IML Brings Leather - And Dancing! - to Chicago
For the past 32 years, thousands of leather men from around the world have been gathering in Chicago during Memorial Day weekend for "International Mr. Leather" or IML . What started out as a contest at the Gold Coast bar has evolved over the decades into one of, if not THE, premier leather event in the world.
More than the Contest
The basis for the weekend is a series of on-stage competitions such as physique, fantasy leather wear and interviews between winners of "Mr. Leather" contests from bars around the globe.
The goal of these 40 to 50 studly men is to become "International Mr. Leather" for the coming year. However, the weekend has evolved into much, much more than the contests.
An entire 2,000-room hotel - this year the Downtown Hyatt Regency - is taken over and turned into a giant leather playground. Open areas are turned into what could quite possibly be the largest leather bar in the world.
There are dozens of fetish specific parties in the hotel and around town. A "leather mart" spanning numerous convention halls with hundreds of booths offers the latest in leather and fetish gear, movies, toys and...well...some items you just never thought of before.
There is so much to see and do, some guys never leave the hotel the entire weekend!
Two Mega Parties
To top it all off, are two very unique dance parties, the Victory Party and the Black and Blue Ball.
These testosterone-driven dance floor extravaganzas provide the leather clad attendees the chance to groove to some of the hottest DJ’s on the circuit while they show their leather pride. More typical "Circuit"-type events might have seen their numbers decline in the past decade, but these two parties are still attracting huge crowds to the House of Blues and one of Chicago’s premier nightclubs, the 3,000-capacity Excalibur.
According to Matthew Harvat, a/k/a/ Circuit Mom, the producer of both dance events for the past seven years, the appeal of the parties is that while the leather community might be very down and dirty and back alley, it is also joyous. There is a wide-eyed happiness and level of acceptance you do not see at typical dance parties.
While some events on the circuit might be considered cliqueish, newbies always feel welcome at the IML parties. Part of this happy energy is due to the fact that some party goers are hitting the dance floor for the first time in years. The joy of their return to the dance floor translates into a vibe and energy level many party boys have not seen since the 90s.
The Victory Party
On top of this openness, there is a real reason to celebrate. The Sunday night Victory Party at the House of Blues fills up immediately after the winner of the contest is crowned. The boys - rather the men - are arm in arm as the party takes off.
The crowd is really into the amazing, four level venue and the music. In fact, they actually cheer for a particular song, remix or peak.
The two parties are a bit different. The Victory Party mimics the international flair of the weekend with a very diverse crowd. Harvat and his team take full advantage of the large stage to thrill the crowd with over-the-top productions. This year, working with the IML’s outer space kitsch theme, there will be an aggressive opening video playing off images of the dawn of man from the 1960s Space Race to the present day.
Harvat says it will be sure to get people talking. A "whiz bang" party will follow with a bevy of well known porn stars on stage done up in leather and maybe a little "Martian body paint" thrown in for fun. Harvat, himself a veteran circuit DJ, will be helming the decks this year. Expect to hear some hard to find private remixes from some of today’s top producers like Tony Moran, Rosabel and Paulo who have all donated their production work.
Excalibur: a Castle for Dancing
Monday night at Excalibur is all about a down and dirty groove. This normally straight club is a 22,000-square-foot castle with a labyrinth of halls to get lost in and perhaps discover a few new "friends."
There will be go-go boys in cages, special effects and a few surprises. The crowd may be a bit more local, but the energy and openness continues from the weekend. Red-hot New York DJ and Grammy nominated Producer Sin Morera will be laying down the sexy beats.
Morera is no stranger to the music scene having written, arranged and produced music for many of the top music labels. He has worked with a Who’s Who of the dance scene - including Junior Vasquez, Thunderpuss and Tony Moran.
According to Harvat, expect a unique sound form Morera filled with deep bass, tribal thrashing and haunting vocals to wet your leather. Morera was selected from hundreds of DJs who were vying for an opportunity to drop their beats at this landmark event. As a special treat, Centaur Music’s "POPular" CD series DJ and uber-popular Chicago boy Phil DaBeatz will start the Monday night party off with his aggressive tribal and vocal style.
A Little History
In the early days of IML, attendees would flock to the city’s leather bars after the contest. But as IML became a bigger event, the producers realized they needed to have additional activities.
They started "Victory Parties" in several venues including the old Redoubt, Shelter and Ka-boom. Approximately 12 years ago, none other than dance party impresario Jeffrey Sanker worked out a deal with the House of Blues to host the event there. Although he is no longer associated with the event, it continues to sell out, year after year.
The Black and Blue Ball started in a bar/ bath house called Man’s Country. This was a low-tech event which, Harvat jokes, "consisted of four flashlights duct taped to a spinning turn table for lights and somebody’s car stereo turned up for sound."
Despite the low production values, the leather men flocked to the opportunity to share more dance floor brotherly love to cap off the weekend. The crowd quickly outgrew the space and moved to its new home at Excalibur. The staff at this "straight 364 days a year" club really loves the IML crowd with employees who no longer work there coming back just for this one event.
"Dance parties around leather events, especially IML, are more music and community focused than a typical circuit party." Harvat sums up. "DJs approach this audience differently. You have to tune into how connected the crowd is and work hard to deliver an over- the-top sonic and visual journey. There is something - and someone! - for everyone. It is simply amazing to soak up all that positive energy. You have to experience it to believe it!"
The best way to truly experience IML weekend is to buy one of the very well priced weekend passes which include entrance to all the contests, the dance parties, the Leather Mart and access to the free shuttle bus which will take you to all the bars and the dance parties.
Single Advanced tickets to the House of Blues party are $60 can be obtained by calling 312.923.2000. This event WILL sell out, so get your tickets early. Single tickets to the Black and Blue Ball are $40.
Weekend passes and tickets to the Black and Blue Ball can be purchased here.
To get info on the entire IML weekend, including the Victory Party and the Black and Blue Ball, check out IML’s site, Circuit Mom, Sin Morera, or Phil DaBeatz.