– Hunter S. Thompson (RIP), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
It was 8:15 a.m. when my flight reached cruising altitude, and then there was certainly no turning back. The trip that had been the bane of my existence for a week’s time — the weekend that the thoughts of which had caused my nerves more damage than leaving my home in Toronto to actually live across the continent — it was underway.
All things considered though, I was taking the event in a more heroic fashion than I had imagined I would be.
Traveling is a new beast to me. Until the third of March this year, my minor voyages had been limited to the American northeast — never west of Detroit, and never south of Camden, New Jersey. And certainly never on a plane. By the time I was en route to Mexico City on the morning of March 12th, my flight experience had propelled me past the stage of gripping the armrests to the point of muscle tears, and turbulence was no longer a source of intestinal unrest. It was the trip itself, a weekend as a tourist in a metropolis known for devouring tourists, leaving them penniless and beaten by the city limits, that gripped my psyche, throttled my sanity and sent my neuroses to the front lines.
I may have been blowing things out of proportion.
The city is absolutely immense, and there’s no mistaking that. The airport was quick to calm my nerves though; it was practically a merry-go-round compared to, say, the blazing re-entry wreckage that is LAX — a newfound mortal enemy of mine. Within minutes I was in a taxi, where it quickly became evident that the statistic of one being safer in the air than on the ground on the way to the airport was founded in Mexico City. After forty-five minutes of the most diabolically terrifying driving I’d ever been involved with, my heart riding shotgun at the roof of my mouth and my bowels lagging behind, somewhere around the rear axle of the cab, I arrived at my destination of the Rockotitlan club, site of the purpose of my trip: Modificaciones Corporales Tatuajes’ BodyFest, featuring Lukas Zpira.
I was struck immediately by the amount of heavy work — very large-gauge piercings, visible and facial tattoos, implants, etc. — and that it was by and large quite well done, and worn largely by surprisingly young people (eighteen to twenty-five, roughly). While the volume of this manner of work is certainly present in any convention-type setting, seldom have I seen it in this predominantly younger age bracket. Following closely behind as far as immediate impressions went was the fact that I was quite obviously the only person who spoke English as a first language in several city blocks, and certainly the only one in the building. Thankfully, both Rafael and Beto were more than willing to help this desperate gringo translate his way through the weekend with the multitude of tongues at their relative disposals.
The day began with a seminar on cutting by Lukas in a tent set up on the terrace outside the club. While no actual work was done on the spot (though a piece was drawn onto a client to be cut later on in the day), he spoke to and fielded questions from the audience for a little over an hour, and it was really quite interesting to watch the information transcend several language barriers. The seminar was conducted in English and was then translated into Spanish by a volunteer from the audience, but on the occasions that Lukas would get tripped up on the proper English terminology (from his native French tongue) his wife Satomi — also bilingual — would then provide him with a French-to-English translation. The crowd, though, was very giving and professional — exercising patience not often seen in Canadian or American events. It would seem that while people in those markets generally like to think they’ve already got the facts and the know-how, the BodyFest contingent was extremely receptive and devoured the information — they needed it. The same was true for the following day’s seminar, which was split up into two sections, one for branding and the other for implant procedures; the same format as the previous day was in effect, with most of the time being spent on Lukas fielding the eager audience’s questions.
Lukas Conducting the Cutting Seminar
Designing a Cutting
It was suggested to me that perhaps it was dangerous for Lukas to be divulging this information to the people there, that it might give them the impetus to jump into performing procedures that they weren’t ready to do yet, or at least not do cleanly and safely. However, it was relayed to me that, before I arrived in the city, some people had ventured to the downtown core and witnessed implant procedures being done right on the sidewalk.
One more time, with feeling: People were doing implants on the sidewalk.
And not well, by the sounds of it. Mexico City is not known for its particular cleanliness to begin with and, as Lukas would explain, the care you must take when performing implants is much higher than when cutting or even branding. There is no city block in the world that would be the appropriate location for that procedure, especially when the facilitators are haphazardly dropping instruments on the ground and, after what essentially equates to a spit-shine, continuing to use them. But the popularity is there. People are going to be doing these things whether they’re safe or not. The fact that Lukas was providing an outlet for these people to at least learn proper techniques is commendable, though unfortunately, it didn’t seem like the street-team contingent was in attendance.
