Real Bad XXVI and Folsom Weekend 2014
The great part is you lose ten pounds, the bad part is you age ten years.
Every September, hundreds of thousands of people descend on San Francisco for Folsom Street Fair. The fair is a one-day adults-only outdoor street fair celebrating all things leather, kink, and fetish. But the fair is only a small part of a world-class weekend of parties and events. Here’s what went down:
Underworld at Space 550 produced by Gus Presents
with DJs Russ Rich and Twisted Dee
We weren’t expecting to go to Underworld but it was Friday night and we couldn’t relax — and we knew one of the DJs and several of the dancers so we figured why the hell not.
Underworld is an underwear dance party where — as you can guess — everyone is wearing briefs or jockstraps or boxers as they dance. If you think about it too much, it gets less sexy and more ridiculous but it’s always a good time.
The event was at a venue a little distance out of the city so the attendance wasn’t too packed — plus there were several competing parties that were more for the more ‘real/hardcore’ leather-folk. It was a great space with an upstairs lounge that becomes the (un)dressing and clothes check area and then a main floor with a blocked off balcony for those looking for a torrid encounter in the dark.
DJ Russ Rich who made P. Tyrone’s Play tea dance such an amazing evening just a few months ago spun first with his bright mix of club hits and underground beats. He even teased us a little bit with the first part of Tom Stephan’s remix of Beyonce’s ‘Partition’ (my favorite mix of the summer with that Timbaland bass line) before going full into RuPaul’s ‘Sissy That Walk’ where I was crestfallen at first but then happy he took us back into ‘Partition’ to finish it up. He’s released that mix on Soundcloud if you want to grab it:
After Russ finished, Twisted Dee came on and this Brooklyn broad knows how to make the boys bounce.
She capped the evening with a deeper, dirtier set. And on the box and stage were everybody’s favorite gogos with Mohammed’s hypnotic moves, Johnathan’s athletic grace, Juan’s charming swagger and Chris’s muscular saunter. We ran into several groups of friends we’d seen at other dance parties and so it was a nice beginning to the weekend. Came home and crashed.
Boys, Bondage and Beer at Mr. S Leather
Mr. S is the place to go for gearing up for the weekend and we needed to pick up just a few more items for the evening. They have a huge selection of leather and fetish gear and very friendly staff that will help make sure you look great in what you choose — and they even fabricate and fit a lot of the gear there right in the store. A lot of us aren’t ‘real’ leather or fetish people and just want to look good for the weekend — sort of like a dirtier Halloween where every costume is kinda slutty. And they do a great job of being sure you’ll look your best.
Ron and I had already gone here several times over the previous weeks to get stuff for ourselves or with friends nervous about buying their first harnesses.
And on Friday and Saturday of Folsom the place is absolutely packed with patrons so they just go ahead and throw a beer bust/meet & greet in the store.
The dressing rooms were packed so whatever you’re buying you have to try on right there in front of everybodyelse. I won’t tell you what I bought, but I did turn bright red as two dozen guys gawked as I ensured I had the right fit. It was a madhouse so we got out of there and went home to take a nap since the evening was going to stretch well into the morning.
Magnitude on Treasure Island produced by Michael Beatty
with DJs Tom Stephan, Tony Moran, and Bugie Matsushita with lighting and environment design by William Ducati Brown, lasers by Kyle Gardner, and visuals by Number Threes
This was our second time going to the Magnitude party (we went back in 2012 to hear our darling Jack Chang rattle the walls at Sound Factory).We suited up and were lucky to have a friend that could drive us over the bridge to the island (shuttles were available and I have to admit I was kind of looking forward to being in a bus packed with a bunch of crazy queens).
Magnitude was at the Administration Building of the Treasure Island Naval Station. That sounds awfully boring but the event took place in the massive, huge, cavernous front hall consisting of a semicircle. I mean huge. The ceilings were at least 200 feet high and a huge balcony across the entire hall to look down on the crowd.
Latin silver fox Tony Moran started off with a hard mix of driving beats and then Tom Stephan came in to take the evening even higher. The crowd was a nice size. Not too packed and lots of room to move and dance.
