After last year’s Zirkus I had very high hopes for this year’s Sleaze Ball – The Villains’ Lair. Last year we saw a return to form in many ways – a variety of spaces, a hot sexy vibe, awesome production values including explosions of fire, kinky shows and costumes. This year’s Sleaze Ball felt decidedly unsleazy, and while the Mardi Gras team had obviously worked hard to create a party full of surprises, ultimately it was lacking in sexiness and cohesion.
The party got off to a promising start. The Hordern looked awesome and was decked out with futuristic, almost Star-Trek scenic, complete with generous lighting and lasers, towering silver statues and video screens. A lot of people had dressed up, most people’s interpretation of the theme was pretty obvious, and the cumulative effect of too many superhero and super-villain costumes made it feel more like a halloween party than a Sleaze Ball.
Alan Thompson kicked off the party in fine form, keeping it sexy and dark, but full of crowd favourites, until the midnight show burst onto the mainstage. Drag queens, cyborgs and a sexy troupe of demonic dancers bumped and grinded their way through a mash up of Gwen Stefani’s What You Waiting For? and Pussycat Dolls’ When I Grow Up. This year the distinctive Mardi Gras voice-over who announces each act and who asks everyone to thank the DJs and performers was augmented to sound robotic and synthesised, and while it kept with the theme, I missed his warm, familiar tones. Ordinarily, hearing him announce “Welcome to Sleaze Ball!” or “Welcome to Mardi Gras!” gives me goosebumps, but at times this altered version was hard to understand.
Next onstage were The Potbelleez, a performance that bombed for a number of reasons. They seemed tired, off-kilter and worn down. They didn’t make any attempt to really engage with the fact that this was Sleaze Ball. There were some moments, particularly when they were yelling out lines like, “Yeah! Sleaze Ball! Whoo!” where I felt thoroughly disillusioned. I could have been at a footy grand final or a straight New Year’s Eve event on Bondi Beach. They completely set the wrong tone, and were, in a word, irrelevant. Due to the Dome being closed, there was little escape, and those who couldn’t bear it were driven to the brightly lit and decidedly unsleazy forecourt. When I left the Hordern they were playing Don’t Hold Back, and when I returned at the end of the set they were still playing Don’t Hold Back. ‘Is there anybody out there?’ indeed.
Mardi Gras had obviously put their thinking caps on, doing their best to create some interesting happenings around the venue. There was an aerial kidnapping, where a figure dropped from the ceiling, grabbed a partygoer and whisked them up into the sky. There was a 6am show with a cast of bears who poured and rubbed mud all over each other. In the wee hours, performers on stilts wandered through the forecourt crowd as large stick insects.
After the awful performance from The Potbelleez the remaining Hordern DJs – Sveta, Mark Murphy and late addition Simon Caldwell, had their work cut out for them. They did their best to belt out dark, sexy, big room tracks and while there were definite moments, overall it didn’t quite hit the mark. While it was admirable of Mardi Gras to try to take the music in the Hordern down this path, it was a risky gamble that didn’t quite pay off.
Not including the Dome in the footprint was obviously a last minute budget decision, but it was a fundamental flaw. Attempts to create a ‘Dome like’ atmosphere in the Hordern unfortunately failed and while there was a dance space in the forecourt it was fundamentally a chill out space.
As always I take my hat off to the volunteers and to those who work hard and give up their time to produce these events. The party may have sold out, due to the smaller footprint, and not including the Dome may have made the party a success financially, but as someone who tends to spend most of their time in the Dome every year at Sleaze, and as someone who goes to these events to feel sexy, recharged and inspired, this party will live on in my mind as the unsleaziest Sleaze in history. If this is the direction that this party is heading in, I think it’s time for a name change.
Well done to the folk behind Action at the Arthouse, Rising and Extra Dirty – parties that actually provided us with some authentic sleaze over the Sleaze long weekend, and not just fancy dress.