Entering last month's Purgatory XXX: St. Valentine's Day Massacre event -- Single Cell Productions' semi-regular bondage and S&M party at Amos' SouthEnd -- the first thing I noticed was a swing hanging from the ceiling. "Look," I said, poking my companion's side, "they use a mannequin as the seat of the swing. How clever!" Or so I
Sights like the "human swing" were commonplace that night. So it shouldn't come as a shock to learn that Purgatory is considered one of the best "weird" parties in Charlotte. It is also, perhaps ironically, one of the safest. A large bouncer pats down each guest who waits in the block-long line before entering the building. Inside, there are whips and candle wax aplenty, but nothing is done without the full consent of the participant.
Purgatory is not just a show; it's also part dance club. In this respect it exhibits a bit of a dual personality. Downstairs on the dance floor, it's a run-of-the-mill Saturday night, with glowsticks instead of drinks in hand. (Well, OK, drinks, too. But you can't simultaneously twirl a glowstick and hold a drink upright.) The music even ventures into the mainstream, playing remixes of Justin Timberlake and Pink -- although, considering J.T. does dive into lyrics like, "I'll let you whip me if I misbehave" (from "SexyBack"), maybe it's not such an ill fit.
The atmosphere is that of a regular nightclub, albeit one mixed with Dracula's marketplace. On the perimeter of the wide berth given to the swinging girls, several stalls are set up for local merchants to peddle their wares. In need of custom-made vampire teeth to complete your Lestat costume? There's a vendor for that. Forget your whip? Your spiked collar? Got those, too. There's the gift of jewelry for your nocturnal lover, as well as the gift of orgasms via a vibrator shaped like an iPod and appropriately called the iBuzz. (And yes, you can hook it up to your iPod.)
Upstairs, though, is where the real action takes place.
The second-floor VIP ticket holders have the option of participating in various "playstations." Walk the length of the loft, and you'll find yellow caution tape roping off participants from voyeurs. By the bar, Dr. Spankenstein posts a list naming the tricks of his trade. Brandy, an attendant to Dr. Spankenstein and a "sub" (for submissive), points to the red marks that dot her chest as she explains some of the Doc's techniques. The red marks came from the $1-a-pop needles (each used only once, for obvious sanitary reasons) that pricked her skin. (Only the needle-piercing requires payment; other activities, like spanking, whipping and wax-dripping, are performed free.) "Needles," Brandy explains very simply, breaking into a sudden schoolgirl's grin, "make me happy."
If you aren't brave enough to have needles stuck into your flesh, Brandy describes other forms of torture ... er ... pleasure. For example, Dr. Spankenstein will pour alcohol on your bare skin, and then set the alcohol on fire. It doesn't burn the skin, but thrills the guest in the same way a horror movie might. Hot candle wax seems mundane now, doesn't it?
Brandy is clad in a common outfit of the night: strategically placed electric tape. A fair number of young ladies rock the electric tape look, paired with thongs or skirts. A good deal more looked as if they stepped off the streets of the Harajuko section in Tokyo and would be better suited in an anime.
Many of the young men look as if they could be body doubles for Neo from The Matrix. There's no dress code at Purgatory. While the "Hot-Topic-on-crack" look is common, there are always a few people dressed in Gap-average jeans and T-shirts.
Purgatory is not the typical Bud-and-football kind of night that's so prevalent in the downtown Charlotte scene. Instead, it's a weird, wonderful and unique experience that only comes around once every few months. So, go. Explore. But please don't ask anyone in attendance, "Did that hurt?" Of course it did. That's the point.
The next Purgatory show, Purgatory XXXI: Pure Fetish (5th Year Anniversary Party), will be held Saturday, April 14, at Amos' SouthEnd, 1423 S. Tryon St. Go to www.purgatory-theshow.com for more info.
Urban Explorer's Handbook