Fetish parties under threat after council gets tough over nudity licensing rules

Attendees at an LGBTQ+ club night in East London. Pic: Kevin Roatta

Fetish club nights in Tower Hamlets are facing closure after the local Council warned them about licensing regulations covering nudity and semi-nudity at the venues hosting their events, according to the organisation’s founders. The parties and raves are BDSM friendly and party goers are encouraged to dress in ways which will have “everyone turn their head in shock” as listed on one of their websites.

Klub Verboten, Crossbreed and other sex-positive and fetish focused events in London have been growing in popularity since 2016 when Verboten was born and are seen as pioneers of a modern LGBTQ+ inclusive movement in the UK. The Arts Council England recognised the significance of the club by granting them funding under the Cultural Recovery Fund in 2021 to support organisations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tower Hamlets Council has contacted both Verboten and Crossbreed regarding the licensing of their frequent host venues, E1 in Shoreditch and The Colour Factory in Hackney Wick. These venues do not have licenses for “sexual entertainment” allowing for nudity and semi-nudity in public settings, as do such places as pubs which host striptease and lap dancing venues.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlet’s Council said “The venue is in a residential area and has a premises licence which allows for alcohol and entertainment. It does not have a sexual entertainment licence or a licence that would allow for nudity or partial nudity. We understand Klub Verboten is hosted by this venue and therefore what events take place in its premises has to be decided by the venue in line with its licence.”

Crossbreed, specifically, has a set of rules all attendees need to adhere to before purchasing a ticket and attending a party. The first rule listed on their website nods to the importance of dress code within the ethos of the organisation. “We are a queer, fetish party and you should dress accordingly” it says.

Without the freedom of semi-nudity at these parties, they may not be able to continue, argue supporters.

Concerning the Crossbreed parties a spokesperson for the Council said “We have not shut down this event, but, as with any licenced premises, we do expect the venue owner to operate within their licence.”

Current Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, committed to support LGBTQ+ workers, community members and venues in his 2018 manifesto “we will continue to work with the community to safeguard [other] venues where we can”.

Some members of the fetish and kink inclusive community don’t feel that Mayor Bigg’s commitment has been honoured.

The forthcoming April Klub Verboten event is expected to go ahead at a secret location. “Pervert’s unite!” is written on the event’s ticket page.

Host venues E1 and The Colour Factory have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Patrick O’Reilly, 25, a self-proclaimed ‘member of the kink community’ travelled from Scotland with his partner this month to attend one of the weekly Sunday Crossbreed parties. He said he believed the parties have been targeted under the “banal evil of bureaucracy”

Patrick’s partner, Naoko, before a Crossbreed event last Sunday

“Obviously it’s queer centred. There’s something about the carnivalesque – it’s a place of free expression defined by queer people” he said.

Supporters have argued that clubs like Crossbreed are the only clubs they feel safe in because of the extensive training staff go through to facilitate them.

“It’s not only owned and run by queers but also the security are part of that community or trained to community standard” said O’Reilly. “There’s not many spaces in which these people can all come together and it can be the grassroots of community.” He continued.

“Music and party scenes have often been the way to bring people together – it does invariably create solidarity and it does create community”.

Karl Verboten, founder of Klub Verboten said in a statement that Tower Hamlets Council is referring to an “outdated and moralistic licence condition that purports to prohibit ‘nudity and semi-nudity’ at clubbing venues”.

Crossbreed responded similarly in an Instagram comment calling the laws “archaic” and standing in solidarity with Verboten and “all Queer Spaces against state-sanctioned oppression”.

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