SPC: ModCon One (1999)

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How do you write an article about an event so private, so secretive, that it’s guests were made to sign nondisclosure agreements? Easy. Just be one of the ones who didn’t sign. Over the last fourteen years, the ModCon events have been shrouded in mystery. Fight Club jokes aplenty- the first rule of Modcon is that you don’t talk about ModCon and so on.

But today, we’re going to do just that. In a continuing series of articles on my life in the modern Body Modification community I’ve decided to shed a little light on ModCon; where the idea first came from, the 1998 event that never happened and more.

Obviously there will be a lot left out for the sake of discretion (as well as keeping some of the mystery) but if you’re a geek for this sort of thing…  read on.

While it’s true that I first met Shannon Larratt in 1995 via Rec.Arts.Bodyart, I didn’t meet him in person until I picked him up at  Detroit Michigan GREYHOUND bus terminal in 1998.  We had planned to meet in Toronto but things didn’t work out. Thankfully fate was on our side, bringing Shannon to the states to purchase a kit car and to spend some time in a luxury hotel suite in Detroit talking about Body Modification all night.

(My video archive has an 8mm tape of our first meeting; getting an 8mm player to convert all of these memories to digital is on my to-do list for 2013)

Eventually, given our meeting place, the conversation turned to ‘hotel parties’- something relatively common at the time where extreme modification practitioners and clients would meet up at tattoo conventions and do underground surgery in their hotel rooms. I had been to quite a few thanks to my friendship with Jack Yount, but Shannon was thinking that it was time for something with a little more polish.

“What do you think about a Modification convention?”

He was sipping a Pepsi and eating Cadbury mini eggs when ModCon came into being. From there on out, we riffed. “What if” and “Wouldn’t it be cool”. I was to begin working on it as soon as I returned to Florida. Things moved pretty quickly after that. Shannon drew the now iconic ModCon logo. I arranged a VFW Hall (where underground S/M parties were often held) as our event location and a list of practitioners being created by Shannon and I.

026

That’s when we hit a snag. I’ve mentioned that Shannon and I often butted heads; ModCon98 was one of those times. While we wanted to create a safe space for people interested in heavy/advanced/extreme surgical procedures, Shannon and I had a difference of opinion on how heavy we were willing to go. He had talked to a few folks interested in getting or doing castrations, and I felt that for legal liability we shouldn’t go quite that far on site. We tried for compromise but eventually it was a stalemate with neither of us budging. The event was going to be funded by Shannon/BME, but it was going to be organized and facilitated by me/SPC. If anything were to happen to one of our guests the liability (not to mention moral responsibility) would fall on me, and since I didn’t know any of the clients/cutters personally I drew a line.

With that, ModCon98 was over before it started. Plans changed from Florida to Toronto, from 1998 to 1999 to accomodate for castrations- a procedure for the sake of 100% full disclosure never happened at any of the five events.

When the 1999 event happend, the Body Modification world was much different than it is now. The average age of attendees was probably mid 30s, with most trending older. Sexuality played a much bigger role in the lives of attendees than aesthetics, with some of the cutters (the term we gave our practitioners) being longterm players in both the gay and straight BDSM communities. While later events would get criticized by some guests as ‘implant factories’, the first one was more about sexual modification; saline infusions, urethral dilations, subincisions.

058The event was scheduled for one day, but by the end of the first evening with so many folks in town Shannon gave me the go-ahead to tell people that if they wanted to come back the next day… we’d be there. Shannon had lofty goals of contracting Joel-Peter Witkin to document the event for free (and donate the prints back to him… I’m not sure he realized how much an original Witkin print went for) but luckily went instead with a young Toronto based photographer (and BME member) named Philip Barbosa. Phil became an integral part of the ModCon (and BME. And Scarwars) family, documenting the largest assembled group of heavily modified people in history. The photos from the first three events that Phil took are as iconic as the works of Gatewood, who himself turned the world on to ‘Modern Primitives’ through his friendship with Fakir Musafar and Jim Ward. Phil’s work is often overlooked in the history of Body Modification- people think that the photos just magically appeared in the books or perhaps that Shannon took them…. but Phil was there, camera in hand as well as helping organize the events with Shannon and I for all five. Without him… ModCon as you know it wouldn’t have existed.

Prior to flying up, Shannon hadn’t told me much about the location that we were going to hold the event. Had the 1998 event happened we had a nice modern VFW Hall with all of the amenities we’d need… but for MC1, the space was sketchy to say the least; a building that was being refurbished and was unoccupied save for the exposed walls and drywall dust. One thing that’s been a constant (Scarwars 3 anyone? Suscon?) in underground bodymod events is a lack of a good space and this one… good lord. But we made do, making history with the world first organized gathering of Advanced Body Modification fans.

