Life & Culture

The Semi-Retired Tattooer Running a Sex Cult from His East End Dungeon

Another Man meets Tropical Dan, the mastermind behind East End fetish club Dirt Doers

If things had worked out differently Tropical Dan would be living in Europe now with his own shop, perfect family and pet dogs, but the unexpected death of his girlfriend when he was just 21 put paid to that. Between tattooing on the road to fund his chaotic lifestyle, guesting at conventions and getting sectioned, he fell out of love with an industry dominated by divas. Heading up an anti-studio movement that tattooed illegally out of spaces next door to established tattoo shops – from yoga halls to sake bars – boosted creativity for a time but ultimately ended badly, shut down by pissed-off neighbours reporting them to the council.

Dan’s new project is Dirt Doers. Part fetish club, part art collective, and functioning like a bad religion with its mix of performers, musicians and dominatrices. It even has its own merch. Similar to the Rajneeshees, but with a uniform of rubber instead of red. Operating out of their Limehouse industrial unit that doubles as an event space, he still runs a tattoo service for a select few clients, or followers, and offers a unique line in extras. “People come to get tattooed, and end up paying us to stay for a few days,” he says. “Guys with girlfriends at home who want to visit gay clubs, or dress up like a woman for the night. And they send me the weirdest videos.” Sounds like there’s no shortage of dirt waiting to be done.

Would you describe yourself as a romantic?

Tropical Dan: Not anymore.

Who was your first crush?

Tropical Dan: It’s tough, I just used to make fires when I was a kid. Gwen Stefani with the pink braces in the 90s. She looks like the girls nowadays. Or Dennis Rodman.

Have you ever had your heart broken?

Tropical Dan: One time, that’s all it takes. It’s a different thing because it wasn’t like breaking up with a girl, my girlfriend died. That’s a madness. It changed everything, I went completely in the other direction and didn’t care about money or health, I just wanted to live. Whatever comes up just do it, whatever the risk. It was a game changer.

Are you in love at the moment?

Tropical Dan: No, and that’s the only way it can be. I can’t get attached like that again. I did just hold a girl hostage for ten days though, but I let her go this morning. She came to my place, I drove her to Brighton and didn’t let her go. She did it willingly though.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?

Tropical Dan: Hard drugs.

What wouldn’t you do for love?

Tropical Dan: Become religious. And I wouldn’t change my diet. I wouldn’t change anything about myself.

Do you have a secret passion?

Tropical Dan: 80s eye makeup – it’s where a lot of my tattoo references come from. Online, and in books. If I ever do faces I use images from the 80s, from make up tutorials in old magazines. Just after the punk thing, so loads of black but a bit more refined. I have a big archive on my iPad.

Can you describe the perfect date?

Tropical Dan: I always get people to bring me chocolate. A dark room. Hard drugs. And silence. Sometimes I go to the beach on the Thames when the tide is out at night.

What are you obsessed with?

Tropical Dan: Subcultures as a whole thing is really interesting. Like, what is real? Out of ten people who look a certain way today, only one of them is actually that way. I’ve always been into things that are more taboo.

What’s your heart’s desire right now?

Tropical Dan: To make it to my next birthday.

What’s the most romantic fetish thing?

Tropical Dan: Being the submissive one. We have these crazy orgies and people end up tied up for hours as all sorts of shit gets poured on them. Taking that submissive role to please other people, even though it makes you feel worse.

Who is your romantic hero and why?

Tropical Dan: Dennis Rodman because I wrote his name on the floor of my unit when we moved in and all sorts of madness has happened there. He’s the king.

A version of this article appeared in the A/W18 ‘Romance and Ritual’ issue of Another Man.