Shopping and sucking - that's being a vampire, LA-style

They haunt the right nightclubs and the hippest boutiques. But, as Tim Cornwell finds out, there's also a bit of a PR problem
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The Independent Online
"GAVIN'S house," said the cheery female voice on the phone, when I called for my interview with the vampire. I was a British reporter, I explained, curious to learn a little about the vampire set.

Vampirism has had a bad press in the past week. In Florida, 17-year-old Rod Ferrell, confessed leader of a teen vampire cult, pleaded guilty to bludgeoning to death the parents of another member. A "V" was carved into the victims' bodies. The couple's 16-year-old daughter described being inducted into the group in a blood-drinking ritual in a cemetery. The killer, who pleaded through his lawyer for his life, now faces the death penalty.

This, argue members of the vampire subculture that has emerged in Los Angeles and New York in recent years, is nothing to do with them. They insist the genre is a harmless offshoot of punk and goth, nothing to do with bloodletting, although some say vampires have attracted their share of "blood fetishists" and oddballs.

When I phoned Gavin Danker, it turned out I was in luck. The Fang club was holding its first anniversary party that evening in a nightclub above Orsini's restaurant, at the seedier south end of Beverly Hills. "I will be wearing a long blue velvet frock coat and I have long red hair," Gavin said.

There are thought to be about 150 regulars at two vampire clubs in Los Angeles, and several times that number in New York. They communicate via e-mail, and they boast plenty of websites such as www.vamp.org. This nightclub set with a difference is inspired by the vampire novels of Anne Rice, vampire films (such as Interview with the Vampire, or David Bowie's The Hunger), vampire TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), role- playing vampire games, and vampire literature dating back to Vlad the Impaler.

Vampires do their shopping along Melrose Avenue, one of LA's hippest streets. At Necromance, they can buy bat jewellery, human rib and arm bones and (curiously) a vampire-killing kit, with wooden stake, garlic and a cross. Owner Nancy Smith and other traders say that vampire business is definitely up, helped in part by celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker's Dracula last year. "It's bored young kids from good families looking for some way to be different," she said.

Down the street, designer Terri King supplies clothes to the vampire set: lavishly embroidered "pirate coats", vests, luxurious black leather or silk corsets for women that push the bust up and out. "They love anything velvet or satin," she said. "It's very sensuous and romantic, very sophisticated, they like to look elegant." For women, she said, "it's all about showing the neck."

The scene supports a small number of skilled fang-makers, who use dental materials to fashion false fangs that fit over tooth and gum. A few veterans have them cemented on permanently, like crowns.

Vampires, like everyone else in LA, do valet parking. So, the Latino carhops were busy outside Orsini's as darkly-dressed figures ducked in out of the rain. Admission was free for anyone with fangs - "Cheap plastic store-bought fangz will not be accepted," said the sign. I paid my $6, a little self-consciously, in a hastily-assembled blue velvet smoking jacket.

Fang's bar was decorated with skulls: vampires drink red wine or absinthe, and are also addicted to coffee. People talked about the scene as "family"; there were computer nerds, payroll accountants, even (they claimed) kindergarten teachers. A plumpish man in Dracula cloak and goatee beard, attending an exclusive Southern California college, chatted amiably. "Raven", who had driven in from the Mojave with his wife, a teacher, claimed to suffer from a blood disorder that forced him to drink beef blood and eat raw liver.

The evening at Fang's began quietly enough: the crowd was mostly middle- class, well-spoken and polite. Bodies in black and leather gyrated on the dance floor, to pulsing gothic music. By the end of the night, however, Gavin had obliged the visiting British press by biting two people, in the neck and the wrist. The result was consternation among his companions, and a frenzied attempt at vampire spin-control.

Gavin made his move in the smoking room downstairs, at about 1am. An actor who briefly took a role in a vampire TV series, he claims to have clinically died for 20 minutes when he overdosed on heroin, and he'd been knocking back shots of absinthe. He was playing the part of a dangerous charmer, and, earlier in the night, had invited me to test the sharpness of his teeth. "Everyone's a sucker for being bitten by Gavin," said another clubber, Seth Moonchilde.

His unwilling victims were a couple of visitors from Sabretooth - a rival fang-making outfit in New York - "Lord Faust", a slender young man dressed to the nines as a vampire maiden, and "Mule", in a red lame suit. In short order, Gavin had wrapped Lord Faust's wrist with his mouth, leaving white pin-pricks. The next moment, Mule had acquired swelling, pinky holes in his neck, like large bee stings. He looked scared. Gavin sat back with a wicked look and a long drip of red running down from the edge of his lip.

Vampire damage control went into overdrive. "This is not what we are about!" said Father Sebastian, infuriated leader of the New York delegation. There were huddled meetings, and Lord Faust and Mule left in a hurry. Lawsuits were threatened if anything was published. "I want none of this, none of this mentioned anywhere," Lord Faust demanded, from the back seat of his car. "This was not supposed to happen." Later in the week, friends of the pair were talking of an assault charge.

"What we do is theatre," Gavin said later. "It is playing. It may be drawing blood with the consent of the person playing, and I was trying to apologise for upsetting him, I'm sorry for that." He had "seriously" bitten 20 people in his time, he said.

"The actor in all of us comes out when we have an audience, and we'd had a few drinks."

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