All photos by Robert Carrithers, who can be found online at http://www.robertcarrithers.com
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.”
Monday’s show was about Max’s Kansas City. You can tune in or stream the archive on the WNYC site: http://beta.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/2010/oct/18/
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.
—Tommie Sunshine, speaking about his first Storm Rave experience in Staten Island, 1992. From the book Rave America: New School Dancescapes by Mireille Silcott
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.
—Priscilla Tucker, excerpt of a letter to the Editor, New York Magazine of April 8, 1985
Nelson Sullivan’s video of the club kids partying at The Copa. Kenny Kenny mans the door in an outrageous ensemble as an assortment of celebutantes and drag queens sashay past the velvet ropes. Indoors, the music is as hot as the showgirls dancing on platforms.
The Last Party by Anthony Haden-Guest is a gossipy, dirt-digging chronicle of the disco era in New York City, the rise and fall of Studio 54 and the clubs that came after. The book spans the time period from the mid-1970’s until the early 1990’s and in terms of nightlife goes from the pre-Studio days through the downtown scene of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s hey day of the Limelight, club kids and Michael Alig. It’s an entertaining read, chock full of downtown and counter-cultural celebrities, sex and drugs. The book absolutely captures the sense of pleasure taken in pure unbridled hedonism but does not shy away (indeed, the author seems to gloat over) the corpses of nightlife casualties.
This book is notable in its lack of discussion of music, musicians or dj’s and it makes an interesting counterpoint to Tim Lawrence’s Love Saves the Day. Anthony Haden-Guest makes it clear that for him, and the many patrons of Studio 54, nightlife was all about the scene, celebrities and fashion. In order to get a full picture of the time period I would suggest also reading Tim Lawrence’s book which focuses on the music and figures such as Larry Levan and David Mancuso, both of whom make fleeting appearances in Guest’s book.
Because kids need to know about nightclubs, Nickelodeon’s Livewire interviews Rudolf Pieper, owner of Danceteria, 10/30/1983.
Q: “What is it you find is the secret to a good club?”
A: “I think the secret is magic and energy, which is transporting people to a different reality, or to no reality”