Just How Easy Is It to Smuggle Drugs Into a New York City Nightclub?

With the biggest party night of the year, New Year’s Eve, coming up, to get the real skinny on security, the Voice went straight to the source.

Standing just over six feet, Leesa Harrington-Squyres has the kind of body and “don’t fuck with me” attitude that needs only the all-black garb to complete the image of a nightclub security guard. When she’s not overseeing the crowd from the floor, she’s doing it from the stage as the drummer for cover band Lez Zeppelin, which toured France, Switzerland, and Belgium in the fall. Having herself overcome a substance abuse problem several years ago — one that ran the gamut from meth and coke to heroin — Harrington-Squyres knows both sides of the drug culture. She began working as a bouncer in her native Houston in 1993 before moving to New York in 2001. Her first gig was at the old Copa on West 47th Street, which, she says, “taught me a lot about searching. Texas was different. There wasn’t a lot of that, because the clubs all close at 2 a.m.”

Like most female security guards, she’s usually doing pat-downs at the door. For small amounts of drugs, “the difficulty of pat-downs is that they are very hard to detect,” notes Donald Bernstein, widely considered the go-to attorney for club owners. “I have had clubs put in scanners, pat-downs, everything I can. But the fact is, if someone really wants to bring something in, you can’t do a strip search.”

Maybe so, but that doesn’t stop Harrington-Squyres from looking. “Sure, I search women’s bras. I reach around, then under, then through and in between.” Nor are men immune from her venturesome hands. “One time, I found a big sack of Molly a guy was trying to bring in,” she says, “a bag of about forty, by hiding under his balls.”

Last year she found herself working the dance floor at Time Warp, a weekend-long techno festival in a Brooklyn warehouse. “I walked through as inconspicuously as possible,” she says. “If I saw someone smoking pot, I’d tell them to take it outside. Outside, pot was OK. If I caught someone doing Molly, coke, K2, they were out.”

The drug Harrington-Squyres most often uncovers during pat-downs is perfectly legal and available at the bar. “People are always trying to sneak in tiny bottles of booze,” she says. “Do you know how many flasks I have in my freezer? At least half a dozen — and that doesn’t count the ones I give away. I empty the flask and confiscate it.”

A much bigger problem these days is gun violence. One of the first clubs where Harrington-Squyres worked was SRB, a venue (now closed) in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn that hosted techno parties when she started. “Then,” she notes, “it moved to hip-hop, a totally different ballgame: lots more grass. But what I’m really looking for at those parties are weapons.”

Working in the city’s clubs can indeed be dangerous. In February, a security guard was shot in the neck during a fight at a club in Inwood, in Upper Manhattan. Two months ago, three people were shot outside the Flatiron’s Motivo after a man got into a dispute with security guards.

Such incidents are graphic reminders of the flak security guards face every night. Harrington-Squyres can recount several instances where “guys get all macho, like, ‘Don’t put your motherfucking hand on me.’ ” In such situations, she calmly points to two burly male guards in the corner. “I tell him, ‘You either walk out quietly with me, or you’ll be thrown out on your ass by those two guys.’ He’ll just say, ‘Oh, shit’ and leave.”

Security guards came under tighter city control in 2006, after a bouncer who raped and murdered a patron was found to have previously done time for drugs and robbery. On February 26 of that year, Imette St. Guillen, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was last seen at 4 a.m. at the Falls, a bar on Lafayette Street in Noho. Several hours later, police were tipped off that there was a body which matched the description of St. Guillen. An autopsy revealed she had been brutally beaten and raped. Darryl Littlejohn, one of the bouncers at the Falls, was found guilty — but adding to the horror, it was discovered that he had spent more than twelve years behind bars. Strict new rules followed, requiring fingerprinting and a background check as well as a compulsory eight-hour course (plus a yearly refresher) covering topics such as crowd control and self-defense.

[pullquote]’If someone really wants to bring something in, you can’t do a strip search.'[/pullquote]

Underpaid and overworked, security guards have long been suspected of reselling drugs or keeping them for personal use. “Depending on circumstances, I give them to the club owner,” Harrington-Squyres says. “Presumably, he throws them out.” Sometimes, however, “I’ll be about to pat down someone and I’m told, ‘No, he’s OK.’ ”

She has also worked rented party boats that circle Manhattan, which presents an entirely different set of rules. “Depending on the promoter,” she notes, “anything goes. Sometimes they just say, ‘Let them do what they want.’ ”

Back in 1996, club king Peter Gatien was accused of running a “drug bazaar” at the old Limelight. He beat the rap, but the legal fees nearly bankrupted him. Finally, two years later, he was convicted of tax evasion. The last sting operation occurred in 2008, when Pacha closed for a brief period after an exhaustive undercover dragnet turned up a few Ecstasy tablets. Harrington-Squyres maintains that she regularly witnesses the NYPD quietly escorting someone out of a club after an undercover cop makes a drug buy and then texts uniformed officers waiting outside. (She says, by way of example, that it happened at the Sullivan Room following an Electric Daisy Carnival event.)

“There are instances of [officers] going undercover in a club and doing their own investigation,” Bernstein confirms. “If they find illegal drug sales, they’ll contact the officers outside.”