Our friend, William Ducati Brown (who won a JustCircuit award for Magnitude last year) did the lighting with video mavens Number Threes displaying intense video clips on the ending walls the size of movie theatre screens, while Kyle Gardner’s lasers sliced the the air. A constant canopy of shifting patterns crossed the ceiling like clouds.
The visual effects really enhanced the music and seemed to create a back-and-forth, point-and-counter point conversation as all the artists attending worked to create an astounding evening.
I was wearing a yellow jockstrap that I wore at one of the underwear parties in White Party Palm Springs. A guy noticed.
Guy: So your jockstrap is yellow.
Me: It’s more of a sartorial choice than a signifier.
Guy: I *love* that you just used the word ‘sartorial.’
Outside the hall was another bar area with a huge outdoor dance floor with SF icon Bugie Matsushita leading a full evening of downtempo house on a dance floor flanked by gas-powered towers of fire to keep the crowd warm.
Couches and seating also provided for those going outside for a smoke or just a break from the insanity . We left Magnitude around 3am, because we weren’t done for the evening yet. Not by a long shot. We drove back across the bridge seeing the city get bigger and made it back to our place to rinse off the stank and suit up for the next big party.
We had several friends that were skipping Magnitude and sleeping in to wake up early to join us. So I texted them:
We parked and ran up to our apartment.
Aftershock at City Nights produced by Frisco Disco Events
with DJ Abel Aguilera, lighting and environment design by Guy Smith, lasers by Laseronics and visuals by Rob Montenegro
Ran upstairs, chugged another Red Bull, hit the shower and suited up in new gear and different jockstraps. Friends arrived, more caffeination and hydration, then we headed out for another rollicking dance party at Aftershock — the official afterhours for Folsom Street Fair. At the door greeting you was everybody’s favorite foursome Ky and Juan Martinez with their quartet rounded out with Mohammed and Johnathan (it’s a busy weekend for gogos).
Ky tried to corral the cattle to have their IDs and tickets ready for examination. Ticketed and wristbanded we entered the fray.
Where Magnitude was a huge collosus of an event in a dance hall the size of Notre Dame, Aftershock is in City Nights, a much smaller venue with a front bar, and spacious dance floor with a balcony, side stage and main stage. Aftershock has a much more intimate feel. It starts at 4am so the crowd coming from other clubs is already well-oiled and friendly for the evening:
Guy in Line: You’re pretty cute.
Guy in Line: What’s your name?
Guy in Line: I’m Eddie. How old are ya, Andy?
Guy in Line: That’s good.
Me: Good for what?
Guy in Line: Ya know. (winks) Whatever you’re good to do.
Aftershock is DJ Abel’s night and he hammers away every time. We’ve heard him at White Party Palm Springs, San Diego Pride, Las Vegas Matinee Festival and here in SF and he is always stunning. Every single time. He builds multi-level tribal house mixes that refer back to old classics, new hits, and startling redirects that keeps the music fresh and exciting. Lighting and lasers and video reinforced the evening by Guy Smith, Laseronics and Rob Montenegro.
The one miss at Aftershock was the coat check line. When you’ve got guys wearing next to nothing on the dance floor they are going to be checking a lot of items. The coat check was not staffed for this onslaught. A better approach would have been to have someone handing guys bags to put their clothes and coats in so by the time they got to the coat check desk they were ready to go. We also had a panic attack at 8am when we were leaving but the coat check staff could not find the bag containing our pants, jackets, phones and house keys. It took a good half hour before they finally found our belongings in a bag that was not clearly marked. It’s small logistics like that that can put a damper on the evening (ticketing, coat check, check-in, bar, bathrooms). All these little bits are adjacent to what happens on the dance floor but any loose threads can bring the whole thing down (I’m thinking of WE/Masterbeat’s coat check disaster at the Armory ‘Prison of Love’ party for SF Pride). You want your patrons dancing and drinking and spending lots of money at the bars. Get them out of their street clothes faster and watch your profits soar. Take a lesson from P. Tyrone Smith and the Play crew: Nail the logistics and eliminate anxiety so your staff, artists and audience can focus on the experience on the floor.
