You know your boyfriend’s love is for real when he takes timeto put electrical tape on your nipples. It’s a couple ofhours before Portia Surreal’s set at the New Orleans House ofBlues, and her significant other, Darius Acosta, is assisting theself-proclaimed “World’s Premiere Topless DJ” outof her black jeans and bra. He then lovingly tapes an X over eachareola. Out of her bag come a whip and a fuzzy riding crop. Sheselects a 12-inch single from her shiny silver record box.Showtime.
Portiamet Darius last Memorial Day at a show in Las Vegas. She was walkingaround the club, topless as usual, looking for volunteers for herfetish act. A few months later, Portia moved from Houston to New YorkCity to be closer to Darius, a personal trainer. “It takes me beingsecure with myself,” he says of his girlfriend’s occupation.
Portia is about 5’8″ and slim. The photos on her websitemake her look a little intimidating, but in person she’s polite, evenkind of goofy. Though coy about her age (she appears to be in hermid-20s), Portia will cop to a vinyl habit that started in 1996, aroundthe same time she started working as a performer at fetish parties(“You have the freak show, and then you have the burlesque girls, andyou have the models,” she says, as if describing a deli tray). It was anatural coming of age for a girl whose mom used to dress her up forscreenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a Frank-N-Furter costume and a hat that proclaimed I’m a sweet transvestite.Summoning the nerve to rock the decks in public took a few more years,but DJ’ing half-naked eventually became her trademark, a way to standout in a room full of people wearing rubber.
Tonight’s show is a Monday party called S.I.N., whichstands for “Service Industry Night” but seems to attract fewer off-dutywaitresses than frat rats in baseball caps. When Portia’s friend DiscoD finishes his opening set, she drops a record and strikes a balleticpose on the riser. “Aw, yeah, here we go,” says one dude a few feet infront of the stage.
Even in a city where women regularly show their breasts inexchange for cheap plastic beads, a naked lady draws a crowd. “Somepeople consider it a gimmick,” Portia says, “but it is who I am. I loveexpressing myself in an erotic way.” She’s even planning to change hersobriquet to “the World’s Premiere Erotic and Fetish DJ,” which ispartly a reaction to pigeonholing and partly to avoid friction withlocal codes. Penelope Tuesdae, a Hollywood DJ who often spins topless,was arrested in 2001 for exposing her breasts while playing inMelbourne, Florida. “I can’t even tell you how many flyers we’ve had tochange,” says Portia. “It isn’t about me being topless,” she says.”It’s about being erotic.”
As the night drags on and the Kappa Sigs melt away, Portiais surrounded by a steady queue of young women who leap onstage todance. She caresses one with her feathery riding crop; the girl takesthe crop and play-flogs her back. But Portia soon retreats behind thedecks for the rest of her set (electro, trance, some Tears for Fears),and by the time the lights come up, 90 minutes later, the crowd is downto a few patrons. Portia calls the next day to say she’d been havingproblems with the mixer and didn’t want to stray far from it. Nuditymight have gotten her the gig, but lose the beat and the last thingyour audience will notice is that you’re not wearing any clothes.