backstage (2007-13)

What Is Fetish?

The kind folks at the Electric Ballroom will explain

by Kevin Crowe

Last year, it was a zoo, a two-day event with plenty of new faces and able-bodied explorers of experience. Before that, it was just exotic enough to lure a Metro Pulse reporter to the Electric Ballroom for the trial run of "What is Fetish?" There were human buffets, complete with piles of condoms, as freaky Goths flaunted their sexuality, masked behind an extreme dungeon esthetic. Wax play was popular, too, as well as electrical stimulation. Bondage artists busied themselves by hooking attractive women in suspension ropes, just before raising them above the crowd.

As long as you're not hurting anyone, and as long as you're finding pleasure, it should be acceptable.

One man explained it quite simply: "My fetish is everyone else's fetish." His words still resonate as an unofficial motto of fetish night.

"We're always looking for ways to change it up a bit, to keep people interested," says Tat2 Jay, the head promoter for Temple, the alternative dance night that has brought regular goth/industrial acts to Knoxville for years. "Fetish education," Tat2 Jay continues, "that's the point, the whole point. It's designed to bring fetish out of the shadows a little bit.... We're not into people getting hurt. Of course we entertain, but the education aspect is really the primary goal. We've done a really good job in the last two and a half years. We make it obvious that everything we do is designed around education."

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom ( ) is sponsoring Fetish Night. "Basically," Tat2 Jay goes on, "they're advocates of consenting adults doing what they want to do in their own bedrooms, as long as it's safe and sane. It's a pretty groovy group to work with."

This year, for "What is Fetish v. 3.0," the theme is a carnival, a throwback to the days of the sideshow with performances by The Human Pin Cushion, The Wax Museum, The Slime Pit of Doom, The Living Mummy and the aptly named 6 Foot Man Eating Chickens. The list continues. Grindstone the Great, a performer who has amassed a cult following by shooting sparks off of a woman sheathed in a metal bra, may stop by, if his schedule permits. And the 9th Wonder of the World, the Grotesque Leatherface, will make an appearance. His is a single-o act of gruesome proportions. Shock and awe, that could very well be the theme.

"The show is going to be a full circus," says Trance, the director/producer/choreographer for Gatlinburg's Misguided Productions. Back in the '90s, operating under the moniker of Misguided Perversions, Trance performed at the now-defunct Mercury and Neptune theaters. Those early fetish nights, when groups such as Secret Garden were performing, it was netherworldly taste of S&M and other forbidden passions. An MP feature from '98 described Trance's show as a "a mesmerizing passion play of twisted mimery, frenzied flagellation, and erotic dance, a choreographed freak opera that reaches its bizarre climax when one of the members, a sad-eyed, long-tressed youth with make-up straight out of James O'Barr's Crow , bares his whisper-thin torso and allows one of his friends to brand him with a red-hot iron."

When Temple asked if he'd be willing to perform at their reincarnation of Fetish Night, Trance jumped at the opportunity, putting together an act he called the Cyber Show. "It went over with rave reviews," Trance says. "It started with me giving birth to a girl onstage, and ended up with her being brought up in a post-apocalyptic future."

This year, although he doesn't want to give too much away, Trance says that he and his fellow performers have been practicing bondage with balloons, the long, skinny balloons that clowns typically twist into animal shapes.

"If you're there," he says, "you should be in for a surprise.... I'd say our show is three parts silly, three parts sexy and three parts disgusting."

The performances foster an outrageous spectacle, at least to the untrained eye. To those who have been here before, it's cathartic, nearly spiritual each time they're allowed to explore the bodily urges that may be taboo outside the safety of their private bedrooms.

"That's one of the key things about Temple," Tat2 Jay adds. "We're very open-minded, very respectful. If people come in and respect us, we respect them.

"Everything we do is about respect, learning and growing."

What: Temple's "What is Fetish, v. 3.0"