug to battle. Traveling with her entourage, she had an array of competition outfits and items that she would later admit she was terrified was “going to give them some serious grief at the USA/Canada border.” Needless to say, Archean (and her travel companions Mad Scientist and their lovely and incredibly talented minion, Droidsy) had some anxious moments with Customs Agents once they arrived at the Border Crossing.

“The journey could generously be described as completely miserable,” Archean said. “Not only was I sick the entire way but it seemed like the entire universe was conspiring to make sure we didn’t make it to New York City.” The temptation to relate the entire, sordid details of their epic journey to New York City within this narrative is very strong – but it’s really too good a story for a third-party to relate. Truly, a more horrifying but hilariously-related travel tale related to Miss Rubber World 2011 simply doesn’t exist – but thankfully, Archean (and her beloved life and business partner, Mad Scientist) will be relating that story in its entirely within the pages of their new venture: a fantastic new latex-based website named Rubberlesque. Part of the new website, which will be devoted to introducing new enthusiasts to the joys of rubber life as well as taking an active role in educational opportunities and (somewhat) activist causes by expanding their highly-respected “Knockoff Knockdown” (wherein Archean and Mad Scientist aggressively take to task any number of so-called “designers” who very clearly steal the design ideas and techniques of others) and “Rubber Relationship Advice” concepts, will feature the video footage from Archean’s impressive Latex Fantasy competition segment.

Remember: earlier it was mentioned how important the Latex Fantasy segment was in determining who was crowned Miss Rubber World. It would be a serious disservice to reveal exactly what Archean’s Latex Fantasy performance actually consisted of – suffice to say it was definitely a “wow I didn’t see that coming” moment for all who witnessed it – but what we can say is that, in essence, her performance told her story of her growing interest, and eventual immersion into, rubber fetish expressionism. In short, it was polished, it was professional – and it was brilliant. (Note: The performance will be available for viewing in its entirety soon on the new Rubberlesque website. It will be well worth the wait!) Archean was aided in her performance by talented, well-known and respected rope and bondage artist, the incomparable Lotuslily, who graciously volunteered her time in the spirit of friendship, to render some much-appreciated assistance.

Her performance was also more than enough for the judges to crown Archean as Miss Rubber World 2011 – the first time a contestant from Canada’s largest city has won the sash. Popular New York latex performer Jade Vixen, for the second year in a row, was First Runner-Up and the irrepressible Lydia Lael was Second Runner-Up. The other contestants were Mistress Killspree, a popular club fixture from Boston and Sienna Aldridge, a classically-trained ballet dancer and fetish model/performer from New York City.

“Any of those girls would have been a worthy Miss Rubber World,” The Baroness said. “Lydia Lael was so incredibly cute with her performance! The combination of water with latex always has a lovely appeal. Jade Vixen’s performance was so incredibly intricate, so beautiful. She played to the crowd’s strengths – wearing a hood, putting on stockings, doing some simple things which crowds just love. It was a really close competition.”

“The political part of a competition like Miss Rubber World is unavoidable, but it’s also necessary and very important,” The Baroness continued. “That has been reflected time and again, during Miss Rubber World and in other important competitions. In order to be an effective ambassador – as any title holder is expected to be – you need to be able to play the politics game well. It takes a really exceptional person to overcome some of the solid connections that people can and do make in this life.”

“In the end, Archean might well have not won the sash, it was really that close – but she clearly won everyone over, especially with her performance in the Latex Fantasy. It’s easy to call the Latex Fantasy portion of the competition a ‘talent component’, and to a degree it is – but she showed us something very unique and certainly worthy of being Miss Rubber World. There was no question at the end of her performance, who rose to the top and who the real sash winner would be.”

This year undeniably was special. The Miss Rubber World Competition has evolved – and the bar continues to be raised each and every year. It is becoming one of the “Must Not Miss” fetish events on the annual New York City fetish calendar. The competition is drawing more talented and certainly more complete candidates. “The judges and I felt that this year, the competitors showed us a complete package,” The Baroness said. “Archean’s use of her equipment and her choice in color palette overall was really exquisite. She showed us something that, believe it or not, people in New York City don’t see a lot of especially at fetish events. People don’t want to sit and watch just a beauty pageant: they want to be entertained. Archean was absolutely entertaining.”

One of the most important aspects, and most significant consequences sure to come from Archean’s being awarded the 2011 pink latex sash as Miss Rubber World, is her awareness of the responsibility in becoming an actual ambassador within the entire latex community. “I believe what Miss Rubber World should be is a way to bring new creative people into the spotlight, and I think it’s a big stepping stone. It’s really important to give people an outlet like Miss Rubber World in order to showcase their own creativity.” Archean is also interested in helping to ‘coach’ other potential latex models and enthusiasts who may wish to follow a similar path and compete for such a prestigious sash. One of the things she and her life mate Mad Scientist plan to do to continue to raise a positive footprint and provide a comfortable roadmap for fellow latex fetishists is to continue to write about their own experiences and share their own knowledge with anyone interested. In addition to continuing her exhaustive work schedule as a full partner in Kink Engineering, the company she started with Mad Scientist that manufactures simply the most intricate and expertly-crafted Vac-Beds on the planet, Archean also plans to continue to put the pressure on those unscrupulous design houses who blatantly and unprofessionally expropriate ideas from reputable, good people. “I cannot tell you how impressed we all were, especially me, with Archean’s Knockoff Knockdown efforts,” The Baroness said. “That endeared her to me – it is such a welcome surprise, watching someone else want to take up that challenge.”

The Miss Rubber World 2011 competition was Archean’s first excursion to New York City – and she simply can’t wait to go back. “I knew no matter what happened, the outcome was going to be magical and an amazing story”, she said. While she and Mad Scientist didn’t have a tremendous amount of time to sight-see in The Big Apple, she did profess amazement with the myriad of Art Deco architecture and fixtures they were able to see. “New York is certainly the perfect city to be in and be in love,” she said. “Next time, I will get my carriage ride in Central Park!”

When she does return and claim that carriage ride, it will be as a Queen – and may her reign be spectacular, glorious … and indeed, memorable.

Kardynyl SynysTyr

(All photos courtesy of Miss Rubber World 2011 and Photographer Judith Stephens. All Rights Reserved.)

Throwback to the Future: NYC’s Fetish TRIBE EXPERIENCE Revisited

It is true that large fetish and SM communities have been around for a very long time. There has been a great deal written about some of these communities: most of it utter nonsense, and fabricated solely in the minds of self-effacing, somewhat narcissistic folk who make grandiose and ridiculous claims of “having been trained within a European Great House” in some bizarre equivocal attempt to justify their experience and/or expertise levels (admit it, dear reader: you’ve met at least one such individual).

Some of these communities have even been featured – exaggerated and fictionalized extensively though they may be – within the pages of popular fetish and SM ‘modern’ literature. The most famous example of this would invariably be the Great Estates of Roissy and Samois, so central to the fictionalized, but based in absolute fact, account of Pauline Reage (pseudonym for the late French journalist Ann Desclos) in her taboo-shattering, epic erotic novel, Story of O – the work which will continue to be the benchmark by which all other SM-related works shall be forever weighted against.

Therefore the oldest Communities, and most respected and revered, are typically assumed to be found in some major European centres, most notably London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris (Note: Roissy actually existed at one point: the Chateau described in Story of O was demolished to make way for construction of Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1966, some twelve years after the publication of the novel). Others, such as The Society of Janus in San Francisco and The Eulenspiegel Society (TES) in New York, have been functioning relatively blissfully for decades in North America. While these larger, more matured social organizations still rely on a degree of extreme privacy and adhere to their rules – some very old rules – regarding acceptance of new members and observation of some very near Mason-style Code of Conduct and disclosure policies, the availability of information to the masses (and instantaneously) through the wonders of the Internet Age has forced some of these revered “institutions” to begrudgingly adapt to new recruitment and retaining methods

There are two distinct and large differences that are invariably considered in any discussion of “new wave” versus “old guard” variety Fetish Nation building: One, naturally, is how revered the somewhat secretive and private nature of our chosen life continues to be within the ranks of the people, contrasted with how open and readily available inclusion is to virtually anyone willing to pay entrance fees to events, or even in some cases membership dues. The vast majority of new Fetish/SM based Community groups actually don’t charge membership fees at all – which means the ‘screening’ process that used to be so integral for acceptance within a like-minded SM-focused peer group is, now, virtually non-existent. The discussion, therefore, centers on how “new wave” or “next generation” groups actively police themselves. In the “old days”, an enthusiastic potential new Community member literally was made to jump through a series of exasperating figurative hoops in order to just secure an interview with a Community representative, who would in turn take their membership nomination to a higher authority. That potential new member, almost universally, had best have a respected sponsor already within the Community, too – or their chances for acceptance and inclusion would become a whole lot more difficult. In essence, potentials had to “prove” that they were responsible, honest and generally upstanding people worthy of everyone else’s respect. It just wasn’t very easy to get in through the front door in those days: you were made to work hard to secure your inclusion. This process had several advantages, the most obvious being that those who had selfish agendas, or were shown to not have the temperament or emotional stability to complete the process just weren’t inevitably invited to join the collective – and this made for a near-harmonious social structure. Everyone knew, and loved, everybody else, in time: The issues of ego, unbalanced behavior and what we refer to today as “drama” rarely needed to be dealt with. When something came up that was considered a grave injury or disservice to the Community as a whole, the offender was generally ostracized completely, and not allowed further participation in Community events and functions. The fear of that severe a punishment alone was enough to generally keep those with agendas of their own quite “in line.” In the 1960’s and 1970’s especially, and to a lessening degree in the 1980’s and 1990’s, if you were ostracized from one Community, it was likely you weren’t going to find very many people to play with. Now, in the New Millennium, and thanks to the advent of instant access to any information via the World Wide Web, it is very easy for an “outcast” member of one community organization to latch onto another one – and without any kind of vetting process what so ever.

Second, and far more of an issue, is what can only be described as the “fracturing” of entire Communities into smaller, more “specialized” practitioners. For “old guard” SM folk, there was a sense of “we’re in this together”: It wasn’t (and still isn’t, in some old quarters) the leather crowd holding court over the latex crowd; who in turn cast a contemptuous but curious eye to the spandex or PVC people. There wasn’t so much a sense of superiority of the large tribal-influenced Body Modification contingent over the straight out-and-out whip-bottoms and pierced pure masochists. There was a sense of “your kink isn’t my kink, but we’re all in this together – and united we’re stronger.” I can personally attest, during the 1980’s in particular, to the strength of the Society of Janus in San Francisco as a prime example. Strangely, the Society of Janus started to come apart at the seams the moment a “younger element” voiced a desire to have more of an active say in how the Society conducted business. When the ‘old guard’ objected – cracks began to appear in the old Community’s framework, and eventually an inevitable series of splits occurred. Some of those now-decades long wounds have failed to completely heal, and some of the splinter groups have long since vanished. The Society of Janus has survived, though – and is currently regarded as the second-oldest, continuous communal SM Organization in the United States (The Eulenspiegal Society being the oldest – which has had “fracturing” issues of its own over the decades of its existence).

(Note the Second: It should be noted that “old guard” is used here as a metaphor, not as a de facto title. The reverence to “Old Guard”, those that paved the way the way for literally every one of us to be able to freely express our sadomasochistic tendencies and desires, is an entirely separate storyline, and is too intricate and glorious to do justice to within the paragraphs of this particular piece.)

It is a very old maxim that people are afraid of change. It is far more comfortable to live – sometimes blindly so – in a comfortable, familiar manner. In the case of the Society of Janus, an argument could be made that the community elders were, more or less, dragged kicking and screaming into the modern electronic age. Those organizations and businesses that embrace new methods of communication and technology are certain to continue to prosper and grow their ranks and loyalties. Those that resist change soon find, sadly, that they just don’t have a playground (or even playmates) around to explore the wonders and joys within this particular expressive lifestyle that we’ve collectively chosen. To the unending credit of both the Society of Janus and The Eulenspiegal Society, they have found ways to embrace the tools of the digital age (websites and social networking especially) and have figuratively weathered the thundering storms of lightning-quick change – and survived.

If there is a downside, though, it’s that the ‘storm weathering’ in both of these important, historically-significant large community groups in North America was (more or less) solely undertaken for the benefit of existing, long-term members, and as a potential ‘recruitment and contact tool’ in the same sense and manner that any aggregator in the modern age reaches out to potential new members (or customers). That is to say, the use of the Internet to educate the masses of the people about the existence and offerings of these large communal groups is both a bane and a boon: In the shotgun approach to recruitment, the “screening” or vetting process has virtually disappeared – and the contact information (which used to be so incredibly difficult to obtain, as mentioned above) is oh-too-easily available, right down to contact names, (Email) addresses and telephone numbers, with a simple click of a button. Shotgun approaches are sure to bring interest and new, enthusiastic members to respective communities – but that approach has absolutely zero positive effect upon weeding out the quality, community-minded people from the opportunistic, mercenary, narcissistic and potentially destructive poisonous types. Sadly, as ever-growing examples of aforementioned “drama” continue to populate our communal messaging systems and digitally megalithic gathering places (such as the popular website Fet Life, for example), the latter appears to be far more the “norm” than the “exception”.

