The Third Annual Southern Ink Xposure
We like tattoos and people that have ’em! Do you?
I wonder how shallow I really am. I mean, in this context, I’m aware that I’m quite easily lulled in a good mood when I’m sent to events which cater to pretty specific interests and indulgences of mine. Like, for example, conventions which house attractive tattooed and pierced people mincing about, piercing and tattooing other attractive people. Because I am an opinionated asshole, I try and be objective when I’m faced with having to report back on things which I really enjoy, because I realize I sometimes come across as somebody who takes great delight in defecating upon the cherished community cake of many. I don’t deny it, but I think it’s difficult to take a review seriously when the author is obviously glowing with nothing but Good Feels. I don’t want to sound like I have my tongue up somebody’s sphincter, you get me? Have you ever read a positive magazine DVD review of the Tomb Raider sequel? The only conclusion you can draw from somebody who clearly suggests you either buy or rent that movie and watch it from start to finish either 1.) didn’t watch the movie or 2.) watched the movie on mute, with candles
I’ve deviated. What I’m saying is, I’m trying to make an effort. I’d been bottle-rocket-bouncy about the Southern Ink Tattoo Convention for weeks, but luckily I had at least two metaphorical weights I could clip onto my belt to ground me: firstly, I was sick with something not alcohol-induced the entire weekend, and secondly, my photographer cancelled on me at like the last goddam minute. Now, I actually bought a pretty great camera recently, but photo-journalism’s never really been my game. I get all nervous about where to stand and when it’s okay and when it’s not okay to photograph everything. Like, fucking photo-etiquette? I don’t like getting up in people’s faces without so much as a Hello Do You Mind If I Capture Your Likeness For Unclear Reasons, I don’t like missing out watching girls in burlesque lace remove their clothes because I have my eyes screwed into the viewfinder while I try and adjust focus in dim light.
And then there’s always a couple of guys who show up with cameras that have, like, way huger lenses and flashes than mine, and, it’s like being coherently aware of having a small willy in a public changing-area. I don’t have a willy I’ve ever had to try and hide while changing in front of people with bigger willies, but I think you get it? I guess what I lack is stealth. Not having the same massive willy-lens everybody else has, I’m forced to creep up closer to whatever I and everybody else wants to photograph (such as, for example, a band on a stage, or a lady tastefully removing some but not all her clothing), and then I really seem to stand out as somebody with a not-too-impressive camera who’s just trying to get closer than everyone else.
Anyway, I’m supposed to tell you about the third annual Southern Ink Xposure 2011, and I will.
My deal with tattoos? I like ‘em! And people around here liked ‘em enough to have attended three proper official conventions just for people who like tattoos. These are gatherings for people who like to watch other people, and for people who like to act like it bothers them. Which is okay! I mean, if I was walking around with my shirt off so people can see that I had about 5% of your epidermis left unlinked, I’d also be nudging my friends and whimpering “What are they looking at?” as I made a show of rolling my eyes. I’m not mocking! It’s the rules, I know. People here are people who like to get tattoos in front of other people, or people who like to watch people getting tattoos. See how perfect this convention is for what is probably a very specific set of jollies nursed by a subculture? It’s great.
The Tattoo Convention this year was hosted at the BMW Pavillion at the V&A Waterfront, instead of the CTICC. My mirth from the latter venue was derived from the discovery that some regular church service is hosted there on Sundays, and the overlap which occurred as well-to-do families in their chaste Sunday Best and obviously satanic pagans arrived at the same venue made for some awkward double-takes and feverish Hail Maries.
I entered the venue, past a circle of people watching Starr B-1 from the Black Orchid Beasties ruffling her purple feathers to Fever, and a brief circumnavigation of the floor indicated to me that there was a handful of stalls to the left and to the right, and an outdoor bar. In front of the staircase stood a glass case, housing a handful of artistically painted casts of arms bunched into fists for this year’s Body Of Work expedition – last year, artists creatively painted plaster casts of human hearts. I’m always delighted to see different artist’s takes on the same thing, and there were some impressive and quirky pieces this year. I’m gonna go ahead and step around the extremely obvious fisting jokes my friends and I immediately credited to ourselves, is that okay with you?
I didn’t actually realize that most of the show was upstairs until I took a picture of a guy with a sexy Oscar the Grouch T-shirt, who grinned and told me that he’d “bought it upstairs, from Tits. You should check it out”. He winked and gave me the thumbs-up.
