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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emilie Jerard unique designer and fashion enthusiast at VG Ball March 13

Von Gutenberg Magazine is proud to announce Emile Jerard Fashion performing at the VON GUTENBERG FETISH BALL 2010! She will be vending and we will see a fabulous fashion Show Saturday Night at the Grande Fetish Ball in the Glas Kat Club! March 13, 2010 Emile Jerard Fashion Show in San Francisco at the Fetish Ball!

Emilie Jerard is a native of New Jersey, with a big-city heart and attitude. She is a natural designer without formal design training. ‘It’s a gift and I am willing to share it’, says Jerard. She is a gifted seamstress and design constructor who has an eye for style and a flair for creativity.  She is an the only alternative designer who specializes in high quality PVC material. Her fashionable fetishwear transends the scene attire with its versitility.  The corset that shapes you perfectly can be worn with jeans when you go out for drinks.  The shiny slacks that make you feel like a rockstar can be coupled with your favorite blazer and jacket for a vanilla party.  This high quality brand adds an array of color to fetish that reinvents wearing PVC.

Her website: http://emiliejerard.com/

I know you like to be different. I love that TOO!  Expression of INDIVIDUALITY is what EMILIE JERARD is about. EMILIE JERARD products express the unique sensuality and personality of her customers. My BRAND satisfies their need to be unique and to wear quality clothing with good value. Using classic construction techniques, the designer incorporate modern design concepts and new age materials to produce innovative and attractive apparel. EMILIE JERARD’s commitment to using quality materials and workmanship, produces quality garment that makes EMILIE JERARD and you DIFFERENT from the rest. My latest line features suits, dresses, and co0ordinates that work well with my line of corsets and accessories these garments are elegant, edgy and stylistically modern. Each design comes in a wide variety of size and style options that appeal to a broad range of people. I also offer a wide variety of customization options including fabric, color, trim, and pattern.

I enjoyed working on these designs…

Its your turn to enjoy it all. Saturday Night San Francsico at midnight Emilie Jerard Fashion Show in the Glas Kat at the VON GUTENBERG FETISH BALL!

Tickets: http://www.vongutenberg.com/shop/Event-Tickets/

Info: www.vongutenbergfetishball.com

Emilie Jerard unique designer and fashion enthusiast at VG Ball March 13

Von Gutenberg Magazine is proud to announce Emile Jerard Fashion performing at the VON GUTENBERG FETISH BALL 2010! She will be vending and we will see a fabulous fashion Show Saturday Night at the Grande Fetish Ball in the Glas Kat Club! March 13, 2010 Emile Jerard Fashion Show in San Francisco at the Fetish Ball!

Emilie Jerard is a native of New Jersey, with a big-city heart and attitude. She is a natural designer without formal design training. ‘It’s a gift and I am willing to share it’, says Jerard. She is a gifted seamstress and design constructor who has an eye for style and a flair for creativity.  She is an the only alternative designer who specializes in high quality PVC material. Her fashionable fetishwear transends the scene attire with its versitility.  The corset that shapes you perfectly can be worn with jeans when you go out for drinks.  The shiny slacks that make you feel like a rockstar can be coupled with your favorite blazer and jacket for a vanilla party.  This high quality brand adds an array of color to fetish that reinvents wearing PVC.

Her website: http://emiliejerard.com/

I know you like to be different. I love that TOO!  Expression of INDIVIDUALITY is what EMILIE JERARD is about. EMILIE JERARD products express the unique sensuality and personality of her customers. My BRAND satisfies their need to be unique and to wear quality clothing with good value. Using classic construction techniques, the designer incorporate modern design concepts and new age materials to produce innovative and attractive apparel. EMILIE JERARD’s commitment to using quality materials and workmanship, produces quality garment that makes EMILIE JERARD and you DIFFERENT from the rest. My latest line features suits, dresses, and co0ordinates that work well with my line of corsets and accessories these garments are elegant, edgy and stylistically modern. Each design comes in a wide variety of size and style options that appeal to a broad range of people. I also offer a wide variety of customization options including fabric, color, trim, and pattern.

I enjoyed working on these designs…

Its your turn to enjoy it all. Saturday Night San Francsico at midnight Emilie Jerard Fashion Show in the Glas Kat at the VON GUTENBERG FETISH BALL!

Tickets: http://www.vongutenberg.com/shop/Event-Tickets/

Info: www.vongutenbergfetishball.com

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.) 

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.) 

Dia-TRIBE: An Incredible Twenty Year Odyssey with Northbound Leather

5 - The Six - 1“Deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” ~ Ira Gershwin

The more things change in twenty years, the more they also (sometimes) remain the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Bear with me for a bit, Gentle Reader: this “diatribe” (pun intended, as you’ll see) does indeed have a point.

Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane to twenty years ago. The year was 1989. It was a landmark year, full of world-shattering events that brought both tears or anguish and tears of sheer joy to several million across this globe.

The last remaining major world leader from the Second World War era, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, died in January that year. Solidarity, as a movement and a political entity, became legal in Poland as a result of the tireless efforts of a relatively unknown dock worker named Lech Walesa – a legal move that would have an unbelievable global impact before the end of the year.

1989 was the year that author Salmon Rushdie had a price put on his head for “deeply offending” one of the world’s largest religions. The man who angrily posted that bounty was dead himself within the year, the much-lionized Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. During a particularly warm Asian spring, a man (who may or may not have been known by the name of Wang Wei-Lin) defied the largest armed force on the planet by defiantly standing in front of an imposing row of oncoming tanks in one of the world’s largest public gathering places. The fate of that man is, twenty years on, unknown – but the image of him refusing to give up his ground in front of five very, very large Chinese tanks at Tiananmen Square has been called the single most famous photograph of the entire 20th Century.

7 - The Spike Boys - 1Later that year, of course, the long-despised symbol of world-wide Communist dictatorship – the very concrete tumor that for nearly thirty years had separated and plagued one of Europe’s great ancient capitals into “Western” and “Eastern” Zones – came crashing down. A common, great but twice-vanquished people, separated by artificially-created ideological borders, collectively stood up, and in a singular voice cried, “No more!” Those of us who grew up in the 1970’s never thought we would see West and East Germany reunite in our lifetime – let alone the entire final rotting and disintegration of Eastern Europe’s totalitarian regimes.

If you’ve managed to read this far in our little trip down a two-decade old Memory Lane, you are probably wondering: “What the hell does any of this have to do with the Fetish world, anyhow?” Other than opening up shiploads of delicious German latex to the rest of the world (a given), what’s the message here?

1 - Iron Xena - 1It’s simple, really. The year Nineteen-Hundred-and-Eighty-Nine was a year of great turmoil to be sure – but it was also a year of great hope and unrequited optimism. There was a spirit of change in the air, and people were eager to embrace the coming end-of-millennium decade of the 1990’s with a renewed spirit of ambition and promise. From 1989 to 2009, countless fetish events have come and almost all of them have gone. Even some famous institutions of alternative lifestyle “expressions” that promised to “stand the test of time” in the 1970’s and 1980’s – ultimately disappeared from the fetish map. All, that is, except one.

In the past two weeks, Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend had been attempting to locate and confirm the existence of a regular monthly fetish event that has been running, continuously or virtually continuously, for at least twenty years. I found one – right in my own backyard and right on the heels of what simply had to be this particular corporation’s best large-scale event, ever. I’m talking about Northbound Leather, of course. Twenty years ago, a young and enthusiastic entrepreneur took the heart of a small family business, started a small-scale series of Fetish Nights in order to partially promote his products but mostly just to have fun, and ran with it. He’s been doing it ever since.

4 - Spikehead - 1Your Humble Narrator has focused a lot of attention in the past few weeks on Northbound Leather and their various efforts – and quite deservedly so. In February 2010, right around the same time Canada is getting set to host the Winter World during the Vancouver 2010 Olympiad, George Giaouris and his staff at Northbound Leather will be celebrating the “official” 20th Anniversary of their monthly fetish event, all this time simply referred to as the “Northbound Fetish Night”, in downtown Toronto. There is no other event (that I could find, at least) that has been routinely scheduled and executed meticulously and faithfully, once a month, for 20 straight years. Sure, the venues for Northbound’s monthly gyrating shindig have changed – but the party remains the same and continues to roll ever stronger as it enters its third decade of existence. This is quite an accomplishment for a company that began as a small little leather shop, in Greece no less, over 40 years ago.

Much has already been written and said about Northbound Leather’s events over the years, some of it good, some of it … well, not quite so good. It’s all a matter of perspective and personal taste, after all – but by and large the words “Northbound Leather” have been synonymous with “quality”, if you’ll pardon a terribly over-used marketing euphemism – and that doesn’t just apply to their wide array of merchandise. You just can’t please everybody one-hundred percent of the time: but George and his staff have managed to come “oh-so-close.”

2 - Ballerina - Corset - 1Thirteen years ago, Northbound Leather made a decision to organize and host a Fetish party on a grand and unprecedented scale (at least for North America). Deciding from the outset to give each annual event a unique and somewhat unusual theme and name (“Thrust”, “Decadence”, Bento”, “X-Pose”, etc.), the annual event has become by far, and as previously reported, the single largest gathering of fetish folk under a single roof anywhere in the world. This year’s massive event, given the moniker and theme of TRIBE, simply had to be the ultimate, spectacular culmination of twenty years of unprecedented excellence provided to North America’s fetish populace in the way of both actual “product”, and “atmosphere”.