Which is exactly why the New York City Fetish TRIBE is so incredibly, wonderfully unique.

The main movers and shakers of what is called the NYC Tribe Mike B., Kelley Dane and an amazingly engaging, alluring and supremely magnetic personality known locally as Powder – have managed to create, and promote, an exceptional, large new Community that is based on a perfect blending, or balance, of “old world” ideals with “new age” methods. In essence, what the troika has managed to deliver to the Fetish and SM world at large is a hybrid: they take the best of what made the “old world” groups (such as their distinguished older ‘cousins’ in New York, TES) perfected in the way of a true Community bond and “self-policing” system, and combined it with all the advantages and glamour that the positive exploitation of digital media can provide. Working in concert with a young, Mohawk-sporting, engaging and enthusiastic Education Coordinator who goes by the moniker of Rocky Horror, the foursome produced – and entirely succeeded – in bringing something quite new, and in the opinion of many in attendance, revolutionary weekend-long event to North America’s largest social stage.

The New York City Tribe Experience was held, for the first time, in early October, 2010. It ran for five, virtually full days – from October 7th to 11th, and by all accounts there simply wasn’t a down moment to be found during the entire time. “Tribesters” from all parts of North America – Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Florida, Arizona, Montreal and Toronto – gathered for several feverish days of unparalleled Fetish and sadomasochistic delights that, without a word of bias or favoritism, culminated in the absolute best (the majority of attendees agreed) experience in their lives.

Did it have the unending eye candy that a Montreal Fetish Weekend brings? No, not really. Was it as deliciously performance-laden and eye-popping as a Torture Garden event always is? Absolutely not! Was it as well-attended or as truly spectacular as either the huge annual Northbound Leather events or the Von Gutenberg Fetish Balls? Not even close! Neither, it must be said, was the NYC Tribe Experience designed to resemble as such. Naturally, there were four entire evenings of near-exhaustively paced parties – but there were other factors in play throughout the weekend that simply set what Mike, Kelley, Powder and Rocky were able to accomplish far above anything most of the attendees had experienced before.

What is even more impressive: they managed to accomplish four entire days of all-inclusive absolute revelry for an astonishing ticket price of only $75.00. That’s $75.00 for VIP access to all four large parties and all day-trips and excursions. The organizers also set up a billeting system for out-of-town guests, in order to defray the cost of attendance and spare visitors (who may not have been able to attend the Experience otherwise) the sting of having to pay somewhat ridiculous hotel room rates. This was an exceptionally welcome, and fantastic, idea: our little group spoke to a few people who took advantage of this billeting system (in which Tribe members volunteered a room, or a bed, or a couch even, for a night or more in their own homes) – and fast made new, solid long-term friendships from these arrangements. All in all, many precedents were established during this initial New York City Tribe Experience – and with few exceptions, the organizers managed to make it all click meticulously.

It wouldn’t do the Tribe organizers any justice to delve into deep, detailed and intricate dissections of each of the four main parties – three of which exist on their own merits as “separate but connected events” within the New York City fetish scene (Impact, Dress to {xcess and Suspension). The main distinguishing feature of all three of these “Main Events” is that they were held in three unique venues. Other weekend-long events tend to be limited to one, and in some cases (like the Fetish Weekend and Torture Garden, for instance), two, main locations. Having the three main evening gatherings in three separate, but relatively central locations enabled the organizers to present somewhat of a fresh atmosphere to each themed party. For instance, in order to get a sense of what is being described, some weekend long Fetish events will have two large-scale parties, on consecutive nights, at one appropriate club or event hall. What one of the criticisms of this format has been, is that in reality, the second-night’s gathering in the same locale tends to be a virtual ‘carbon copy’ of the previous night’s fun – even though the entertainment line-up will invariably differ. There was no sense of déjà vu at the Tribe Experience. Each party – while attended by the same people, featuring the same equipment to play on and featuring an inordinate amount of the same costuming – nevertheless felt like a “new”, and quite vibrant, titillating separate event. Whether this was done by accident, out of necessity or completely be design, it absolutely worked.

What also worked, and were themselves delightfully quirky and unique events, were each of the “sideline day trips” that the Tribe brain-trust organized. Ranging from an afternoon of Croquet in Central Park (wearing nothing but the finest knickers and lingerie, of course) to an awe-inspiring witnessing of the “dawn’s early light” (complete with bagels), on the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, each little day excursion was intended to – and succeeded in – recharging the metaphorical ‘batteries’ that had been drained from exhortations and excitations at one of the large parties the evening previous. These “day trips” were an exceptional and very welcome idea: it is without question that similar, somewhat gimmicky events will be planned for other Fetish weekends in other large centres heading into 2011. They were reported to be extraordinarily fun – and eminently succeeded in bringing new-found friends much closer together in so short a time span.

Which leads to a necessary few words in regard to the participation of other identifiable groups that collectively thrive under the translucent “Tribe umbrella”: It is rare – even unheard of – for so-called “competing organizations” to come together, let alone work together, to give the vast populace a truly encompassing, communal experience. The “day trips”, and several of the “official” functions connected with the NYC Tribe Experience were all encouraged to be, and actively were, sponsored by entirely outside and separate entities. For instance, the Kinky Jews group were responsible for hosting the early-morning Brooklyn Bridge sunrise breakfast excursion on Sunday morning, and the NYC TNG crowd were responsible for hosting the unforgettable Lingerie Croquet in Central Park (an event, I may add, that was featured on several morning NYC news magazine shows and prominently in at least two major New York daily newspapers – you can’t purchase that kind of free publicity in New York so readily). Without question, never since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in San Francisco has there been such an immense and successful collaboration of large, Fetish and SM community-focused organizations joining forces, and resources, in an effort to just bring their New York City residents and respective guests such an undeniable good time.

I cannot go any further without mentioning the professionalism, dedication and indeed the pure class of Mike B. in particular. This in no way casts a dispersion on the other three organizers mentioned within the body of this piece, but something happened on Friday evening that was extraordinary, and should be held as an example of what the definition of a “responsible event organizer” can be.

At Friday night’s big event (the Impact play party), there were some glaring safety issues regarding the placement of equipment and monitoring staff that our little “entourage” immediately viewed as areas of extreme concern. Without going into exorbitant and unnecessary detail, it must be said that Mike B., when quietly informed of our concerns (he had just arrived a few moments before and therefore had not had even a chance to take his coat off, I might add – a bit of a social faux pas on my account admittedly) immediately leapt into action and within a few minutes had directed his staff to rectify the potential dangers. The rest of Friday’s festivities proceeded without incident – much to the happiness of the huge crowd. This is the mark of a dedicated man who obviously cares deeply for the quality of experience that he plans to present to each and every one of his guests.

By extension, the other organizers are equally worthy of laudability. In an area of our Fetish world where it is usually the work of a single person, or a duo at best, that reaps the praise of a grateful community for their event-running efforts, it is remarkable that four and more answerable individuals can work to create such an awe-inspiring great experience with such total comprehension, and so little tension, between them. Regardless of whatever issues, troubles or “drama” any of these organizers may have had to face prior to the commencement of the Tribe Experience weekend, they didn’t allow those issues to cloud their abilities to present to their people a world-class, and first-rate professional Fetish and SM affair.

It was a masterstroke of pure genius to host the weekend’s educational component – the Tribe Workshops – in the same venue in which the final soiree was going to be produced. Lady J, my beloved life mate, and I were guests of the irrepressible Mistress Lyn and sjoe for the entire week (a week in which saw Your Humble Narrator finally be able to pay respects to a childhood hero – Ulysses S. Grant – who lies within an immense, magnificent tomb at Riverside Park), and for most scheduled events our intrepid foursome made the long drive from Long Island into the City in order to partake in the festivities. I say “most”, sadly, because one of our troupe became quite ill with a serious infection and ended up missing all of Saturday’s fun (yes, it was me). But I digress slightly: Lady J and I were asked to conduct two basic single-tail whipping seminars on the Sunday afternoon, and I readily admit that in my weakened, sickened state, my first impression of the venue wasn’t entirely favorable.

It didn’t take us long to warm up to the place, though; this unassuming little edifice known as The Delancey. Skeptical first impressions quickly gave way to silent admiration as we realized this four-level nightclub was, in truth, the absolute perfect venue in which to host all of Sunday’s educational seminars. Our own two seminars were conducted with great joy and without a single hitch, and all of the classes were well-attended and enthusiastically participated in by the Tribesters who chose to come out. Because of the aforementioned illness, our foursome simply could not stay for the Suspension event that was held in the same venue later on that same evening – but reading the concerned and heartfelt notes left for me by many of our new Tribe friends the next morning, it was absolutely evident that we’d had to pass on a history-making occasion. At the time of this writing, over an entire month after the final doors closed on the Tribe Experience, there are still excited stories being swapped about the grandeur and hedonistic delight of Sunday evening’s Suspension – such so, that it is without question that the event is certain to become a long-running, essential ‘staple’ on the Fetish party circuit for New York City (and area) dwellers for years to come. I am still wondering how all four of the organizers pulled it off, and so amazingly well: Mike B., Powder and Rocky in particular were so obviously exhausted they collectively resembled something from a George Romero Zombie feature by Sunday afternoon. And yet, all of them (joined by Kelley) somehow managed to suck it up, and then pull off, a highlight worthy, signature event to cap an unbelievably sumptuous weekend of great fun and glorious decadence.

That, my friends, is what every event organizer in every major town should aspire to create. The New York City Fetish Tribe is a revolutionary concept. It is the evolution of the “old” perfectly enhanced with all the advantages of the “new”. It is a community of fantastic, joyful and dedicated, responsible people enraptured within breath-depriving, sensual experiments in ecstasy during some of the best-planned, and best executed, large-scale event gatherings on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Tribe is what many of the ‘old’ communities had aspired to be, and for reasons that limited those eras legally and socially, could never truly be.

The Tribe Experience is a hopeful gaze towards the future – and a shining example of what other large alternative-lifestyle communities should aspire to be.

(All photos courtesy of Aeric Meredith-Goujon Photography and NYC Fetish Tribe. All Rights Reserved.)

Throwback to the Future: NYC’s Fetish TRIBE EXPERIENCE Revisited

It is true that large fetish and SM communities have been around for a very long time. There has been a great deal written about some of these communities: most of it utter nonsense, and fabricated solely in the minds of self-effacing, somewhat narcissistic folk who make grandiose and ridiculous claims of “having been trained within a European Great House” in some bizarre equivocal attempt to justify their experience and/or expertise levels (admit it, dear reader: you’ve met at least one such individual).

Some of these communities have even been featured – exaggerated and fictionalized extensively though they may be – within the pages of popular fetish and SM ‘modern’ literature. The most famous example of this would invariably be the Great Estates of Roissy and Samois, so central to the fictionalized, but based in absolute fact, account of Pauline Reage (pseudonym for the late French journalist Ann Desclos) in her taboo-shattering, epic erotic novel, Story of O – the work which will continue to be the benchmark by which all other SM-related works shall be forever weighted against.

Therefore the oldest Communities, and most respected and revered, are typically assumed to be found in some major European centres, most notably London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris (Note: Roissy actually existed at one point: the Chateau described in Story of O was demolished to make way for construction of Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1966, some twelve years after the publication of the novel). Others, such as The Society of Janus in San Francisco and The Eulenspiegel Society (TES) in New York, have been functioning relatively blissfully for decades in North America. While these larger, more matured social organizations still rely on a degree of extreme privacy and adhere to their rules – some very old rules – regarding acceptance of new members and observation of some very near Mason-style Code of Conduct and disclosure policies, the availability of information to the masses (and instantaneously) through the wonders of the Internet Age has forced some of these revered “institutions” to begrudgingly adapt to new recruitment and retaining methods

There are two distinct and large differences that are invariably considered in any discussion of “new wave” versus “old guard” variety Fetish Nation building: One, naturally, is how revered the somewhat secretive and private nature of our chosen life continues to be within the ranks of the people, contrasted with how open and readily available inclusion is to virtually anyone willing to pay entrance fees to events, or even in some cases membership dues. The vast majority of new Fetish/SM based Community groups actually don’t charge membership fees at all – which means the ‘screening’ process that used to be so integral for acceptance within a like-minded SM-focused peer group is, now, virtually non-existent. The discussion, therefore, centers on how “new wave” or “next generation” groups actively police themselves. In the “old days”, an enthusiastic potential new Community member literally was made to jump through a series of exasperating figurative hoops in order to just secure an interview with a Community representative, who would in turn take their membership nomination to a higher authority. That potential new member, almost universally, had best have a respected sponsor already within the Community, too – or their chances for acceptance and inclusion would become a whole lot more difficult. In essence, potentials had to “prove” that they were responsible, honest and generally upstanding people worthy of everyone else’s respect. It just wasn’t very easy to get in through the front door in those days: you were made to work hard to secure your inclusion. This process had several advantages, the most obvious being that those who had selfish agendas, or were shown to not have the temperament or emotional stability to complete the process just weren’t inevitably invited to join the collective – and this made for a near-harmonious social structure. Everyone knew, and loved, everybody else, in time: The issues of ego, unbalanced behavior and what we refer to today as “drama” rarely needed to be dealt with. When something came up that was considered a grave injury or disservice to the Community as a whole, the offender was generally ostracized completely, and not allowed further participation in Community events and functions. The fear of that severe a punishment alone was enough to generally keep those with agendas of their own quite “in line.” In the 1960’s and 1970’s especially, and to a lessening degree in the 1980’s and 1990’s, if you were ostracized from one Community, it was likely you weren’t going to find very many people to play with. Now, in the New Millennium, and thanks to the advent of instant access to any information via the World Wide Web, it is very easy for an “outcast” member of one community organization to latch onto another one – and without any kind of vetting process what so ever.

