Klub Verboten: A Kink Community

For #10 The Family Issue, Politics Editor Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin meets the creators of the community-centred kink night.

PHOTOGRAPHY The London Vagabond and Ashley Rommelrath

Dark corridors lined with latex, leather, and naked skin; bodies dripping with sweat, writhing and grinding to deep techno beats; the faint ‘thwack’ of paddles whistling through the thick smokey air, accompanied by regular moans cutting through the chatter from every corner of the lofty warehouse space – Klub Verboten is a truly multi-sensory experience. A private members’ club that prides itself not on exclusivity, but rather on community, safety, and diversity, this “ecosystem for expression that doesn’t have a place to flourish in the normal world”, as stated on its website, “doesn’t accept easy single slice cheese”. In other words, it’s a safe space for “weirdos and freaks” – for those pushed to the margins of “normal” society – to explore pleasure, care, and joy with freedom.

Drawing inspiration from the Berlin fetish scene, Klub Verboten’s all-night soirées sit on the intersection of sex parties and techno raves. Despite being the subject of numerous negative clickbait articles in tabloids – no doubt driven by the influence of puritanical pearl-clutching funders – Verboten continues to promote a healthy practise of BDSM, and create an environment that centres communication, consent, and mutual respect. But, as a member myself, one of the most wonderful aspects of the Klub – aside from its flawless aesthetic – is its prioritisation of truly authentic connections: between bodies, between creatives, between minds.

Drawing inspiration from the Berlin fetish scene, Klub Verboten’s all-night soirées sit on the intersection of sex parties and techno raves.

From musicians, photographers, and tattoo artists; to fashion designers, academic researchers, and NGOs – the Klub has collaborated with individuals based across the world, all of whom are listed on their website. Through hosting regular immersive experiences, Verboten provides a platform for up-and-coming artists, along with enabling their members to experience some of the biggest and hottest underground talents. Built on the ethos that every attendee adds – and takes away – something unique to and from each event, Klub Verboten is more than just a sex party – it’s a community; it’s a family.

I sat down with five members of Klub Verboten’s organising team to dig deeper into the intentions and experiences of this self-described “small independent team of environment creators”.

Prishita: Hi! How’s everyone doing? Please could you all introduce yourselves and your role within Klub Verboten?

Karl (he/him): Condom sweeper (and founder of Klub Verboten)

Hanny (she/her): General oracle

Farima (they/them): Head of technical manoeuvres 

Imogen (she/her): Ticketing empress

Ayo (he/she/they): Board member, brain & body

Artem (he/him): Gatekeeper

So what did you think was missing in the way the kink community was functioning in London and how did you try to address this?

Karl: It wasn’t that something was missing, it was more that the dinosaurs who were here before us raided everything and destroyed it all. Kink, in that sense, always reminded us of a place where we would meet our grandparents. Age isn’t the issue here, but if you wanted to participate in kink, you had to be exposed to RGB blinky-blinky lights and some cyborg-trancey type of music. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there was also nothing else on offer. That was the starting point around five years ago. We just wanted to host a fuck party, but then suddenly we made so many friends for whom we felt responsible and for whom we wanted to change things.

That totally makes sense! So how did you come to form this team?

Artem: I got introduced by a mutual friend who is a DJ, so it was through techno. The team at Verboten were looking to diversify and I was looking for a job, and I guess I was recommended. So, we had a little informal interview in a little Hackney pub. I’ve been working in events for a while, l but I think the best thing about Verboten is that I get to work for an event that I would also love to be a part of. I’m not just doing it because I have to – I actually understand what people might want. It just gives me this extra motivation to do well and to make people happy, and I think the kind of feedback we often receive shows that we’re doing it well.

Farima: One of my friends told me that there was a great techno night happening and asked if I’d like to go. And then she was like, “just a heads up – it’s a fetish party”. I went along and, yeah, it was a new experience for me, but straight away I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there or under any pressure – it just felt natural and that was the beauty of it. [At Verboten parties], you can just dance or you can have a great conversation with people, or you can play. So I know that I could enjoy my night however I wanted without fitting into any boxes. It’s such a great feeling because it feels exclusive but, at the same time, comfortable.

I’ve been around the fetish scene in Germany and in the UK, and despite the fetish scene here being very small, I didn’t find anything that was so connected and concentrated on the community.

Hanny

Hanny: For me, it was just by accident. I’d been going to fetish parties and then I found out about Klub Verboten so I went. But somehow we [Karl and I] linked together because we were both from Germany. I was just finishing university, so I started helping with some little stuff, but it soon became a full-time 24-hour job. It happened very organically – there was no contract. I just enjoyed doing it, and at some point I thought, “Should I work here at Verboten? Probably, yeah.”

What aspects of the job did you find so fulfilling that you ended up doing it all the time?

