“Always in my mind I think of how it was in the Music Box. All the time when I make a track, I think of what Ron would do to the track. When he played at the Music Box, he would mess with the EQ and pump the system, and each song he would play for eight or ten minutes, and by the time it went off you’d feel that song, you’d know everything about that song, that song would get into us, and we would get into the song and just allow our minds to just go away to anywhere in this world or universe. You can’t do that if people only play songs for just three minutes and then they’re into the next one or they’re doing a lot of tricks with it. So I would try to play my music with feeling and meaning and that’s why the slow build-up from the beginning, and in the end it turns into something you’re just hype about, and that’s how you felt when Ron Hardy played.”—DJ Pierre to Jonathan Fleming, from What Kind of House Party Is This? (London: MIY Publishing, 1995). P. 206. (via theundergroundismassive)
“Alvin Munk remembers a night when he was so overpowered by the experience of dancing — in a club so hot that the walls sweated — that he simply blacked out. He does remember walking out hours later, soaking in sweat and hoping that when he got older he would be able to get a club gig like Collier’s. “To have a home base like that. It sounds like a cliché now, but it really was magic. Heaven was special.”—http://www2.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=6502
It is difficult to find reliable information about Detroit’s legendary nightclub, Heaven. Maybe because it was located in Detroit or maybe because most of its patrons were black and gay. Maybe because people have only recently started to realize how important the club was in the timeline of Detroit’s musical heritage. Still, information about Heaven remains elusive and is inextricable from the biography of the club’s resident DJ Ken Collier. Most of the current musical luminaries of Detroit techno cite Heaven and Ken Collier as early influences on their sound, and the history of Heaven needs to be uncovered and dusted off if we are to figure out what happened between the heyday of motown and the invention of techno.
The late 1970’s and early 1980’s have gone down in counter-cultural history as the time when New York City was at its most challenging, energetic and artistically innovative. The city was broke, rent was cheap and there was plenty of space to create and party for those who were not afraid of tagged up subways, muggers and the used hypodermic needles littering the streets of the Lower East Side. A well-defined narrative names the important artists, musicians and scenesters of the time, as well as the places where they hung out and partied: Max’s Kansas City for the rockers, Studio 54 for the wealthy and famous cocaine people in glittery clothing; The Mudd Club for new wave hipsters and CBGB’s for anti-fashionable downtown punks and students. For some reason, Club 57 is rarely mentioned although it was an important meeting place and venue for much of what made the downtown scene so vibrant during that era. Artists such as Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and occasionally Jean-Michel Basquiat hung out there, lots of crazy performances that straddled the boundary of art, poetry and music went down. There were wacky activities like Tuesday night monster movie showings, Elvis birthday parties, lady wrestling and reggae mini golf in the basement.
Beginning on October 18, NPR station WNYC will be dedicating it’s Soundcheck showtime to presenting a “week-long series about the rise (and fall) of great nightclubs and concerts halls that helped shape New York City’s cultural life.”
“It was never my intention to become the father of some music style. But one thing i have to say: I play music, I don’t make music, I select the music and try to create an atmosphere with ups & downs. Thats what is missing nowadays, there are no intro’s anymore or a nice ending, only beatmixing. In past you could play, a strange undanceble record just to clear the dancefloor and start again from zero. There were always weirdo’s who kept dancing while that undanceble record was playing. I loved the atmosphere in those days it was dirty, decadent, strange & uneasy." -Ronny Harmsen, former DJ at Ancienne Belgique”—Interview by Benny de Konick for In&Out Magazine, exact date unknown but late 80’s.
The New Beat of Belgium: Boccaccio, Ancienne Belgique, Club Prestige: 1985-1989
The Belgian musical movement known as new beat was in its hey day during the late 1980’s, a contemporary of the British orbital rave and acid house scenes. Like acid house, new beat brought more and more people into the clubs, received national media attention and spawned commercially successful musical acts and nightclubs that reached an ever widening audience. What made new beat significant is the fact that it was a home-grown scene, a rarity in Belgium which is so often influenced by it’s nearest neighbors France and The Netherlands, as well as England and the United States. When new beat started to make waves in mid-eighties Belgium, it heralded the first time that modern Belgian music received significant radio play or appeared in great numbers in the Belgian pop charts. The sheer amount of records that could be called “new beat” that were produced from 1986-1989 is in the thousands. Three nightclubs were at the center of the new beat movement —the Boccaccio in Destelbergen (a town just outside of Ghent), the Ancienne Belgique in Antwerp and Club Prestige, also in Antwerp.
In the year 2000 I was living in Amsterdam and spent most of my time at a coffeeshop whose name I don’t even remember. This was definitely a locals’ spot, with a lot of comings-and-goings between the shop and the tattoo parlor across the street. I was about a foot shorter than anyone else who frequented the place and I tottered on a stool at the counter for hours every afternoon, drinking looza juices and chatting with people. This is the first place I ever heard about DMT. One of the house dealers told me that when he smoked it he met his dead father on the other side. A skinny, bugged out looking dude, the DMT guy was my favorite dealer there and he would often regale me with tales of his wild youth wasted on the Amsterdam club scene.
The number one club in the old days, he told me, was a semi-mythical place called The RoXY. Revered by gay and straight alike, the RoXY was opened during the Netherlands’ second summer of love in 1987, an extravagant discoteque that stood at the geographical heart of the city where the Singel canal meets the Muntplein. The club both began and ended its life according to the motto of its main impresario, the artist Peter Giele. Ab igne ignem capere —a latin phrase stating “one fire ignites another” —eerily prescient as the club burned to the ground at Giele’s memorial celebration on June 21, 1999.