Second, and far more of an issue, is what can only be described as the “fracturing” of entire Communities into smaller, more “specialized” practitioners. For “old guard” SM folk, there was a sense of “we’re in this together”: It wasn’t (and still isn’t, in some old quarters) the leather crowd holding court over the latex crowd; who in turn cast a contemptuous but curious eye to the spandex or PVC people. There wasn’t so much a sense of superiority of the large tribal-influenced Body Modification contingent over the straight out-and-out whip-bottoms and pierced pure masochists. There was a sense of “your kink isn’t my kink, but we’re all in this together – and united we’re stronger.” I can personally attest, during the 1980’s in particular, to the strength of the Society of Janus in San Francisco as a prime example. Strangely, the Society of Janus started to come apart at the seams the moment a “younger element” voiced a desire to have more of an active say in how the Society conducted business. When the ‘old guard’ objected – cracks began to appear in the old Community’s framework, and eventually an inevitable series of splits occurred. Some of those now-decades long wounds have failed to completely heal, and some of the splinter groups have long since vanished. The Society of Janus has survived, though – and is currently regarded as the second-oldest, continuous communal SM Organization in the United States (The Eulenspiegal Society being the oldest – which has had “fracturing” issues of its own over the decades of its existence).

(Note the Second: It should be noted that “old guard” is used here as a metaphor, not as a de facto title. The reverence to “Old Guard”, those that paved the way the way for literally every one of us to be able to freely express our sadomasochistic tendencies and desires, is an entirely separate storyline, and is too intricate and glorious to do justice to within the paragraphs of this particular piece.)

It is a very old maxim that people are afraid of change. It is far more comfortable to live – sometimes blindly so – in a comfortable, familiar manner. In the case of the Society of Janus, an argument could be made that the community elders were, more or less, dragged kicking and screaming into the modern electronic age. Those organizations and businesses that embrace new methods of communication and technology are certain to continue to prosper and grow their ranks and loyalties. Those that resist change soon find, sadly, that they just don’t have a playground (or even playmates) around to explore the wonders and joys within this particular expressive lifestyle that we’ve collectively chosen. To the unending credit of both the Society of Janus and The Eulenspiegal Society, they have found ways to embrace the tools of the digital age (websites and social networking especially) and have figuratively weathered the thundering storms of lightning-quick change – and survived.

If there is a downside, though, it’s that the ‘storm weathering’ in both of these important, historically-significant large community groups in North America was (more or less) solely undertaken for the benefit of existing, long-term members, and as a potential ‘recruitment and contact tool’ in the same sense and manner that any aggregator in the modern age reaches out to potential new members (or customers). That is to say, the use of the Internet to educate the masses of the people about the existence and offerings of these large communal groups is both a bane and a boon: In the shotgun approach to recruitment, the “screening” or vetting process has virtually disappeared – and the contact information (which used to be so incredibly difficult to obtain, as mentioned above) is oh-too-easily available, right down to contact names, (Email) addresses and telephone numbers, with a simple click of a button. Shotgun approaches are sure to bring interest and new, enthusiastic members to respective communities – but that approach has absolutely zero positive effect upon weeding out the quality, community-minded people from the opportunistic, mercenary, narcissistic and potentially destructive poisonous types. Sadly, as ever-growing examples of aforementioned “drama” continue to populate our communal messaging systems and digitally megalithic gathering places (such as the popular website Fet Life, for example), the latter appears to be far more the “norm” than the “exception”.

Which is exactly why the New York City Fetish TRIBE is so incredibly, wonderfully unique.

The main movers and shakers of what is called the NYC Tribe Mike B., Kelley Dane and an amazingly engaging, alluring and supremely magnetic personality known locally as Powder – have managed to create, and promote, an exceptional, large new Community that is based on a perfect blending, or balance, of “old world” ideals with “new age” methods. In essence, what the troika has managed to deliver to the Fetish and SM world at large is a hybrid: they take the best of what made the “old world” groups (such as their distinguished older ‘cousins’ in New York, TES) perfected in the way of a true Community bond and “self-policing” system, and combined it with all the advantages and glamour that the positive exploitation of digital media can provide. Working in concert with a young, Mohawk-sporting, engaging and enthusiastic Education Coordinator who goes by the moniker of Rocky Horror, the foursome produced – and entirely succeeded – in bringing something quite new, and in the opinion of many in attendance, revolutionary weekend-long event to North America’s largest social stage.

The New York City Tribe Experience was held, for the first time, in early October, 2010. It ran for five, virtually full days – from October 7th to 11th, and by all accounts there simply wasn’t a down moment to be found during the entire time. “Tribesters” from all parts of North America – Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Florida, Arizona, Montreal and Toronto – gathered for several feverish days of unparalleled Fetish and sadomasochistic delights that, without a word of bias or favoritism, culminated in the absolute best (the majority of attendees agreed) experience in their lives.

Did it have the unending eye candy that a Montreal Fetish Weekend brings? No, not really. Was it as deliciously performance-laden and eye-popping as a Torture Garden event always is? Absolutely not! Was it as well-attended or as truly spectacular as either the huge annual Northbound Leather events or the Von Gutenberg Fetish Balls? Not even close! Neither, it must be said, was the NYC Tribe Experience designed to resemble as such. Naturally, there were four entire evenings of near-exhaustively paced parties – but there were other factors in play throughout the weekend that simply set what Mike, Kelley, Powder and Rocky were able to accomplish far above anything most of the attendees had experienced before.

What is even more impressive: they managed to accomplish four entire days of all-inclusive absolute revelry for an astonishing ticket price of only $75.00. That’s $75.00 for VIP access to all four large parties and all day-trips and excursions. The organizers also set up a billeting system for out-of-town guests, in order to defray the cost of attendance and spare visitors (who may not have been able to attend the Experience otherwise) the sting of having to pay somewhat ridiculous hotel room rates. This was an exceptionally welcome, and fantastic, idea: our little group spoke to a few people who took advantage of this billeting system (in which Tribe members volunteered a room, or a bed, or a couch even, for a night or more in their own homes) – and fast made new, solid long-term friendships from these arrangements. All in all, many precedents were established during this initial New York City Tribe Experience – and with few exceptions, the organizers managed to make it all click meticulously.

It wouldn’t do the Tribe organizers any justice to delve into deep, detailed and intricate dissections of each of the four main parties – three of which exist on their own merits as “separate but connected events” within the New York City fetish scene (Impact, Dress to {xcess and Suspension). The main distinguishing feature of all three of these “Main Events” is that they were held in three unique venues. Other weekend-long events tend to be limited to one, and in some cases (like the Fetish Weekend and Torture Garden, for instance), two, main locations. Having the three main evening gatherings in three separate, but relatively central locations enabled the organizers to present somewhat of a fresh atmosphere to each themed party. For instance, in order to get a sense of what is being described, some weekend long Fetish events will have two large-scale parties, on consecutive nights, at one appropriate club or event hall. What one of the criticisms of this format has been, is that in reality, the second-night’s gathering in the same locale tends to be a virtual ‘carbon copy’ of the previous night’s fun – even though the entertainment line-up will invariably differ. There was no sense of déjà vu at the Tribe Experience. Each party – while attended by the same people, featuring the same equipment to play on and featuring an inordinate amount of the same costuming – nevertheless felt like a “new”, and quite vibrant, titillating separate event. Whether this was done by accident, out of necessity or completely be design, it absolutely worked.

What also worked, and were themselves delightfully quirky and unique events, were each of the “sideline day trips” that the Tribe brain-trust organized. Ranging from an afternoon of Croquet in Central Park (wearing nothing but the finest knickers and lingerie, of course) to an awe-inspiring witnessing of the “dawn’s early light” (complete with bagels), on the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, each little day excursion was intended to – and succeeded in – recharging the metaphorical ‘batteries’ that had been drained from exhortations and excitations at one of the large parties the evening previous. These “day trips” were an exceptional and very welcome idea: it is without question that similar, somewhat gimmicky events will be planned for other Fetish weekends in other large centres heading into 2011. They were reported to be extraordinarily fun – and eminently succeeded in bringing new-found friends much closer together in so short a time span.

Which leads to a necessary few words in regard to the participation of other identifiable groups that collectively thrive under the translucent “Tribe umbrella”: It is rare – even unheard of – for so-called “competing organizations” to come together, let alone work together, to give the vast populace a truly encompassing, communal experience. The “day trips”, and several of the “official” functions connected with the NYC Tribe Experience were all encouraged to be, and actively were, sponsored by entirely outside and separate entities. For instance, the Kinky Jews group were responsible for hosting the early-morning Brooklyn Bridge sunrise breakfast excursion on Sunday morning, and the NYC TNG crowd were responsible for hosting the unforgettable Lingerie Croquet in Central Park (an event, I may add, that was featured on several morning NYC news magazine shows and prominently in at least two major New York daily newspapers – you can’t purchase that kind of free publicity in New York so readily). Without question, never since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in San Francisco has there been such an immense and successful collaboration of large, Fetish and SM community-focused organizations joining forces, and resources, in an effort to just bring their New York City residents and respective guests such an undeniable good time.

I cannot go any further without mentioning the professionalism, dedication and indeed the pure class of Mike B. in particular. This in no way casts a dispersion on the other three organizers mentioned within the body of this piece, but something happened on Friday evening that was extraordinary, and should be held as an example of what the definition of a “responsible event organizer” can be.

At Friday night’s big event (the Impact play party), there were some glaring safety issues regarding the placement of equipment and monitoring staff that our little “entourage” immediately viewed as areas of extreme concern. Without going into exorbitant and unnecessary detail, it must be said that Mike B., when quietly informed of our concerns (he had just arrived a few moments before and therefore had not had even a chance to take his coat off, I might add – a bit of a social faux pas on my account admittedly) immediately leapt into action and within a few minutes had directed his staff to rectify the potential dangers. The rest of Friday’s festivities proceeded without incident – much to the happiness of the huge crowd. This is the mark of a dedicated man who obviously cares deeply for the quality of experience that he plans to present to each and every one of his guests.

By extension, the other organizers are equally worthy of laudability. In an area of our Fetish world where it is usually the work of a single person, or a duo at best, that reaps the praise of a grateful community for their event-running efforts, it is remarkable that four and more answerable individuals can work to create such an awe-inspiring great experience with such total comprehension, and so little tension, between them. Regardless of whatever issues, troubles or “drama” any of these organizers may have had to face prior to the commencement of the Tribe Experience weekend, they didn’t allow those issues to cloud their abilities to present to their people a world-class, and first-rate professional Fetish and SM affair.

It was a masterstroke of pure genius to host the weekend’s educational component – the Tribe Workshops – in the same venue in which the final soiree was going to be produced. Lady J, my beloved life mate, and I were guests of the irrepressible Mistress Lyn and sjoe for the entire week (a week in which saw Your Humble Narrator finally be able to pay respects to a childhood hero – Ulysses S. Grant – who lies within an immense, magnificent tomb at Riverside Park), and for most scheduled events our intrepid foursome made the long drive from Long Island into the City in order to partake in the festivities. I say “most”, sadly, because one of our troupe became quite ill with a serious infection and ended up missing all of Saturday’s fun (yes, it was me). But I digress slightly: Lady J and I were asked to conduct two basic single-tail whipping seminars on the Sunday afternoon, and I readily admit that in my weakened, sickened state, my first impression of the venue wasn’t entirely favorable.

It didn’t take us long to warm up to the place, though; this unassuming little edifice known as The Delancey. Skeptical first impressions quickly gave way to silent admiration as we realized this four-level nightclub was, in truth, the absolute perfect venue in which to host all of Sunday’s educational seminars. Our own two seminars were conducted with great joy and without a single hitch, and all of the classes were well-attended and enthusiastically participated in by the Tribesters who chose to come out. Because of the aforementioned illness, our foursome simply could not stay for the Suspension event that was held in the same venue later on that same evening – but reading the concerned and heartfelt notes left for me by many of our new Tribe friends the next morning, it was absolutely evident that we’d had to pass on a history-making occasion. At the time of this writing, over an entire month after the final doors closed on the Tribe Experience, there are still excited stories being swapped about the grandeur and hedonistic delight of Sunday evening’s Suspension – such so, that it is without question that the event is certain to become a long-running, essential ‘staple’ on the Fetish party circuit for New York City (and area) dwellers for years to come. I am still wondering how all four of the organizers pulled it off, and so amazingly well: Mike B., Powder and Rocky in particular were so obviously exhausted they collectively resembled something from a George Romero Zombie feature by Sunday afternoon. And yet, all of them (joined by Kelley) somehow managed to suck it up, and then pull off, a highlight worthy, signature event to cap an unbelievably sumptuous weekend of great fun and glorious decadence.

