I attended the Black Party in 2013 and it changed my life.
Yes, I was nervous about participating in all the potential SM, leather, fetish play and sex, but what I found was an incredible night of celebration, dancing and . . . okay, sex.
Strapped into my tight blue jeans, black boots and leather suspenders (you don’t have to go full-out fetish to attend the party, but playing up any “gear” will work to your advantage), I walked from room to room inside the Roseland Ballroom watching spanking demonstrations, hundreds of sweaty bodies dancing and, yes, sex. Sex in rooms, hallways, corners, on balconies and onstage — it’s everywhere, but not in a forceful way. There are no phones or cameras allowed inside the party, so the 5,000 guys in attendance are simply there to have a good time and party like no one’s watching.
Now in its 35th walk around the block, the “world’s sexiest party” presents a Passage to India/Ruined Paradise theme and might just celebrate harder than ever, as it’s the last time the party will happen at the Roseland Ballroom (which is being knocked down to be replaced by a luxury residential building later this year). The Black Party has been held there for the past 25 years.
Xtra asked Stephen Pevner, producer of the iconic party, about how much sexy to expect this year.
Xtra: This year’s theme is A Ruined Paradise. Can you talk about this a bit and how it will translate to sexy?
Stephen Pevner: Ruined Paradise is a direct reference to the end of Roseland Ballroom. The idea of something special ending, being spoiled or taken is a major subtext. You’ll see that the rose motif pops up in a lot of places — like in the poster.
As far as making it sexy, this year’s theme looks to India for inspiration. It’s a really rich and diverse culture with a long, rich history of remarkable traditions. While our themes don’t always scream “sexy” in an obvious way, what our team does, and does pretty well, is less about making something sexy and more about helping to reveal what’s sexy about it. Over the years, I think partygoers have come to appreciate this aspect of what we do at the Black Party.
How do you ensure you are the “world’s sexiest party” year after year?
Once again, I think it’s about picking a rich theme and capitalizing on its inherent eroticism. Being a “fetish” party by tradition, over the years we’ve learned to look at the sexual practices that revolve around our given theme or idea. If you can isolate the key to a particular fetish or set of fetishes associated with something, you tap straight into its sexual energy.
But ultimately, it’s about the crowd. If they’re sexy and feeling sexy, then the party will be sexy. The fact that we attract a diverse crowd helps, too. There are many different ideas of what sexy is. So the diversity our event offers kind of ensures there’ll be something for everyone.
This party has deep roots in NYC’s gay history since it’s been around for so long. What does the party mean for gays today?
By tradition the party is held on the Saturday closest to the vernal equinox, so at its core it’s a spring celebration. Our use of the term “rites” refers to rite of spring. By nature, people really want to party and celebrate and let loose after a long winter. Over the years, the Black Party has come to serve that purpose for New York’s gay community. It’s sort of our answer to Brazil’s Carnival, Rome’s Bacchanals and various other spring rituals you find around the world and throughout history.
But on a more personal level, the Black Party has come to be seen by many as an ongoing tribute to New York’s underground culture and a testament to its survival in the shadow of AIDS.
How do you keep it exciting for yourself?
We just imagine that every year is going to be the last.
What does the Roseland Ballroom being demolished mean for the party?
It means change. It’s been the Black Party’s home for 24 of its 35-year history. That’s a big thing, and not being there will have a big impact on the nature and identity of the event. But it does gives us an opportunity to reinvent, and reinvention is important. Especially for something that exists for a long time and over multiple generations.
Previous to Roseland, the Black Party was at The Saint, the legendary gay East Village nightclub and forefather of The Saint at Large. Back in its day, it was seen as even more “irreplaceable” than Roseland seems now. And rightly so — you can’t replace them. But the Black Party is also an institution on its own terms, with its own magic and an identity separate from the venues it is held at. We believe and expect that it’ll live on and continue to thrive just as it did after The Saint.
Where will you go?
That’s the million-dollar question. To be honest, we’re keeping our plans close the chest. Plus, that’s a question that really doesn’t need to be answered until next year. We haven’t even had the last party at Roseland yet. The way we see it, next year’s news shouldn’t overshadow this year’s party.
What will be missed?
The magic of Roseland. It is a really special place, and over the years it’s helped create millions of very special and cherished memories for millions of New Yorkers.
But practically speaking, its convenience will likely be missed as well. It doesn’t get more centre city than 52nd and Broadway. Plenty of cabs, subways, and even then, many people could actually walk home from there if they want. Most nightclubs and dance venues today tend to be a bit more out of the way — the far sides of the island and outer bouroughs.
What can partygoers expect this year that will shock and awe?
The crowd is always the most impressive thing about the party. While that’s hard to communicate to someone who hasn’t actually experienced it, new attendees are always shocked and awed by the sheer size and energy of the crowd. The impact of this really doesn’t fade, no matter how many Black Parties you attend. It’s very remarkable.
But if you want a tease of one of the more strange or scandalous things attendees can expect to see at this year’s party — let’s just say there’ll be flying monkeys. And dirty ones at that.
On a scale of one to 10, how sexy will this year be?
Sexy is somewhat of a personal judgment. It also exists in the moment, so it’s difficult to predict. But being the last party at a very cherished venue, we think the odds favour a solid 10-plus.