Ahh, travelling half way around the world from Los Angeles to London for the 16th annual Skin Two Rubber Ball can make a guy have some high expectations.
The last and only other time that I attended the Rubber Ball was six years ago in 2001. I really loved that last event — it was amazing. One of the best-dressed crowds at any fetish event I had ever attended. Now I’m back for round two.
London is not only a wonderful city to visit — it is a place where you can get caught up in the fast pace of how this city moves. I guess the locals must cope with the cost of this very expensive city by moving twice as fast. It’s not laid back sunny southern California here — very little here is laid back. This must be why they take their fetish scene seriously.
I started the weekend off on Wednesday with an amazing photo exhibit by Emma Delves-Boughton (see link to separate report in left-hand column ). This was no small affair; it was at a mainstream West End gallery called La Galleria Pall Mall (30 Royal Opera Arcade, 5b Pall Mall, London SW1 Y4UY), on ’til October 16.
Inside I found three rooms of amazing sexy colour photographs featuring some of the top fetish models from all over the world. Emily Marilyn, Alsana, Ulorin Vex and all of the European fetish divas have posed for her camera. Her moving, dreamy, latex clad portraits were elegant, but still charged with naughty sexuality. I was socialising with Tony Mitchell of The Fetishistas and Mistress Veronica of Los Angeles, and they introduced me to the Who’s Who of the London scene.
On Thursday evening I went to Midori and Kip’s private pre-party in a luxurious Camden house. It was a great casual social affair for people who come to Rubber Ball every year. It was a chance for annual attendees to be low key — most wore their street clothes. Everyone was having a drink and getting caught up with stories of the past year. I hung out with a lot of lovely people and made new friends. I called it quits at 3am but the social mixer kept going ’til six in the morning, so I was told. Everyone was in good form for a wild weekend.
The 2007 Rubber Ball Weekend started with a lot of confusing politics. To showcase the capital of fetish fashion, the attendees were given the chance to buy and see the best UK fetish gear and clothing at not one, but two fetish expos.
‘Attendees had the chance to buy and see the best UK fetish gear and clothing at not one, but two fetish expos’
The first one was held by the folk who previously organised the expo for the Rubber Ball Weekend, but who, due to some disagreements with the Skin Two organisation, were without their normal Rubber Ball partner, and had decided to team up with TheFetishistas.com instead. Their first non-official event, called The Xpo, was held in the same location the Rubber Ball market had been using for years, at the Barbican Centre (see links to separate reports in left column).
I decided to check out this one on the first day, Friday. It went from 3pm ’til 9pm with fashion shows and performances. When I arrived I found a great collection of amazing latex and leather designs, gear and toys. For me the highlight of the vendors at the Xpo was Jed Phoenix. Her edgy punk pinstripe and webbing pants and jackets are unisex and sexy as hell. Jed is a designer I have admired since she made my first Rubber Ball outfit six years ago. She has integrity and is so inventive with her classic neo-punk style.
This year a new women’s latex designer debuted at the Xpo. Her name is Heather Meikle and her line is called Overt Clothing. Her style was that of the gentile ’50s with inspired printed latex dresses in soft colours. Be on the look out for her — she will be making a name for herself fast in the fetish and fashion world.
In addition to these highlights, almost all of the main UK players in latex fashion were on hand — including Pretty Pervy, Bondinage, Breathless, Ectomorph, Libidex and Rubber 55 — along with new men’s label D.Vote Clothing and new sheet latex supplier Radical Rubber. The cloth and leather designers included FairyGothMother, Libby Rose Designs, Max Kane, Velda Lauder, Essentia Hats and a whole lot more.
The main parties of the weekend were Torture Garden on Friday night and The Rubber Ball on Saturday night. Making a splash at both events would require a lot of Red Bull, but I was up for the task.
Torture Garden was held this year at its usual location at Mass, in seedy, dangerous and hip Brixton. Torture Garden is the longest-running regular fetish night club in London; 13 years and going as strong as ever. My companions for the evening were Simone Kross, Nico and Alex of Polymorphe Latex. TG had its usual integrity at the front door: two guys in front of us where turned away because they thought that black jeans and button-up shirts qualified as fetishwear. While this might have been all right in LA, it was not going to cut the mustard here.
When we entered the long spiral staircase of this nightclub — a huge converted church — we waited impatiently with everyone else for the coat check so that we could all show off our amazing skimpy outfits. The crowed sported the entire range of fetish possibilities, from full latex gimps, German uniforms and sexy corsets to over-the-top clubwear.
There was even one well-known New York perv who was wearing silver latex pants and a silver t-shirt with a white Apple computer logo appliquéd on the back. I suppose you can sexualise anything these days.
The venue, with two dancefloors, a main stage, a performance cage and play dungeon, was packed. Torture Garden has a way of making the energy flow, and the DJs were amazing all night, with Allen TG doing his set at three in the morning.
Highlights were the fashion shows by TG Clothing and Kaori’s Latex Dreams (see galleries on right), and a moody and artsy Japanese rope bondage scene by Midori and Kumi in the performance cage. Both of them looked like zombie geisha. Watching Midori tie up someone is pure poetry and was given an extra surreal edge by the wild dancefloor action going on around them.
I met a death rock couple from Sweden, dommes from Chicago, a submissive from Italy, and of course a fairly big Los Angeles crowd. I even saw bondage star Jewell Marceau, who was looking as hot as ever. When I asked if she was performing during the weekend she laughed and said, “Can’t a girl just enjoy herself?”