That, my friends, is what every event organizer in every major town should aspire to create. The New York City Fetish Tribe is a revolutionary concept. It is the evolution of the “old” perfectly enhanced with all the advantages of the “new”. It is a community of fantastic, joyful and dedicated, responsible people enraptured within breath-depriving, sensual experiments in ecstasy during some of the best-planned, and best executed, large-scale event gatherings on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Tribe is what many of the ‘old’ communities had aspired to be, and for reasons that limited those eras legally and socially, could never truly be.

The Tribe Experience is a hopeful gaze towards the future – and a shining example of what other large alternative-lifestyle communities should aspire to be.

(All photos courtesy of Aeric Meredith-Goujon Photography and NYC Fetish Tribe. All Rights Reserved.)

Bang the Drums: New York City Fetish Tribe is Upon Us

So, another successful Fetish season comes to an end, with a fantastic finish provided in no small part by San Francisco’s Von Gutenberg Fetish Ball during the weekend of September 24th – 26th. If early reports are any indication, the SFVG Ball is going to be a “staple” on the party circuit for years to come. The timing probably couldn’t be better, for the West Coast “Fetish Mecca”. The perception has been, in recent years that the West Coast Fetish scene has been dying an unrelenting, agonizing death. There can be little question (and it has been noticed by many others) that Eric Von Gutenberg is slowly, and successfully, re-introducing and bringing back the old, ecstatic latex, leather and PVC party atmosphere that the Bay Area used to be so eponymous with. The image that San Francisco itself is a world-class fetish party town is certainly being polished.

Perhaps in part, the success of large-scale events in Tampa, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal, have been responsible for re-energizing the public’s interest in larger fetish parties on the West Coast. As another successful summer season of revelry comes to a close, it is time to turn our focus back once again to the East Coast, and the anticipation of the autumn events. This was a good, if not great summer, and hopefully the various party planners from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and all parts in-between, will find a way to keep that momentum rolling.

Tis is the season, after all, and in late September that can only mean one thing: Hallowe’en! The penultimate reason for letting loose and dressing up! Let the fall decadence thusly commence!

Naturally, whether you live in Denver, Des Moines or Dover, there are bound to be larger several excellent, scale events within your area to patron, and enthusiastically even become a part of (as a performer or organizer). Regardless of how tired a fetish practitioner may claim to be after any number of events this summer, if you happen to be anywhere near the East Coast of the United States between October 6th and October 11th, you certainly should seriously consider taking in a bit of the NYC Fetish Tribe Weekend Experience. Even the seasoned latex and leather veteran should take in a breath of “fresh air”; experience the exciting atmosphere of something exciting, and quite new.

For New York City is a very special place. There is just something about that city in autumn that sets it apart from all others. A more perfect location for a fetish event, at this time of year doesn’t exist. The weather is near perfect: those wanting to proudly parade about for their peers in leather, latex or PVC will find the elements (barring the dampness should there be any) most conducive to having a damn fine time. The boot lovers especially – of which Your Humble Narrator counts amongst that passionate legion – are going to find NYC in Autumn to be akin to being granted the keys to their own private adult theme park.

The organizers of NYC Fetish Tribe – Kelley Dane and Mike B. – are no strangers to the Fetish Scene, in NYC and across the United States. They are responsible for organizing the New York “delegation” for The Burning Man festival that takes place every year at Black Rock, Nevada and they are also the movers and shakers behind the Las Vegas Ultimate After-Party, a gargantuan gathering of deviants representing all walks of alternative life from Sadomasochists to Swingers. While Kelley and Mike most certainly are the main “movers and shakers” behind these efforts, both are quite quick (and emphatically) point out that “nothing would have been accomplished without the aid of a lot of very good and dedicated people.”

As strange as this may sound, that makes their events somewhat unique: most of the larger-scale Fetish events are organized and implemented by a very small central core of those who shoulder responsibility for the event’s overall success – and survival. NYC Fetish Tribe is slightly different, and slightly more revolutionary. “Fetish Tribe is NOT an organization or entity per say. It is a movement within the fetish community that has resonated strongly with thousands of people,” Kelley said. “Collectively those who feel the Tribe Vibe live by it and it is contagious. I first introduce the concept to (local Fetish personality) Nikki the Kink Queen over burgers in NYC, and with her resounding support Mike B. and I took off with it with the help of many supporters.”

Whether by design or circumstance, the “Tribe” is a somewhat of a throwback to the tight SM Community that existed in San Francisco in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many urban centers have attempted similar undertakings – a collective truly of the people, by the people and for the people – but few have come close to establishing and maintaining the “familial” atmosphere that seems to permeate and define them. “The Tribe is a movement within the Fetish community that has resonated strongly with thousands of people,” Kelley and Mike said. “Although we’ve been referred to as “the Godfathers” of the movement, neither of us are really the acknowledged ‘leader’, ‘owner’, or even ‘President.’”

They refer to it as “The Tribe Vibe”. The New York City Fetish Tribe Experience is the culmination of many favorable factors and has been made a reality “only through the positive support of the New York City community at large.” On several occasions, Kelley and Mike insisted on mentioning the efforts of behind-the-scenes volunteers that are giving their free time, their particular expertise and talents, and their enthusiasm in the drive to really create something special.  “We’re very confident that those who haven’t experienced “The Tribe Vibe” – whether they’re coming from within New York or visiting – will both impress, and ‘infect’, all newcomers.

“The moment people walk through the door, they feel welcome. We don’t host a party to entertain you, necessarily, but instead our aim was to create a space in which people can meet, perform, be completely open, express and feel freedom. Upon entering a Tribe event you quickly feel included, and encouraged to share. It’s all about community and collective collaboration.”

The New York City Fetish Tribe experience promises to be unique in several different ways. For one, they have resisted the temptation to have “formalized” stage performances that can interrupt the flow of those wishing to engage in some “play” – and stage shows do tend to be immediate conversation killers. “The entire experience is a circus, and anyone can ‘perform’ at anytime,” Kelley and Mike said. “Our guest designers and our models parade on the floor and intermingle with all the people. Think more ‘Theatre in the Round’.” Another aspect that, to a great many attendees, is going to be a positive factor is the distinct absence of thumping, blaring loud music in any of the venues and play spaces. “We believe strongly that the best play comes only from first stimulating the mind and to do so you need to be able to talk.  It is a very simple concept that remains a corner stone of all Tribe events.

The Fetish Tribe will also actively encourage interaction amongst the guests. It’s one of the “trademarks” of their particular brand: they make a concerted effort, through the assistance of several enthusiastic, appropriately-clad and personable “Fetish Ambassadors”, to try and introduce all attendees to each other. Kelley and Mike firmly believe this “mingling” helps to strengthen the sense of family within the greater “Tribe” itself. They believe that everyone has value, no-one should feel intimidated, and in this reporter’s experience, no event has gone to such lengths to make people feel accommodated, welcome and “connected”. The entire experience is purposely designed to encourage people, from the Greater New York City area assuredly but also for visitors to the Big Apple alike, to meet and make new friends and truly feel connected with, and strengthen, those new relationships in the long-term.

Another extremely unique aspect of the Fetish Tribe Experience is the “Day Excursions” they have planned. While other event organizers have attempted (and utterly failed) to include their attendees in some “daylight” events, the Fetish Tribe Experience has offered a number of “New York Experiences” that are designed to not only help foster the aforementioned bonds of friendship during the evening festivities, but continue building those foundations during the day – and all with prominent New York landmarks as an inviting and awe-inspiring backdrop. Some of those “Day Tripper” events include a Croquet Tournament on Governor’s Island (with a twist: it’s an Undergarment Tournament); an excursion to the top of the Empire State Building (those that have never been before simply cannot miss this – it’s awe-inspiring), and a Sunrise Bondage and Bagel Breakfast on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Those that decide to join us (whether they’re in New York City or not) will not be disappointed”, Kelley and Mike said. “This is an ‘experience’ to be had like never before!” Even the seasoned New Yorker, strolling in fetish wear alongside the New York City first-time visitor, is sure to experience something very unique and memorable: this kind of gathering of like minds, and the dedicated encouragement of those like minds to interact and “get to know” one another, has never happened before: especially in a town the size of New York. Compared to other large-scale events, the price of a ticket is ludicrously reasonable: total event VIP tickets are only $75.00 if you purchase your ticket in advance (through the Fet Life website events listings) or by going straight to the New York City Fetish Tribe website itself. Those that wish to purchase their VIP tickets “at the door” may do so at a cost of $85.00.

“It will be a good sized event. We already have confirmations from ‘Tribesmen’ in California, Toronto, Montreal, Florida, Las Vegas, Texas and Arizona,” Kelley and Mike said. “Everyone who attends is going to come away extremely pleased with the efforts of our army of New York Tribe volunteers. And, everyone who attends is sure to make a new, lasting friendship or two. That’s what the New York Fetish Tribe is all about: bringing people together, and forming life-long relationships.”

The New York City Fetish Experience runs from October 7th to 11th, 2010 (Columbus Day Weekend, Thanksgiving Day Weekend in Canada). The ‘experience’ is simply a weekend event that should be on every fetish enthusiast’s calendar, and for years to come. Those that live in the New York City area, and haven’t quite made up their minds whether they wish to join the Tribe that weekend, will probably be quite sorry they chose to skip it. For those that may still wish to travel to New York City for the Experience weekend, there is only this to be said: What are you waiting for? Your spot within the Tribe awaits.

The New York Fetish Tribe Experience Itinerary:

Thursday, October 7, at 9:00 pm:
NOctoberurne. Tribe mixer and Cabaret Show with Weimar punk band, Amour Obscur

The Chandelier Room Downstairs at 249 West 30th St. NYC

Friday, October 8, at 600 pm:
Organized Fetish Shopping (“I Just Love What You’re Not Wearing”)

Meet at Purple Passion, 211 West 20th St. New York City

Friday, October 8, at 9:00 pm:
Impact Play Party and Rubber/Latex Showcase

Club Rebel Upstairs at 251 West 30th St. New York City

Saturday, October 9, at 11:00 am:
Spa Break! You Deserve This!

Spa 88 at 88 Fulton St. New York City

Saturday, October 9, at 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm:
Croquet in Your Undergarments

Great Lawn of Central Park. Meet at 86th St. and Central Park West at 2:00 pm. New York City ~ Agents will be standing by. Hosted by NYC TNG.

Saturday, October 9, at 9:00 pm to 3:00 am:
Dress to {xcess Costume Ball

Element 225 East Houston St., New York City ~ This is an amazing venue in which you can express your individuality. Awesome!

Sunday, October 10 from 5:00 am to 7:00 am
Sunrise Bondage and Bagels on da Brooklyn Bridge

Meet at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. ~ Hosted by KinkyJews. Enter on Center Street adjacent to City Hall. Bring comfy shoes and sweater.

Sunday, October 10, at 1:00 pm:
Be on TOP of the Empire State Building

350 5th Ave, New York City at 34th St. See New York City like never before. Be Kink Kong! 

Sunday, October 10, at 4:30 pm:
Classes For Beginners and Experts

The Delancey, 168 Delancey St. New York City

Sunday, October, 10 at 9:00 pm to 3:00 am:
Suspension: ‘A Play Soiree’

 The Delancey, 168 Delancey St. New York City

VIP Ticket All-Inclusive Package: $75 advanced internet or $85 at the door.

Individual tickets per event purchased at the door only.

Please Note: There is an extra charge for ESP and Spa excursion paid directly to vendor

(Photo of Mistress Alex of New York courtesy Mike B. of Fetish Tribe)

Dance of the Afflicted: Five Days of Torture Garden Toronto

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” ~ Seneca

Great undertakings are often brought to completion in one of only two ways: They are either enormously successful, or they result in dismal collapse and failure. More often than not, especially due to outside influence, unforeseen situations and destructive occurrences beyond one’s control, grand visions and ideas can soon become nothing more than ill-fated, poorly-advised, badly executed, and dismally-failed shattered dreams.

What was a triumphant, exciting new entrant into the major fetish event scene in North America a scant nine months ago had all the potential to follow along the train-wreck rails of so many promising, preceding ventures. To wit, this particular event could very well have been of the “one and done” variety, were it not for the solid efforts of its main motivating force, and organizational master.

It is with great pleasure and a huge, satisfactory sigh that Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend can confidently and righteously say that the second (and most ambitious) iteration of Toronto’s eagerly-anticipated Torture Garden Fetish Event was very much the former, and very little of the latter. It is safe to say, right here and right now, that as of May 2010, the longer-established “lifestyle” conventions, events and weekends have some serious competition for Fetish Festival attendee dollars in North America.

