Entertainment » Culture

'Fascination' :: Pushing Boundaries With New Club Night

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Sunday Jun 7, 2015

Editor's note: The darker side of pre-Stonewall gay life made John Rechy's epochal novel "City of Night" a must-read for gay men for generations. Hoping to bring the novel's spirit to the club scene, artist Michael Flowers & DJ Colby Drasher are sponsoring a new club night called Fascination. EDGE spoke to the duo about the upcoming night.

In the 1950s John Rechy lived as hustler traveling throughout American cities. In all likelihood a trip to Boston would have brought him to Jacques Cabaret, the Bay Village bar that remains the only pre-Stonewall bar open in the city. Rechy came to the fame early the next decade with his controversial autobiographical novel, "City of Night," which told the story of the wanderings of his nameless, hustling protagonist and his sexual adventures in the gay underworld of men's rooms, bars, all night movies and cheap hotels.

Rechy's novel was dismissed by mainstream critics. "Fruit Salad" read the headline in the prestigious New York Review of Books. "It is a blow by blow account, so to speak, of where to go for what you want (assuming of course that you want it) -- a kind of "Sodom on Five Dollars a Day," wrote reviewer Alfred Chester. "...These stories do not bring anything new to literature, homosexual, sociological or American. They're mostly about the same old queens doing the same old things: swishing and bitching and cruising and falling in love and leaving each other and getting desperate and growing old and worrying over it."

Yet Rechy's novel became a classic -- one that influenced two generations of gay writers, filmmakers, scholars and artists up until today. It has never been out of publication since it first appeared nearly fifty years ago.

One Boston man it has influenced is Michael Flowers, a personable and articulate theater designer who was so taken by the novel that he decided to use it as a basis for a nightlife event. Called Fascination, it takes place every second Monday of the night in the downstairs room at Jacques Cabaret -- a space that many don't even know exists. EDGE sat down with Flowers and his collaborator with the event, DJ Colby Drasher for a conversation about Rechy, fetish nights, Boston club life and what they hope to achieve with Fascination.

A pre-Stonewall vibe

EDGE: How did Fascination come about?

Michael Flowers: Well, we've been doing Fascination since October. It started as a collaboration between us and a group called Street Corner Society. They're a group that sets out to do adaptations of American literature, history, myths and their ideas is to redefine what theater means in different spaces. We wanted to do a night that harkens back to the world of 'City of Night' by John Rechy. We wanted to create this space that carried the same energy as some of the Levi-leather bar of pre-Stonewall. What fascinates me about these spaces is that yes, they were fetish spaces, but they were also community spaces. That is something lost in bar culture right now, specifically in Boston, so we are trying to bring that energy back.

EDGE: (to Colby) How did you get involved?

Colby Drasher: Michael had asked me to join the project. He knew of my style and influences and we share a similar aesthetic in a lot of ways. When he asked me it felt natural and automatic, so I decided to go with it.

EDGE: I never knew there is a downstairs at Jacques Cabaret?

Michael Flowers: (laughing) You are not the first person to say this. Yes. We do it every second Monday of the month in the underground space. It's a really cool space used to house punk shows and through the summer do drag shows there once a week. The space was kind-of just sitting there during the week, so we wanted to capitalize it as a space for the fetish community to meet once a month.

Colby Drasher: And the space works perfectly because it embodies the 'City of Night' vibe so well and the punk vibe. It's a really good marriage between what the concept is and the space itself. It's dark, it's raw. We cover the lights with red gels. It's not in a glitzy club.

EDGE: What is it about Jacques Cabaret that made you want to do the night there?

Michael Flowers: What's fascinates me most about Jacques Cabaret is that it is one of the oldest gay bars in Boston. It has been open since 1939. So Jacques Cabaret itself carries a specific history -- the period of time where this novel takes place. So it has witnessed all these transformations of gay culture in Boston. We wanted to take that energy and work with it. And bring it back.

A sexual vibe?

EDGE: When did you discover Rechy?

Michael Flowers: A friend of a friend recommended 'City of Night' to me. I had been on a Ginsberg trip. We were talking about the lineage of gay authors. We were looking at Isherwood's 'Berlin Stories' and Ginsberg's 'Howl.' He asked if I had read any of Rechy. I hadn't and was embarrassed, and I dove into the novel. But I came to realize a lot of people don't know Rechy, but what drew me to him is his portrait of a specific time in gay history. It's something I've been thinking about I have been thinking of our night with Pride coming up. How I want to embody that community and history in a special moment.

EDGE: What is the music like for the night?

Colby Drasher: I try to be explorative and do different things. The majority is very heavy house or dark techno, but then I branch off into rock music or ambient stuff occasionally, or layer ambient stuff over the top of beats to give it more of a unique feel. It's definitely not ... I don't play a lot of music in other club settings. It's pretty specific towards Fascination. Its definitely not bright music, that's for sure.

EDGE: Rechy is all about sex -- was that the vibe you are aiming for with Fascination?

Michael Flowers: (laughing) I don't know if you can publish it, but when I described the space to Colby that I wanted the downstairs to feel like you're experiencing it from inside the body of somebody you want to fuck. The idea being that we want the space to bypass the brain and head straight to the gut, and I think we've done that pretty well. I think you can say that it's more of a carnal vibe in the way people attract to each other. From the feedback I've received, it seems that boundaries are taken down. People are able to communicate with each other more readily and easily. It's really a place for people to get to know each other really well without the boundaries that happen in most gay clubs. That's what is really special to me.

EDGE: But you call it fetish night. Isn't fetish all about establishing boundaries?

Michael Flowers: Fetish is definitely about establishing boundaries, but it is also about communication; but in order to communicate requires a certain level of vulnerability. It's interesting to see the way people operate in the space with that in mind.

