Arts and Culture

Montreal’s sexiest subculture: fetish & kink

A deep dive into one of Montreal’s most secretive scenes and the community surrounding it.

Poutine, the Habs, French, and Mount Royal are the things that might generally come to mind when someone from outside the city thinks of Montreal. How about chains, whips, floggers, leather, and latex? 

Montreal is widely regarded as a global kink capital, featuring one of the largest fetish conventions in the world, a secretive yet growing kink scene, and an active passionate community. In 2024, just a short time after the scene mostly shut down and reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is quickly evolving. 

What was once a largely secretive and private scene is increasingly becoming open to the public. A community that struggles with fracturing and drama is adapting to new values, as kink culture increasingly begins to intersect with queer culture. Behind all this change are venues and events that have revolutionized the scene by being open to the public and relatively affordable. 

Every year for the past almost two decades, fetish culture has taken over the streets on Labour Day weekend. Attracting thousands of local and even international fetish enthusiasts from the United States and Europe, Montreal Fetish Weekend (MFW) is the city’s largest fetish event. The event consists of workshops, expos, film screenings, social dinners, cocktail hours, and scandalous parties with music, dance, kinky play, and fashion shows, that take over Montreal’s nightlife. The event finally culminates on Sunday with a photo walk that dominates the streets with lingerie, leather, and latex fashion.

The large-scale event is produced by Eric Paradis, aged 58. Paradis has been active in the local fetish scene for the past 35 years and debuted the MFW in 2004. He believes that the local scene would heavily benefit from more political and media recognition. 

“It’s healthy, but it’s very underground when you compare it to other cities,” Paradis said of the local scene. 

The MFWd will be returning for its 20th anniversary this year, and Paradis teased some ambitious ideas. A fashion show led by the attendants of the event, a welcome dinner atop Place Ville Marie, and a kinky cruise touring the city from the St. Lawrence River are just some of the things attendants may potentially expect this year.

While the MFW has been a staple of the local scene for the better part of the last two decades, it has a significant barrier to entry with its pricing. The weekend trio pass costs around $200, while the V.I.P passes are upwards of $300, pricing out lower-income fetishists from many of the weekend’s events. It is also only held once a year. Certain newer public venues and events are lowering this barrier to entry by being much cheaper and running all year round. 

A portal into the world of kink can be found in a humble doorway in Montreal’s Gay Village, with a simple sign reading “TENSION.” Past the welcome area, visitors will find a large open space with a wooden floor, often covered in Japanese tatami, adorned by a massive “rope tree” in the center, its “branches” interconnecting and knotting with each other throughout the ceiling. 

Tension is a venue with a focus on teaching shibari (Japanese rope bondage), but also offers yoga classes, workshops on rope, as well as other elements of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism) play, social communal events that bring like-minded people together, and even occasional parties. Founded originally in late 2017 as a smaller venue, Tension moved to a much larger venue on St-Catherine Street in March 2019. 

According to 33-year-old Christophe Bolduc, one of the owners of Tension, shibari has appeals for both the person doing the tying (the rigger) and the person being tied (the bottom). This and other forms of rope bondage involve using rope to restrain someone and restrict their movement, though it can potentially be very artistic. 

Bolduc was introduced to the ex-owner of Tension and was first tied upon his visit to the venue. It was then that he realized the depth of the craft, and his interest in rope was sparked. He began taking classes in 2018 and joined the Tension team in late 2019.

While shibari offers a new form of artistic expression to those who practise it as riggers and a unique immersive sensory experience for bottoms, it is not entirely safe. Bolduc stressed that shibari could be dangerous when not done safely, with risks such as nerve compression & damage. Physical safety is emphasized in the classes taught at Tension.

Tension calls itself a “safer space,” and the team is constantly trying to improve for its community. The staff accomplishes this through various methods, including community talks, teaching classes on consent & negotiation, placing an emphasis on emotional safety, and accountability circles, where clients can contact a neutral party with issues or conflicts.

After struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic like other non-essential businesses, Tension is now finally seeing some solid growth. “It’s reassuring that the community has been managing to constantly show up,” Bolduc said. 

In stark contrast to the Zen atmosphere of Tension, a monthly event features strobe lights, lingerie, a dungeon, and the ear-splitting hard bass of hardcore techno music, LATEX is Montreal’s most trendy kink event right now. The event attracts hundreds of ravers every month and, most recently, international DJs from Germany and Iceland. It will be returning for a special edition in collaboration with the Pornceptual collective on March 15. 

Held monthly at Union Française de Montreal on Viger Avenue, LATEX has a strictly-enforced kinky dress code. The event features performances including shibari, pole dances, and other kinky performances. The event also includes a dungeon equipped with large restraints such as X-crosses, as well as sex toys like plastic floggers and paddles, allowing attendants to play.

Juliana (Jules) Schlamp, aged 20, is a regular at the event. She’s been to six events so far, having attended her first LATEX in April. She was introduced to the world of kink through a chance discovery after leaving Stereo nightclub and seeing people in their outfits lined outside the event venue. 

“Unreal,” Schlamp said of her first experience at the rave. “It was truly extraordinary. To see the level of comfort, what people were wearing… and nobody was hitting on each other, it was so consensual and such a respectful space.” For Schlamp,  the event feels like a safe space where, if ever she were ever in danger, her fellow ravers would help her. 

