Based on his 30 years of event organising in London before experiencing the way things were done in NYC, how would David say the two cities’ clubbing scenes compare?
“New York has a much smaller clubbing scene than London,” is his immediate response. “Nowhere near as many events and people clubbing in general.”
“However,” he continues, “there are some interesting events and some really cool people.
“The best thing in New York was the cabaret theatre Company XIV. They have an amazing cast of top-level aerial artists, ballet and contemporary dancers, contortionists, pole dancers, opera and contemporary singers etc.
“A lot of them were artists we booked out for Astarte jobs and also at Dances of Vice. What elevates the Company XIV show is the amazing direction, choreography, costuming and music, and they produce amazing themed shows that run for around four months.
“The small theatre venue has lavish decor and all the stars of the show also serve the food and cocktails, so it feels very personal and intimate.
“Altogether it’s a super high-level experience and very special. They actually co-curated the performances at the first TG NYC in 2018.”
While he was there, Wood adds, the New York cabaret and burlesque small theatre scene (pre-covid) “was strong and pretty similar to London”.
“Shien Lee’s Dances of Vice attracts an arty and theatrical, mostly vintage costume crowd, mixed with 25 percent fetish, and uses very glamorous venues like Capitale.
“They have a very performance orientated line-up where there’s almost as much show time and dance time. Plus there’s a dungeon room as well.
“It’s like a fusion of TG and London theatrical vintage events like Curious Invitation, Last Tuesday Society, Belle Epoque etc.
“Also, Susanne Bartsch is a legend and she’s constantly producing new club events that are always on point with the latest fashions, styles and characters. And New York’s Drag and Vogueing scenes are always very strong and special.”
“Overall,” David thinks, “London parties more and parties harder. There’s a similar level of performer talent. And New York is more expensive.
“If I’d been there longer I had plans to launch my own event, but I was still getting to know the venues, scenes and crowds in the short time I had.”
Outside New York, David says he was very impressed by Theatre Bizarre in Detroit.
“It’s an amazing annual halloween/circus sideshow/fetish event where they take over an incredible six-floor Masonic temple and spend months decorating it with film-quality themed sets.
Together, the best party venue and themed decor I’ve ever seen, and a very special event that’s worth travelling for.
“I also went to some amazing Masked Ball Mardi Gras parties in New Orleans which I loved.”
As it was, Wood came back to London in the first week of December 2020. He went out for some dinners with friends and at first, he says, life seemed normal.
“But a few days later the iron curtain of total lockdown came down and it was bleak. My own flat was rented out and I had to wait four months for a break clause, so luckily stayed in Karina’s art studio flat.
“Then in the second week of being back, my brother got covid, ended up in hospital, then had a stroke, almost died, and was there for three months in isolation.
“So it was a pretty miserable experience in the middle of a relationship break-up!
“I mostly missed out on government covid help in the US, and then didn’t get any help back in the UK either because I didn’t have a UK business then.
“I generally seem to be in the wrong country at the wrong time. I was in NYC seeing things more open in London, then I got to London and things were more open back in NYC!”
Wood was now in the position of needing to switch his antiques business to a new country shortly after launching it.
“But the UK online auction scene was so much smaller than the US model. And I still had a lot of stock in the US, so was trying to run a business in two different continents.
“Then the UK also finally left the EU, and I mostly lost that great potential market for buying antiques. But after a difficult beginning I started getting some good sales in the UK.
“However, I need to change the focus away from online in the UK and restructure the business model, and have had to put Dreams Less Sweet in the background while I’ve focused on getting the entertainment agency and new club event off the ground.”
David’s possessions finally got delivered to his own London flat in June this year, so he was finally able to say he had a home again.
“I’ve been hanging on by a thread financially and disaster could be around the next corner,” he admits.
He would, he says, have liked to stay in New York or elsewhere in the US and “made a full go of it on my own”.
But he couldn’t afford to stay there during the pandemic with all events closed and with such an uncertain future.
“As much as coming back to London feels like a huge personal failure, I’m happy that I gave
it everything, and there are worse places to come back to.
“I still love London, and I missed my friends and family. I’m lucky that I had a great flat to move back into.”
And now, of course, he also has those new businesses to devote his energies to.
“It’s been exciting to jump in the deep end and start three new businesses in the last nine months, and it’s exciting to have no idea what’s happening next.
“I said I wanted a change before I left TG. Be careful what you wish for! But I’ve experienced so much in the last two years, and it’s all been a challenge, and that’s what I wanted.”
