Review: BOUND 8/04/2012

“You’re going to BOUND?” My interlocutor makes a face over his pint. “I dunno. Bruce is a stand-up guy, but I wouldn’t pay £15 for something like that where I have no idea what it’s like.”

He has a point. £15 is peanuts for the astronomically priced London fetish scene, but the event’s publicity hasn’t exactly been consistent, and no-one I’ve spoken to is really sure what it’s about. No-one knows whether to expect play, whether the dungeon of the Flying Dutchman will be open, or even what sort of performance is likely to be happening. But my friend S and I shrug our shoulders. We’ve never seen performance shibari before, we’re curious, and frankly, we’re hardly likely to see it for cheaper than £15, so we figure we’ll chance it.

We arrive some time after the proposed social between 8 and 10, but well in time to catch the first of the performances. I am amused to note that this takes a very similar form to an open mic night – people can ask to perform, and are called up to the stage by an MC when their turn arrives.

The few people who actually read this thing will know that rope is a relatively new thing on me. This being the case, I don’t really feel qualified to comment much on the actual rigging. Aside from one – a straightforward, traditional shibari display with no narrative to speak of, nor even a great deal of visible connection between the rigger and his bunny – the performances I saw all spoke to me a great deal. There was the raw brutality of Jackwhipper and Zahara, the fun playfulness of Will Hunt and Emily, the artful sadism of Hedwig and Aurelie, and the darkly stylish Jenis and Andy. A rigger friend was able to point out some of the flaws in the rope-work, but, novice that I am, the technical details all passed me by.

BOUND is a great place to see experienced and established rope couples strut their stuff. It’s also a really useful benchmark for aspiring riggers and rope performers. Peer rope events are great for learning new skills and socialising with other shibari enthusiasts, but it’s rare to have the opportunity to actually watch other riggers in action. In some ways, this is the most exciting thing about the event. I’ve found it inspiring, and will certainly work towards having one or two performances of my own worthy of the event. It’s also a great place to road test new ideas. I really hope that BOUND can become an established forum for this sort of work, and I think it has a great deal of potential.

Due to personal issues, I was forced to leave the event early. However, what I did see was well worth the ticket price. Regardless of the standard of rigging, performance shibari is a deeply moving thing to see, and the riggers and bunnies showed levels of creativity and affection for each other that astonished and delighted me. I’m very happy that there’s an event like this in London, now, and I sincerely hope that Esinem has the energy and resources to keep up the good work.

I have only a couple of gripes with the set-up. The first is the location. The Flying Dutchman is a great venue for an event like BOUND, with a stage and plenty of places to put suspension points. I’ve heard reasonably favourable reports of the dungeon areas, too, though I can’t comment on them myself. It is, however, in the middle of sodding nowhere – it’s at least 15 minutes’ walk from the nearest tube station, and whilst it is reasonably well served by buses, it’s not exactly the easiest place to find.

The second – and I hope my readers will indulge me on this point – was the music. Where the riggers had choreographed their work and brought their own music, this wasn’t a problem, but not everyone had put their scenes together with music in mind. From a distance, it was difficult to tell what exactly the set-up for playing music was, but it looked for all the world like one of the bar staff with a laptop and Grooveshark. Occasionally there would be gaps in the playlist, or songs that were inappropriate to the scene in question, and this was pretty jarring. I would quite like to see a proper DJ and/or a well thought out playlist at the next event.

The third – excusable, given that this was the first BOUND – was the flow between acts. I like the open mic-style conceit of the evening, but there were a couple of instances where the MC jumped the gun and started to announce the next act before the people on stage had finished. There was also a palpable lack of awareness as to how the technology works, with microphones feeding back all over the place. I’m sure this issue will iron itself out with further iterations, but it’s something that perhaps the organisers would like to bear in mind.

Overall though, I am glad I went, I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer, and I’m rather looking forward to the next one.

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Masochism and me

I find it very difficult to feel as if I am “present” in my body.

There are all kinds of reasons for this. It’s at least partially because I am very particular about physical contact. With people I know and trust, I can be very tactile. With people I’ve never met or have any misgivings about, physical contact can be repugnant – it makes me feel nauseous, and leaves me with an abiding desire to shower several times and/or shed my skin.

In my day-to-day life, I find it very difficult to focus and to stay rooted in the here and now. I am neuroatypical. I have a laundry-list of ways in which this affects me. On a good day, I am giddy and excitable in a childlike sort of way. Most days, I am depressive, anxious, and prone to withdrawing into the infinitely expansive prison which is my own skull. Moreover, as a genderqueer person, this body is often alien to me. It feels like little more than a meat car. Nominally, at least, I am driving it, but I can put it on autopilot with little trouble or outwardly noticeable effect.

At times, sensation can be an unwelcome distraction. But in the right place, with the right person(s), it can be transformative. It can bring me back into myself from wherever meandering pathway my mind has chosen to lead me down. More than that, it can bring me into true contact with the person providing the sensation. A hug will bring me into the safe space enclosed by the arms of whoever is hugging me.

More effective, however, is pain. More effective still – and this came as a surprise to me, at the time of discovery – is rope play.