Hanny: It felt just very genuine. I’ve been around the fetish scene in Germany and in the UK, and despite the fetish scene here being very small, I didn’t find anything that was so connected and concentrated on the community. I didn’t even know that existed in fetish. I felt like fetish clubs were just a place that you went once a month – but Verboten is completely different. To have seen all the communities building up within Verboten has been very interesting.

I love that you created KV to combat the fact that London nightlife felt restrictive and divided – that you didn’t want to be split up from your friends because some wanted to attend a techno night and some wanted to go to a kink night like Torture Garden. What do you think the value is of exploring your sexual expression alongside your friends and people you love beyond just romantic attachment?

Ayo: Exploring your sexuality in a traditional monogamous relationship can be fine for a lot of people, but when you take that outside of the bedroom, and learn about and experience different kinks and fetishes – when you’re in the club and you hear like [claps] and see sweat drip, and you’re just hearing all those moans – you realise how much is out of sight, and that now, within this safe space, you can really push your boundaries and start exploring things that you never thought you would. 

Artem: It’s strange that we’re living this daytime culture where sex is something that’s pushed to the side and you have to have a special place to explore something so natural. But the fact that this place exists where people from different backgrounds can do it in a safe, consensual manner – I think it’s a massive addition to whatever was happening in London prior to it.

How do you think your intentions and parties support more queer ideas of chosen families and unconventional relationship dynamics?

Artem: I don’t even know what a conventional relationship is. Neither have I ever had the option to experience one, nor do I really want to. None of my friends are in conventional relationships – I literally design my whole life to avoid people who are white, cishet, boring squares. And KV is not just a space – you have to set the mood; you have to have the right people. It’s a trust thing to be able to be open and vulnerable in a sexually charged environment with strangers, and even with your friends. 

Klub Verboten is not just a space – you have to set the mood; you have to have the right people. It’s a trust thing to be able to be open and vulnerable in a sexually charged environment with strangers, and even with your friends. 

Artem

Hanny: But also Verboten is not saying that we need just queer people. We just meet people on a human level and try to not exclude anyone. And whoever is free and not judgemental to others – they can do whatever they want. I think that’s the reason we are so diverse because we’re not pushing for anything; we’re just being normal human beings.

Ayo: I’ve always had to choose my family and my friends growing up. So, for example during Covid, the people I spoke to the most were my kink friends and the friends that I’ve made through KV, or even just from going round to Karl’s [laughs]. There are friends from university that I spoke with but we don’t keep in touch as much. I’m actually much closer to some of the people I’ve met through KV, and they are somewhat like family. It’s funny that they are the people I’ve got closer to during all this crazy stuff happening.

Photography by The London Vagabond

Why do you think that was?

Ayo: I think we were just better at communicating – we were actually reaching out and checking in on each other, but also not expecting too much and giving each other space. You’re kind of used to it when you’re negotiating play, and you can take those skills into everyday life.

Imogen: I would agree that there’s better communication, and you also connect with each other on so many different levels. There’s care and there’s also just knowing how to have fun with each other. I think, generally, we couldn’t be without the group vibe, so we would experience it through WhatsApp groups, or through going and hanging out with people that maybe we only ever saw in the club. But then you’d realise they were actually really cool and that you missed them. There was a lot that came out not even being able to have the club space.

Ayo: Yeah, there was a lot of, “I want to see you with your clothes on!” [laughing].

Artem: “That’s hot!”

I love that! And you have really firm policies around people’s behaviour at your parties, right? With your motto being ‘don’t be a dick’. Why is this important to you and how d’you ensure the safety of the community at your parties?

Farima: I personally think it’s very important because for some of the people it’s their first time. Usually, when you hear about kink parties or fetish parties, if you don’t research enough about it, you don’t get good feedback on what’s happening there. I think it’s very important they feel safe and are not being treated in the ways they hear from those stories – which are not at all true of KV and one of the things I really like about our community. If someone sees someone else doing something wrong, they actually stop them and that’s the beauty of it. You feel like, “Okay, I’m in a safe space with people who do respect me and do respect the rules”.

Ayo: The members are also super vigilant, making sure everyone is safe, because, before even becoming a member, you need to answer questions about consent and safety. So it’s always in your head that there’s a certain way to behave and that there are rules you need to follow – they’re posted online before every single event. In case someone is overstepping the line, if not the monitors then there’s always someone else who’s going to say, “dude, that’s not OK”, or will help whoever is the victim in the situation and take them away from it. If someone oversteps, then it’s very easy to say, “get out”. Just tell someone and it will be sorted. It doesn’t matter who they are – they could be some established kink person or a new kink person – it doesn’t matter. If they overstep, get out. 

