For many gay men living in New York, the annual Black Party is a sacred rite of passage, like one's first "Invasion of The Pines" on Fire Island, first beer blast at the Eagle, and first burger at Julius.
Produced by The Saint at Large, the party serves as a journey into the deepest caverns of abandon. A sex-positive space that knows no limits, this is definitely not a party for the faint of heart. The party is a portal into the sub-culture of BDSM, where kink and fetishes are explored with consenting participants and thousands of men get to act out any sexual whim they’ve been secretly craving all year long.
The party has survived the AIDS epidemic
of the late ’80s and ’90s, several venue changes, and is now experiencing a
renaissance of sorts. It is arguably the only queer party that checks phones and
judgment at the door and welcomes total revelry on the dance floor. Offering both XXX live acts and plenty of compromising situations, the party is a social
commentary on gay men’s right to exercise their sexual liberation, and a counterpoint
to a gay culture that increasingly resembles the straight variety.
Needless to say, The Standard wanted to find out what the fuss was all about, so we sat down with a range of pre-party dwellers in the Penthouse of The Standard, East Village to get the inside scoop on the forthcoming adventure.
CASEY SPOONER: Last year was the first year I attended.
I became single and I began working on a gay record. I’ve been immersing myself in gay culture to get a sense of what the status quo is. I’ve been treating it like research, but my friends warn me that I’ve started living it.
Describe your reaction when you first walked in to the Black Party:
My jaw hit the floor, because 1,000 men were wearing the same black harness. And I thought to myself, “This is not gay liberation.” It’s been interesting for me to investigate the homogenization of homosexuality. I’m negotiating my relationship to the archetypes and clichés of homosexual desire.
How would you infuse your style of music into these types of circuit parties?
When music taps into a soulfulness or spirituality or ecstatic euphoria, I think that’s what the heart of gay music should be on the dance floor. To live as an oppressed culture, the dance floor is this place of freedom and license.
"There’s a sexual revolution that’s happening for me personally and our culture at large."
I feel a mandate to be an amazing faggot because it could easily be taken away. I’m fagging out hard and politics are a part of that impulse.
Does the term “sex-positive” mean anything to you personally?
I don’t really like the term because “positive” gets tied up to HIV. I’d like to change the language around it. We’re living in a time of the manipulation of language. We need a new term.
Can you elaborate on the effect of parties like this on you as an artist?
I feel like I’m coming out again. There’s a sexual revolution that’s happening for me personally and our culture at large. I think it has a lot to do with technology and people being able to connect on sex apps. It’s allowing people to become more sexually expressive.
The Black Party is notorious for forbidding phones and photography. What is your view on that?
It’s amazing! It’s one of the only places left where technology is taken away. Technology is not the primary mode of connecting—you’re having a physical connection with people.
Tell us about your new record.
Michael Stipe worked with us as the producer. When I first started writing this record, I specifically wanted to make a record about homosexuality. In the past, Fischerspooner has been about the plastic and the formal. Michael [Stipe] created a space where it was safe for me to be more expressive lyrically and vocally. I wanted to give more depth to the homosexual experience and celebrate the brotherhood.
Tell us about your outfit.
It’s Zana Bayne. I went to her studio for a fitting and told her I wanted more than a black harness. I saw the pieces made out natural leather and it jammed the circuits for me. It tapped into an equestrian aesthetic with a luxury feel.
JACOLBY SATTERWHITE: Observation is best way to go back home and work. I love the queer New York scape.
What does it mean for the gay community to have parties like this?
Having a safe space to be transgressive. To be an alternate form of yourself is therapeutic. Outlets such as this allow people to find their maximum form outside of the context—to be more creative. It’s kind of like a form of studying. Everyone who attends allows themselves to be disembodied—and have sex, and dance, and live outside of the box. It’s the spring renewal of the faggot world.
In your work, you play with virtual reality, space, and movement. When you go to parties like this, do you go as a voyeur or participant?
I participate. I feel like I’m a method actor. The more I understand how my body participates in those arenas, the more it informs decisions in my work. As an artist, I’m critiquing characterizations of queer space. The Black Party is an alternate safe space and I have to re-calibrate what the norm is.
"It’s the spring renewal of the faggot world."
I don’t think it’s escapism. Escapism means you have no agency in the real world and it’s derogatory of your own participation in “normal” spaces. The more I go into safe spaces like this, the ability to confront things that I usually suppress to normalize myself in patriarchal spaces, allows me to re-enter the world with even more agency. It’s a gem for the soul.
As an artist, what effect does this event have on you?
Knowing that there is freedom within my periphery allows me to access parts of myself. Having a spectrum of diverse people be uninhibited gives me the freedom to be more community-building.
FET FET HILARIO: The first time I went to the Black Party was two years ago. Every year I’ve been getting more involved, and a bunch of my friends are DJing this year. Last year was insane. It blew my mind what a party could do. The Black Party is kind of like my version of Pride.
How did it shock you?
