When you enter the shabbily glamorous Looking Glass cocktail bar on Hackney Road, there is no way of knowing that behind the huge gold-framed mirror next to the bar hides a door to a secret room. As twenty-odd people wait to be let in, sipping on inventive, albeit pricey cocktails, there is a simmering sense of anticipation. When we are finally invited to step behind the looking glass, each guest is given a cheerful welcome spank on the bum by the vivacious Messy La Freak.
This introduction into the dark screening room with its mismatched sofas and tattered vintage chairs is apt: the atmosphere at La Freak Smut Cinema, a midweek female-friendly porn film night run by two young mothers and self-described ‘sex geeks’, is joyfully naughty, risqué but relaxed. The good-natured audience is composed mostly of couples, a few single men, and pairs or groups of female friends.
Set to music throughout, the programme starts with cute animated shorts by Naked Love, and two classy films by Erika Lust about masturbatory bondage and a sexual encounter dreamed up by an obsessive lover, mingled with La Freak’s own compilation videos. As the evening progresses the material becomes heavier, with, among others, a Japanese gay animé that is typically both sentimental and rude, as well as the BDSM-orientated Discipline. The latter is an accomplished example of La Freak’s style: a striking juxtaposition of artistic, beautiful, enigmatic images and saucy, explicit, provocative material that feels fresh, surprising and arousing.
During the show, Missy La Freak and Messy La Freak keep bouncing around, a glass of wine in their hands, charmingly enthusiastic, open, approachable and willing to engage with their audience. The evening is a success: after the films, the room buzzes with collective exhilaration, and people linger on at the bar to chat animatedly. Missy and Messy beam: their job is done.
A week later, I met the cerebral, artistic-minded Missy and the boisterous, spirited Messy La Freak to talk about porn, art and feminism.
Virginie Sélavy: How did La Freak start?
Messy La Freak: I broke up with my long-time partner and I was experiencing a very high level of sex drive. I always had a fantasy of going into a sex cinema. I had that idea of putting on a fur coat, having a little cigarette outside, having a glass of red wine, watching some porn, not doing very much, and then going home and having a massive session. But that is not what happened at all. I turned up at this place on City Road that I’d looked up on the internet. There was a sign that said ‘Women go for free’… I went downstairs and it was the most revolting film ever, with a quite large lady covering herself in cream. I put myself in the back row and before I’d even counted to five every single man – I was obviously the only woman – in the entire room lunged at me like zombies! I ran out, it was ruined. A few weeks later I met Missy. And two years later we were sitting in her house drinking red wine and we were talking about porn.
Missy La Freak: We discussed the story and we talked about how London doesn’t have a sex cinema that women feel comfortable going to. That was the seed. The seed was that women should be able to go out, enjoy something sexual…
Messy: …in a non-threatening environment.
How did you find your current venue?
Missy: They found us. They contacted us on Twitter.
Messy: Our venue hunting has been a big nightmare.
Missy: You’d think London is very liberated. London is not liberated.
Messy: There’s such a taboo about porn. We’ve had lots of problems. Normal places won’t take us. They have to be slightly edgy or slightly underground.
Missy: Advertising was a problem too. For a year it was a truly underground event because we weren’t really listed. We tried flyering for the first night, but it’s difficult to flyer for a porn night. There have been points where we have considered quitting. We were thinking, is London ready for this?
Who comes to your nights?
Missy: In the beginning it was for women, but it’s open to all now. It’s for all sexualities, genders, backgrounds, ages. It’s for people who want a good time and a friendly atmosphere. The first night we chatted to people to get some feedback, and the group of people who were the most interested in La Freak were women in their 40s and 50s. They were so in touch with their sexuality, so ready for a night like La Freak. That was wonderful.
Messy: Normally about half of the room is heterosexual couples, and the other half is pairs and groups of ladies, a few straggler guys, and sometimes we’ve had straggler girls.
It felt geared towards women more than anything else, for instance Wank was all about female masturbation. And He-Man was great because it wasn’t just about sex, it was also about the beauty of the male body.
Missy: We are trying to have a more artistic view of sex. In the beginning, although we were trying to take it away from the mainstream view of sex, there was a lot of cock count, whereas now there’s more artistic erotica. We feel that it makes the real sex more powerful to have it cut up with more artistic films that tease you, that don’t show you everything. Wank was one of our first films, and it was when we were very much thinking about women. Our thought was, when you hear the word ‘wank’, everyone thinks of men, and men talk very openly about it. We wanted to discuss female wanking and celebrate it.