It is doubtful that anyone could have predicted that a single evening’s debauchery a little under a year ago (Torture Garden was initially welcomed to Toronto in August 2009) would have a meteoric evolution into an unbelievable five-night celebration of sinful excess. Anyone, that is, with the notable exception of the event’s organizational workhorse, Craig Galbreath. Even the two founders of the Torture Garden “franchise movement”, David Wood and Allen Pelling, were initially skeptical two full evenings of Toronto back-to-back fetish nights bearing the iconic Torture Garden masthead would be well-attended and wildly popular – let alone stretching the festivities into a five-day affair. “What Craig has done here is unmatched. It’s astounding, really,” a somewhat visibly subdued DJ David Wood remarked during a break between his sets on the Opera House stage. “When he told us he wanted to do a whole holiday weekend of Torture Garden (in Toronto), we weren’t really thinking he was serious at first. We had counted on another, successful one-night show: Craig gave us more. Hat’s are off to him. He’s worked very hard. He’s gained our confidence, for certain.”

Since Torture Garden Toronto said farewell to honoured guests, featured performers and satisfied delegates during a wonderful (if somewhat unseasonably warm) outdoor Wine and Cheese party on Victoria Day (May 24th, a national holiday in Canada), Your Humble Narrator has been inundated with queries – and demands – regarding when a full assessment and commentary regarding the near week-long festival would be produced, and made available for discerning eyes and ears. After taking some time to speak with several involved participants and excited attendees alike, a top to bottom review of the diabolically delicious pageantry that was Torture Garden Toronto 2010 is what follows.

Torture Garden, the Good:

The Music: Where does one start? There were truly so many superlatives about Torture Garden Toronto that it’s truly impossible to pick out a single, exceptional and definitive moment to call “The Best of Show”. What can be said as an appropriate beginning, however, is the quality exhibited by the event’s founders and chief musicologists, David TG and Allen TG (yes, the very same twosome mentioned above). During the two main event nights at Toronto’s old and oddly appropriate venue known as The Opera House, the rave reviews for the selection and expert transitioning of music by the disc jockeys inhabiting the stage were virtually universal.

In fact, “quality of music” has always been somewhat of a complaint regarding Toronto’s nightclub scene: more often than not, revelers are disappointed that Toronto DJ’s tend to exhaustively spin the recordings that they (the DJ’s) think their public should enjoy dancing to – whether their public likes what they are spinning, or not. Dance junkies don’t usually care if they’re force-fed repeated volumes of the same aural fare, of course. However, the consistent and exceptional quality of music that was offered to the writing masses at Torture Garden Toronto is worth noting. David and Allen know their business, of that there is no question, and it is I believe a significant reason as to why the Torture Garden franchise has been so successful for the past twenty-odd years.

Give the people great music, and professionally presented, and the “eye candy” aspect becomes somewhat incidental. All through Saturday and Sunday evening’s main events at The Opera House, the dance floors – hell, the upper level dungeon/play spaces and media balcony even – were a happy, roiling mass of fervently delirious feet and expressively ecstatic, feverish bodies. People had wondered (last year and this year both) why David and Allen would come all the way to Toronto and “work” their own franchise party. The answer, now, we definitely know. It’s because they’re the best at what they do. They keep the people excited, happy, and most importantly, moving. It is here, without question, that the winning formula has been forged by the founding fathers of TG: Combine great music with exceptional atmosphere and top it all off with the most delicious aforementioned eye candy assembled, and you have the recipe for the perfect party.

The Performances: Almost all of the performances during Saturday and Sunday evening’s main events were quite spectacular. More will be said about RubberDoll a little further on, but her two performances definitely thrilled those who hadn’t been exposed to her act before. Those that had seen her previously, well … suffice to say it would appear from comments in the crowd that her act really hasn’t changed much in the past year (or more). That being said, RubberDoll is a seasoned, professional fetish performer and she certainly didn’t disappoint. She wasn’t appearing to be “simply going through the motions”, as she gave a high-octane, savagely energetic showpiece that titillated and teased the assembled crowd gasping at the contortions and machinations taking place on the stage above.

In addition to the excellent standard set by RubberDoll, the Fire Dance set and the Aerial Performanceswere both awe-inspiring and mind-altering. There is a genuine sense of great enjoyment when one is able to bear witness to the circus-like precision exhibited by those that dance with fire, and those that twist, turn and (sometimes) twirl high above the ground floor with nothing between them and oblivion but a simple, sturdy hoop or a seemingly thin and suspiciously fragile-looking long length of cloth. No-one who saw these performances went away feeling like they’d been somehow denied their money’s worth.

Highly effective and somewhat discomfort-level causing flesh hook suspension artists I Was Cured returned to the Torture Garden stage after a shockingly triumphant “debut” at last year’s event, and once again judging by the amount of gasps, groans and excited whispers in the crowd they were once more enthusiastically embraced and cheered by an adoring, entranced and spellbound viewing public. Sunday evening featured a fun and definitely “Beach Blanket Kinko” campy demonstration performance from Toronto’s own Kink Engineering, who managed to convey to an (at first) somewhat puzzled crowd exactly what it is about “Vac Beds” that is so damned appealing and ultimately desirable. Mad Scientist and Archean, the undeniably brilliant brains and frenetically enthusiastic minds behind Kink Engineering, unveiled their (sure to be) revolutionary Vac Cube and Vac Tower designs to the very enthusiastic onlookers. In essence, the Vac Cube and the Vac Tower are “three-dimensional” Vac Beds: instead of a dual top and bottom only, decidedly flat-surface bondage effect (what those in the ‘know’ have come to regard as ‘traditional vacuum table technology’), these brand-new product offerings actually encase the imbedded subject within six separate, converging latex pieces. While the crowd enthusiastically whooted and whooped as Archean herself became immobilized by her own latex creation (which was beautifully adorned with a blue and white Japanese wave motif – more on that later), Mad Scientist was joined onstage by a gas-masked unidentified female, who promptly climbed inside the Vac Tower and for all intents and purposes, “disappeared”. The reason for the gas mask soon became absolutely apparent: as the Vac Tower was raised above the stage, and the air was removed by a small canister vacuum cleaner on the floor below, the six-sided latex cube quickly revealed the young lady literally suspended in mid-air (or, in this case, mid-rope) within. The gas mask was revealed to be attached to a breathing hose that was connected to the outside world – ensuring that the bound beauty within wasn’t about be locked in a life and death struggle for precious oxygen. When the Vac Tower was finally lowered to the stage, and the masked female was “released” from her rubber bindings, it was (of course) the incomparable rope and suspension artist Lotuslily who was revealed to have been the masked “victim” of the imposing Vac Tower. Sure, it was ‘camp couture’ at its best: but it was also an extremely effective (and fun!) demonstration of the capabilities of the units designed and manufactured by Kink Engineering. In that regard, the performance was a resounding, and much appreciated, success.

Some other established performers were given prime spots in the performance line-up, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Satomi, The Tokyo Love Doll and Vivid Angel in particular both stunned and thrilled the crowd with displays that certainly broke many of the bonds of convention. There was even a playful bit of intentional controversy (which won’t be discussed here) that was surely designed to send the crowd into whispered frenzies of shock and amazement. Suffice to say that if you do have an opportunity to see Satomi and Vivid Angel in particular, don’t miss it: those two ladies put on one hell of a performance.

The Fashion Shows:  With the addition of Northbound Leather, the fetish fashion ensembles were extremely fresh and generated a huge amount of over-the-top excitement. Northbound Leather’s designs, when the models took to the stage, were described immediately by one American visitor (from Michigan) as “completely sick” and definitely in the “I must have that” categories. Northbound was joined onstage in short order by exceptional, delicious ensembles from design houses Futurstate, Plastik Wrap and Artifice – each one with their own unique signature and style, and each one enthusiastically endorsed by an adoring public in the gathered audience below.

However, as good as Northbound Leather, Futurstate, Plastik Wrap and Artifice was, it was Toronto’s Ego Assassin that literally brought the house down. In what was the best choreographed and well-performed set of the entire Torture Garden experience, James and Slinka of Ego Assassin managed to combine an aquatic theme with an industrial edge, and gave their viewers truly a visually explosive treat. The audience was treated to another instance of the blue and white Japanese wave – this time as a smaller scale artistic treatment featured on the front of a corset adorning the bodice of a slender, lithe latex-blue female “shark”. The motifs are a trademark of Ego Assassin’s work: and there simply isn’t anything in the known fetish world that compares. Their process is unique and revolutionary (and no, I won’t give it away here, although even James and Slinka say it’s surprisingly straight-forward), and the final product is truly amazing. It is one thing to see these intricate latex designs and motifs static and unmoving on a production table, or within staged photographs. It is quite another to see those designs literally come to life, on stage, when worn by exotically-moving models and dancers. By the end of their fashion segment, the crowd below the stage was screaming in unrequited approval and amazement when two black latex “sea insectoids,” each with misshapen glowing eyes, entered and accosted one of the aquatically finned lithe females. The entire segment, truly, had to be seen to be believed. As Ego Assassin continues to develop and evolve their product lines, their designs are sure to be regarded as highly in demand by latex enthusiasts world-wide.

The Seminars: In somewhat of a risky move, Torture Garden Toronto sponsored a series of seminars that were simply expertly organized and executed by Toronto’s own Lord Morpheous. I venture to say, with extreme confidence, that there are few (if any) more engaging, knowledgeable and exceptional rope work educators within our realm. Three of the seminars were held at the host hotel (Sheraton Centre) on the Saturday afternoon, and two others were held at another, less central location on the Sunday.

One of those seminars – one which Your Humble Narrator had witnessed before, in Montreal during the Fetish Weekend – was conducted by a man named Dunter and focused on the finer aspects of controlling someone using Pressure Points on the human body. Due to a scheduling conflict, our little entourage (which included the lovely Mistress Lyn, her devoted, talented husband and “personal photographer” SJoe from New York, and a fresh young female acolyte new to our Community known as Severne) arrived at the very end of Dunter’s allotted time – but judging by the rave reviews expressed by all present, there was no question that, once again, this impressive and extremely talented educator from Montreal had held his audience (you’ll pardon the phrase, of course) “captive”. He made a new cabal of devotees in Toronto with his effectual and effusive, genial and extremely effective teaching style.

A rising star on the “Kinky Lecture Circuit” appeared in the form of a young gentleman who goes by the simple moniker of Cub Dan, and his engaging and delightful seminar on how to use regular household items (and some eyebrow raising “irregular” household items) as sensation implements for SM play was both incredibly insightful – and extremely entertaining at the same time. Watch for this man: he’s truly something special as an educator. Just don’t let him anywhere near you with a ring of steel wool, electrode attachments, a vibrating wood sander or a bottle of Hot Sauce if you can help it. He’s impressively adept at perverting (pretty much) anything – and safely – he can get his hands on.

Lord Morpheous himself ended a near-perfect and enjoyable afternoon with a fantastic talk, demonstration and audience participation lecture on Sex Bondage. He was joined, with perfect fluidity, by a beautiful and completely engaging young lady by the name of elle who served as the subject for the various ties Lord Morpheous was teaching. She wasn’t just a model: during the seminar she gave some extremely valuable and much-appreciated insight, from a bottom’s perspective, about what she was experiencing as she was being restrained. There is a reason why Lord Morpheous, in my opinion, is one of the most sought-after facilitators in North America: not only is he an experienced and truly fantastic rope artist, but he’s enjoyable and engaging to watch and listen to.

What was most impressive, about all three of these presenters, was how well their audience retained the knowledge they had just obtained. Being able to walk out of a room and be able to perform, safely and with complete confidence, a pressure point takedown; a ‘shocking’ Karaoke performance (sorry, you’ll just have to take one of Cub Dan’s classes to truly want to know what I’m talking about – but it involves electrodes, a microphone and steel wool if you must know); or a chicken-wing tie, is assuredly the mark of a true professional. All three men could be thusly, and accurately, described. Unfortunately, time and distance did not allow our little group to review the other two seminars scheduled that weekend – but if the three we were exposed to are any indication, I’m sure they were every bit as informative, fun and superb.

The Atmosphere: Choose an adjective, and chances are it applies to the over-all mood, feel and attitude of Torture Garden party-goers. Electric? Mysterious? Adrenaline-laced? Frenetic? Vibrant? All of the above? If there was one single word to be used as a definitive summary of the Torture Garden Toronto experience, it would without question have to be: “Alive” There can be little doubt; those who bid adieu to the ceremonies in 2010 have already started making plans to be in attendance at the 2011 event.

Torture Garden, the Bad:

Torture Garden Toronto officially got underway with a welcoming event on Friday evening. There isn’t much to say about the venue, unfortunately: our entourage spent almost the entirety of the evening outdoors, on the sidewalk near the front door. So did many, many others who ventured out that night. At one point, it truly was a toss-up as to which had the greater numbers: the party going on inside the venue, or the party happening outside.

