If you like wearing gear, buying gear, dancing in gear, looking at guys in gear, or having sex with guys in gear, Leather/Fetish Pride (or sometimes Leather & Fetish Pride, it’s confusing) in Antwerp is the event for you. I don’t know if it really is the largest indoor fetish festival in the world, but it certainly feels like it. For two and a half days, this vast warehouse space in Antwerp’s old docklands is transformed into a fantasy playground for thousands of men from across the world. People really come from the other side of the globe for this.

This was my second year visiting, so clearly I must have enjoyed it the first time. However this year it felt like you really get more out of the event with each repeat visit, as you get to know more people and also what your preferred parts of the weekend are – because you will never be able to make it to everything. This year I chose not to attend the official evening events – I will explain why – so I have little to say on the subject. This review will therefore focus on the daytime events: the various contests, the marketplace, the exhibitions, and so on.

The thing that sets this event apart from competing “gay weekends” is their “all-under-one-roof” concept – and the gigantic roof that they put themselves under. Market place, event stages, several bars, dance floor, dark rooms catering for every depraved appetite, are all to be found packed under the cavernous Waagnatie, which is renamed Darklands for the occasion. In fact many refer to the entire event as Darklands. I promise you will loose all track of time while you are in there.

One thing I should note is that this weekend is more about style than sex, and more about fetish than kink. (I am writing a post on my own distinction between the latter soon). Shopping is king, and posing for selfies is queen. The focus of the event is neither the stage nor the dance floor, and certainly not the darkrooms. It is all about the market place. Here, I am only guessing, but my impression is that compared to last year they decided to prioritise large corporate exhibitors and vendors. The usual suspects were there: Mister B, Rob, Boxxer, etc. There were fewer, but much larger stalls than last year, and very few independent businesses. Among the smaller, specialised stalls, there also only seemed to be one of each kind – one whip-maker, one boot-maker, etc. Personally, I miss the smaller, unique businesses, though it was nice to see that at least one of those from last year seems to have made the leap to the big league.

SteelToys, from the Netherlands, which provides some of the equipment for the darkrooms as well, had a much bigger display with a much bigger variety of products than last year. If you are looking for dungeon furniture or metal bondage gear, they are definitely worth considering. The quality is great and they really know their stuff.

In general, however, the market is restricted to the big boys and is therefore pretty same-y. Pretty much everything you will see here is easily found online and in most European cities, and usually at much better prices. But obviously if you prefer to try things on before you buy, this is a great opportunity. However, for most fetish gear I always recommend getting things custom-made anyway, but at least you can get measured here. I came home with ideas about things I want to buy – but I didn’t really buy anything there.

The daytime events are varied, but the biggest attractions are the various Mister This-and-That contests. Much like last year, the quality of these was generally amateurish and haphazard. Language was a bit of an issue as well, as some of the presenters were very difficult to understand. Time management was also an issue. I guess you can’t have very high expectations from an event where the various performers arrive on Friday from a dozen different countries and go on stage Saturday afternoon. Having strong hosts and MCs and a tight script would probably ameliorate some of this.

As I said before, I did not attend any of the three official parties, which take place in Darklands itself after the market place closes in the evening. I got a “madness” pass last year and attended two of these, and between the long lines, the overpriced drinks (and confusing token system), and the industrial music, I found it all a bit too much and too little at the same time. I heard very good things from people who attended the parties this year, however. It seems the way they tried to break the space up (like having a separate more “loungy” bar, and several small darkrooms rather than the one giant one) encouraged more interaction and less standing around. I am considering getting a pass for the parties again, if I go back next year.

Over all, while I enjoyed the weekend, I found the emphasis on shopping and on fashion disappointing, especially because it had an even more corporate identity this year. Further, while it is fun to have a “safe space” like this where one go out in whatever they want to wear, compared to open-air fetish events like Folsom, this feels a lot like stepping back into the closet, and certainly doesn’t seem to merit the designation “Pride”. Having said that, I certainly would not want to march around Antwerp in a jockstrap in February.

And a small note for the city. If you have never visited Antwerp, do it. I knew very little about Antwerp this time last year, and it was a lovely surprise in many ways. Antwerp has been one of the wealthiest cities in Europe for its size for a thousand years, and it really shows. Try and make some time to at least visit the cathedral, but many other stunning buildings are worth your time – plan to spend a few minutes at the central train station if you are arriving by train. The one difficulty this year was that there was a lot of roadworks around the area of the event. This affected not only car traffic but pedestrians as well, as in many cases you had to walk whole blocks out of your way to cross a street. The event area is basically separated from the city centre by a ditch right now. Hopefully this will be over in time for next year.

I am sure there is much that I missed – this is a three day party after all. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask below. And if you attended the event yourself and have your own perspective, I would love to hear it. Particularly if you attended one of the three official parties, please let the other readers know what you thought. See you next year maybe?