It was like coming home. Despite the years that’ve passed I still have incredibly vivid memories of that first event; the comfort I felt being surrounded by people who understood me. There was Buddy (amputee) and ToeCutter (amputee) talking about the joy of stump sex while Spidergod5 (later The Lizardman) sat a few feet away talking about tattoos. There was the sweet old methodist Minister who looked like someone’s Grandpa but who had castrated men in numbers cresting triple digits talking to the youngish girl with the bald head and thick glasses.

The getting to know you phase led into people going into the ‘procedure’ rooms where the surgery began. The majority of the modifications done at the first event were genital mods, which was the intended goal of the event. Minimum entry to get in was ‘a split something’ or extensive piercings. Over the course of the subsequent four events the criteria changed; again something I disagreed with. But for the first event we found ourselves documenting extreme circumcisions, subincisions and transscrotals.

Strangely though, the most memorable incident at MC1 was Britney Spears and the fire trucks.

Turns out that our event space was across the street from the hotel hosting Britney on her first big Canadian tour. As we walked down our quiet alley getting ready for day one of ModCon, we noticed a few dozen news van parked in the lot across from us. There was word of an angry photographer, shunned by Shannon, who promised to be cruising Toronto looking for us- our first thought when we saw the media was that he had spilled the beans and here were the reporters who would be documenting our arrest. Thankfully they were they for Brit and not us, and as long as we kept a low profile, we’d be fine.

040So when someone suggested that Erik (Spidergod5/Amago/The Lizardman) do a FIRE PLAY DEMO indoors… I’m really not sure why Shannon and I didn’t say no. Even when the fire alarm was tripped we still didn’t think it was that terrible an idea.. that is until we realized that some of our practitioners were in the middle of surgery; that we had two people attached to saline bags on IV stands. That we couldn’t shut the alarm off and that at some point… the fire department would arrive, forcing a room full of people trying to stay off the radar (and some not fully clothed) into the streets… across the lot from the international media. Not ones to learn from our mistakes, we encouraged Erik to do more fireplay outside of the venue while we tried desperately to get the fire alarm to turn off!

These are the kinds of things that happened at the ModCon events. I know I’ve managed to write over 1500 words (and counting) about a Body Modification event and not really touch on many of the procedures, but ultimately once the modifications healed (or were abandoned) the sense of community remained. We finally came out of the closet. Instead of covert meetings in hotel rooms we were all gathered together as a family. Eunuchs and amputees, genital modifications and forked tongues…. we had a home. We had something that was exclusively ours; an event you couldn’t even buy your way into.

While all of the ModCon events were amazing in their own way, that first one will always hold a special place in my heart. Event rules and traditions started here; the ’round table’ where we went around the room introducing ourselves, talking about our modifications and where we came from, setting up portraits to document the people who wear these procedures… everything that we eventually took for granted started right there in that room.

In future articles I’ll talk more about the other four events if there’s an interest- maybe even talk to Phil and Monte and the other diehards who attended all five. While my interests these days run a lot less extreme I’ll still always be proud of the influence ModCon had on the attendees as well as the people who only knew about us from the books (which I was staunchly against.. but again.. another article!) or digital media.


377714_4397120693666_450451457_nShawn has spent the majority of his ife in the modification world.
In addition to writing poorly for Modblog, he also edits the often neglected Scarwars site, the more frequently updated Occult Vibrations tattoo blog as well as his personal diary at Sacred Debris. He lives in Philadelphia with his faithful Italian Greyhound Bailey, his roommate Megh and a steadily growing Pushead collection.

27 thoughts on “SPC: ModCon One (1999)

  1. I’d love to keep reading about more. I’m lucky to have access to pick the brain and hear stories from someone who attended one or two of the Modcons but I’m absolutely curious about more.

    I often imagine what it’d be like if I was born a decade ahead and not eight years old when the first meeting happened. Oh well. Stuck with pictures, video, and the anecdotes I can get.

  2. Wow. takes me back to a much more unified time with such a sense of community back then. Those were great times indeed! Can not wait to read the next installment!

  3. Thank you for another great article, can´t wait for the others to come out ! I also really like the photos which are procedures free, a nice other look at the ModCon…

  4. @Bosh-
    Yeah. I was worried I’d draw some criticism for not including explicit pictures or obsessively detail the procedures. These days I’m more about restraint than excess (hard to believe though it is) and while I know people on ModBlog often crave tattooed eyeballs and 4″ cheek piercings… I decided to go with something a little more subtle!