“Tits” turned out to be a T-shirt selling stall, mostly of the semi-nude girls variety, surrounded a massive crowd of incredible international tattoo artists. I’m not sure how relevant name-dropping is or if you have rockstar tattoo artists in mind at all, here, but if you’d care to mosey onto the website at, take a look at the names and their galleries, and at the very least regret not being there to get attractive tattoos done by attractive people. Well, some of them were attractive. Last year Paul Booth was there (and he IS a celebrity tattoo artist – he’s tattooed bands like Pantera, Mudvayne, Slayer, Slipknot, and that Fred Durst honey) and while I will humbly concede that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I will never mistake that guy for somebody attractive. I don’t wish to defame Mr Booth in this article but I don’t he ever checks himself in the mirror and makes a growly noise in his throat as he pulls his best duckface, y’get me?
This year did have a lot of familiar guests artists, such as Megan Hoogland from the US, the incredible Laura Juan, whose portraits are breathtaking, and the lovely pink-haired Dermadonna. Dermadonna almost kicked a girl’s ass when she caught her photographing pictures of her tattoo portfolio, which was a dickly thing of the offending girl to do. “If I were a man? I would punch you in the FACE!” she snarled, her accented war cries echoing across the crowed. Important mentions which may not mean anything to you but whom you should look up are Japan’s Yushi Takei and Thailand’s Andy Shou, who politely informed my friend that one could expect to wait for about six months before getting tattooed by him. Anybody ever watch Prison Break? Yeah, remember that guy? Fuck that guy. Andy Shou’s tattoos look like Clive Barker had time to sit down and draw the actual blueprints of that puzzle box from hell and disguised them as pictures of innocent geishas and Japanese Unicorns.
Having the Tattoo Con at the BMW Pavilion meant that there was a spiffy outdoor bar for the entire weekend, and a lounge that had a mini-fridge permanently stacked with Monster Energy drink, and it was free. Forever. This came in handy because the promoted poison of choice was Sailor Jerry Rum, who seems like a good enough Guy, but rum’s never really been my thing. These guys were however helpful enough to leave informative little brochures on all of their tables so we could learn how to make fun Sailor Jerry-based drinks, like Sailor Jerry on the Rocks. So now you can make it for all of your friends! Phew! Thanks, Sailor Jerry!
Now, I don’t feel like I need to spend too much time waffling about why people get tattoos, society’s perception of them, what makes a good tattoo. I think the point of the convention was to demonstrate a public gathering of the social observation of It Takes All Sorts – from the attendance, at least, it’s nice to see that tattoos are not symbols limited to a specific, exclusive subculture. People walked around gamely sporting fresh saran-wrapped ink or sun-faded artwork – new and old. There were a handful of people with kids walking around, too – happy-looking ankle-biters pointing and giggling and gamely sprouting either temporary stick-on tattoos or eternal reminders of Awful Parenting.
At some point I declared to my friends that I had decided to set a goal for myself and find and photograph the Ugliest Tattoo. However, as soon as I said this out loud, I started getting worried – what really makes an ugly tattoo? For example, I excitedly nudged my friend to point out what I thought was a rad tattoo of Sloth from the Goonies on some guy’s chest, and it turned out to be a portrait of a little girl. Now, that was a horrible tattoo! But it was probably the guy’s daughter, and, you know, fuck me for wanting to make fun of that.
Fuck, now I had to get thoughtful. People have different ideas about what makes great tattoos. My friend made the catty observation that tattoos of portraits of women’s faces on shoulders “was the new tramp-stamp”, which I thought was unfair, because I think that the tattoo of Jack Nicholson hacking his way through the door in that one scene from The Shining deserves that title. Actually, no, I’m just being a dick. What I mean to illustrate from this is that there are definite, bolder trends emerging – people are less afraid of getting tattoos and, instead of getting them somewhere discreet and easily concealed, are getting them in bold, open areas, which is either really cool or really dumb. And I say this as objectively as I mean with anything people do to themselves: dumb haircuts, dumb moustaches, dumb outfits. But fuck what I think, because I am happy to embrace that people might see my goddamn angora afro flapping in the wind and getting tangled in my septum piercing or see my octopus tattoo and wonder if I actually paid money for any of that.
Point is, I was still gonna find the Ugliest Tattoo, though. It’d take some intuition; like I said, I couldn’t just choose the first faded ankle butterfly. It’d have to come coupled with some pride and irony – an honest, bad tattoo.
Something that wouldn’t hurt feelings. I’d know it in my heart. And as it turns out, the Ugliest Tattoo arrived sooner than expected.I knew, because the owner knew.
There was no arguing it. I was taking a break and sitting outside with an exciting Sailor Jerry drink I’d learned to make for myself, when a guy sidled up and asked my friend if he could take a picture of the eye she has tattooed on her back. She shot me a worried look and then tried to draw his attention to the tattoo I have on my back. Incidentally the guy chuckled and rolled up his sleeve to show me a squiggly tribal squid he had on his shoulder, which, he was ready to admit, looked pretty terrible. And then, just above it, almost hidden by his sleeve, I saw it.
“Hold on,” I told him, narrowing my eyes and readying my camera.
“Let me see your other tattoo”.
