James Stone, the club and party promoter responsible for ground-breaking fetish-themed nightlife in Los Angeles, passed away Wednesday evening after a long battle with bladder cancer. He was 47. He is survived by his mother, sister, brother and countless friends in Los Angeles.
Born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, Stone moved to Hollywood at age 16, in the early '80s, and got involved in the club scene soon after. The most notorious party he helped put together was called Club Fuck, and it took place in Silver Lake. The gathering broke new ground here, bringing the S&M lifestyle into the open and helping to popularize it within a club environment — both in L.A. and around the country.
But the reach of his events were wide: Everyone got involved, from the piercing and tattooing world, purveyors of the modern primitive aesthetic, the gay scene from butch to femme, the transgendered community, punks and goths, burlesque aficionados, and the acid house/trance music euphoria coming out of Europe. They all meshed together, well before their interests became typical at nightclubs.
While Club Fuck was mostly underground, his aesthetic became more popular when he started a party at higher-profile venue Sin-a-matic, at Peanuts/7969. (It later become Voyeur). As a DJ, Stone brought rave-style trance and hard electro to a new crowd, melding it with industrial sounds in a way that hadn't been done before. When Stone joined forces with nightlife icon/DJ Joseph Brooks for the erotic extravaganza known as the L.A. Fetish Ball, the latex and corset set finally had a major place to congregate and celebrate. Often these events would correspond with holidays like Halloween or New Years Eve, and feature acts like The Cramps or Nina Hagen. The Ball always sold out.
Later, Stone's Man-o-rama nights, co-promoted by Tom of Finland, brought him back to a more traditional gay scene, but they were no less art-driven or multifaceted. Stone's flair for the theatrical helped bring exposure to a variety of unique performers, many who went on to achieve great success, including Dita Von Teese and renowned performance artist Ron Athey.
James was an imposing figure, brawny and tall, pierced and tattooed, with facial features that might be described as serious. But those who knew him loved his big heart, and he had a sweetness and soft-spoken manner that was oddly comforting even in wild atmospheres. He took what he did very seriously, and that's what made him good at it. He had great taste in music, a tremendous eye for details and a passion for throwing events and bringing people together, particularly people who were considered misfits or freaks.
Providing homosexual, polysexual and straight nightlife enthusiasts a welcome and safe environment may be his greatest legacy, but his clubs could also be appreciated solely for the flamboyant fashion or the innovative dance sounds. His legacy lives in the modern club scene, which mixes sexualities, musical genres, provocative style sensibilities.
In fact, the aesthetics he helped popularize have today become mainstream, exemplified by artists like Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson. Alternative lifestyles — like S&M — are prevalent in film and even best-selling books, like Fifty Shades of Grey. Stone put it all out there at a time when doing so meant risking failure, judgement or worse. He will be sorely missed both by friends and fans in the nightlife community.