Hull has never seemed like an attractive place to outsiders and not the sexiest destination, writes Kate.
But contrary to popular belief, the city has always had a fetish presence, albeit perhaps without the limelight or celebrity of events in the capital.
Several years ago, there was a much larger alternative scene, with Hull Fet, munches and community meet-ups, swingers’ clubs and a robust alternative scene over the years.
There are even multiple pole-dancing, aerial and burlesque schools scattered across the city. But unfortunately, as those in the industry began to move on, there were few kinksters left with the ability to keep the bigger events alive.
I feel many of the more popular fetish events in larger cities have become focused on fashion and image, which can be intimidating for new entrants.
Smaller events really struggle to compete, and I saw many good markets and communities close for good over the years. But as the big dogs were flourishing, Valen Vain plotted how to bring the scene back to Hull.
For the past five years, KEN has been cultivating a community and developing relationships from the organisers’ contacts to make a ‘London-worthy’ production.
I have always found planning a KEN event to be fun. I believe that our enthusiasm and motivation come across in how we work with our community and how we try to promote positivity, pleasure and education on the scene.
If we didn’t enjoy what we did, there would be no sparkle to the event; the guests simply wouldn’t come. But, of course, there will always be issues for those working in the kink industry, events or not.
We are a team of just three: I work full-time in marketing, Valen is a full-time performer, streamer and sex educator, and Lylia works as a freelancer in a high profile industry.
As a result, planning and running KEN is crammed into the limited hours we have available outside of our everyday lives, which brings trials and tribulations.
Sometimes we do become aware of drama. For example, drama may arise when individuals deemed unsafe on the scene need to be banned, or when other events have stepped out of line or not put their patrons’ needs first.
We like to be aware of what is happening both in our city and in communities further afield. As one of Yorkshire’s most prominent communities presenting kink, fetish and education in sex and pleasure, we take responsibility for keeping our members safe.
KEN is funded from ticket sales and out of our own pockets, so we find ways to make things affordable. In the beginning, I was building all our own signage and props, raiding charity shops and building our website and social media with free tools.
And we’ve had fantastic aid from our friends who’ve volunteered to help staff the event.
We don’t run KEN to make money personally, although naturally money makes the event possible. We run it because we want to bring the industry back to Hull, to put our stamp on the city and name on the map.
I previously worked a lot in the sex and fetish industry, which provided some of the most exciting times of my life. It was sad that when I moved to Hull, there was a distinct separation between this city and the rest of the UK.
I don’t think any of us really imagined the community that we managed to gather.
For now, every penny earned goes into covering the cost of KEN. Advance ticket sales for our May 13 event have been so good that we have been able to invest in decor and professional signage and make everything more inclusive, from mobility ramps to BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters.
Hull has a significantly different economy from London’s, so we’ve had to be mindful of ticket costs. Too high, and we would scare away our local supporters; too low, and we wouldn’t be able to cover our expenses or make investments for better future events.
There have also been other considerations we’ve had to juggle, such as venue capacity. While we have to max out at around 150 people for the comfort of our patrons, we have found that this creates a sense of exclusivity, and a much more welcoming and intimate atmosphere.
One of the biggest catastrophes for KEN was in the early days. It was only our third event when our original venue unexpectedly closed down only two weeks before the show.
Thankfully, Valen had the connections to secure our current home, The Old School House. We are grateful that we have encountered so few other issues of such significance!
Valen Vain is our KEN frontman, compere and founder. I may have been around since the early days but he takes the limelight. Vain by name and vain by nature, Valen Vain represents the very pinnacle of egotism, as he would be quick to agree.
He professes hedonism in all that he does and encourages all that encounter him to indulge in the things that make them smile.
Valen loves to paint out an atmosphere. His events, his shows, and even his home, are all specifically pulled together to create a certain type of atmosphere. Valen is a sex educator and Twitch partner, performer and event organiser.
He recently started a podcast called Thirsty Work to discuss all things sex, pleasure and diverse, inviting his guests to answer questions many people are afraid to ask.