It’s the most realistic version of what purgatory would look like in my mind. Everyone is being themselves and nothing is holding them back. The music is in line with the energy and the looks are dark and intense, but it’s cathartic for people to work through whatever they need to.
Why do you think it’s so important that this party happens every year?
I think it’s important for an event like this to represent the BDSM subculture. It embodies the fetish world and the darker aspect of homosexuality.
What does BDSM subculture mean to you personally?
I find it to be very therapeutic. I’ve always worked out my own issues through darkness.
"It’s the most realistic version of what purgatory would look like in my mind."
I’ve worked other parties in San Francisco and the Black Party focuses specifically on the freaks and the live performance acts. The Black Party is way more intense. There’s suspension and people performing live sex acts in ways you’re never seen before.
Tell us about this year’s theme, Dark Matter.
It connotes outer space and other worldly dimensions. The political climate at the moments is apocalyptic. The party embodies a futuristic undertone that doesn’t seem real quite yet.
How do you foresee this evening being particularly memorable?
Well, the fact that the party is back in the city is one. A lot of warehouse parties have been shutdown. The LGBTQ community has been under attack ever since the Oakland fire at the Ghost Ship artist collective, so it has been challenging to organize an international event in its wake.
Dirtiest thing you plan on getting away with tonight?
I’m pretty shy still about the public playing world. I’m more of a voyeur.
What would your mother say if she knew you were hosting the party?
She probably wouldn’t be surprised.
CREIGHTON OLIVER: I’m going because it’s influential to the gay community. It’s important to be an advocate. In the age of Trump, it’s a time to no longer hibernate. It’s time to go out, be inspired, and clock new ideas. It’s a party about sex and politics and how we approach sexuality. It challenges us to be outside, inside, or possessing of our own fetishes and infatuations with sex.
Why do you think the term, “sex-positive” is so indicative of what the Black Party represents?
It’s about experiencing sex in the moment.
Why should gay men be allowed to exercise the right to sexual indiscretions in a controlled space?
Because it’s an absolute. It’s something that straight people get to do every day. Why shouldn’t gay people have that right?
As an emerging performer, are you attending the party as inspiration to fuse in your work?
Absolutely. I get inspired. I see new ideas. I search for the unexpected.
"All the way, baby."
It’s about living the dream, especially in America. We are all trying to escape into our own fantasy. This party is a vehicle for us to drive full-throttle into that universe.
What do you want the party to represent for you when the night is over?
A chapter. A moment. I just want to feel open and exhausted by the end.
Dirtiest thing you plan on getting away with tonight:
Taking nuts then calling my mom on the phone.
Out of BDSM, which encapsulates you best?
How hardcore are you willing to go?
All the way, baby.
Movie character who best fits all the transgression you are about to commit:
Drew Barrymore from Scream.
FORREST WU: I’m interested to see how it looks, having moved back into Manhattan from the warehoused in Brooklyn.
Describe the diverse range of people that attend a party of this stature.
I’m interested to see the people who come out. There are a lot of familiar faces in Manhattan and Brooklyn nightlife that you see and then there’s a huge jet-set crowd.
How does a party like this bring people together in the gay community?
The Black Party is a stalwart remnant of the sexual liberation in the ‘70s and ‘80s that died for a while. Now we’re experiencing a renaissance in terms of sexual expression with a lot less fear.
Do you think we are in a better place in terms of tolerance?
Yes. Twenty years ago, the radical part of the party was that it was gay. Now, were moving past a lot of exclusive terms.
"We’re experiencing a renaissance in terms of sexual expression with a lot less fear."
What are you wearing tonight?
I’m wearing a Zana Baye women’s corset. I wanted to adhere to the party theme because it’s fun and kink. I wanted to play with gender roles.
How do you think the Black Party is sex-positive?
When you do go out, you want to go full out. You want to do more than shuffle around a bar, rubbing elbows. I think if you meet someone in a space who you connect with, you can do something about it right there which is liberating.
Rate the amount of debauchery you plan on partaking in from 1-10:
Are you going to be very naughty or very nice?
What would we be shocked to see you partaking in tonight?
Where do you draw the line?
RAMI ABOU-KHALIL: Curiosity.
What are you curious about?
I want to see what it’s like to have 2,000 men in a space with harnesses on.
Have you ever experienced something like this before?
Nothing of this scale.
Do you have any trepidation experiencing a large-scale event like this?
A lot, because I don’t know what it will be like. I know what I want it to be like but if it’s too overtly sexual, I don’t know how I’ll feel about that.
What do you want this experience to be?
I want it to be friendly and fun. And I don’t want to run into any of my friends.
What does the term “sex-positive” mean to you?
It scares me a bit because I’m not sure how much it will overwhelm the overall friendliness of the party. Or maybe that is the recipe of the friendliness.
I mean, hopefully I’ll meet a couple new friends and three or four lovers.
How far are you willing to go tonight?
What would your mother say if she knew you were attending?
She would call her lawyer and disown me.
Out of BDSM, which do you feel best encapsulates you?