His eyes darted nervously to his wife, who merely grinned indulgently and said, “Go on”.
“I know what it is,” I told him. “I’m going to photograph it, because you’re a horrible old man.”
He laughed and pulled his shirt off to reveal his awful, awful tattoo.
“The missus wishes she could do that!” he roared merrily, flexing his arms up and down.
“He wishes I could do that!” his wife countered, equally merry.
So I’m happy to choose this picture as the winner of the Ugliest Tattoo contest, which I happily feel has left nobody with hurt feelings.
This is the winner, without contest.
I oughta tell you about the Miss Happ party in Club Voom Voom! Here’s where I started feeling guilty about having a good time without being objective, for the purposes of writing it here. There are two things to point out before I talk about anything else- a monitor played Some Like It Hot on repeat throughout the whole night while they played swing and big-band numbers all night. It is an honest delight to experience a whole room of people sincerely rocking out to Cab Calloway or Zoot Street Riot without feeling like a nob – or, I don’t know, maybe we were the nobs all along. This kind of atmosphere, fabricated or not, doesn’t manifest easily or sincerely very often. I liked it.
Appropriately, some effort was made to maintain a themed line-up of live acts, including The Bone Collectors, Them Tornadoes (and you know how I feel about those guys) and Peachy Keen, which actually worked pretty swell. The crowd’s reception was contained the appropriate proportion of extremely excited dancers in painful shoes, calmly postured, condescending barflies, and people playing dress-up. We see an Elvis with a head like a jellybean enthusiastically chewing gum and tapping his foot to the Bone Collectors, who are lovely gentlemen who describe their sound as “acoustic blues and boogie”, which is accurate –they pulled out an actual washboard for percussion at some point, and were one porcelain jar of moonshine away from being in the wrong part of the world. Their assembly is lively and bouncy and has the crowd enthusing rhythmically. In between sets, the Black Orchid Beasties get on stage and do perform their artful craft of tease, and this is always well received – I praise a combination of good costumes and the girls appearing to really enjoy themselves.
Next up were underground rockabilly favourites, Them Tornadoes. I’ve expressed how I feel about these guys before! They go up and do their thing, and the crowd loves them too. Simon has a new bass that I tried to get a good picture of, but there were too many excited heads in the way. It looks like he tried to paint a shark on it. I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but it looks kind of like Chairy from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, except significantly less retarded.
They finish up their set to thunderous hoots and yee-haws, which leaves the last band of the evening to get ready: Peachy Keen.
Okay, I wanna talk about Peachy Keen. I was pretty excited to see these guys – I’d heard about them and seen photos of a very carefully- assembled textbook ensemble of a rockabilly band. I narrow my eyes and get ready to get critical. I can’t help it. The band climbs on stage, and the two female vocal leads - Mary Jane Rockin’crotch on rhythm guitar and Anna Grin on the keyboard, says their Facebook page – are blonde, tattooed, pierced, and adorable. I’m guarded. They call their drummer Slim Anus. Man, I wish I wasn’t so easily lulled by butt jokes.
And, to my utter annoyance, my plans of brooding at the bar are foiled when they explode into their first number – the floor erupts into an instant jam-dance. With me in.
They’re a lot of fun on stage.
They describe themselves as a “Rockabilly/Popabilly” band, which was a detail I’d armed myself with and was ready to use as a weapon.
Popbabilly. Really? Scoff.
As it turns out, it’s an oddly accurate term. They’re undeniably pop and preppy; their songs are bouncy and full of spunk, and Rockin’crotch and Grin share a zesty harmony on stage. They don’t sound bad at all, these guys. They’re actually, goddammit, extremely catchy. In fairness, they sing fewer songs about zombies and Draculas than about, oh, I don’t know, revenge, attractive women, or whatever bands think is important to sing about in general – what I mean is, their sound isn’t as gritty as the bands they try to look like. They’re no Zombina and the Skeletones or Horropops, but I’m a lot more at ease at them not trying to sound like a stubborn half-baked local re-hash of them. I’m not pointing fingers, but Cape Town bands do this, alright? They pick a band they want to sound like, do everything they can to sound like them, and pretty much do, but the end result is that they sound kinda like that band you like but aren’t really all the way there and, in fact, are kind of just ruining what sounds like a song you used to really like until now. Anyone?
I like Peachy Keen. I do. They’ve found a look for themselves which actually compliments their sound really well. So I’m prepared to concede they probably didn’t do something like come across the word “steampunk” on UrbanDictionary and decided that, yeah, that’s what they were from then on. Or maybe they did? In any case, they make the ensemble work for them, and I’d go see ‘em again.
Concluding comments? Tattoos, keep ‘em coming. Great convention, awesome crowd, great excuse to ogle and flaunt.
Although the picture of this girl with the parrot made me angry that there weren’t more pirates. Work on that next year, everyone.
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