Former dungeon monitor, photographer, and DJ at LATEX, Ben Ohayon (known in the scene as warmrubberette), quit the event back in September. He cited safety concerns due to mixing kink with loud music, drugs, and alcohol. Schlamp expressed a similar concern, saying  that as the event attracts more people, it becomes harder to filter out bad actors, and the event becomes less safe. 

Ohayon is the organizer of Rubber Regalia, Montreal’s only latex-dress code party, as well as Dirty AF, the kink scene’s newest addition and the first-ever hip-hop/Y2K-themed kink party, hosted at Cabaret Berlin.  Dirty AF returned for its second edition in January, and Ohayon plans to continue hosting the event every few months, with the next event being scheduled for May.

As Ohayon recognizes, Kink culture in Montreal has begun to increasingly intersect with queer culture. Referring to concepts such as switching (when one switches positions from top to bottom or vice versa) that have been imported from queer culture, Ohayon said: “That makes kink even more accessible because there’s less constraints associated with it. There’s more possibilities, more labels. You can explore it the way you want to explore it without being judged.”

Organizers of the community are generally optimistic about the future of the local scene. As Paradis said: “Montreal will always find a way to express its creativity and its kinkier side.”  

“Alt” over the ages: how Gen Z is redefining subculture

A deep dive into the murky waters of “Alt TikTok”

Girls cutting their hair into mullets, boys in French maid costumes, anime cosplayers and gothic eyeliner tutorials — it’s nearly impossible to imagine a place where all this content would live in harmony. Yet, they (almost) do on “Alternative TikTok.”

Initially, it could be difficult to understand how all these disparate creators could feel comfortable under the same label. Counterculture movements have been at each others’ necks time and time again (think mods vs. rockers or the phrase “never trust a hippie,” popular in early punk scenes). Yet, as it was back then, it is still evident now that there must be something gelling all these groups together.

Until recently, the label “alternative” was only used in the context of music, and even so, its origin and winding meanings have remained murky. When the phrase “alt rock” comes up, most people likely conjure images of bands from the 1990s and early 2000s popular with Generation X: Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, Pavement, Pixies, Yo La Tengo. However, the term “alternative rock” was coined in the 1980s to connote any music that did not fall under the purview of major record labels. This term took over the previously used “college rock” in the U.S. and “indie rock” in the U.K., to tag albums produced by independent labels that were popular on college radio stations. But, once Nirvana broke into the mainstream, the term alternative gained popularity as a catch-all.

While it’s unclear how the word “alt” showed up on TikTok with its current usage, the meaning is generally pretty consistent: alt TikTok sits in opposition to so-called “straight TikTok.” Straight TikTok is what you’ll be served when you first download the app: Charli D’Amelio, Hype House, and an onslaught of preppy teens doing dancing challenges. It’s the default, but honestly not very entertaining.

So then, “alt” in its current Gen Z usage is similar to its Gen X meaning — an umbrella term for all the subcultures standing in opposition to the norm. Though, it gets complicated, because now we aren’t just talking about music, we’re talking about people’s entire identities. The subcultures of Gen Z — E-Boys, VSCO Girls, cottagecore, and so on  — no longer base their identities around the music they listen to like the Emo and Grunge kids of yesteryear. Style has become the defining feature of these groups.

While style has always been instrumental to subculture, it’s telling how in our hyper-visual social media culture, it has become the driving force behind young people’s community-making.

That is not to say that style is without substance. In his widely influential book, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, media theorist Dick Hebdige explains how subculture groups of the 1960s and ‘70s used style to further a political message. Hebdige posits that the clothes worn by subculture groups function as a form of political rebellion in their own right. Something as simple as the tailored suits worn by the Mods of the 1960s show a disregard for the symbolic power of the suit in mid-century Britain. When a subculture co-ops the dressing style of those in power, they tear down the boundaries between themselves and those in classes above them. Through this, people are forced to question why we give power to these seemingly trivial symbols. For the Mods, when you disregard the symbol of the suit, notions of power, class, and white-collar ideals come down with it.

Is that so different from subcultures today? Take Gen Z’s cottagecore for example, an aesthetic of flowy fabrics, rural vistas, home-made breads and hair scarves. Through these style cues, cottagecore rejects the hyper-materialistic, technologically-reliant modern world, instead searching for slow-paced, rustic alternatives.

With that, creators can gain lots of cultural cachet by emanating a particular “look,” as it’s a shorthand to express your inner politics and desires.

The Internet, and most recently TikTok, has become the springboard for young people’s counterculture or “alternative” movements. Due to its advanced algorithm that constantly curates content that’s meant for your tastes (even calling its feed the “For You” page), TikTok is able to create micro-communities of like-minded people. And the more you interact with these communities, the more you’re fed their content, thus further cementing your place.

While it’s easy for Millennials and even elder Gen Z to write off the teens who seem to form their identities around how many pocket chains they have or even doing that weird eye roll thing, it’s important to take a step back and realize that this is all completely precedented. Alternative subcultures will, barring major political crackdown, always exist and always be changing. It’ll just be interesting to see who the next group to be absorbed into the alternative umbrella will be.


Photo collage by  Kit Mergaert

Exit mobile version