The crowd for Aftershock thins out about half-way through as people retire exhausted to their hotels (or other people’s hotel rooms) and the groove settles in. That’s when you have a little more room to dance and feel less jostled that it truly shines. I love the dark, horny, primal, savage feel of the music and the crowd. It’s less forgiving, less optimistic, less sunshine, and more sin. We’re definitely going again next year.
Folsom Street Fair produced by Folsom Street Events
We chowed down at Mel’s Diner and hit the hay. Highlight from Mel’s:
Waiter: (serving other table) Here’s your breakfast ladies.
Me: He’s not talking to us.
Waiter: (overhearing) I could be!
Me: Well played.
Woke up around 2 or 3 and headed down to the fair.
This year, we learned the value of entering the fair from one of the side streets where the crowd isn’t as crammed in near the first few booths. We’ve gone four or five times now, so seeing a flogging demo of a guy strapped to a crucifix or a rope-tying demo of a woman tied to a telephone pole or the mostly-naked Twister session that local bathouse Steamworks runs is pretty much old hat. We’re there less to see the sights and more to visit with friends. And eating. We stayed mostly in the 10th and Folsom intersection, stealing away to grab chicken skewers and beverages as needed. I do think that’s the best way to experience the street fair. Instead of navigating the crowd, just stand in one place and eventually everybody else will pass you. There’s enough room to dance to the bands and DJs across several stages.
My favorite part of the fair is the way the women dress. For men it’s pretty much boots and harnesses (with some furries, ponies, and puppy-players in between) but the women usually come in with a much broader variety of influences in their costume. One girl had four foot stilts and walked through the crowd trailed by two handmaidens. Another women was in full Victorian garb on a cart being pulled by her submissive with reins.
We came back home, threw off our clothes and jumped in bed to grab a few hours of sleep before the big event.
Real Bad XXVI produced by Grass Roots Gay Rights West at 1015 Folsom
with DJs Fabio Campos and Corey Craig with visuals and environment design by William Ducati Brown, lasers by Robert Sanders and visuals by Number Threes
We got up. Late. Showered again. Suited up in our gear for Real Bad and drove over to the best dance venue in San Francisco: 1015 Folsom.
Part of Real Bad’s unique strength lies in the venue. You step into the 1015 lobby into a front bar that’s already packed with moderate lighting and pounding music. The low ceilings makes things a bit more subdued but everyone is already dancing their butts off. You descend the stairs to the coat check where you see the basement bar where DJ Corey Craig spins the entire night with a more lounge/downtempo feel and again the place is packed with men in all manner of leather gear and fetish wear. You check your clothes and jacket. Double check you’ve got your wallet, keys, phone and mints in your sock and ascend back up to the lobby. Say hello to a few friends and then make your way to the main dance floor.
A dark tight ramp spills out into the dance floor and we merge into the crowd and I think to myself, “Real Bad really is a whole other fucking level.” The music is out of control led by DJ Fabio Campos from Brazil just a few hours into his 10 hour set. The music is more energetic with more vocals and gradually growing darker, more driving and more abstract and the lighting echoes the darker environment.
Everyone is having an absolutely amazing time. The side platform is lined with guys laughing and dancing. The main stage is packed with guys laughing and dancing. The back bar is packed. And the place is just getting hopping. I think they gave hosts fewer tickets to sell this year so there seemed to be about 400 less attendees. Last year had seemed over-packed, over-capacity and the heat seemed a little dangerous. This year was still steamy but less oppressively hot.
While a circuit party like White Party Palm Springs puts focus on the DJ and guest artists, and Tyrone’s astounding Play tea dance tells a complete narrative story throughout one evening with acrobatics and dance performances, Real Bad is focused strictly and soley on the crowd. The DJ is at the front of the dance floor but the real magic comes from the affable, gregarious crowd. That’s one thing I tell everyone about Real Bad: the crowd is amazing. Other circuit parties have a larger percentage of stuckup assholes that are more interested in looking down on others than having a good time. At Real Bad, tall guys don’t have to worry about standing out, short guys don’t have to worry about getting lost, brown and black guys don’t have worry about being sidelined. Deaf, young, old, fat, skinny, etc.: Everybody is friendly and will chat your ear off when the music pulls back for a few seconds.
