Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
My first physical encounter with the world of leather and fetish was at the smoky circus of S&M known as The Colherne in Earl’s Court. Located at 261 Old Brompton Road, the legendary pub for clones had been a queer boozer since the ‘50s.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, it became globally infamous. The Colhere’s blacked out windows and depraved reputation sat at odds with a starry, cruisey and theatrical clientele that included Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett, Rudolf Nureyev, Ian McKellen and Derek Jarman.
Chaps and chains
The muir caps, chains and buckles may have scared a wary and ignorant public, but once inside, The Colhere was a friendly boozer with a campy bonhomie. You’d be more likely to hear squeals of laughter, than howls of pain or moans of pleasure.
In the late ‘80s, it was my ‘local’. Not because it offered a whirl of perversion, but because you could buy hash there on a weekday afternoon. While studying for A-Levels, I’d score at The Colherne for middle class college friends, who were suitably impressed at my lowlife connections.
Back then, from my perspective, the leather scene was the epitome of naff. Today’s hipsters have reclaimed ‘taches and porno styling with relentless gusto, but in the late ‘80s, it was fashion suicide.
I’d rock up to the Colherne rave stylee, in purple Kickers, a tie-dye t-shirt and baggy, pin-stripe denim dungarees. Sadly, that was the fashion at the time.
Acid house was sweeping the nation and the Earl’s Court massive were trussed up in chaps, listening to Euro hi-NRG.
Those older queens were baffled by my psychedelic threads and in return, their tired uniform and facial hair drew little but withering pity from yours truly. Who knew I’d live to see that look become plainly mainstream? East London looks like Earl’s Court did in ’87- just with a little less leather.
Dawn of Fist
As we raved into the ‘90s, the established fetish scene withered into a largely passé curiosity. Its ranks were cruelly pruned by HIV/AIDS and the clanking props seemed grimly unsuited to the pills and cuddly thrills of house music.
Then Suzie Kreuger arrived in London. She came fresh from the sordid fetish clubs of NYC. In ’94, the ‘queen of sleaze’ launched her club night Fist. This. Changed. Everything.
The real revolution was that at Fist, Suzie welcomed S&M lesbians, who joined the leather men under one roof, united in a passion for kink and techno.
This wasn’t just a gay fetish club, it was queer. Prior to Fist, I’d never seen lesbians having sex or watched live shows that were so graphic, punters swooned or vomited on a regular basis.
Techno a go-go
Then there was the music. DJs EJ Doubell, Karim and Graham D slammed out a soundtrack of hard house, evil trance and Teutonic techno. This sound, pioneered at clubs such as Garage (Heaven), Trade and FF (Turnmills) was underground, demented and riotous.
Many people went to Fist to dance, which was a radical departure for a sex club. Until then, most leather venues were full of po-faced cruisers. They’d pose, hump and smoke, but wouldn’t tap a foot or shake a leg, for fear of shattering their sexy facade.
Fist felt utterly anarchic. Not only was it a middle finger to conventional society, but it ripped up the rulebook of the occasionally mysoginist gay scene. Leather and fetish suddenly became mixed, hip and progressive.
Previously a dusty period drama, stilted by vintage rules, the fetish scene was largely unappealing to a new generation of LGBT party kids. Fist bucked that trend by being an illegal rave, avant garde theatre and a fancy dress cruise party rolled into one.
While for some, Fist was a venture into extreme depravity, for me, it was a party run by mates. I’d be sipping champagne with QX editor Jacqui Gibbons, while toasting shows featuring rape fantasies, fisting and live plastic surgery.
It was where I first met the lovely Franko B, who worked at the club and was emerging as an art sensation with his blood splashed catwalks and corporeal provocations.
One night, Ron Athey did a show where he transformed his face into the visage of Marlene Dietrich using fish hooks and surgical needles. His head became a morbid ball of gore as booming opera swirled over the gobsmacked crowd.
The finale featured Ron fucking himself with the dildo shaped heel of a drag queen stiletto. It was Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol and quite frankly, remains one of the best performances I’ve seen on a stage, anywhere, ever.
Love at Rut
Rut was the first fetish club to employ yours truly as a DJ. The night started at the Hoist and eventually evolved into the Hotwired we know today . The DJ booth was up a flight of metal stairs and adjacent to the cruising gallery.
Separating the decks from the sex was a flimsy metal grill. Most of the time, it was too dark to see what was occurring beyond the faders and lights of the mixing deck.
One night, I noticed a guy’s face pressed into the grill. As I mixed tunes, our eyes met, somewhat tentatively. It could have been awkward, him looking at me while having sex with someone else.
However, he turned it into a moment of comedy, with the punter grinning and giving a ‘thumbs up’ sign, while being banged from behind. I loved that DJ booth.
Hot and rare
In many ways, Hotwired is like the bastard child of Fist, with promoters, Suzie Kreuger and Rob Gunns as the parents. The fact that it’s only on twice a year and that it’s held in the unconventional space of the Ewer Street car park gives the event an air of exciting rarity.
Punters fly in from all over Europe and it attracts muscle boys, porn stars, sleaze pigs, rubber twinks and most recently a pregnant woman in the shape of international party girl, Svetlana Quinn. Much like Fist in its early days, it feels like family
Dark and dirty
I’ve been a resident DJ at Hotwired since its inception and it’s one of my favourite gigs because I get to play darker, tougher music that usual and to a huge and randy dancefloor.
As someone who usually plays disco and party music in more bijou surroundings, it’s a major thrill to find oneself at the musical helm of such a massive event.
The 18-year-old Stewart that swept into the Colherne wearing day glo tracksuits and floppy hats would not be impressed with my Hotwired look of leather jeans, biker jacket and rubber vest.
Gays rarely turn into their parents, but it seems that they can turn into the old queens they mocked in their youth.
The next Hotwired is Saturday 19 Sept 2015. 10pm-6am.