It's a rare humid summer Saturday night in drought-parched Victoria, British Columbia. While many west coast partiers flock to nearby festivals, the hottest ticket in this typically sleepy harbour city is Erotica Electronica (EE). This caba-rave has been bridging the underground kink and dance music communities by being explicitly sexier than your standard bass music party, but not as intimidatingly sexual as adult fetish events.
EE was founded in 2010 by DJs AppleCat and Taabu at the legendary venue Beaver Point Hall on Salt Spring Island, just off the coast of BC in between Vancouver and Victoria. EE has since leapt from its rural island origins to those neighbouring urban cities to expand its revelry. Over nine events, AppleCat has established EE as a consistently sold-out regional nightlife staple. In partnership with Luscious Entertainment and Sunset Labs, EE took root at Sunset Room, Victoria's 100-capacity legal and booze-free club. After a successful run there, the event series expanded to produce larger shows in partnership with Consent Crew at venues like Studio East and Vancouver Arts & Leisure.
While I had heard wild and mixed reviews about these self-described "sultry and sensual consent culture experiences" for years—and especially the private afterparties—I had yet to check them out for myself. That is, until now.
Upon arrival, the Sunset Room's venue sets the tone of the night: hidden in plain sight. Down past a Value Village and at the water's edge you enter a basement through an unmarked wrought-iron gate. It leads through to a terrace that features circus performers fire-spinning. Yet the appeal is not just the location, but also the intention.
"Normally we draw from the same crowd of vibey, tribal, healthy dance community," says Jason Guille of Sunset Labs. "Over half of this crowd I've never seen before, they only come to EE events here. Our goal is to bridge communities. I'm happy to be the gatekeeper. I put the term 'Kink Lite' in our write-up—the kink community has their thing, what the dance community needs is an opportunity to explore its sensuality."
That exploration is definitely in effect on the dancefloor. Adults of all ages, shapes, and sizes are letting loose. Fetish favourite fashions abound, from leather, lace and vinyl, to corsets, garters, and thongs. I find myself dancing between grey-haired hippies and goth-punk undergrads, among friends who are topless but for suspenders and bowties. This isn't a competition to see who is hottest, but an opportunity to keep your cool in a highly permissive and inclusive safe space.
"If you can imagine never going to a kink party and then going to one where there's a strict dress code, it's pretty scary," says Laya Lushious. "We don't have a dress code. Dress how you feel, express yourself. I think that opens the doors to people that are interested in kink, but don't want to go to a full-out kink party."
Often, kink parties have hidden dungeons. EE has a highly-visible 'playgeon,' which is a cage used for go-go dancing and activities like rope bondage and saran-wrapping. Burlesque performances tease but never become full-on sex shows. At EE, sexual acts are not permitted. Many guests wear 'Got Consent?' paraphernalia and there are free how-to guides in the washrooms that outline initiating wanted and respectful interaction with partners. This is collective self-regulation at its best, plus no booze-induced bad behaviour on display.
There is little anonymity here—you might run into anyone at an EE party, wearing or not wearing just about anything. I saw four ex-coworkers at EE, all dressed very NSFW. A former supervisor emphatically bounced her boobs at me and asked if I want a spicy chocolate cock. Since we last worked together, she has become The Chocolate Faerie, catering EE with phallus-shaped cacao-chili treats. I happily grant consent for her to put in my mouth. I see my current neighbour Terri suspended serenely on stage by the rope bondage workshop instructor.
"In terms of dress," says DJ Deerface, "here it feels safer for me to have more skin showing, wear lipstick, and not be worried that people aren't going to take me seriously." Deerface got her start DJing the opening slots at the now-defunct Victoria nightclub Hush. She now commands the packed prime-time dancefloor at Sunset Room with viscerally-smooth mixing behind the decks. She's come out of her shell so much that she and three of her friends formed the burlesque troupe Tongue-'n'-Cheek, for whom she choreographs group stripteases specifically for EE events.
"For the most part, I'm just going to play in a tank top and jeans. It's something I've been conscious of because I hear the way that people talk about other female DJs and I don't want that," she says. "I want to be known for my skills, the hours of work that I put in, and the tracks that I play—not for what I look like."
AppleCat is no stranger to that scrutiny. It's no wonder she's cultivated EE as a safe space for herself and other provocative performers to DJ, hater-free. "Part of femininity—fuck it, part of being human, is our sexuality. Part of being an artist is our sexuality. When you block that integral part of yourself, you're blocking yourself as an artist," she says. Her current partner, Ian Mackenzie, is in the process of filming a documentary about females in the music industry, called Amplify Her. A featured subject of the film, AppleCat is outspoken on this topic. "You shouldn't have to rely on your sexuality to be an artist, but you also shouldn't have to repress yourself to be yourself either."
Her raw honesty wins many fans. Laya Lushious, EE's co-producer, credits AppleCat with turning her onto dubstep and helping her unlock a sacred element in her relationship to dance. "Over time combining more of a spiritual practise and intention in my dance, I find that deep bass music facilitates that a lot more than house music or any other kind of music does. Whatever Applecat plays, that's the most erotic to me—cosmic carnal gypsy wubs."
The best sets at EE play with half-time versus double-time rhythmic progressions. Deerface dropping skittering drum and bass rollers by the likes of Bredren, Dub Phizix, and Ruffhouse; Danga building from heavy dubstep into hard-jacking industrial techno with tracks like TMSV's aptly-named "Jackhammer"; and Applecat herself weaving emo-cinematic webs of vocal-orchestral epicness by the likes of Dr. Draw, Dysphemic, and David Starfire.
But it's not track selection alone that activates an erotic experience on the dancefloor at EE.
"Something that makes music erotic to me," says AppleCat, "other than the obvious deep sacral-shattering bass, is the actual effort you put into the story you're telling. Sets for me are a lot like sex. You go in there and you tell a story. You're very conscious of every beat, of every moment. That thought and detail is what's sexy to me."
AppleCat holds the decks and brings the party into late-morning. At the climax and denouement of the night's narrative, my thoughts turn to epilogue. I invite Taabu and Laya Lushious to a nearby private afterparty I'll soon be DJing. "We're going to our own... exclusive afterparty," says Laya sorry-not-sorrily.
The hostess of the afterparty I'm going to has made it clear she does not want to host a sex party. I clarify this information to a friend I invite as I leave Sunset Room.
"Oh, thanks, but I'm already invited to an... exclusive afterparty," he replies.
"What kind of exclusive afterparty?" I ask.
"The kind where everyone gets naked and fucks."
The next Erotica Electronica is Saturday, October 3rd at Vancouver Arts & Leisure.
Erotica Electronica is on Facebook
Luscious Entertainment is on Facebook
Consent Crew is on Facebook
Sunset Labs is on Facebook
AppleCat is on Facebook and SoundCloud
Taabuis on Facebook and SoundCloud
Deerface is on Facebook and SoundCloud
Danga is on Facebook and SoundCloud