  5. It’s so good hearing all these old stories. It’s really making me want to jump back into heavier mods again. It’s sad that it took Shannons passing for the spark to kick back up but it’s been great having these feelings again of wanting to do more.

  6. Always a joy to read these stories!

    I’d be interested in more about the gender balance of these early events compared to today’s modified community – at the time, the reputation of ModCon was that it was VERY male-dominated because of the comfort of the attendees and the requirements set for admittance. Perusing BME/Hard, I still think the heavy mods community is male-dominated… but perhaps not quite to the extreme it was then.

    If there were a ModCon event today, what do you think it would be like? Who would attend, and what sorts of procedures might occur?

  7. I remember reading modcon book years ago and be fascinated. Great story, more please!!

  8. Awesome read!! I have read Modcon countless times! I always find myself wishing I could have been a part of something like that. Not only because of the modification aspect of it but because there is nothing else like it. I hope we get to hear more about it, some video footage would be lovely!

  9. @saram It does seem to be more male dominated when it comes to heavy/genital modification, but I think it is partly because there was/is less information out there available on female genital modifications… There are certainly more pictures and articles on female genital mods now then when I began looking for them many years ago, at that time they were nearly non existent…

    @Shawn – I especially loved reading this one! Hope to read more about the rest of them!

  10. I would also love to hear more, reading the modcon book years ago was a real eye opener as to some of the things that could be done.

  11. @Saram:
    “I’d be interested in more about the gender balance of these early events compared to today’s modified community – at the time, the reputation of ModCon was that it was VERY male-dominated because of the comfort of the attendees and the requirements set for admittance. Perusing BME/Hard, I still think the heavy mods community is male-dominated… but perhaps not quite to the extreme it was then. If there were a ModCon event today, what do you think it would be like? Who would attend, and what sorts of procedures might occur?

    Sausage Party.
    I think there’s even a page or two in the second book under the title of Sausage party. The first event was almost exclusively male; the females that were there mostly gained access because they were dating someone who was attending or organizing. That’s how my girlfriend at the time got the invite and another “piercer girlfriend” showed up knowing the invite only extended to her boyfriend but decided to see if she could make Shannon allow her in because he wouldn’t want to make a scene. Way to go.

    I think it’s something that people don’t really want to hear but… if it doesn’t apply to you, it shouldn’t include you. Yes, there are fewer options for women re: surgical genital modification, but the original ModCon welcomed women who had them. I was never for lowering entry standards. If you had a star implant in your hand- male or female- my vision of ModCon didn’t include you. ModCon by design was about inclusion for people into a specific subset of modification and therefor about exclusion for everyone else. Regardless of gender. I had women say “well, I don’t WANT any of those mods, why should I have to get something I don’t want just to attend!”. Tantrum aside- if you don’t want the modifications that qualify you for the modification event… the event isn’t for you.

    As the events progressed, the older genital mod/play folks felt out of place around a bunch of younger folks with implants in their face who had never seen a subincision in person and stopped coming. The event created for them was no longer about them. Sad really.

    I ended up co-hosting most of the events due to Shannon’s social issues, health issues, etc but when it came to the ‘rules’- my refusal to allow castration at the 98 event-that-never-happened removed me from the loop with the organizing and as such my opinions on standards were just that.

    By the time the second event rolled around we had already started allowing scarification as a minimum, suspensions were done on site and it started being an ‘IAM’ type event not a ModCon.

    If it were done now? Mostly cuttings and implants I’d wager.

  12. Love your stories. I am a history junkie. You give me a reason to check the site. I had almost given up on mod blog and BME

  13. Shawn,
    Was modcon pretty much geared toward heavy genital modification (as you state in your comment) or was it just geared towards heavier stuff in general? What about small digit amputation? Saline inflation? Would those be considered “entry” material for a modcon?

    Do you think there’s still a market for a modcon-type event?

    Thanks again for the stories! This is great!

  14. For the first one we had a handful (heh!) of small digit amputees and yes, that earned them entry (regardless of gender). Saline was tricky. Just wanting to get saline infusion itself wasn’t reason for entry, but we did do infusions on already surgically modified people who attended. Do I think there’s a market for a ModCon type event… I guess it depends.

    I think the market is skewed, John. I think people feel that their interest in attending should qualify them for admittance. People like that are missing the point. So I’m not sure. As originally intended… I really can’t say.

  15. so the entry thing were the mods you were getting in the ModCon? or modifications you already had?

