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Charlotte's Fetish Evolution
Charlotte's modern alternative/BDSM scene can be traced back to the mid-80s, when Jeff Lowery took over the Milestone Club in 1986. "When we first bought the club it was a lot of the early punk crowd," says Lowery. "We also got a lot of under-age kids with Mohawks who dressed in black." The following year Lowery opened the Pterodactyl Club. It had a more underground vibe compared to Charlotte's dance clubs, and over the years it became a mainstay for Charlotte's Goth/industrial crowd, as well as clean-cut yuppie types who showed up to "look at the freaks."
"It was a real strange quagmire," Lowery says.
At the time, a young guy named Matt Bolick was hanging out at clubs like Dixie Electric and listening to DJ Andy Kastanas, who would later help pioneer Charlotte's uptown nightlife. "I watched Kastanas every weekend and bought all the records he played," Bolick says. Bolick eventually started deejaying at the Pterodactyl in '87. "Back then it was a great place for anybody who was not into the mainstream. There were a lot of dark, subversive things going on, and I was always open to new experiences."
Looking for a bigger venue, Lowery next opened 13-13 in 1988. While 13-13 was pretty much a live music venue, it too became a hot spot for the Goth/industrial crowd, especially when groups like Marilyn Manson and NIN started to hit it big.
"When people like NIN and Manson broke in the 90s, it brought the darker, underground sound to the forefront," Bolick says. "More people in the mainstream started to explore it, and they sought out the parties that did that kind of thing."
Thrown in to the mix were underground clubs like the Septic Tank, which opened in the mid-90s and featured live sex shows. For awhile the fetish scene was alive and thriving. But then the Pterodactyl and 13-13 both closed. While the BaHa picked it up for awhile in late 90s and hosted Goth/industrial parties on Friday nights, the BDSM community started to flounder. This was precipitated by the rise of electronic/techno music and raves.
"Once the BaHa was gone and the Septic Tank got squashed, things went more underground and it wasn't as accessible," says Bolick, who started deejaying at Liquid Lounge in 1999. "And it didn't help that Charlotte was such a conservative, white-collar kind of town."
However, Charlotte was about to get to two new champions of the BDSM scene — a country boy named Torch, and a former Army grunt turned dominatrix.
Torch and Mistress Autumn Twilight met while Autumn was attending the NC School of Arts in Winston-Salem. The two immediately hit it off, and started dating. At the time Torch was already into the S&M lifestyle.
"I grew up on a farm looking at trees and cows, and just thinking, 'God, there has to be more to life than this,'" he says. "As I grew up my parents took me to church, and I just felt like most of the people were full of shit, and I wanted to see the other side. I went to these underground fetish clubs and met all these really good people — they just had different tastes." Autumn, on the other hand, explains that she had always been "a twisted fuck" and "into rough sex," but hadn't really explored the S&M lifestyle. That was about to change. The two got married in '97, and moved to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, they discovered huge fetish parties like the Dungeon, and really delved into the whole lifestyle. Inspired, the couple returned to Charlotte in early 2000, ready to tap into Charlotte's burgeoning alternative nightlife. Instead, they found a dead zone.
"There was nothing," Torch said. "It was a wasteland. I grew up in Charlotte and went clubbing in the 80s and 90s at places like Pterodactyl and Milestone. But when we came back from Hawaii, it was like someone had dropped a bomb — everything had stopped."
Undeterred, the couple forged ahead. Autumn started dancing and working as a dominatrix. "I wanted to do more creative things at the titty bars; put on skits and shows," she says. So Autumn entered exotic entertainer competitions. However, some of her shows were a little too extreme, particularly the one where she came out dressed like a demon in red vinyl and latex, drew 666 on her stomach with blood, and assumed the Jesus crucifixion pose. "Half the crowd got up and left, the other half was like, 'Yea, Rock On!'"
Autumn was banned for a year from all NC adult competitions. So she started looking for more permissive fetish stages in the region, and performed at places like The Chamber in Atlanta, as well as venues in Florida and Pennsylvania.