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The Saint-At-Large Black Party

The Darkest Circuit Party in New York City

By Hannah Fons

The Tale:

In 1980, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, there appeared a dance club that single-handedly revolutionized gay nightlife and served as a laboratory for the development of what we now call house music. DJs at this club set their decks on half-ton blocks of solid concrete to keep the bass from making the records skip; celestial constellations wheeled across a domed roof two stories above the dance floor, and some 2,000 individual light fixtures illuminated the roiling crowd of men beneath. This club was The Saint, and it made Studio 54 look like a studio apartment.

Until the toll taken by drugs, AIDS, and hostile city administration shuttered the club in 1988, The Saint was home to some of the most decadent parties in New York - events so saturated with sexual energy that by the end of the night (or afternoon, as was often the case), what began as a full-on disco blowout had melted into an full-on orgy there under the artificial stars. Legendary DJs like Warren Gluck cut their teeth at The Saint, crafting their marathon sets to take revelers on an emotional, auditory journey through the hours. Most spectacular among these events were the White Party - held in mid-February - and the Black Party, held in late March to celebrate the Spring Equinox.

The Tools:

Since the demise of The Saint as a brick-and-mortar destination, four of the principal organizers of the original venue have carried on the proud tradition of their old home, forming The Saint At Large, and continuing to host the annual White and Black Parties at Roseland Ballroom on Manhattan's West Side. The White Party - not to be confused with events of the same name in Palm Springs and Miami - is the more accessible, user-friendly of the two, drawing thousands of white-clad, glitter-dusted party people to a long night-and-day of high-energy, transcendent house music. While primarily a gay male event, the White Party has its share of female attendees, and the overall mood is buoyant-or flamboyant, depending on the marabou-feathers-to-people ratio- and celebratory.

By contrast, the Black Party is a far heavier affair, with a deliberately predatory ambience, as evidenced by this year's invitation: a Polaroid of a young man with a gruesome black eye, split lip, and just-visible tear trickling down his cheek.

Black Party attendees are encouraged to "dress heavy" on the Saint At Large Web Site: this Saturday night, thousands of men (and a very few select women) in acres of leather and miles of steel chain will check their inhibitions at the door and converge to soak in an atmosphere of unapologetic, testosterone-infused hedonism. Cameras are not allowed inside the party, where porn stars will showcase their various talents onstage, clothing will come off, and partygoers will publicly maul each other on the dance floor, in the bathrooms, and anywhere else that's dark and available. One thing is guaranteed:once you step into the Black Party, you are officially not in Kansas anymore.

The Talent:

In keeping with The Saint's tradition of taking revelers on a journey as the night wears on into day, the soundtrack to this 18-hour event will be provided by a troika of world-renowned circuit DJs

The Trauma:

Of course, when an event inspires descriptors like "sleazy," "predatory," and "dark," it's also bound to criticism from a variety of sources. While the Black Party is generally untroubled by police and governmental interventions, it has drawn fire from groups like the New York City Gay/Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP), whose leaders have objected loudly to the battered-boy Polaroid invitation this year, and various HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention groups, who feel (with some justification) that the sexual abandon that characterizes the Black Party makes it a hotbed for the transmission of disease. Black Party attendees themselves have voiced complaints as the price of tickets for the event has risen over the years; advance tickets for the Black Party 2003 were a steep $100.

The Truth:

Be as that may, men all over the city and around the country are polishing their chaps and readying themselves for the darkest night of the year - they'll shed their everyday personas and give themselves over to an event whose history goes back more than two decades, to the genesis of gay nightlife and everything that has come since, from AIDS and activism to the circuit party phenomenon. The Black Party offers those brave enough to attend a long night of pure fantasy, divorced from daylight and real life. And, as porn actor Addison Scott was quoted in The Village Voiceas saying, "These people are not afraid to act out their fantasies for one night."

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