Everyone seems to disagree with me on this, but Rites XXXVIII, or Black Party 2017, was better. The coat check, everyone unanimously agreed, was quite terrible, as was the hour wait to get in the door. But it was in Manhattan, and the venue — two dark floors of sex, music, and extraterrestrial garb keeping with last year’s theme, “Dark Matter” — simply worked.
It was cramped, it was sweaty, and it was dark, the way Black Party should be. You couldn’t see who was fucking you, and as you stumbled through the narrow hallways or down the stairs you nearly slipped on a pile of aquamarine glitter. Someone’s headdress, looking like a foam medusa, whacked you on the side of your face while you stood up to stretch your back after getting plowed. People were painted head-to-toe in green.
The effect: vintage sci-fi camp, Barbarella-style fetish wear and neon harnesses, and lasters blasting strips of blue, like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, through the dark, pulling it all together.
This year’s party, Rites XXXIX, was held in a spacious, off-the-beaten-path warehouse in Brooklyn — a trek for anyone on the island — that proved to be too big. The space was so open that the crowd quickly starting looking thin. And with the perception of thinning crowds comes the idea that you should leave, too, and maybe the party is no good — even if it is.
The theme was a poorly-planned, farm-style “Pigtopia,” played with bartenders in butcher aprons (splashed in red paint to look like blood), hay bales, meat hooks, and little else. It’s not a bad theme, really, but there’s so much more you could do with it than what was presented.
Where was the farm equipment? Hay bales taller than your head? Where were the accouterments of a county fair — a cotton candy machine, tractor tires, maybe even a ramshackle windmill centerpiece? You could go garish and grotesque, like a Halloween carnival, with squealing pig soundtracks, trough urinals for people to climb in, chains hanging from the ceiling, and so on.
If you wanted to amp up the sex, you could have guys fucking on a tractor trailer. And with the implicit hypersexuality of a name like “Pigtopia,” where was the nastiness? There was a rubbery tarp on one wall, behind which a dark, spacious sex room was happening, complete with a wooden picnic table and some chairs and benches. But with a name like “Pigtopia,” I was expecting the full works: slings, fisting tables, fuck benches, tubs of Crisco, metal piss tubs, a scat seat, rimming chairs, and more.
And the crowd was thinning back there, too. There’s only one thing worse than a thinning dance floor for an event with the sleazy, decadent reputation of Black Party, and that’s a thinning backroom.
But perhaps the biggest difference this year was me. Last year, I took a ton of drugs, and would have probably had a good time anywhere. Last year, the sex space was denser, thicker, and more crowded — too crowded, some would later complain. Last year, I went all in. This year, I held back. I didn’t want to be recovering for three days. I’m living in New York now. I have things to do, bills to pay, people to respond to, deadlines to meet.
And someone to go home with. I just started dating a guy a few weeks ago, and we both planned to rendezvous at Black Party. I went early — around two in the morning — and he was planning to come with friends around five. He arrived later, close to six, when the crowd was getting thin, and against all possible odds, I found him pretty easily.
Finding someone at Black Party is a nearly impossible task. You should never plan to meet someone there. You’re not allowed to bring a phone in. If they catch you with one, they will take it. And you really can’t see anyone clearly. So the fact that I found him within twenty minutes of him walking in was kind of amazing, and we both knew it, and we tentatively stuck together for fear that it wouldn’t happen again.
We got fucked a little bit in the back, danced a little bit, and then did the unthinkable: we got tired. That’s what happens when you don’t do a ton of drugs and realize that everyone around you will stay fucked up until the party’s mid-to-late afternoon end. You know you can’t play at their level and shouldn’t try to. With the clear-headedness of someone mostly sober, suddenly the flaws of the party, the things I would have changed, the things I missed last year, were illuminated. Is this how it always is?
The venue didn’t help. There were large windows in the ceiling. When the dawn came, the whole space brightened, painfully reminding all of us, even the swaying guys who were very far gone, what time it was — a no-no at a two-day circuit party. The light sobered the crowd and was a finale sound for those like me, the ones still trying to chase it. No one wants to see the sun.
In a last-ditch effort to save the night, we both popped an ecstasy pill. And when the fatigue hit immediately following the meager high, we both decided that was it. We fumbled through the mismanaged clothes check where, we later learned with absolutely no surprise, some people lost their clothes and bags, then walked out and called an Uber.
The rest of the morning was perfect in an older, calmer way. We sat together in the back of the car as the high waned, and Brooklyn was beautiful. I remember feeling grateful for having experienced the iconic circuit event at its more extreme and then experiencing it in a milder way. Both, in their way, were beautiful as only the Black Party can deliver.