  16. @Shawn
    Personally, I think any highly specialized event loses its meaning when the standards for entry are relaxed. As much as I’d love to be at APP, for example, it’s not for me – and I think it’s valuable for that community to have an exclusive event just for them. It also amuses me that I know a few women with pretty extraordinarily modified bodies, and I’m not sure they would’ve been comfortable attending a sausage party of an event… and yet other non-qualifying women were desperate for a chance to attend.

    14 years ago, an event like ModCon seemed like a really valuable and needed means of linking heavy mod-seekers with practitioners… and with each other. The internet seems to be doing a pretty good job of that these days, though it doesn’t replace the enjoyment that can come out of face-to-face interactions with like-minded people. I assume that would also change the need/purpose/demand for an event now. I really like the single-topic events like Scar Wars, and would love to see others geared around other specific modifications (or groups of related modifications).

  17. Modcon got me into piercings and then into genitail mods. Great to read this bit of history.

  18. Initially it was existing mods.
    Shannon eventually allowed people to attend the events to get the qualifying mods. I was against this.

  19. Shawn, not necessarily related to this post, but how do you feel when people look on past times and comment that things were in some way better “back in the day”? I sometimes read how people feel the community was tighter knit or in some way was more authentic years ago than it is now. Do you think this is actually true or is it simply the perspective of some of those that used to see this as “their thing” and now see it as something more mainstream?

  20. Willing to read anything on these events!! I am so happy the book was available and i still have mine today.

  21. @Chris:
    Shawn, not necessarily related to this post, but how do you feel when people look on past times and comment that things were in some way better “back in the day”? I sometimes read how people feel the community was tighter knit or in some way was more authentic years ago than it is now. Do you think this is actually true or is it simply the perspective of some of those that used to see this as “their thing” and now see it as something more mainstream?

    I swore I answered this via the WordPress APP, but… it’s not here. So here we go again!

    I think that when I was 16 and was hearing stories from Jack about the old days- his early career, Sailor Sid, Cliff Raven and Phil Sparrow, Jim and Fakir- I not so secretly wished that I would have been born years before so I would have been part of the ‘real’ scene, not the newer scene I was part of.
    If you scroll up, one commenter said he wished HE could have been born years earlier so he could have been part of my generation- the end of Jack’s career, early Jon Cobb and Steve Haworth etc.

    The grass is always greener, I guess.

    Sure. I miss the simplicity of things ‘the way they used to be’. I miss people doing things to their bodies because of an unexplainable NEED versus “OMG SAW TATTOOED EYEBALLS ON MODBLOG MUST HAVE!!!!” but hell… you can’t go home again.

    I think there’s been so much dilution that I don’t even recognize the modification scene, but I also admit that I’m at a point in my life where nostalgia means a lot to me…. thus these SPC articles.

  22. It’s fascinating to see how different people react to the way the mod community changes. Whilst I find the Modcon idea and the scene (if you will) that people involved came from from fascinating, it made me ever more determined to continue on my mod path alone rather than make me feel I needed access.
    I think just knowing these events and people existed was enough for me, and eventually served as the inspiration for me to gather the courage to have my tongue split. Whilst these days a split is no big deal it was something that I had never met anyone with but that I had a burning desire for for many years. It wasn’t until I read Modcon and realised that it didn’t require you to be a stunningly beautiful bodmod wunderkind type to get these heavier mods (absolutely no offence intended to anyone by that) that I began to believe I could do it.
    I’ve always felt grateful to the more secretive aspects of the scene for making me get out and explore and to find things for myself. I think if anything can be said for the “good old days” it’s that that spirit was perhaps stronger in the community as a whole when time had to be spent to find more than your average piercings or mods.
    That’s my two cents anyway!

  23. This is truly a great read, and I would love to read more. It makes me wish I got involved in the community when I first started browsing through bme around 2002. I remember there used to be allot more unity, a sense of fellowship. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but it has seemed to break up a bit. I want to be a part of bringing it back. Instead of actually participating in the community when I first became wildly interested, I just grew into a closet modder. I really like what Shawn said “Sure. I miss the simplicity of things ‘the way they used to be’. I miss people doing things to their bodies because of an unexplainable NEED versus “OMG SAW TATTOOED EYEBALLS ON MODBLOG MUST HAVE!!!!” but hell… you can’t go home again.” this statement really hit home to me. I guess what I’m saying is it would be cool to find other people with that unexplained need, and refrain from try to recreate a old community. It needs something new, something excited, a safe zone for people who are like minded.

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