Not that it mattered. This must be stressed: there were very, very few complaints regarding the unfortunate lack of space this particular venue provided indoors. People who showed up, dressed in all their fabulousness in respective latex, leather, satin, PVC and even canvas, to a person had a most enjoyable time meeting with old friends, and perhaps making new ones. However, there were certainly issues with this particular venue (regarding the understanding of rules at the outset of the evening) that did put quite a damper on the hopes of those whom had hoped to spend Opening Night comfortably dancing and cavorting indoors.

In simple terms, the venue was just too small – and the House Rules of this particular club simply too incompatible – to completely, comfortably accommodate the mass of Torture Garden attendees that did manage to make it down for the night. Undoubtedly, there had to be certain numbers of patrons who had purchased a VIP or a weekend pass that may have felt disappointment regarding Friday night and the fact that they (most likely) spent most of the evening outdoors instead of within the venue. But here’s the caveat, and the wondrous thing: the majority of people (including our own entourage) really didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t the venue that made the party on Friday night: it was the people. Everyone was ecstatic to be there, amongst their peers – and it showed.

Torture Garden, the Ugly:

Last year, it was somewhat jokingly suggested that the only glaring thing wrong with Torture Garden’s main event … was the condition of the stairs on the upper levels. The owners of The Opera House should have heeded those somewhat tongue in cheek comments, because this year, those stairs actually continued to be a problem. Thankfully, the extent of the issue with the upper level stairs at The Opera House (and the grumbles were constrained, it must be said, to the upper levels only) really could only be considered minor in scope. Every organizer, though, that is contemplating mounting a major fetish event should consider that their guests will be adorned in very high-priced fetish haute couture that includes very expensive outerwear and footwear. It would be in their best interests if the interiors of the venue they were providing (for said finery) actually didn’t contribute in any way to the destruction of these delicious ensembles. In complete fairness to Craig Galbraith, the main mover and shaker of Torture Garden Toronto, there simply wasn’t anything he could have done better to guarantee the safety and security of his guests – the entire event, from the three nights of parties, to the seminars and to the farewell dinner afterwards, were meticulously organized and exceptionally managed. This writer can attest to the fact that Mr. Galbraith did absolutely everything within his limited power to try and address the (relatively simply) issue of those damned stairs – but obviously was ultimately thwarted. Maybe next year, Craig?

Speaking of next year: Torture Garden 2011 should be very interesting. It will certainly be hard for Craig (and David and Allen, for that matter) to top the five days of twisted and feverish consensual torment that was this year’s fantastic fetish festival. Torture Garden continues to evolve and evoke wondrous new beginnings. People will come – because Torture Garden simply gives the masses want they want: a fabulous time, a memorable experience, and a chance to express themselves without repercussion amongst their peers.

Really, to quote the immortal George and Ira Gershwin: ‘Who could ask for anything more?’

(All Photographs by SJoe, Lady Morganna and Kardynyl SynysTyr – Courtesy of Torture Garden Toronto 2010) (Images may not be reproduced without express written permission)

(Note: Photographs do not necessarily correspond with accompanying text)

Slipping into An Alien Skin: The Magic of Ego Assassin

“Always be yourself… unless you suck.” ~ Joss Whedon

Great ideas – along with great people – are born of strong personal beliefs and convictions. The quote above isn’t exactly the kind of “corporate rallying cry” one might expect to see printed in 10-foot tall letters on billboards, let alone trumpeted loudly via mass-media marketing vehicles such as radio, television and even the Internet. Yet, there is simplicity in the statement; one that must surely resonate with most of us who have any kind of self-importance.

Be honest: we all have an ego to satisfy. Some of us (quite obviously) need to be vetted and fussed over more than others. For instance, Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend is quite comfortable and secure in the knowledge that you all love me.

Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that our focus for this episode of “Kardynyl SynysTyr’s Fabulous Fetish Fancies” features an up-and-coming design studio whose very name just so happens to literally refer to the cold, hard death of one’s smug self-assuredness.

You may have heard of them. You may already love them. There is no question, if you’re even the slightest admirer of all things ‘latex’ you’ll be wanting a piece from them at some point. They’re known in latex enthusiast circles as Ego Assassin, and all tongue-in-cheek references to anyone’s sense of “self-importance” aside, what they do is nothing short of astounding.

Their friends know them as James and Slinka. Both of them are the brains, the passion and indeed the very industriousness behind what (I believe) is sure to be a revolution within the latex fashion world. Sure, there are certainly other designers out there who are (for now) far more known, publicized and patronized. Your Humble Narrator says this in all solemnity: I have been around latex fashions and latex wear for a very, very long time. These eyes have never beheld the artistry and the workmanship that is so expertly exhibited in the work of the Ego Assassin duo.

So, what’s in a name, anyway?

“Our name and our concept come out a personal belief that our personalities are not fixed,” James told me during a visit to their studio recently. “We all have the ability to adjust and change, if we want to. Anyone can set their ‘ego’ aside and go completely into a different head space.”

“Basically, when you wear one of our pieces, we want you to feel like you’re literally slipping into another skin. You can be anything you want to be; an entirely different character,” James said. “If you believe you’re a goddess or an alien creature (wearing one of our creations), then you’re a goddess or an alien. The medium and the philosophy can fit together really nicely.”

In essence, then, the combined words “ego assassin” are meant to emulate a personal attitude: to wit, a positive, sensual transformation as opposed to any negative, assumed verbal evisceration usually associated with the haughty and self-indulgent club crowd.

In point of fact, James and Slinka are somewhat “obsessive”, if we’re telling the whole truth. They’re both absolute perfectionists when it comes to their work. Simply put, the hand-crafted, painstaking detail that is put into each one of their creations ensures that each and every customer is going to get a truly, unique and exceptional piece – regardless of whether that particular piece is part of their design inventory or not. It is this industrious dedication to quality (very much like their good friends and symbiotic partners, Elastica Engineering, who supply Ego Assassin with a superior quality of high-tensile sheet latex) that somewhat sets Ego Assassin apart from any other latex garment design studio.

I say “somewhat” for good reason, here. There is another aspect of James and Slinka’s work that puts their craftsmanship on a whole other plateau when compared to their peers in the industry.

While James is very clear in stating that “they really don’t have any trade secrets” that he feels needs protecting, it would be a serious disservice to describe in detail the one area of perfection in which Ego Assassin has definitely developed a loyal and dedicated clientele. Friends and customers who have been fortunate enough to have been offered a “sneak peek” at the line-up being currently constructed for Toronto’s Torture Garden Weekend (May 21 – 24) have been amazed at the quality of the images printed onto the rubber material as a signature feature of their collection for the Fashion Show. One such piece, which has been photographed and posted on a few fetish-related websites already, features a near-flawless, ‘color-favorable’ copy of The Great Wave by legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) across the front bodice of a latex corset. It is but a small and yet staggering taste of the artistry that is so integral to the reputation of James and Slinka as truly formidable garment designers.

Naturally, there are dozens of other printed patterns and designs that have been produced by Ego Assassin over the past several months (“Through a hell of a lot of trial, error, anger and heartache,” James recounts with a half-smile). Once the process and procedure for creating the designs, images and patterns on the latex had been perfected, naturally the rapid interest in their product lines began to grow. The one thing James and Slinka refuse to compromise on is the commitment to quality through patient design, printing and construction processes. “We don’t hide our process, and while it’s really pretty simple it’s also very labor intensive,” Slinka said. “We have no interest in mass production. We’re in an industry where customers are extremely passionate about their clothes. We want them to know that we’re equally as passionate about making them as they are about wearing them. ”

There are certainly other successful latex garment designers throughout North America – and Europe, for that matter. Some entities (specifically in the New York and Montreal areas) have been in business for years, if not decades. However, the universal truth here is that many of those companies tend to produce product that has become somewhat “standardized”. In short, the variance in artistic style, and even quality, has varied little from company to company. Many of those “more established” design houses rely on repeat business from loyal customers merely due to the simple, convenient fact that competition for “name brand” product isn’t exactly fierce. Very few latex garment enthusiasts are 100% completely loyal to one particular brand, for instance.

It is exactly the very uniqueness of the Ego Assassin product that sets distinguishes them from the competition. While they too will build garments for “everyone from hardcore fetishists to soccer moms”, it is their momentous decision to commit to the superior formula being produced exclusively by Elastica Engineering combined with their own without-peer design and artistic skills that truly will make them (if they aren’t regarded as already) the absolute best in the business. That’s quite an accomplishment in such a relatively short period of time.

Their personal story, about how they came to be as a couple, couldn’t be exactly billed as “typical”. As it happened, they met while doing some modeling work. “My first thought of him was, ‘that boy spends way too much time on his hair.” Slinka said of James with a smile. “I mean, boys don’t wear make-up, right? I wasn’t sure I wanted to date a boy who might spend more time in front of a mirror than I did.” A chance meeting at a fetish event a short time later, some shared beverages and a mutually enjoyable conversation led to the discovery of a mutual interest in fetish wear – and specifically, latex. James, who had for years been employed as a professional artist in some capacity, was given the task of making his new lady-love a “one of a kind rubber dress” in the way of a somewhat playful challenge from Slinka herself. Little at that time did either of them realize that a white latex one-piece dress that featured a large “handcuffs” motif across the chest area would quickly lead them both toward the design adventure of their young lives. “It was really quite crude compared to what we’re doing now,” Slinka laughed. “But I wore that dress until it was eventually no longer recognizable as ‘white’, and it was falling apart.”

The white “Handcuff Dress”, as they called it, garnered a tremendous amount of attention at the huge annual Northbound Leather fetish extravaganza that year. “So many people were asking us ‘wherever did we find that dress,” James said. When fellow revelers were informed that James had, in fact, crafted the dress himself, the requests for product started coming immediately. “We even took a couple of orders while out on the dance floor,” he said. That fateful Northbound Leather event (titled, somewhat appropriately ‘Climax’) was five years ago. Ego Assassin, for all intents and purposes, has therefore been “in business” for a little less than five years.

Both James and Slinka credit the immensely popular and respected “Fetish Diva” Midori and Toronto promoter extraordinaire Craig Galbraith of Subspace and Torture Garden fame with being amongst their first true champions of their work. “In the first few years, there wasn’t a real lot of interest in us, especially in our own back yard,” James said. “But thanks to word of mouth from Midori and Craig especially, we really started to develop a loyal following and customer base.”

The quality of their product line has obviously and dramatically improved. Some of their more popular pieces – printed tops, their in-demand “Reverend” Bondage Skirts and a variety of mind-boggling dresses – have garnered attention in some very high profile camps. Their designs have been featured prominently in the Japanese edition of Vogue (Vogue Homme) magazine, and thanks to the enthusiastic endorsements of an admired and in-demand fashion stylist named Nicola Formichetti and the highly-respected fashion photographer Stephen Klein, orders have been placed for no less a talent than Lady Gaga for product that was to be seen in one of her over-the-top popular music videos (Bad Romance). Some of the Ego Assassin pieces were even targeted for use in some of Lady Gaga’s live stage performances.

Good stories about good, talented people usually end with a typically cliché commentary about the past. It cannot be said, though, that “the rest is history” in this particular instance: Ego Assassin is still revolutionizing the latex fashion industry and have started making history. You’ll be hearing about them for a long, long time to come.

Kardynyl SynysTyr

(All Photographs courtesy of Ego Assassin)

Slipping into An Alien Skin: The Magic of Ego Assassin

“Always be yourself… unless you suck.” ~ Joss Whedon

Great ideas – along with great people – are born of strong personal beliefs and convictions. The quote above isn’t exactly the kind of “corporate rallying cry” one might expect to see printed in 10-foot tall letters on billboards, let alone trumpeted loudly via mass-media marketing vehicles such as radio, television and even the Internet. Yet, there is simplicity in the statement; one that must surely resonate with most of us who have any kind of self-importance.

Be honest: we all have an ego to satisfy. Some of us (quite obviously) need to be vetted and fussed over more than others. For instance, Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend is quite comfortable and secure in the knowledge that you all love me.

Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that our focus for this episode of “Kardynyl SynysTyr’s Fabulous Fetish Fancies” features an up-and-coming design studio whose very name just so happens to literally refer to the cold, hard death of one’s smug self-assuredness.

You may have heard of them. You may already love them. There is no question, if you’re even the slightest admirer of all things ‘latex’ you’ll be wanting a piece from them at some point. They’re known in latex enthusiast circles as Ego Assassin, and all tongue-in-cheek references to anyone’s sense of “self-importance” aside, what they do is nothing short of astounding.

Their friends know them as James and Slinka. Both of them are the brains, the passion and indeed the very industriousness behind what (I believe) is sure to be a revolution within the latex fashion world. Sure, there are certainly other designers out there who are (for now) far more known, publicized and patronized. Your Humble Narrator says this in all solemnity: I have been around latex fashions and latex wear for a very, very long time. These eyes have never beheld the artistry and the workmanship that is so expertly exhibited in the work of the Ego Assassin duo.