N.A.S.A. stands for Nocturnal Audio+Sensory Awakening. The N.A.S.A. crew was among the first in New York to bring the rave experience indoors. Started in 1992, N.A.S.A. took place every Friday night at Club Shelter which was located in the Soho loft building that had previously held Area and would go on to host a club called Vinyl. The music played at N.A.S.A. is a total time capsule view of America’s early 90’s romance with rave: Moby, The Prodigy and DJ’s like Josh Wink, Keoki, Frankie Bones, Soul Slinger and Scotto, who organized the party. Integral to N.A.S.A.’s success was its lack of alcohol, which made it accessible to teenagers. A young Chloe Sevigny worked the coat check and most of the downtown cool kids came through at one time or another. For $9 before midnight and $14 after, N.A.S.A. was open until 8 or 9am and provided breakfast. Sometimes there would be an afterhours until noon the next day at another club on the West Side. The scene at The Shelter on Friday nights was pure unbridled insanity and the drug of choice was Ecstasy.
“That night showed me how far you could take people through the combination of music and drugs. Right to the extremes, that’s what rave is for—Storm rave, a kiddie candy rave, any rave. You are alive! Alive! Alive! Us ravers, we were just a buncha dumb American kids. We weren’t historicizing; nothing really mattered to us except for the present. We had no fear of our future, and our past was irrelevant. All we wanted was what we had.”—Tommie Sunshine, speaking about his first Storm Rave experience in Staten Island, 1992. From the book Rave America: New School Dancescapes by Mireille Silcott
“We were open to 5-6-7-8 in the morning and the authorities came to shut us down. They wanted us to close. Since there was no liquor, we could stay open. So there’s 3000 kids in there, they didn’t wanna get out. So the fire department came and put on their hoses to blow everybody out. Yeah, they can’t do that today, but they did it in the 70’s and 80’s. And I tell you, when the kids were scored by the fire hose, they loved it, they just stood there. We were laughing, we were dying, we were laughing. The Fire department had never seen anything like this. The kids would go ‘Do it more, do it more!’.”—Joe Monk, co-owner of The Funhouse; May, 2006 Interview with Disco-Disco.com
Studio 54 created a huge market for discotheques in late 1970’s New York, but the club was exclusive and mainly catered to the wealthy, beautiful and well-connected tastemakers of Manhattan’s cultural elite. It was nearly impossible for a regular person from the outer boroughs to glide past Studio’s velvet ropes. A second wave of nightclubs soon opened to accommodate the growing demand for the disco experience. Some were total disasters, obviously a shoddy facsimile of the opulence of Studio 54, nothing more than a greedy latching on to the disco trend. Ironically, the clubs that found success in this era were those that most differentiated themselves from Studio —with a different kind of music, attention-grabbing decor or a particularly enthusiastic crowd. The Funhouse had all of these and more.
Area was more than a nightclub, it was a happening. Founded by four friends from California—brothers Eric and Christopher Goode, Darius Azari, and Shawn Hausman—the club was open from September, 1983 until early 1987, during which the interior of the nightclub was completely gutted and redecorated every 6 weeks, 25 times over the lifespan of the club. To understand Area it is necessary to look backwards into the lives of its four founders, young men unsatisfied with anything less than a total realization of their conceptual and artistic visions. When they were still California high school students in the early 70’s, the Goodes threw parties with strange themes and even stranger decor: a naked boy coming down a chimney followed by live chickens, a swimming pool filled with apples, a maze made out of tires. Azari, the son of an Iranian physicist and Hausman, a budding filmmaker were intrigued by the Goode brothers creativity and the four became solid friends.
“The point of Area is fashion. The point of the challenging themes is to make a style statement about the moment. It is not (Help!) that seventies entertainment place, the disco. Nor is it primarily a dance club, though kids who go there love to dance all night.”—Priscilla Tucker, excerpt of a letter to the Editor, New York Magazine of April 8, 1985
I found out about the Blitz Kids in 2005, after hearing some people at a party describing their own 1940’s inspired elegant goth look as New Romantic. I did a google search for “new romantic” and found Danilo Monzillo’s excellent website http://www.theblitzkids.com. The pride of Danilo’s site is a wealth of photos from early 80’s London nightclubs, including The Blitz, which was the center of the music and fashion scene of the time, counting musicians such as Boy George and bands like Spandau Ballet and Visage among its patrons. If you think back to what MTV music videos looked like in 1983—that was happening at The Blitz in 1980.
Nightworld’s magic can partially be attributed to the remarkable personalities it plays host to, nurtures and destroys. The best nightclubs will have more than their fair share of creative individuals, beautiful messes who shine in the dark. Among these, Leigh Bowery stands out, going far beyond the spectrum of outrageousness that nightclub goers of the 80’s and 90’s had come to expect as promoters paid drag queens, trannies and other freaks to bring their colorful bizarreness to the club. It’s easy to lose your inhibitions when people much weirder than you are on display.
How best to record a nightlife scene? It’s dark and loud, people may be reluctant to be photographed or filmed while partying and recorded images don’t adequately convey what makes a party or nightclub exciting (hot girls? music? a fog machine?). The beginning of the 21st century saw the ascension of “party photographers” like Merlin Bronques of Lastnightsparty and Mark Hunter aka The Cobra Snake who both helped to create and document their respective scenes at places like New York’s Happy Ending and the Misshapes parties. Currently, the party photographer takes their place among other party professionals such as the dj, the club owner and the promoter. The party photographer both legitimises the party itself as an event worth documenting and satisfies the desires of a party-going public fed on reality television, offering them the chance to perform and preen for an imagined audience of admirers.