WHEN Nik Dimopoulos recently took Trough, his gay dance party, to Sydney, it was harder than he expected to find guys willing to participate in the party’s infamous promotional videos.
The videos and their accompanying photographs have become a signature of the Melbourne-based party, now running for around a decade at local gay sex-on-premises venue (SOPV) Club 80. Each video features different guys with unusual props doing things to the objects and each other that range from the vaguely to the explicitly sexual.
“I find that Sydney has a quite obvious body culture, it’s an outdoor city,” Dimopoulos said.
“So I thought it might have actually been easier, there might have been a lot more people comfortable in front of the camera, but I’ve actually found the opposite.”
Unable to find an appropriate SOPV to host it, the Sydney incarnation of Trough also ended up being a little more low-key, though still a success. Dimopoulos called it a “taste” of what the Melbourne party is like.
Being at Club 80 has been a big part of Trough’s identity since it began. At a time when more and more gay guys are finding sex online and through mobile apps, the venue jumped on board — getting a younger crowd through the door could be a way to arrest the slow death of gay SOPVs. That also connected to Dimopoulos’ goals for the party. Back when he approached Club 80 to get it off the ground, he was interested in an event that embraced sex without being confined to the usual crowd and aesthetics of the leather and fetish scene.
“Traditionally, how fetish parties — which are very sex-orientated — have advertised, I’ve always felt as if there’s been one, single-minded vision of fetish party advertising. It’s always black leather,” he said.
“[I wanted to] open those sex themes and concepts into something more broad, more colourful, more humorous.”
While ultimately the photos and videos Dimopoulos makes for Trough are to advertise the party, they’re also art in and of themselves, and a big part of the event. The parties always include a visual element. Projections and installations bring the aesthetics into the space itself.
“People can walk into a gallery and see work, or they can dance and have sex,” he said.
The original concept for the campaigns grew out of Dimopoulos’ fascination with the famous “hanky code” of 1970s gay communities. Different colours represented different sex acts and fetishes: black for BDSM, dark blue for anal sex, red for fisting, and so on. Once each initial “theme” was decided, Dimopoulos set about finding men to appear in the shoots, and not just those who fit the traditional fetish-scene image of the hyper-masculine muscle bear in Tom of Finland clothing.
“I started thinking about using a combination of [hyper-masculine guys] and just more everyday-looking guys… but still saying the same thing, in a way, or saying similar things: it’s a space to dance, have a party, but also we are very open to sex happening in the space,” he said.
The videos have also gained a reputation for the risqué, one that has grown over time. Dimopoulos explained that the level of raunch is largely dependent on who’s in the scene. He’d have gone all the way from day one.
“This one that I’m shooting this week I think I’ve got two people that are comfortable doing a masturbation scene, but they’re sort of half-covered as well,” he said.
“I don’t want to go too pornographic — saying that, I’m interested in doing porn, but I don’t want to completely freak people out, because the party essentially is a dance party.”
The kinds of guys appearing in the videos have changed over time as well. Back when he started, Dimopoulos admits part of what he was doing was capturing an aesthetic that went against how mainstream gay parties were being promoted.
“Back when I started, this was 2005, the whole beard thing was happening in Melbourne, and it really was an alternative aesthetic,” he explained.
“Most of the guys I was photographing were scruffy, bearded, alternative-looking… I wasn’t being aggressive about it, but there was this slight reaction to what I was seeing: the muscle boys and the clean-cut.”
However, as is the nature of counterculture, you keep going against the grain long enough and it becomes the new mainstream, which Dimopoulos fully admits.
“These days that ‘masc’ look has become almost the mainstream, in porn and even in DNA [magazine] the guys have a bit more hair featured, more stubble,” he said.
“What I’m actually trying to do now is go against that… I’m actually consciously saying, where do I find some clipped, blonde boys? It’s getting to that stage, where that’s actually the alternative.”
The next Trough X party, TROUGH VIII, will take place from 5pm on Saturday, June 27 at Club80 in Collingwood, Melbourne. Tickets and details: click here
**This was first published in the July edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.