So, what’s in a name, anyway?

“Our name and our concept come out a personal belief that our personalities are not fixed,” James told me during a visit to their studio recently. “We all have the ability to adjust and change, if we want to. Anyone can set their ‘ego’ aside and go completely into a different head space.”

“Basically, when you wear one of our pieces, we want you to feel like you’re literally slipping into another skin. You can be anything you want to be; an entirely different character,” James said. “If you believe you’re a goddess or an alien creature (wearing one of our creations), then you’re a goddess or an alien. The medium and the philosophy can fit together really nicely.”

In essence, then, the combined words “ego assassin” are meant to emulate a personal attitude: to wit, a positive, sensual transformation as opposed to any negative, assumed verbal evisceration usually associated with the haughty and self-indulgent club crowd.

In point of fact, James and Slinka are somewhat “obsessive”, if we’re telling the whole truth. They’re both absolute perfectionists when it comes to their work. Simply put, the hand-crafted, painstaking detail that is put into each one of their creations ensures that each and every customer is going to get a truly, unique and exceptional piece – regardless of whether that particular piece is part of their design inventory or not. It is this industrious dedication to quality (very much like their good friends and symbiotic partners, Elastica Engineering, who supply Ego Assassin with a superior quality of high-tensile sheet latex) that somewhat sets Ego Assassin apart from any other latex garment design studio.

I say “somewhat” for good reason, here. There is another aspect of James and Slinka’s work that puts their craftsmanship on a whole other plateau when compared to their peers in the industry.

While James is very clear in stating that “they really don’t have any trade secrets” that he feels needs protecting, it would be a serious disservice to describe in detail the one area of perfection in which Ego Assassin has definitely developed a loyal and dedicated clientele. Friends and customers who have been fortunate enough to have been offered a “sneak peek” at the line-up being currently constructed for Toronto’s Torture Garden Weekend (May 21 – 24) have been amazed at the quality of the images printed onto the rubber material as a signature feature of their collection for the Fashion Show. One such piece, which has been photographed and posted on a few fetish-related websites already, features a near-flawless, ‘color-favorable’ copy of The Great Wave by legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) across the front bodice of a latex corset. It is but a small and yet staggering taste of the artistry that is so integral to the reputation of James and Slinka as truly formidable garment designers.

Naturally, there are dozens of other printed patterns and designs that have been produced by Ego Assassin over the past several months (“Through a hell of a lot of trial, error, anger and heartache,” James recounts with a half-smile). Once the process and procedure for creating the designs, images and patterns on the latex had been perfected, naturally the rapid interest in their product lines began to grow. The one thing James and Slinka refuse to compromise on is the commitment to quality through patient design, printing and construction processes. “We don’t hide our process, and while it’s really pretty simple it’s also very labor intensive,” Slinka said. “We have no interest in mass production. We’re in an industry where customers are extremely passionate about their clothes. We want them to know that we’re equally as passionate about making them as they are about wearing them. ”

There are certainly other successful latex garment designers throughout North America – and Europe, for that matter. Some entities (specifically in the New York and Montreal areas) have been in business for years, if not decades. However, the universal truth here is that many of those companies tend to produce product that has become somewhat “standardized”. In short, the variance in artistic style, and even quality, has varied little from company to company. Many of those “more established” design houses rely on repeat business from loyal customers merely due to the simple, convenient fact that competition for “name brand” product isn’t exactly fierce. Very few latex garment enthusiasts are 100% completely loyal to one particular brand, for instance.

It is exactly the very uniqueness of the Ego Assassin product that sets distinguishes them from the competition. While they too will build garments for “everyone from hardcore fetishists to soccer moms”, it is their momentous decision to commit to the superior formula being produced exclusively by Elastica Engineering combined with their own without-peer design and artistic skills that truly will make them (if they aren’t regarded as already) the absolute best in the business. That’s quite an accomplishment in such a relatively short period of time.

Their personal story, about how they came to be as a couple, couldn’t be exactly billed as “typical”. As it happened, they met while doing some modeling work. “My first thought of him was, ‘that boy spends way too much time on his hair.” Slinka said of James with a smile. “I mean, boys don’t wear make-up, right? I wasn’t sure I wanted to date a boy who might spend more time in front of a mirror than I did.” A chance meeting at a fetish event a short time later, some shared beverages and a mutually enjoyable conversation led to the discovery of a mutual interest in fetish wear – and specifically, latex. James, who had for years been employed as a professional artist in some capacity, was given the task of making his new lady-love a “one of a kind rubber dress” in the way of a somewhat playful challenge from Slinka herself. Little at that time did either of them realize that a white latex one-piece dress that featured a large “handcuffs” motif across the chest area would quickly lead them both toward the design adventure of their young lives. “It was really quite crude compared to what we’re doing now,” Slinka laughed. “But I wore that dress until it was eventually no longer recognizable as ‘white’, and it was falling apart.”

The white “Handcuff Dress”, as they called it, garnered a tremendous amount of attention at the huge annual Northbound Leather fetish extravaganza that year. “So many people were asking us ‘wherever did we find that dress,” James said. When fellow revelers were informed that James had, in fact, crafted the dress himself, the requests for product started coming immediately. “We even took a couple of orders while out on the dance floor,” he said. That fateful Northbound Leather event (titled, somewhat appropriately ‘Climax’) was five years ago. Ego Assassin, for all intents and purposes, has therefore been “in business” for a little less than five years.

Both James and Slinka credit the immensely popular and respected “Fetish Diva” Midori and Toronto promoter extraordinaire Craig Galbraith of Subspace and Torture Garden fame with being amongst their first true champions of their work. “In the first few years, there wasn’t a real lot of interest in us, especially in our own back yard,” James said. “But thanks to word of mouth from Midori and Craig especially, we really started to develop a loyal following and customer base.”

The quality of their product line has obviously and dramatically improved. Some of their more popular pieces – printed tops, their in-demand “Reverend” Bondage Skirts and a variety of mind-boggling dresses – have garnered attention in some very high profile camps. Their designs have been featured prominently in the Japanese edition of Vogue (Vogue Homme) magazine, and thanks to the enthusiastic endorsements of an admired and in-demand fashion stylist named Nicola Formichetti and the highly-respected fashion photographer Stephen Klein, orders have been placed for no less a talent than Lady Gaga for product that was to be seen in one of her over-the-top popular music videos (Bad Romance). Some of the Ego Assassin pieces were even targeted for use in some of Lady Gaga’s live stage performances.

Good stories about good, talented people usually end with a typically cliché commentary about the past. It cannot be said, though, that “the rest is history” in this particular instance: Ego Assassin is still revolutionizing the latex fashion industry and have started making history. You’ll be hearing about them for a long, long time to come.

Kardynyl SynysTyr

(All Photographs courtesy of Ego Assassin)

The Truth behind this February 14th "Love Business"

For some reason, this time of year (St. Valentine’s Day), for one reason or another, almost always seems to be less of a love-fest and more of a “massacre.” Misfortune does seem to happen – and with a vengeance – to couples, and right around this time of year. Personally speaking and also speaking from personal past experience, February 14th is usually the day pinpointed as the exact date in which couples realize they are never going to be able to  “grow old” with the person sitting right across from them. Men and woman seem to go through a staged piece of “performance art” in an empty show of affections towards their partners – because it’s the “expected” thing to do. The truth is, this vacuous and near-meaningless day, except to those who believe the day is simply for an exchange of bright red cards and candies (namely children), unfortunately for a lot of couples is more a realization that “this isn’t going to work” than an affirmation of “forever in love.” 

Think about it: how many couples have you known whose relationships have fallen apart either on, or shortly before, St. Valentine’s Day? Isn’t it somewhat of a sick, twisted bit of irony that the patron saint (and his patron calendar day) devoted entirely to the notion of “love everlasting” is, statistically at least, merely a stale and staged, obligatory and nearly-catatonic, expressionless and passionless reciting of poetry, flowery speech and near-robotic like handing over of the aforementioned cards and chocolate hearts? Isn’t it true this is how we’ve collectively all been “programmed” since we first exchanged crude, paper hearts in our Grade School classes with the cute little red-haired boy or girl that sat right next to you?

Where’s the truth behind this “Love Business”? And indeed, it is a “business” – a booming one. Valentine’s Day festivities are the second highest average of disposable income expenditures, per person, of any secular Holiday (Christmas is the first, naturally). That’s a lot of diamond rings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets. Is that what “love” is all about? Is this what St. Valentine had in mind? Who the hell was St. Valentine in the first place?

Oh, wait: “Valentine” was the name of several martyrs who died vicious, horrific deaths; none of which are associated with “love” in any fashion. While that unto itself might be somewhat considered “Cosmic Righteous Karma” (when taking into account our earlier discussion), what’s the real deal with this whole “love” thing then, huh? What’s the real story behind the red hearts and those that are so essential to February 14th?

You’d best be prepared for a bit of a shock, gentle readers: St. Valentine’s Day actually has its genesis in the one thing that is very near and dear to our little candy-red hearts: Fetishes. Specifically leathers, feathers, furs, whips and yes – even blood.

See, there is one thing that evolving religions (most notably Christianity) always have done very well: they “borrow”, adapt or outright just steal festivals that are popular to the mass population of the particular time period, give it a “wash” in the waters of acceptable recent doctrine, and mold and shape it (sometimes with force) into what amounts to the exact same festival but with a new spiritual focus. It’s a really good way to keep control of your population, after all: give the people their gods and goddesses, keep their flagons filled at the festivals with wine and ale and encourage a little “letting loose” every so often, and they’ll be quite content and happy. In Roman times, that usually meant if you were a Senator, Governor or Consul and responsible for any segment of the population’s collective happiness, the best way to keep your head on your shoulders, and not have it severed by any number of opportunistic political assassins, was to give the populace what they wanted.

The populace wanted Festivals. Specifically, they wanted festivals that involved wine, food, open-air spectacles, games, – and, of course, sex. The February Festival of Lupercalia was regarded as “beginning of the fertility period” of both the Earth, and (of course) women. The Lupercal (“Wolf’s Den”) is the cave within the Second of Rome’s legendary Seven Hills in which the babies Romulus and Remus (the mythical founders of Rome) were suckled by a “Capitoline She Wolf” – and therefore the inference is that the Romans are celebrating not only the very reproductive re-birth and nurturing of the Earth (the beginning of another harvest season cycle), but they were celebrating the very genesis of Rome itself.

Without going into long, long detail about the carnage and carnality that this particular Festival ultimately became infamous for (no less an exceptional ancient chronicler than Pliny the Elder has graphically described many Lupercalia rites and rituals), it must be said that Lupercalia was all about excess. Some of the festivities included the sacrificing of livestock (usually goats) and engaging in head-to-toe “body painting” in the blood; extreme indulgence in wine and strawberries (more about them a little later); and an insatiable appetite for sexual release and pleasure. Lupercalia was, after all, the start of the fertility cycle in Roman eyes, and stimulation was absolutely essential to the long-term success of the crops in the field and the (leather) crops in the hands of noble farmers seeking approval from the gods and goddesses for good health, good fortune and especially great “fertility.”

What seems to be the most revered Ritual of Lupercalia, (certainly the most written about) featured scores of women lining the streets of Rome, backsides turned street side, in the hopes that one of the Luperci (the acting “High Priests”, a mostly ceremonial but much-desired role amongst the noble farmers), dressed in ritual goatskin leather garments and covered in blood, would bless them with a hard strike from one of these leather “crops” (which actually are long whips with double-tailed extensions, but sporting a very long, riding crop-like handle). These leather “crops” were called februa – and each woman who was selected by the passing throng of noble farmer-priests, all day long and throughout the Seven Hills of that ancient capital, to receive whip strokes felt that they had been purified by the pain, and their future ability to reproduce was assured (if not immediately realized) for another year at least. In case you’re wondering, the month of February actually does derive its name from these ritualistic leather crops/whips. The Romans had a deep, deep seeded belief that being whipped was purifying (kind of like pushing a yearly “Sexual Reset button”), and the women who lined the streets and offered their bodies up to be whipped would, at times, injure themselves in the fight for the Luperci’s attentions. The februa, the idea that pain is purifying and the idea of atonement for past behavior (“sins”) are some of the more popular “borrowings” from Lupercalia that found their way into aspects of the Christian church. The februa has been replaced by the scourge; purifying and painful atonement has evolved into “confession”, etc. You get the picture, I am quite certain.

The Feast of Valentine was (and still is) a direct adaptation from the Roman Lupercalia. In other words, a far more sanitized and Christian-friendly version of the wine, whips and love fest – you get the idea – that the Roman mass populace (Christian or not) still so loved. How did we get from a Roman Pagan Wine, Whips and Sex Fest to shy lovers exchanging simple cards, flowers and if they’re lucky, something sweet and chocolate to suckle on?

