Monday, April 20, 2009

Purgatory's last stand

"It's like an S&M Renaissance festival."

That was my friend minutes after arriving at the last Purgatory party.

(This is Deirdre McGruder, co-author of the We Can Relate blog and a guest speaker here to tell you about the final Purgatory at Amos' Southend. Saturday night was packed with events and Sarah couldn't make it.)

Back to the Ren fest comment: it wasn't meant to be derogatory toward S&M or Renaissance festival aficionadoes, there were just obvious similarities. People who embrace a concept wholeheartedly and go for it on the outfits. Tables with stuff for sale. Games (although in the case of Purgatory, the "games" were a lot more ... intense.)

Downstairs there was a stage for bands and performance artists; when we arrived, there was a band clad in Viking helmets playing death metal. There were tables along the sides with stuff ranging from jewelry to sex toys and DVDs. Near the back was an open space where two guys took turns tying up willing females in Japanese rope bondage, then swinging them from a chain. (I wondered how the women kept from barfing and/or passing out from the blood rush to their heads. ) A constant stream of onlookers watched.

Upstairs is open at Amos', so you can gaze down on all the action below. Along the sides were S&M stations with skilled "punishers" for whipping, paddling, caning, shocking (literally) and tickling (I thought it was a massage station, but closer inspection proved me wrong). Outside people talked and smoked and a tent with techno music drew dancers.

The place was packed with attendants in various stages of undress. A lot of women were in see-through mesh tops or topless altogether, with electrical tape criss-crossed over their nipples (I suspect legalities prevented them from baring all). I saw a couple chicks in thong panties, little "X"es of tape ... and that's it. Another woman wore a thong covered by a "skirt" a mere inch or so long and a bikini top -- the better to show off her pregnant belly. Men were less willing to show skin, but there were a few standouts, like the guy with the equivalent of a hairnet over his genitals and not much else.

Besides with standard fetish gear (corsets, cuffs, chains), I found the outfits broke down into five cinematic categories. There were the "Mad Max" people, clad in mismatched, apocalyptic getups, with clunky boots and dreads. Then there were the "Conan the Barbarian" people, strutting around in fake fur pelts and fuzzy legwarmers or slave-girl fabric scraps. The "Hellraiser" people wore disturbing full-face masks with spikes and such. The "Matrix" folks swirled around in long black coats. The "Underworld" contingent sported lots of shiny black latex and dark makeup.

At one point I was standing next to a chick in a tight, short dress who danced wildly. I smiled when she glanced over at me. She leaned in to shout, "Isn't this the best people-watching ever?" Indeed. Because ultimately, what Purgatory boiled down to was a place to see and be seen -- a place where you could wear whatever you like and do whatever you want. The crowd was super-accepting and super-diverse when it came to ages, body types and fetish preferences. I wouldn't say it was a place for those into hardcore S&M; it seemed like most attendees were young dabblers who liked to dress up and be provocative. Nothing wrong with that.

Actually, there was nothing wrong with any of it -- and I think that was the goal of Purgatory during its eight years in Charlotte. It's leaving a hole in the city's party scene, that's for sure.