Messy: The reason why we’ve moved away from classifying ourselves as something not necessarily feminist, but female, geared towards women, is that it’s boxing yourself in. You alienate half of the demographic. We are feminists but, unfortunately for our species, there are a lot of women who are fearful of the word.
Missy: We found that the association with the term has put some people off. It’s unfortunate but we want the night to be open to everyone.
Muff felt like a celebration of pubic hair.
Missy: That was a direct ‘fuck you’ to mainstream porn where the muffs are removed so you can see more vagina.
Messy: A lot of men prefer pubic hair, so I think it is just for that reason – so you can see more.
Missy: It’s such a slippery slope, now you have porn stars having their bits lasered off, because once you can see more, then you need to create the perfect vagina. It’s pretty grim.
One of the films was a Japanese gay animé.
Missy: I love it, that’s the one that turns me on the most. The idea of showing animated stuff was really interesting to me. But I looked at hetero Japanese animé and it’s horrific!
Messy: It’s all rape.
Missy: It’s paedophilic. The men are very old and ugly, the girls are really young and pretty and they’re crying. I tried very hard to find something that wasn’t like that and I stumbled across this film. It’s actually made by women.
Missy: We’ve had some funny reactions to it, some men saying, ‘I will never watch anything like that again’. They’d rather have live action, watching an animated version in some way really flips them out. For the most part people like it.
Messy: The reason why La Freak is quite girl-heavy is because 90% of pornography focuses on the female body. And while as females we can appreciate the beauty of the female body, and it’d be completely absurd to not include it and celebrate it, the show has changed. That animé was the first thing that shifted it and became a celebration of the masculine form. From then we got a better balance.
You clearly spend a lot of time sifting through online porn to find the good stuff.
Missy: This was another reason for La Freak. We would go on the computer, try and watch porn, and what we were finding was quite unpleasant. You have to really look hard for something you’ll enjoy. So the other idea of La Freak was to find the gems, cut out the delving through, and say, we guarantee that it’ll all be good. It may not all be to your exact sexual taste, but it will be at the very least interesting. It won’t be what you see on Redtube.
Why do you think it’s important to watch those films collectively?
Messy: I think porn is one of the last taboos. I like doing slightly risqué things and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it, because it’s naughty. And it seems even naughtier because it’s put on by women.
Missy: And that’s why there’s music and it’s fast-paced. We want to be laughing, greet everyone, dance, so everybody knows you can relax. You don’t have to feel weird or uncomfortable about being here.
Messy: That’s why we move around the room, it’s not to distract people, it’s to chill them out…
Why is the music so important to you?
Messy: There was a show where we changed the format for one night. We got rid of the music so it was just films and blackness. Just as an experiment to see whether people were coming for the vibe or for the films. And what we found was that without the songs the response was really rigid and British.
Missy: Awkward, serious, no one spoke.
Messy: If you watch soft-core 70s porn there is music.
Missy: I find it much more fun to watch. From the 80s onwards it’s silent, and it’s the same sex noises. He’s grunting like a silver-backed gorilla, she’s moaning, and every film is the same. I think there’s a lot of focus on how women are treated in that kind of porn, but I also think the men are given a very robotic role – it’s like a bizarre machine that keeps doing this motion. I think both parties get a raw deal.
What’s the future of La Freak?
Messy: We’ve had this guy audition for us, I got him round the other night. He’d waxed his moustache and put eyeliner on and he was wearing a corset, a top hat, a silver jockstrap, stockings, suspenders and kitten heels, and he looked really masculine, but really feminine too. It was amazing. So I sat down with a glass of wine, and he started monologuing. It was a very touching piece about sexuality and your inner freak, a poem about his sexual discovery, but it definitely had an edge of murderous hysteria. It wasn’t a joyful piece. It culminated with him pretending to shove a massive cucumber up his bum and then poo it out. His act wasn’t the right tone because La Freak is a celebration of sexuality, a liberation and a happiness, his is much more about how our inner freaks are slaves to homogenised sexuality. It’s interesting but it’s too dark. But we’re now going to join in and curate a show where he’ll be the MC for the evening. I think that will add a level of spectacle and professionalism.
Missy: We feel that having someone who is so confident and looks great would be a wonderful addition. We also want to have erotic artists come and showcase their paintings.
Messy: For the next show we’ve got an artist who does erotic drawings. We have big things planned.
Interview by Virginie Sélavy