‘Unlike in the States, London clubs seem able to allow consenting adults to express themselves how they please’
We had lots of fun in the dungeon. The scene was packed with people, good equipment and smooth music. Unlike in the States, London clubs seem able to allow consenting adults to express themselves how they please. There was some very hardcore playing and lots of fun sexual energy, with blackout rooms and dark corners galore. When we decided to call it quits at 5am, the dancefloor was still packed with techno-inspired kinksters. Another successful Torture Garden!
The next day, Saturday, I travelled to the official Skin Two Rubber Ball Expo at ExCel. “Where is that?” you might ask. Well it’s not next to Soho. It was a good 45 to 90 minutes by train to a new state-of-the-art convention centre with brand new hotels and clean streets. When I got there I felt like I could have been anywhere in the USA — no charm whatsoever.
The actual Expo was fairly big, but there was a definite lack of vendors. Only Skin Two and Honour were selling rubber clothes and a couple of big shoe vendors were selling fetish footwear, club shoes and some cheap crossdressers’ boots to boot.
There was fair amount of fine fetish photography and jewellery for sale and a couple of good whipmakers on hand but not a lot more. The only gear that caught my eye was by a German company called der Rosenfessel (‘the Rose of Bondage’). They had a simple but elegant bondage system that revolved around a pretzel-shaped rope with gold end bits. Worth looking into.
It was nice to see Steve Diet Goedde and the Stockroom handing out flyers, but I wish Stockroom had come out to vend — it would have really helped out the Skin Two Expo.
I also got to talk with the folk of AEBN about their latest project called Social Kink. AEBN is determined to be the centre of everything porn and after speaking with the head of the company I know that they have a very strong commitment to the fetish/BDSM community. Social Kink is their angle on a kink-friendly MySpace. I tried it when I got back to my computer and liked it a lot. It’s still in beta mode and not all of the features are working but I can see it being a great kinky networking tool for the community.
Overall, I would have to give the official Skin Two Expo a thumbs-down.
From the Expo I went to meet some of my friends in their hotel and get ready for the main event, the Rubber Ball. While the Expo situation was strange, I was sure that the evening was going to be a great one. Simone Kross was dressed in a beautiful Vex green latex gown, with me in my favourite uniform and Nico in Vex rubber tux tails. The theme this year was a ‘World of Kink’ which was an odd theme and it made my unsure what they wanted from the attendees.
When we got to SeOne, the venue for the Skin Two Ball, the crowd looked great and the energy felt strong. The venue is below London Bridge train station in a series of huge brick arches. The Ball was made up of six themed halls. Room one was a dark moody room titled The World of Fetish Room, then The Oriental Room, The American Room, The European Room and the Middle Eastern Chill Out Room. Oh yeah and a very well equipped dungeon space put together by Playpenz that looked like it was right out of a Ninn Worx film.
The crowd matched the theme pretty well. Everyone was dressed to impress with a lot of period costumes. There where Roman soldiers, latex sailors galore, even a very cool couple in matching latex Croatian folk costumes — at least that what I think they were supposed to be.
‘The entertainment was a huge list of acts on small stages in different rooms. Honestly, I did not see a single act all night’
The entertainment for the evening was a huge list of acts on small stages throughout the different rooms. There where over 20 different performers from burlesques and psycho cyborgs to lucha libre and something called Switch Theatre.
Honestly, I did not see a single act all night. Having a lot of small stages spread throughout all of the rooms was a good concept, as was having a bunch of differently themed rooms. But in the end, whether or not someone was performing, there was no focus on the acts so I would always walk into the room just as the acts were finishing. or I would not even notice them.
The rooms looked great and had very good videos being played with great sound system. But, it never felt like the DJ could get the rooms really hopping. Things where too spread out. I’m not sure of the actual attendance for this year’s event, but to me it looked like it did not fill up and could not get that critical mass of partiers to bring up the energy.
Sadly the room that did not work was The American Room. It felt like a high school gym dance. But we all still had a great time dancing and watching people play and prance around in their outfits.
By the time we got everyone together and left, the event had emptied out a lot, which was apparently unheard of at 4:30am. Luckily we had another private party to go to that lasted till five on Sunday afternoon! Lots of fun hardcore playing and merriment was had by all. When I asked people at the party what they thought of the Ball this year, most replied that it was not the best they had ever been to and I would have to agree.
Needless to say that with me partying for over 24 hours, I could barely keep my head up let alone go to the final night’s event which was called Skin Two’s Sunday Soul. It was suppose to be a very chilled and limited admittance event with sassy singer Bridget Metcalfe. Maybe next year I will pace myself better so I can last all weekend long or get an IV drip of espresso and just carry it around with me like some strange medical fetish scene.
Overall, Skin Two’s Rubber Ball Weekend is still the best-dressed event I have ever been to. People travel from around the world to attend this weekend and it shows that they care about what they wear. In addition the crowd was fun and open-minded. The things some people got up to while engaging in public BDSM scenes made for a lot of hot voyeurism and was a refreshing change from parties in the States.
Would I attend another Rubber Ball? Absolutely! But my expectations have been taken down a bit by this year’s lack of thorough planning and the petty political infighting. Like it or not the fetish world is still a very small segment of the greater adult industrial complex. What we all need to do is help each other to succeed and bring more community to the BDSM world, not divide it.
So, let’s hope that next year everyone in London realises the great potential of this world class fetish event. I hope that they work together to make next year’s Rubber Ball an amazing weekend for all the people that travel from all over the globe to attend.
Adapted from an article originally published in Eros Zine, and reproduced by kind permission of the publisher (see link in left-hand column)