By nightfall I was delirious with hunger, but not wanting to miss any of the event combined with a mostly-irrational fear of the local food kept me from taking a break for dinner. My pangs faded with time though, and I was right to keep a close eye on the proceedings — a suspension performance not listed on the program kicked off the evening portion of the event. The duo — a larger fellow in a spiked and studded leather bondage mask and his scrawny partner in a gasmask — hit the stage, the bigger member hanging suicide-style while his diminutive friend began with hooks in his upper back as well as his knees, swinging around above the ground in a crouched position. While not groundbreaking techniques, the show delighted the crowd. The atmosphere was much more that of a festival than a traditional convention — industrial dance music blaring through the PA at all times, and large projection video screens set up to broadcast in real-time what was occurring on stage, as well as to show Lukas performing procedures in a smaller tent-studio — enclosed in clear plastic — set up on the upper level of the club. Once the smoke (machine) cleared and the performance came to a close, I headed upstairs to check out a cutting piece in progress.
Lukas works extremely fast.
The piece being worked on was in fact the one he had designed following his cutting seminar earlier in the day — an odd jagged vision with sinister witch-like faces worked into it — that, in spite of covering much of the client’s thigh, was nearly complete within roughly ten minutes of being started. Luckily I caught the tail end of the process and was able to see for myself the speed with which he conducts himself. Lukas has a wide range of experience under his belt — he is more often than not on the road working in countries all over the world — that surely contributes to the speed at which he is able to work, but it’s his confidence in the work itself and his own abilities that seems to be the deciding factor. This was even more evident the following day when he, with the aid of Satomi, completed a large implant in someone’s forearm in literally less than four minutes — a procedure that easily could have taken other artists over an hour. His uncanny precision, custom-made PTFE instruments, and the symbiotic relationship he and Satomi display when performing this kind of work truly set him apart from other practitioners in the field.
With a criminally cheap, oversized beer in hand, I settled in for the next performance, not prepared for the spectacle that was to follow. Another troupe — again, not listed on the program — marched onto the stage, adorned in what appeared to be some variation of Nordic warrior garb, some brandishing weapons, others playing drums, horns and flutes — there was even a guy with bagpipes.
As the percussion-heavy yet highly listenable music began, two men were suspended vertically from their chests in the center of the stage. As well, a semi-circle had formed around another member of the group who had stationed himself on the floor of the club rather than on the stage. Wearing various pieces of armor and a grotesque hog of hell mask, he unleashed guttural death-metal throes that would not have been out of place in front of a crowd of 30,000 screaming Norwegians, all the while stomping around the perimeter of his area and clanging his sword and shield together.
(Let me note that by this point in the evening, I was really cursing myself for not knowing any Spanish, or at least bringing a Babel fish along with me. The Mexicans (some from Mexico City, others from Guadalajara), as well as the Guatemalans present, were all terribly gracious and accommodating, often apologizing for their poor English when speaking to me, when really, I’m the nitwit who moved to their country without speaking a word of the language!)
Just when I thought the theatrics had reached a climax, a few fellow warriors joined the pig-man on the ground, and then the unthinkable: A firefight broke out. One of the newcomers began blowing flames at the orc-ish character who blocked them with his shield, when another of the new arrivals began tossing a flaming sphere up into the air and catching it with relative ease.
For those keeping score at home: Drummers and percussionists, flutists, horn-players, bagpipes, chest suspensions, death metal vocals, swords, fire, and pig-men. Merely calling this a spectacle would be on par with calling syphilis an inconvenience.
After a break in the action, a mélange of people outfitted in bondage and S&M gear took to the stage in procession — to enormous applause — and a simulated sex show ensued. While the men occasionally took the upper hand, the show saw the women generally dominate their male counterparts with a variety of whips, chains, and riding crops. Here, the audience impressed me; maybe I’m just cynical, but I still expect most people I meet to have some sort of homophobic tendencies about them — especially in developing nations where religion and history are more pervasive to modern day society. So imagine my shock when one of the women whipped out a massive dildo, began toying with the ass of her scantily clad slave, and the male-heavy crowd — after a brief “Is that what I think it is?” moment — cheered even louder than they already were! Nary a disgusted grunt could be heard in the place; these people paid good money to be there, and damned if they weren’t going to see some simulated anal violation live on stage. Very pleasantly surprised.
The cavalcade of smut — and I use the term lovingly — exited stage left, which meant it was nearly time for the evening’s main event, if you will, featuring Lukas and Satomi. With a crowd gathered close to the foot of the stage, the industrial music segued into gentler, poppier techno-beats, smoke filled the venue, and a comely young lady wearing only bikini bottoms emerged through the haze. Planting herself on her knees, hands folded in her lap and head down, another figure made its way into the light: It was that of Satomi, dressed in head-to-toe black, and rope in hand. Thunderous applause roared from the audience as they took her in in all of her dominatrix glory, now towering over the petite, seemingly demure girl at her feet — on which she wore platforms giving her at least another six inches of height. After sizing up her victim briefly, with a swift gracefulness, she began to bind the girl’s hands behind her back.