Sure there’s the usual peacocks with attitude that just want to stand and pose. But let ‘em. I figure they are fucking starving to death and killing their major internal organs with steroids to look that good. Let ‘em pose. They aren’t taking up room on the dance floor anyway.
The evening has several high points starting with the first peak where the music builds to a fevered climax and confetti explodes out of the ceiling and the crowd screams in glee.
The next peak involves frozen treats.
Ron and I were delighted to be invited again to help hand out frozen popsicles to the ravenous crowd. We had to meet back in the alley at the Real Bad command center outside the venue. A truck rolls up and two dozen pretty much butt-ass naked people are in the alleyway tearing apart hundreds of boxes of popsicles filling up messenger bags. We don aprons and paper hats.
We take a quick group photo with Andy Lax, chair of the Real Bad working group, and wait for our cue. Ron and I are assigned to the upstairs VIP area — the Red Light Room — where various naughty acts are in progress. We gently push away patrons trying to get their frozen treat early while we watch DJ Fabio Campos for the signal. He cracks a glow stick and two dozen ice cream boys (and a few girls) crack theirs as Cazwells’ ‘Ice Cream Truck Song’ hits the speakers and we start handing out frozen treats to the crowd. We make our way through the Red Light room, down the balcony, the back upstairs VIP bar, down the main lobby and downstairs until we finally get rid of all of our popsicles. Our work here is done. Now it’s really time to party.
After the popsicle deployment the music grows even deeper and more complex. The builds get higher and the drops get lower. You hear the instrumentals of tracks you know against vocals you don’t. It’s an amazing alchemy that the Fabio Campos pulls off for ten hours. Of course they play my favorite remix of ‘Partition’ and we are jumping up and down screaming as the Latino guys next to us are whistling and chanting something in Spanish and the Filipinos I’m with are laughing their asses off and our two Jordanian and Syrian gogo boy friends start ululating like they’re about to start a jihad. It’s a phenomenal evening.
The next peak comes with the unfurling of the leather pride flag.
You’ve seen it before. It’s got black, blue and white stripes with a big red heart on it. Suddenly it emerges as a canopy on the ceiling as Philip Grasso and Leo Frappier’s remix of Leaux’s ‘Open Your Eyes.’
Ice cold blasts shoot from nitrogen cooled air tanks and fill the space with fog and you can’t tell if you have your eyes open or not —all you see is flashing lights. The cold fog clears as the radiating body heat of thousands of dancing men warms the air and you see the people dancing next to you and then all around you.
Real Bad really is a whole other level of dance party. I think that’s because of the group and community that works year-round and a community of dozens of people focus thousands of hours of work to make sure it is a top-notch, blow-the-doors-off, bring-the-house-down, talk-about-it-the-rest-of-the-year evening.
Lighting designer William Ducati Brown completely killed it at Real Bad creating an environment that had the epic dance hall feel of Magnitude (which he also designed) and then the more intimate scale of Aftershock. Robert Sanders’s laser effects made the room change size and shape as the visuals by Number Threes captivated the crowd.
Huge congratulations to Real Bad chair Andy Lax for taking up the mantle from Loren Brown this year. Andy did an astounding job coordinating the efforts of dozens of artists, hundreds of people and thousands of attendees to make Real Bad XXVI an unforgettable night and a successful fundraising event for local charities.
Real Bad XXVII is next year on Folsom Sunday September 27, 2015. Mark your calendars now.
The Real Bad people are just amazing folks and we are so proud to see them succeed in such a huge way. Congrats to everyone involved in this amazing, colossal evening that capped off a fantastic weekend.
p.s. One more highlight: I was in the men’s room with a guy at the urinal next to me. I looked over. He was done. Wasn’t touching himself. Just standing there staring himself in the mirror undulating. I had a giggle fit in the middle of the bathroom so people probably thought I was out of my mind.