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.)

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.