EDGE: (to Colby) What were your initial thoughts when Michael asked you to be part of the night?

Colby Drasher: I wanted to do it. There are so many things about it drew me to it immediately. The idea that the music would be dark and heavy and the environment would be liberating and sexual. And the idea that it was going to be primarily male was an inspiration. Nowadays here's a really large focus on being very inclusive to all kinds of people, and I do that myself with my biggest night 'Don't Ask/Don't Tell' -- that's the aim of it. The motto is all are welcome. While that is very important, it is also important to have spaces where people can come together that relate to each other in different levels and get deeper into that. Like Mike was saying, these boundaries are taken down and you can really get to know somebody through their vulnerabilities. There is nothing between you and them. There is no mirage of an identity -- it is what you see is what you get. With that it is exciting.

Michael Flowers: Elaborating on what Colby was saying, what is fascinating about these spaces is this idea of taking what is traditionally a levi/leather bar and applying it to a new queer culture. Fetish is expanding in terms of gender boundaries as well, and that is something we are excited about. Are we harkening a history that's sort-of directed more at males? Yes. But are we welcome to people that are queer and not-gender conforming. Absolutely. And that's something that excites me. How do you connect with people with gender boundaries and find the link in our common sexuality.

Queer perspective

EDGE: What makes this different than the other fetish nights around town?

Michael Flowers: I think what really differs us is that we do this night from a queer perspective and finding queer spaces that are also kink friendly and sex positive is somewhat of a challenge in Boston. And we really aim to welcome all, but always operate from the perspective of a queer party.

EDGE: Boston remains a sexually conservative place. Do yo guys feel like odd men out in this town?

Michael Flowers: You know I think that it's hard in Boston because Boston doesn't have a leather/fetish space of the gay community. A lot of organizations we work with have nights down in Providence and we are trying to network with these communities to find a space in Boston proper. Yes in a certain way we are gathering the outcasts and there's something really good about that.

EDGE: Does Fascination have a Tom of Finland vibe?

Michael Flowers: There are definitely some people who have the Tom of Finland aesthetic to their kink. That's really exciting; being more leather inspired myself it's exciting to see that representation. What's really cool and interesting to see is keeping 'Fascination' more of an open space for any sort of kink. You see the Tom of Finland men, but you also see people into rubber; you also see people come to a space that's uninhibited and do not have a specific kink they're into. It's more of an open space. And I think what draws people is a certain level of the unknown, of danger, of excitement. That's where most interesting nightlife happens for me.

EDGE: Why stay in Boston?

Michael Flowers: I love Boston. What's really special about Boston right now is that is it is ripe for possibility. There are a lot of things evolving. this is a place where there is a lot of opportunity, both with nightlife and the creative subculture in general. Another aspect of Fascination is how we've been able to house a lot of these creative individuals. In the future we want to open the space up as a space to show queer performance work. There are a lot of things happening in Boston looking for a venue, so it's really exciting for me to provide a venue for those artists.

Take on your own terms

EDGE: So Fascination is about sexual exploration?

Michael Flowers: Fascination is a space where individuals are encouraged to discover things about themselves. People are able to explore parts of themselves as far as they are as comfortable going. We are just a space for people to meet up with, so there are certain restraints; but this is a place where people can meet up and find out things about themselves. But if you want to come and just have a beer, you can do that to. No one is pressured and pushed into doing things they don't want to do. One of the things I've been hearing about Fascination is a fear -- I don't know if I can handle that. They are scared away, but what is important is that you can experience Fascination on your own terms. If you want to have a drink, hang out and listen to music, you can do that. If you want to talk to someone about something you're interested in doing and having done, you can do that. If you want to participate in someone's performance, you can do that as well. So really there's something for everybody there. The danger and anticipation is what is exciting, but it is something you can feel comfortable doing on your own terms.

Colby Drasher: People that I bring to the night always say, wow. It was such a warm and inviting atmosphere, especially considering it is in a dark basement and plaything hard music. It is edgy, but also super-inviting. Everyone looks you in the eye and smiles and wants to know who you are. They want to know you, but are totally respectful of you. That's totally unique. It strips the ego out of the nightlife scene.

Fascination is a beautiful project, it's a beautiful idea and place. It should represent our community more than these major club circuit scenes that have no real heart -- that are just surface level. Why aren't we the people at the front of the parade and not the back of the parade -- that should be changed?

EDGE: And you want to keep the event at Jacques Cabaret?

Michael Flowers: We love Jacques Cabaret. Right now we are really excited to stay there. For us there is something special about the authenticity of the space and the intimacy of the night. They've been very, very good to us. And the history of the space is important to us. It ties right into 'City of Night.' What drew us to Jacques Cabaret is that in City of Night there is a constant dichotomy between camp and the drag bars and the performative aspects of drag as a metaphor. There's the dichotomy between that work and the performative aspects of masculinity, of leather, of fetish. What is really interesting is the idea of performance and getting past those topical representations of self and getting to the core. I think that in terms of people meeting one another and communicating at Fascination, people have been able to get beyond the superficial levels and get to know each other as human beings.

We now live in an app-based culture and that has had a substantial effect on the bar scene. They no longer have face-to-face contact as they have in the past. I think that's something I really hope to change. I would like to see Fascination as a space where people are free to talk and express themselves without that hesitance and inhibition that you have in the bar scene.

Colby Drasher: And I try to keep the music at a level that allows conversation. It's loud, but not impenetrably loud, very compatible with conversation.

The next edition of Fascination takes place on Monday, June 8, 2015 at Jacques Cabaret, 79 Broadway, Boston, MA. For more information, visit its Facebook page.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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