UFO - Piercing, tattooing & Body Modification / by Walt Cassidy


Paper Magazine


Photographed by Haim Ariav

Fashion Editor Peter Davis

Models: Waltpaper, Astro Erle, Mihoko, Christopher Comp and Desi Monster

UFO - Piercing , Tattooing & Body Modification

The Club Kid umbrella was far reaching, and under it, were a number of sub-cliques.  

Astro Erle, Desi Monster and myself formed a trinity of sorts in 1991.  We were always together, each occupying a different element.  Our looks cross pollinated and we built them from the industrial, mechanical and plastic supply stores on Canal street.  We used various bits of plastic, rubber and metal, then hot glued everything together into different ensembles that were worn to the club.

Erle’s personal style was cyber, futuristic, intense and aggressive.  Desi was all about masks and morphing his body with different mechanical devices, while conveying a dark, but playful sense of humor.  I was tribal, ethnic, insect-like, earthy, witchy and cult-y.

I generally preferred to be almost naked, utilizing makeup, handmade accessories, shoes and hair more than masks and costumes.  I wanted to dance and be free, without the restraint of a heavy ensemble.  Desi, however, loved challenging gear that he often had to painfully endure, and Erle fluctuated somewhere in between function and restraint. He also pulled in various fetish references that we would all come to incorporate into our looks.

Erle was the pioneer who turned the rest of us on to extreme body piercing. He had been hanging out with the butch lesbians in San Francisco, who were doing transgressive things like surgically clipping the tops of their ears off to make them pointy shaped. like a pit bull or alien.

Around this time, Gauntlet opened a second floor piercing salon on 5th Avenue. The first Gauntlet appeared in West Hollywood in 1978, and then in San Francisco. It was founded by Jim Ward and catered to the gay BDSM community. Ward designed and created a number of body jewelry pieces that are now standards, including the "barbell", "circular barbell", and "captive bead ring".

Prior to this, while in high school, I had come across the ground breaking publication RE/Search #12: MODERN PRIMITIVES and the photography work of Charles Gatewood. I was also an avid fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work before arriving to NYC. These seeds were planted inside of me, but it wasn’t until I became friends with Erle, that I really began to utilize those aesthetics.

Lauren Pine, who was a friend and celebrated figure in the body modification and nightlife scenes, became one of the master piercers at Gauntlet, and subsequently executed many of the Club Kid piercings. Lauren was recognized for her extreme waist training, and mentored by legendary corset maker Mr. Pearl, a contemporary of Leigh Bowery’s.

Magazine editorials featuring the Club Kids began highlighting our exploration into body modification and piercing. Ravers, whom we were closely affiliated with, began to embrace piercing as well, and from there the trend blossomed. Soon even Supermodels began to get pierced, and it continued to ripple out into the mainstream public consciousness.

As for our little group within the Club Kids, we called ourselves UFO, and all got a tattoo of a space ship with legs and platform shoes, that I had drawn. Christopher Comp was also a part of UFO. He was Michael Alig’s assistant at the time, so was usually handling administrative tasks while at the club, and micro managing the rest of us.

Desi, Erle and myself probably became so close because we were often booked to go-go dance together on the main dance floors of the various Peter Gatien clubs. Many of the other Club Kids would be hired to just host, no dancing required, so would stay tucked away in the VIP rooms, unless there was a specific event on the main dance floor.

The three of us loved dancing, attention and the energy of the big crowd. In addition to that, the main dance floor was where all the cute Bridge & Tunnel boys were, and we were always hunting for a new skater or banjee boy to trot around.

At some point, we became good friends with a crew of New Jersey guys who ran a tattoo shop, which later expanded into a body jewelry company, called Rings and Things. It was owned by Cary Brief, who we first met in connection with the Smart Bar’s that began to pop up in Limelight. I don’t remember why he was affiliated with them, but maybe it was one of his businesses?

Smart Bars catered to drug use, much of which did not mix well with alcohol. The high influx of Ecstasy led to hours upon hours of non stop dancing. One could easily become dehydrated, so these non alcoholic bars were created to provide juices, Gatorade and snacks that helped us all stay on good trips.

After meeting Cary, the three of us got much more into tattooing and body piercing because he would work on us for free in New Jersey. We also appeared at a tattoo convention that his company organized. For that event, I painted a giant backdrop to highlight the band, Lunachicks, who were performing.

It’s important to note that tattooing was illegal in New York City until 1997. It wasn’t accessible, like it is today.

Another shop that was vital to our exploration of this vernacular, was Body Worship, located in the East Village. They carried a wide range of intelligently designed bondage gear made in rubber, metal, leather and latex. This gear perfectly complimented the looks we were coming up with, and the owner was a great supporter of us, and would custom make corsets, or any other item that we might need.

There was abundant collaborative and supportive energy floating all around the club scene of the 1990’s. Whatever we wanted to achieve, there was always someone who would help us, whether it was tattooing, piercing, or making outfits. It was an incredibly vibrant time.