The act continued as Satomi brought the girl to her feet and, with skillful precision that would have left a Boy Scout shaken and traumatized, tied a series of complex knots around her arms, torso, and through her legs; escape, she showed, was impossible. She then whisked the girl to the side of the stage, and out came Lukas with a harness around his chest and hooks already in his back, ready to be suspended. Once he was in the air, the bound girl was reintroduced into the equation — Satomi was going to tie her to him. Flawlessly fastening more devious knots, this time around attaching the girl’s legs to the web of rope in her back, she then ran the rope through a ring in the middle of Lukas’ harness and lifted the girl off the ground through it and tied it off, leaving Lukas to support her weight as she hung off of him. With a malevolent smile, Satomi then dug a knee into the young girl’s back and proceeded to climb atop her horizontally-suspended body, putting immense pressure both on her and Lukas, and judging by the approving cheers from the audience, they certainly appreciated the difficulty of the act. The crowd left quite satisfied it seemed, some of them certainly having had their eyes opened to something entirely foreign, but exciting nonetheless.
The second day’s festivities closed out with another suspension performance, yet one in a much different vein; with the stage encircled in soft red candles and gentle sounds of nature pulsing from the speakers, Beto sat patiently in a trance-like state while Lukas pierced his back and knees, and was slowly lifted off the ground. With unremitting concentration and purpose, he hung nearly dead still for several minutes before beginning a soft swaying. Certainly a change of pace from the high-action theatrics of the previous day’s performances, but it served its purpose as a smooth comedown and finale to the weekend. In the midst of the serenity though, the rope handler slipped and Beto came crashing down from at least ten feet above, the handler catching the rope at literally the last second with Beto only inches from the ground. He opened his eyes for the first time since being onstage, shot a humored glance to the man who had dropped him, and was raised once again.
In no way do I mean to invalidate any of the other performances, but this one moment got more applause than any amount of seven foot tall mistresses or dildo-on-man-ass action could have hoped for.
The segment came to a close with Beto hanging vertically and his lovely wife coming onstage to latch onto him as they kissed in a mid-air embrace. An art fusion performance followed, but I was quite literally running on fumes by this point and headed back to my temporary place of residence with Marciano of Kaustika, a local piercing and tattoo shop, an incredibly gracious if somewhat intoxicated young man.
Sadly, I’ve omitted the details of a number of other portions of the event, but these were seminars and speeches conducted solely in Spanish without any translation. Unfortunate, too, as many of them sounded quite interesting, covering such broad topics as the History and Methodology of Suspension (by members of Kukulcan, featuring Beto), Ethics in Professional Body Piercing (by APP member Danny Yerna of Wakantanka), Tattoos as a Means of Identification (by Dr. Julieta Gutiérrez López), and the Discrimination of Tattooed People in Guatemala (by staff from the Guatemalan piercing studio Shogun). God knows I’d better be more competent in the language by September’s convention in Guadalajara.
These people definitely got it. In spite of the relative unease I felt from much of the city, those present at BodyFest were some of the most genuine, friendly people I’ve met in the community, regardless of language barriers. I imagine it must have been a similar atmosphere to last year’s Buenos Aires convention, in the sense that holding large-scale events is a relatively new thing to the area and, as a result, the excitement level and the potential for novitiates to gain insight into some of the more advanced procedures and processes are greatly increased (though sadly, according to some of the organizers, the turnout was not nearly as high as anticipated). Also interesting to note is that Internet access in Mexico (Mexico City in particular) is largely very limited — most of the people I spoke to said that they had spent almost no time online whatsoever. I think a case could be made that in America and Canada, the Internet plays a large role in the proliferation of heavy modifications; the fact that in Mexico these ideas seem to truly spread through osmosis rather than through sites like BME — which, again, very few of the people had even heard of — really spoke to me of a very organic desire to get this kind of work done. There’s going to be some really fantastic stuff coming from the Central and South American contingent of practitioners very soon I think (really though, there already is).
And as it turned out, Mexico City was not the den of crime and iniquity that I had been expecting. It’s certainly a place to exercise more caution in some respects than one normally would, but as with anything, a little savvy and some common sense can go a long way. That said, I opted for a subway ride to the airport the next morning rather than taking another taxi. Holding onto my backpack like grim death on public transit sounded far more appealing to me at 6:00 a.m. than ruining the only pair of pants I had while weeping gently in the fetal position in the back of a little green Volkswagen Beetle, whipping through the streets — supersonic — at dawn.