As if David Wood hadn’t already had enough bad luck during this short period, he contracted covid-19 about three weeks after getting his second vaccination.
“It was only like flu for me,” he reveals, “although I had a week of bad fatigue afterwards. But you wouldn’t want to go to a nightclub and get it.
“It seems that everyone needs to be exposed to the delta variant after being double vaccinated, and hopefully they won’t get it again. Until there’s a new variant!”
How will Club Vanitas be handling the covid situation at its September launch?
“We’ll be enforcing that everyone attending has been double vaccinated, as will be the rule by September. At the moment things seem to be going in the right direction, so fingers crossed it continues.”
From the Club Vanitas ‘mission statement’ of Fashion/Performance/Drag/Fetish/Art, it seems clear that the event will share some common ground with TG.
So inevitably, some people will think Wood is setting Club Vanitas up to be a rival to his ‘old firm’. What would he say to those people?
“I was the one curating all of the shows, most of the music and DJs, and creating the visual promotion for Torture Garden. So my taste is always going to be very TG, because it’s me.
“But starting a new event is an opportunity for a refresh, and an opportunity to ditch some of the things that I didn’t like about TG any more.” Like what?
“Being so big gave TG creative power, but we did have a very commercial side of the crowd that I hated.
“I don’t want the swarms of shirtless harness guys that were just there for house music and sex, and have no creative taste in fetishism. So I’m happy to go smaller and be more selective.
“I want to ditch half the crowd and build a more creative and dressed-up crowd. I liked the couples room, but it attracts a certain crowd, and at the moment we’re not going to have a couples room at Club Vanitas.
“I also want to find and use more glamorous venues. But I’m ambitious, so who knows how it will evolve?”
So to summarise, Club Vanitas will have elements that are like TG, but also elements that are very different. “And I’m going to enjoy what’s different,” David promises.
“TG was very polysexual, but Karina and I really want to push that more. Drag and trans creative elements will be important in the line-ups, and hopefully the crowd, at Club Vanitas.
“There’s definitely no desire from me to compete with Torture Garden, and the last thing I want to create is a TG mark II. I would find it a bit distasteful to do that.
“It’s exciting for me to do something different, and see fetishism from a fresh angle, and imagine what a fetish club should be in 2021.
“I always liked clubs that were on the edge of the fetish scene that also mixed in other scenes, and Club Vanitas will be a fusion event like that. Ultimately it will be the club that I want to go to in 2021 and beyond.
“At the moment TG is like an ex-girlfriend that I just don’t want to look at any more. I’ve blocked her on Facebook!
“But London is a small place in clubland, so hard to avoid each other going forward. I still own a 50 percent share of TG, and I wish TG well and hope they continue to be successful of course.”
David feels confident that his erstwhile TG colleagues realise “New York was a disaster for me and being back in London was the last thing I wanted to happen”.
“But,” he points out, “the pandemic has been a disaster for a lot of people, especially in clubland and events. So I think they understand that we all have to do what we have to do to survive and pay the mortgage.
“And club events are what I love and know best. The door wasn’t open to return to run TG events, and it’s exciting to be doing something new and fresh, and with a new creative partner.”
According to Wikipedia, a vanitas is ‘a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often contrasting symbols of wealth and symbols of ephemerality and death’.
How did Wood come to choose this name for his new ventures?
“While running the antiques business Dreams Less Sweet, I’ve been buying and selling a lot of 19th Century Italian marble vanitas busts, and they’ve become quite a passion and almost the motif for the company.
“So it was a name and a theme that became strong for me during the last year, and as I was thinking of names for my new entertainment agency, I liked the sound and feeling of the name.
I think it has dramatic and theatrical associations, so I called it Agent Vanitas.
“I’m hoping to stage some cabaret events as things open up and I find an interesting venue, and I will use Cabaret Vanitas for that.”
And for the club project with Karina Akopyan?
“As I was discussing name options with Karina I mentioned Club Vanitas, but was assuming we’d find a new name with no connection to my other businesses.
But Karina was keen on using Vanitas, and again it feels right for us working together.
I like the Wikipedia definition, and think it works for Karina and me and the feeling of the events that we want to create. But we won’t be interpreting it too literally.
“So it’s a word that’s spontaneously and almost magically ingrained itself into my life, and I like that it’s happened organically like that. I think it’s important to be open to follow your instincts as they’re usually right.”READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 3 OF 3