Karl: In general, in the whole nightlife culture, the element of safety is the elephant in the room. We all pretend we know what we’re doing, but, as a matter of fact, promoters, operators, police, licensing – no one has a clue how to implement it. We know that because we spent three years of our lives trying to open a venue. So I think Ayo made a super important point. The mission for us was to implement those values in every single person who comes through the door because we acknowledge that we have something of value that people want to participate in – so we’re in a position to make conditions for that. Those conditions have now been passed around between members and they sort of ring-fence during the whole night.

This is such an important aspect of our mission that we’re going to continue to really hammer those rules in – pumping them into slogans and putting videos out – because, at the end of the day, kink spaces have something really important to teach nightlife culture, more so than the police and their schemes – people are going to hate me for saying this, but it’s all a total farce. If all those things would have worked out then there wouldn’t be venues that have 10 or 12 cases of stabbings a year, but the problem is that there are all these gatekeepers in place that just tap on their own shoulders and say: “Oh yeah, we got it down from 10 to 9, what a great year!”, but they don’t go deep on the issue.

We’re a community, and the events that we do, or we might do in the future, are always made of so many different elements. The whole point of KV is to take people along.

Karl

I completely agree, and it’s so great that you have a successful system in place for keeping others safe. But how do you go about resolving disagreements or conflicts within the crew?

Hanny: We have different WhatsApp groups, and sometimes people say some stuff, but we have three people that moderate the groups. When something happens, we just hear everyone’s opinion in this moderator group, think about it, and take action if needed. In general, if there is something and we’re not sure if it’s okay or if it’s a ban, or if they need to have a time-out, we always sit down and talk about it. There is no one person that can decide because we have different views.

Farima: To be honest, from my side I have never seen any sort of disagreement; everything’s gone so smoothly.

You collaborate with a lot of photographers, artists, writers, filmmakers etc. Why is this important to you?

Hanny: They’re super talented, that’s why.

Karl: We’re a community, and the events or we do, or we might do in the future, are always made of so many different elements. The whole point of KV is to take people along. There are so many things that we do nowadays that come from the people that have picked up the condoms for the past five years; from people that roll through the door with an idea that we want to support. We want to give them a chance to create something on their own and just use us as a platform. KV is like this melting pot where people come together and things happen – yeah, it’s very organic.

It was so great that you organised online events to keep the community connected over lockdown. What value did you see in this? How did you find it?

Hanny: I found it tricky to connect with people through Zoom, but it was the only option. So for me, personally, it was tricky. I’d rather see people in person, even if it was outside.

Imogen: I think a lot of people weren’t interested in being on streaming events at all. I was still working on a stream with Karl because there were tickets involved, but from my personal experience, there’s a divide. Some people were just like, “right, that’s it, I’ll just be in my living room for the whole of the pandemic and I’m not going to go on my computer to be on an event at all.” Then there were people that were like, “OK, it’s not exactly what we want, but at least I can dress up and put my red light bulb in my room” – like you feel some sense of connecting. My first event was actually quite emotional because I was like, “Oh my God we’re all connecting with something that we really love.”

Karl: To be honest, I hated that time. [laughing] It was the most destroying thing ever. There were moments where you saw people on screen and you realised it is great to connect and that felt really positive, but on the other hand we’re also entities that champion real human connections. So we are outside the sort of dating world app and the charge-per-message and the algorithms, so going into this digital domain was not our territory and it was so far away from what we’re trying to push in the world. The one thing that I really enjoyed doing was the Videokabinen events because we were able to broadcast performers that we really like. In a time where everyone was out of pocket, we were able to remotely high-five each other watching a show or performance – a few hundred people came together and threw money at it, and were able to support people financially – I think that made sense. But personally, I never want to go back to it again.

What would you say are the core principles [three words] that bind you together or that lay the foundation for the work you do?

Hanny: Don’t be a dick [laughing].

Ayo: Exploration – always trying to do something new.

Farima: One of the main reasons I always enjoy working with Verboten is that I always feel inspired. Every time you work there, you feel something new happen – you come up with a new idea, you come up with a new way of working together – and that’s one of the things I really like. It doesn’t feel like working. It’s the most beautiful thing when you can see inspiration within a group, and you just don’t get tired of it.

Is there anything that you would like to say that hasn’t been said?

Ayo: Karl came up with Verboten and he’s entitled to it but, at the same time, so are all the people that go to events. You know, it’s all of ours. We are all part of Verboten and we take pride in it. You go on dating apps and people have Verboten in their bio, and I’m like, “what does this mean?” – I guess you’re a good person! You know what? “Swipe right” [laughing]. It’s just something that’s grown and grown, and it would be amazing if we had a physical space for it. I know Karl is fighting for that, but at the moment, we’ll carry our cards and Verboten with us. 

Karl: [laughing] Stop watching football, go to a fetish club!

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