Allow me to describe the latter first: The atmosphere was, from start to finish, nothing short of scintillating and euphoric. Hosted in a two-level, gargantuan entertainment complex known as The Sound Academy (but previously and more well-known as “The Docks”), the large crowd had plenty of room to walk, talk, prance and dance to their twisted little heart’s content well into the dawn-breaking early hours of morning. My beloved Lady J, her devoted Handmaiden Angelically Depraved, and Your Humble Narrator were, in fact, three of the last half-dozen non-staff members to exit the premises around 5:30 am. The fashion show/stage performance was something this writer had never expected, let alone ever witnessed before (and in over 30 years as an ardent SM practitioner in several American and Canadian cities over the years, I’ve seen a lot), and there are simply no words to describe it. The only negative thing that can be said about the fashion show is that there were whisperings that the choreographer was being somewhat of a “slave-driver” and over-the-top “diva” – how apropos can you get though? – towards the performers, models and especially with the usually cool and accommodating DJ for the event, Toronto’s popular Jimi LaMort. This resulted in a few unpleasant grumbles from some patrons who apparently were curtly denied when trying to approach the DJ booth and attempt to request a tune or two. Jimi and all the performers obviously had had a very long day – but when it came time for the TRIBE stage show, everyone’s professionalism and showmanship clearly shone through. Our dear beloved friend Ms. Marina Black did an jaw-dropping “catwalk” down the stage in an eye-popping custom designed leather-and-chain ensemble that simply has to be seen in person to be believed. If that wasn’t enough, she topped off her moment under the stage lamps by doing a piercing demonstration – completely in character – with an array of bright, large feathers.

3 - Marina Black TRIBE 2009 - 1I say “in character”, because although the choreographer (whom I’ll spare naming) may have acted a little too much like a diva from some reports, this particular stage show had simply … everything. Astounding, one of a kind leather costumes and pieces, all made from Northbound Leather’s industrious facility (located onsite, by the way, in case you’re curious) and all from the minds of head designer Marty Rotman and the enthusiastic staff at Northbound, paraded in a mind-bending array of music, sight and sound; intricately woven into a storyline that followed a young man’s “Initiation Ritual” into the “Chosen TRIBE”. Lady Victoria Windsor, another one of the exceptional Dominas who calls Toronto home, held court as only she could do – and the overall effect was intoxicating. Videos from the stage show at TRIBE that are sure to pop up on various video server websites are sure to be destined as “classics” for, perhaps, another twenty years to come. There’s more than enough “product” examples from the videos and photos – if you take the time to look, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

6 - Priestess - 1There was a huge Dungeon playspace set up on the second floor of the establishment, and another directly below it on the main floor. Lady Viktoria (not to be confused with the aforementioned Lady Victoria Windsor), another well-known Toronto Domina, and her staff – especially Master Jack and Sir Thomas from Toronto – are to be commended, admired and appreciated for keeping a huge amount of eager SM participants enthralled, satiated and indeed, respectful for several hours.

There simply wasn’t a single thing to grouse about during the entire evening’s myriad of activities. Perhaps other event organizers in other cities may wish to learn a thing or two about how to effectively run a large-scale event that features an amazing stage show, a scintillating dance party, and not one but two large, exceptionally equipped and managed play spaces.

8 - Head Gear - 1Thus marks the “end” of Northbound Leather’s twenty-year odyssey in staging and hosting what truly is the biggest, the baddest, and without a doubt the best massive fetish lifestyle event on the planet. TRIBE was a triumph and an emotionally crippling, satisfying and truly magical experience. It was the perfect epilogue to the story of Northbound Leather’s first twenty years of excellence in event hosting – and a titillating prologue to the next twenty years.

Entire political systems came and went within the last twenty years. Gigantic walls came down, the world stumbled and shook a bit, lost a little of collective ‘smugness’ and conceit, and in short, we live in a very different environment today than we did twenty years ago.

It’s a comfort to know that we can rely on some things remaining the same, though. Lady J and I are really looking forward to Northbound Leather’s next twenty years. They did the first two decades just fine – and TRIBE was the best stop on that journey. Thanks, and our love and best wishes for Decade Three to George, Anna, Enza, Marty  and all of the people that make Northbound Leather … undeniably … the absolute epitome of the word “perfection”.

(All Photos courtesy of Kevin LeClair and Northbound Leather. May not use without permission.)