Play such as the scene I described in my last post is, at the same time, one of the most grounding and ecstatic things I have ever experienced. The rope (a sensation in itself) binds me, literally and metaphorically, into myself. The pain makes it impossible, inconceivable, to want to drift away, and yet the feelings are like a different world in themselves. My body is more than just a shell I can abandon. It’s a vessel, a journey, a network of tightly packed nerves that are coming alive.

Aside from when I am performing, there are few things that can make me want to inhabit my body more than that.

Playing Rough II

I’m in trouble. I know this because D is brandishing 4mm jute rope, not the 5mm linen he usually ties me with. This is harsher – rougher in texture, with less surface area meaning more pressure. This is going to hurt.

I can’t wait. The anticipation makes the breath catch in my throat.

This is far from being our first tie of the night, but the equipment makes it seem climactic somehow. We’re in a wire cage at the centre of the SM playspace at Transgression. Our first tie here worked much better than our other attempts in the poorly heated area designated for rope, where people keep walking through scenes. People are watching.

D is an exciting rigger to watch. In his hands, rope is a rich tapestry which he weaves with an energy and a sensitivity that I don’t often see. It’s a live animal which he has tamed. It’s his will made manifest.

As he ties my hand behind my back, I have a thought. “Could you blindfold me for this one?”

He nods, secures my wrists, and fishes a thin strip of fabric out of his kit bag before tying it forcefully around my head, obscuring my vision. Yes.

First he ties a harness. It’s tight. A halter around my neck, a harness around my upper body, cinching at my groin. He drags me to the ground, whispering “down” into my ear. A bundle of rope scratches at my inner thighs. He holds me down, elbows on my throat, whilst he ties my legs as tightly as he dares. He attends to my breasts for quite some time, enjoying my sighs and gasps as the rough rope slides over sensitive skin, bites into pliable flesh. With pain sluts like me, he inverts the knots on his ties. It’s not in keeping with the Shibari aesthetic, but it does mean that the rope bites harder and leaves impressions. Pressure marks. He pulls hard on the ropes.

And that, of course, is when I bite his arm. Later, he will smile and tell me I need a new trick for next time, but I feel he is about to let up and I don’t want this to stop – not now.

He drags me by the hair into a seated position and delivers one, two, three, four stinging slaps to my tightly bound thigh, the three black diamonds tattooed there serving almost as a target. I cry out. The blindfold slips, and he yanks it back on. It feels like he’s reaching for something to his right.

I’m not expecting the sound in my right ear, but it’s unmistakable. It’s the jingle of a tiny bell. Puzzling. What could it – ah!

I cry out, louder this time, as something hard clamps onto my left nipple. Jingling, again. The jingling hurts.

I’m suddenly more aware of the texture of the rope than I was before. As if to drive the point home, D drags it roughly over and around my breast, then my nipple around the clamp. I’m screaming now. A sound in my right ear. Jingling again. I jerk my head away, and hear him chuckle. “Now you’re getting the idea,” he says, and snaps the clamp on.

The way he toys with me for the following – seconds? minutes? Time is meaningless here – is almost langorous. He’s got me where he wants me, the sadistic bastard.

Somewhere between a microsecond and a lifetime later, the ties around my legs start to come off. Tension, and release. Tension, and release. I feel hot, my skin flushed from the pressure and the pain. I am panting with exhaustion and barely repressed desire. He takes a little time, digging his fingers into the gnarls that his knots have left and delighting in my gasps. The clamps are the last things to come off.

The breath I draw after that feels like my first.

Playing Rough

“Am I in trouble?”

Stupid question, really. My arms are in a box tie behind my back, which is smarting from a few lightning-fast pullthroughs that struck it like a whip. My chest harness is taut and heavy against my clavicle, and D and I both know that it will leave a mark. I’m lying with my head in his lap, my legs stretched out in front of me as he brandishes a fresh length of rope, contemplating his next move. And I’ve just bitten his arm.

“Maybe.” He half-smiles. “But not now. If I do anything now, you’ll be expecting it.”

He bends my left leg at the knee and begins to tie a futomomo.

He can be gentle. Moments ago, he was unwrapping me from a much kinder tie. He crossed my arms in front of me so that I was embracing myself, and fastened the rope around my fingers. I kissed his hands as the bindings came off. But I’ve had a difficult week, and I’m not in a mood to be handled with kid gloves today, so when he offered some rougher play I enthusiastically agreed.

As he wraps the rope around my bent leg, a part of my brain – the part that hasn’t yet succumbed entirely to sensation – wonders what he would do if I began to resist. I would get violent, if he let me. I would thrash and kick and bite. He would overpower me easily, of course – me with my slight frame, and him with his athlete’s arms – but I imagine it being a worthwhile struggle. The thought swirls around in a fog of submission before it is discarded. Not here. Not now. Too many people. Not enough space.

A jolt of pain brings me sharply back to the present moment. D has yanked hard on the rope as he secures it. My eyes fly open, and I see heads turn as I cry out. He catches my eye, grins, locks the tie off. Then he wraps again, the already tense rope gnawing further into my flesh. Pulls, hard, and I cry out. Again. And a third time – slowly, now, and deliberately, almost as if he’s about to change his mind and slacken off…but no. Another flash of pain leaves me breathless.

“You see,” he murmurs, whilst I struggle to get my breathing back under control, “I can bite, too.”

The only answer I can think of is to bite him again.