During the early Christian Rome era, the first so-called “Christian Emperor” – Constantine, who actually was a devotee of the god Apollo his entire life and was only converted to Christianity on his deathbed – knew that this strange, secular new faith was sweeping through Roman streets and towns with no sign of waning in influence, or popularity. Constantine was a smart enough man to know that in order to consolidate Rome’s power, the entire Empire needed to be united under a single faith. Contrary to what many modern Christians believe, a previous Emperor named Galerius was the first to actually decriminalize and issue an Edict of Tolerance in regards to Christianity. The edict allowed the public the right to practice the Christian faith openly if they so chose to. What it did not allow was Christians to own land – let alone have churches built.

What Constantine did, in regards to the Edict of Tolerance, was extraordinary: He simply issued an edict of his own (The Edict of Milan) that afforded the early Christians the exact same rights and privileges as every other citizen of the Empire. He also actively encouraged the early church to build – and is solely responsible for donating the land in which Vatican City now occupies. Simply put, Constantine was a very smart man: he saw that the followers of Christ were dramatically on the rise, and the followers of the old gods and goddesses were dramatically in decline. His decision to unite the Empire under the Christian banner was not fashioned from any shard of faith in the “new religion” in the slightest. It was a political necessity in order to satiate and mollify the growing masses of Romans being converted, and therefore avert any future Civil Wars. To quote author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code): “He simply backed the winning horse.”

More to the point of our story, Constantine brilliantly managed to solve a major, dividing dilemma: How to merge the old Pagan gods and goddess traditions with the newly sanctioned, official “state” religion of Christianity? His plan was surprisingly simple: He “created” a heroic and martyred figure and named him Valentinius (no doubt, the Romans being meticulous record keepers, pulled from the pages of at least one Roman Annual), and acclaimed this new figure a true, devout follower of Jesus Christ who had perished in the act of spreading the testaments. Conveniently, Valentinius (the name means “Valiant Man”) was given the title “Sanctus Situ” – “Elected of Saints”, the very first Christian Saint thus recognized (St. Peter’s sainthood came much, much later), and was made the patron saint of “the acts needed to insure the successful harvest.”

It was a bold and absolutely brilliant – but transparent – move. The Romans of the day, it is quite certain, were bemused by this decreed new “sacred figure” who wasn’t quite a god, but was still more miraculous (in death, at least) than the common man. “Valentinius” was tolerated as the central figure of the new Lupercalia for a generation or two, simply because the people had been allowed to carry on their beloved “sex festival; and all legally and with the very approval of the new Christian lawmakers. As what was expected to happen, Valentinius “himself” eventually started to drew “admirers”, and within a few short decades this convenient, invented and expedient new champion of Christianity went from being an amalgamation of several martyred figures (who carried the Valentinius name) into being proclaimed the only “Saint Valentine” at the Council of Nicaea (the very Council that, in essence, “elected” Jesus Christ as “The Divine Manifestation of God in Human Form”). St. Valentine was “awarded” a Feast in his honor (February 14thin our modern Gregorian calendars), and it wasn’t until the start of the Dark Ages that “The Feast of St. Valentine” had its sensuality and excess turned down, just a tad. Naturally, everything related to sex and pleasure at the start of the Dark Ages more or less ceased to exist – insofar as mass public displays were concerned. Upon penalty of imprisonment, or worse, the goatskins, wine and whips were all quietly phased out of the celebration … But not the strawberries. The bright red fruit, the clergy allowed the masses to have.

It was believed that strawberries were a powerful aphrodisiac (aren’t they still?), and strawberries were consumed in mass quantities during Lupercalia (remember that whole “fertility” schpiel?). The strawberry was considered so potent and divine a magic, Romans cut the strawberries in half and shared it with their partners. Take a look at a sliced piece of strawberry one day: what do you notice? It kind of looks like a Valentine’s Day “heart”, doesn’t it? There are other stories, no doubt somewhat based in fact, that “red hearts” were actually a simple graphic representation of a woman’s bottom, as seen from the back and if she happens to be bending over at nearly a 90 degree angle. Both explanations have an air of truth about them, and now you know where that particular piece of beloved graphic Valentines imagery stems from.

Why am I sputtering all this nonsense about Valentines, Pagan lust festivals and mutli-seeded red fruit, I can hear you asking?

Easy! My beloved Lady J has been away and is coming home from the East Coast this week. For me, the Feast of St. Valentine, the Lupercalia, St. Valentine’s Day, whatever you choose to call it, is an opportunity to express my deepest affections, highest respects, worshipful esteem and … True Love … to the woman who has given me her hand. In my eyes, the whole world may know just how honored and grateful I am to even be allowed to hold said hand – and in the spirit of those who “Love”, it seemed appropriate to give a brief rundown of Fetish and Kink’s rightful mention as the true genesis of this “Day of Love”.

I do need to go, now though. I need to run down to the local grocery store and pick up about seventeen pounds of strawberries.

Now and Forever, Everything is RENT

tn-0124In 1988, noted playwright Billy Aronson had an absurd idea. What if someone took the basic plot of the celebrated Giacomo Puccini opera, La Bohème, and updated it to a modern, hip new audience? About a year later, Aronson started putting out calls for collaborators. It wasn’t long before a good friend, new project developer extraordinaire Ira Weitzman, introduced him to an ambitious, relatively obscure young composer with somewhat wild eyes and an even wilder hairdo. That young composer’s name was Jonathan Larson. Incredibly, the young Mr. Larson had lived a “Bohemian life” himself in the legendary hipster area of New York City called SoHo – and he at first suggested, and eventually ended up pleading, with Billy Aronson to allow him to use the original La Bohème concept and truly make it his semi-autobiographical Magnum Opus. Billy Aronson agreed to step aside from the collaboration – but with the agreement that if the project ever actually did make it to the “Big Stage”, in any of the gargantuan New York Theatre wing’s legendary venues, they would equally share in the spoils of their success.

Jonathan Larson - RENTNothing is guaranteed in the world of live theatre, and especially so when any discussion of Musicals begin in earnest. Four years later, the work originated at the New York Theatre Workshop as a piece of Reader’s Theatre. From the initial read-through, the quirky, kinky little project had a limited three week run within the Workshop’s Studio Theatre system. For the next three years, Jonathan Larson and his production team cajoled, nurtured, beat, kicked and hammered out a modern take on Puccini’s masterpiece. Their efforts were finally rewarded with an agreement to produce “the new Bohemian musical” through the renowned Nederlander Group.

Little did anyone know that the twisted little musical – rife with open references to latex, cross-dressing, sadomasochism and (sadly) the scourge of the late last millennium: AIDS – would run for over twelve years and become the seventh longest-running show in Broadway history.

Speaking of tragedy, the show’s wonder kid composer, Jonathan Larson, was destined to never see a single Broadway performance of his magnificent show. Just before what would have surely been the most exciting time of his short life, Mr. Larson was making a tea in his modest kitchen at 3:00 am in the morning when he suddenly collapsed. He never regained consciousness, and died, early in the morning on a cold kitchen floor, on January 26th, 1996 – the very evening of the first preview performance of his musical. Jonathan Larson had succumbed to an aortic aneurysm, and he was just 36 years of age.

RENTHis show, however, continues to live on. What at first many thought would be a dated and era-constrained modern musical has become a rallying cry for an entire new generation of “new Bohemians”. In every major city in North America and in a good percentage of the ancient old cultural capitals of Europe, you are assured to see more than a few solid black or red T-Shirts proudly expounding the new Bohemian mantras: “No Day But Today” and “Forget Regret or Life is Yours to Miss.” Unless you’ve been living under a bridge somewhere for the past fourteen years, the name of Mr. Larson’s odd little ode to Puccini should, by now, be obvious. We are discussing the triumph that is Jonathan Larson’s RENT.

RENT ended its historic run at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City on September 7, 2008. The central “villain” of the piece – the AIDS pandemic of the early and mid 1990’s – isn’t quite viewed today with the same sense of panic, desperation and despair. The treatment for the disease has developed to the point where those infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS could theoretically live fairly lengthy, longer lives. Make no mistake however: while treatment has advanced leaps and bounds since Jonathan Larson’s late days,  AIDS is still very much a death sentence.

Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal RENTIn an off and ironic kind of way, the continued existence of RENT continues to breathe, thrive and induce appreciative hysteria in theatre-goers in several cities across the continent despite the sombre overtones of the show’s central malady. The Broadway Touring production – featuring original and revered cast members Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Gwen Stewart – has been performing in front of sold-out, rabid and excessively vocal “Rent-Heads” since the final performance at the original New York venue. Mr. Pascal, Mr. Rapp and Miss Stewart have all gone on to steady, enjoyable careers (within the show and apart from it), but there can be no denying the magic that begins the very moment the character of Mark (Anthony Rapp) walks across the stage, starting the proceedings to the strains of a guitar being tuned, is infectious and encompassing. For three-plus hours, audiences are able to turn back the clock to 1996 (none of the original cast appear to have aged a day) and join in the celebration that is a single year in the life of a small collective of down-on-their-luck friends, trying to eek out a living through illness, rampant drug abuse, urban development and shattered relationships in New York’s grungy Alphabet City.

Lexi Lawson RENTA film version of the show, featuring nearly all of the original Broadway cast, was premiered to luke-warm reviews in 2005 while the Broadway version was still rockin’ and rollin’ enthusiasts in any number of theatres in any number of cities. RENT made a star of the incomparable Idina Menzel (who originated the role of the rubber-catsuit clad Maureen before moving on to much greater acclaim as the misunderstood witch Elphaba in the musical Wicked). The show also spawned the successful careers of Jesse L. Martin (Law and Order) and the powerfully talented Taye Diggs (Chicago). The show’s most recognizable song – Seasons of Love – has been recorded by no less an empresario than Stevie Wonder and still remains the veritable anthem for the downtrodden whose sole asset during those individual darkest times appears to be “hope”.

RENT does, despite the opinions of some of the critics fourteen years ago, remain topical, and timeless. There is no question that a central part of the show’s appeal (beside the music, of course) has to be the underlying raw sensual tension created in the sets and, especially, in the costumery. Sure, there have been other stage productions before that utilized an element of fetish and/or SM as a by-product of the story. As far back as the mid-1960’s, an original production of  Oh! Calcutta! featured an entire scene that revolved around a bound and gagged servent girl about to tied to a whipping post and summarily flogged for an imaginary transgression; and simply because it suited the “curiosity” of the narrator of that particular show. A fantastic little piece written by the late Paul Bartel called Eating Raoul (based on his cult film of the same name) ran successfully “off Broadway” for a number of months. That show, starring the talented but sadly nearly forgotten Adrian Zmed (of television’s TJ Hooker fame), even featured a Dominatrix named Donna as a pivotal character in the show’s plot. A few years back, a show called Urinetown had a musical number that involved a trussed-up and securely gagged damsel in distress struggling against her restraints to the strains of an uncomfortable little tune simply called Snuff That Girl.

Justin Johnson RENTBut, none of those efforts compare in any way to RENT. The tragic moments of Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece feature a high-stepping and plucky little transvestite named Angel, who gamely struts, leaps, sings and incessanty thumps on a ten-gallon plastic pickle tub (her “drum”) at every opportunity. Those familiar with the show are well aware of Angel’s fate – but the moment her tragic destiny is revealed to the audience never fails to illicit torrents of tears from the appreciative crowds gathered to take in the ritual and fetish pageantry that is the pure embodiment of the entire piece itself. Fetishism – 1996 style to be sure but certainly more than relevant in 2010 – is the timeless glue that will forever be the lock-and-stock appeal of RENT as it heads into its fifteenth year of existence. It is worth the price of a ticket alone to see all of the costume designs: from Maureen’s (now) infamous latex catsuit, complete with latex kitty-kat ears, to Angel’s interpretation of “Pussy Galore”, complete with knee-high pink PVC platform Go-Go boots that are a perfect match for her PVC mini-dress. The show’s main female character, Mimi Marquez, early on in the show implores the tortured Roger (Adam Pascal) to “take her out” by stripping off a cumbersome housecoat to reveal what appears to be a painted-on, light-blue “latex” pair of pants accented with a lycra leopard print short tank top and matching high-heeled boots. Her dangerous-girl look is completed with a form-fitting black latex shrug that surely looks as if it will rip itself to pieces the moment she starts to dance, gyrate and “howl at the moon like a cat in heat” as she tries to entice and seduce the love-lorn Roger. The costumes are more than just provocative and sexy: they’re an integral representation of the very attitude that those living a Bohemian existence need to flaunt in order to give their fragile lives a sense of “belonging”, and indeed, a sense of “family”. Similar shows that tried to rely heavily on suggestive costumes, such as the prostitution musical The Life, have come and quickly gone. RENT  is, and forever shall be, regarded as simply timeless – and revolutionary.

RENT  is scheduled to end its current Broadway Tour run in Sacramento, California, in February, 2010. It is doubtful, however, that the show – by far the best marriage of modern musical theatre, fetishism and simple, pure human frailty ever written – will go quietly into the night, let alone the musical theatre history books. RENT  is, now and forever, timeless. The message will continue to resonant to audiences and fans years from now: Forget regret, or Life is yours to miss.

RENT Company Low RES(Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus and the Broadway Touring Production of RENT.)