KEN was Valen’s first solo event. He had no clue about marketing and promotion. He was the most disorganised and arrogant person I knew, and he thought the event would succeed simply because he wished it to.
Annoyingly, it did. There was such a high demand for a second event that it became biannual.
He gave himself two months — from May 2016 to July 2016 — to plan everything from initial thought to the doors opening. Then, using his friends in the industry, brands and fellow creatives, he managed to scrape together this brand new event and carve out a place for kink in Hull.
People from all over the country came, saying, “Valen, we had no idea what was going on, but we knew you were too arrogant to put on a shit show.” It’s a backhanded compliment, but it is one he revels in.
Then I got involved for 2017, reigned him in, and took over the promotion and overall brand image.
In 2018 I brought in Lylia to help us at the new venue. Her skills lie in organisation and project management. She has helped us look at KEN as more of a business, dealing with the commercial elements.
KEN is named after the man who first introduced Valen into the world of kink. Being who he is, and much to my dismay, Valen didn’t see any issue in naming a fetish event with such a normal, unassuming person’s name!
Not until after the announcement of the first event did he realise he needed to think up what KEN could stand for. He then followed this name with the Cabaret Risqué, his collective name for our wonderful performers.
Both Valen and I have past careers in the fetish industry, and from working worldwide have made many connections we have been able to reach out to.
Lylia always has her eye on what is happening globally and is excellent at relationship-building in the local community. For me this makes asking for help just a little bit less scary.
I have always found those I have worked with or talked to very supportive. KEN is a different type of fetish event to the big dogs and we don’t see ourselves as direct competitors with anyone else.
We believe those in our industry should be helping each other to create a fantastic experience, not fighting each other for profits. Every year, I make it a point to learn about other local events that might want some free promo and invite them to send us their flyers.
Naturally, KEN was affected by the pandemic in 2020. Our concerns were with the performers we had already booked; we knew they would be without income and support due to covid and the Government.
So when we announced the cancellation of KEN for May 2020, we asked our guests to consider not requesting a refund. The vast majority of our guests were kind enough to agree, and all of that ticket money was shared between the performers.
We closed our doors for two years, missing out on four events. In the meantime, I decided to build a community group on Facebook called KENship to help keep our patrons connected and excited.
Personally, the most incredible thing I have seen come out of KEN is the community. From just a circle of friends, we have managed to build a good group of like-minded individuals who communicate, promote, and support each other.
We all learn from each other, push on ideas and celebrate achievements. I don’t feel scared to be open with them, ask them for advice, or admit when I have been wrong.
Our community includes both guests and performers who travel from all over the UK and Europe. Some are people on our doorstep we never even knew had a mutual interest.
I have had members approach me with questions, fears and enquiries that they would never have been able to put to me if they hadn’t felt comfortable.
One of the most oft-repeated opinions of KEN is that it has a welcoming, nurturing atmosphere that makes kink accessible to newcomers and outsiders.
KEN focuses a lot of performances around burlesque and boylesque. We have had some amazing circus performers whose talents range from fire performing to contortion, magic, illusion, aerial, pole, and band performances.
From strongmen to opera-singing striptease artists, we are happy to have provided an opportunity to many different styles of performance and to have hosted debuts of up-and-coming talents.
Performers we have presented to date include:
KEN has shown that, while breaking into the performance market in London can be very difficult, looking further afield can help people get their foot in the door.
As a northern event, hiring London-based performers has had its difficulties and complications. But we hope, as KEN’s renown grows, that some of the capital’s great talents will take us up on an invitation.
For the future we are looking at accommodating brands and showcasing goods in fashion shows, and hosting smaller performances that show off skills such as shibari ropework.
We are also looking into walkabout performers for the intervals between shows to create a fully immersive environment.
At publication time of this article, we are only a week from the date KEN returns after a two-year hiatus, so things are naturally pretty on edge. Nevertheless, we have had record advance ticket sales and are looking forward to the highest attendance in KEN’s history. The adrenaline is starting to set in.
I cannot wait to spend 48 hours decorating the entire venue in thick velvets, candles and more to fully immerse our patrons in an otherworldly atmosphere.
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