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Charlotte's space oddity 

Purgatory goes sci-fi for its 10-year celebration

Space: The final frontier. Time to strap on your helmets and call ground control, because outer space is about to get kinky.

Charlotte's own Purgatory, the fetish/kink/BDSM party and show that's part performance, part marketplace and part dance rave, celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a science fiction-themed bash that's sure to be — wait for it — out of this world. Creative Loafing chatted with party founder and firestarter Torch to get the down and dirty details of the Q.C.'s largest bondage party.

Creative Loafing: How did the Charlotte mainstay Purgatory start? What was the turnout like?

Torch: I drew it up on a napkin in a strip club in South Carolina. Funny thing is, I was going to discard the idea and not follow through with it, thinking it wouldn't work. We drew 150 people the first night from mainly word-of-mouth promotion. The attendance doubled the next two shows, until we were splitting the seams of the club. That's when we moved to Amos' Southend and started filling it up to capacity until they expanded.

Was there ever a time when the whole idea of it — a party like this in a city like Charlotte — seemed like it couldn't work?

I was sweating it until about 11 p.m. of the first party. I went to the VIP room and sat down for a while, convinced we had failed and that it wasn't going to work. [A friend] came and had me come see the crowd that had filled the place up while I was taking a breather, and it all clicked. We've had challenges since then. The Rave ordinance cut our parties off much earlier and we had the police clear the club out at 2:30 a.m. right after it passed. It took a couple clarification meetings to get the actual cut-off time settled because the original law was vague, but things smoothed out after those.

What was your most controversial moment in the past 10 years?

We caught heat in the beginning from a lot of people convinced we were throwing some satanic sex party with a group orgy on the dance floor. I had undercover cops asking me where the sex room was a few times. We got the standard anti-freak sentiment for patrons and staff being unusually dressed on the way to the show or out on the streets promoting the show. We've been threatened to be shut down by religious groups and even picketed. That dried up pretty quick when the protesters actually talked with our crowd. We sent soda and bottled water out to them while they were protesting. As for performances, it's hard to narrow it down. We had one act where we were eating a stage brain (made of Jello with cherry chunks) from a split-open dragon brain that had patrons leave in shock.

Along the same lines, what has been the wildest thing that has happened in the past decade?

I have no idea how to pick a winner for that question. We've dropped a human rope-bound mirror ball at New Year's Eve, sewn wings onto an actor's back, flipped a wall set where people were performing on top of and strapped to the bottom of the set piece, swung out over the crowd suspended by huge hooks through our flesh and broken every social propriety I can think of.

With recent mainstream interest in BDSM, is there a rush of new faces or acceptance on the Charlotte scene?

BDSM is the new mainstream naughty. Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Rihanna and even Avril Lavigne have all used elements in their videos and Destiny's Child appeared in Skin Two magazine. That's a far road from when Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" was getting banned from MTV. An MTV reference to music videos dates the hell out of me, doesn't it?

Where do you see Purgatory headed in the future? Will there be a 20-year anniversary party? Will it be in Charlotte?

I've got three years of twisted themes, stage designs and deviant stage action in my project notebook right now, so we have no intention of stopping. Twenty-year anniversary? That will depend on the fans, and if we're still reaching them and relevant in another 10 years. I hope so, but that's more for the market to decide than me. We tour, but I can't see ever moving the flagship away from Charlotte. This city has been very good to us. Visiting DJs and performance artists rave about the reception here and the awesome crowds.

What has Purgatory brought to the city of Charlotte?

The thing I'm most proud of is establishing a safe environment where people can indulge in fantasy play or just be themselves regardless of sexual identity, kink or fetish, and be accepted as people. We've brought a decade of outrageous entertainment from comedic fantasy to ultra kinky action in an interactive festival atmosphere with amazing DJs from all over the globe. Most of all, we've brought a sense of community for a large group of people looking for fulfillment beyond Top 40 mass media entertainment.

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