A spokesman from the New York bureau of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the Voice that the feds are more concerned with dealers than with casual users. The agency responds to formal complaints about drug dealing inside clubs but hasn’t been involved in such an operation for several years. Even so, it’s hard to overcome an incident like the 2012 death of a man who fell from a balcony at District 38, which closed its doors not long after. As reported in the Voice last year, the massive Electric Zoo festival, held over Labor Day weekend on Randalls Island, instituted a get-tough policy that included compulsory viewing of a brief video depicting a man losing it on Molly — this on the heels of a pair of drug-related deaths and several hospitalizations the year before.

Problems can arise when a club hosts a party outside of its personnel’s comfort zone, as happened several years ago at a Times Square pro-wrestling-themed restaurant-club. From the nervous titters at coat check, it was clear that the leather-and-fetish gay crowd was far different from the usual out-of-town tourists. Things deteriorated from there, with overzealous security guards pouncing on people for popping Tic Tacs.

Most of the time there’s a tacit understanding that, if guards aren’t exactly looking the other way, they’re not peering over bathroom stalls or aggressively scanning the dance floor, either. As long as people don’t get sloppy, it’s a “see no evil” situation.

“Listen,” Harrington-Squyres says. “People want to have a good time. For some people, drugs plus people equal a good time. The guards posted around the perimeter of the dance floor don’t really see too much. They’re not even really looking for that. It’s hard for them to see people doing bumps. There might be roaming guards on the dance floor. The perimeter guys can’t leave their stations. They have to alert the roaming guards. And remember, we have to catch someone in the act.”

At least once, Harrington-Squyres has been confronted by a patron angry that a dealer sold him shit. “I had a guy in a club come up to me and point out a woman,” the bouncer recalls. “He said, ‘See that gal? She’s selling bad Molly.’ I asked him, ‘Man, you’re telling me you bought bad Molly, so you want the dealer busted?’ ”



The Perfect Fete: Elaine Paige, Molly Pope & More Celebrate 100 Years of Edith Piaf

How can any tribute match the impassioned artistry of Édith Piaf? As we saw in the event marking what would have been Frank Sinatra’s birthday on CBS on December 3, a Whitman’s Sampler of musical categories is too scattershot — but a night of carbon copies would be even worse.

On December 19, when Piaf (A Centennial Celebration) marks the hundredth year of the Little Sparrow, the nine divas onstage at Town Hall will present a cross-section of musical theater, but they all share the same deep familiarity with and respect for France’s most beloved singer. Even amid an all-star cast that includes Christine Ebersole and cabaret legend Marilyn Maye, the biggest get is undoubtedly Elaine Paige, the “greatest white female singer in the world,” according to Ella Fitzgerald.

If the name barely rings a bell, that’s not surprising. Though revered in London as the “first lady of British theater,” Paige never managed to establish a beachhead on Broadway. When her long-awaited debut finally arrived in 1996, it was in the ill-starred West End transfer of Sunset Boulevard. Her only other appearance was as part of the ensemble in the 2011 revival of Follies.

The real tragedy is that Piaf, a play with fifteen songs, proved so punishing that Paige had to cut short the 1993 production of it; moving it across the pond was out of the question. And this despite the fact that she truly inhabited the tortured soul of the singer who brought the music of the streets into Paris’s cabarets and concert halls.

Paige tells the Voice that she came to identify strongly with the chanteuse after several months of researching Piaf’s life and artistry, including a long stint in Paris. “There’s a lot about her life and beliefs that are not dissimilar to me,” she says. “We are exactly the same height and are physically similar. She was also driven and very passionate about her music. She had a great sense of humor and liked to hang with her own kind, not the glitterati. But she was also very vulnerable and came from a poverty-stricken background.”

A visit to Charles Aznavour’s apartment finally gave her the confidence that she could convey the way Piaf’s music reflected her own intensity and turmoil. The singer, who had composed for Piaf, “had a beautiful grand piano,” Paige recalls. “Much to my astonishment, he asked me to sing. He sat down and played a song he wrote for her. ‘It’s do or die,’ I thought. Fortunately, he was thrilled. He threw his arms around me.”

If hardly at a Piaf level of angst, Paige keeps her own life at the plangent pitch necessary for an adored diva. Her dramatic announcements of retirement followed by comeback tours are beginning to approach Cher’s record. (Yes, she tells the Voice, she “may be coming back” to the States next year.)

Piaf began singing in the streets to keep from starving. Paige’s childhood was hardly that Dickensian, but she had been treading the board for a decade in 1976 when she began to despair that she would never achieve her dreams of stardom. A chance encounter with Dustin Hoffman produced some advice that looks prescient in retrospect. “Early in my career,” she recalls, “he told me if I had to, to sing in the street like Piaf.”

[pullquote]Paige on Piaf: ‘There’s a lot about her life and beliefs that are not dissimilar to [mine].'[/pullquote]

The next year, she had the luckiest of breaks: the lead in what became the season’s hottest ticket, Evita. Her magnificent voice and acting chops catapulted her career into the stratosphere. In Follies, she brought down the house every night with “I’m Still Here,” and her original version of “Memories” from Cats is equally memorable — but Evita remains her signature role, even if she certainly is “still here.”

Piaf gives New Yorkers a rare opportunity to experience the effect that Paige — who has given just two non-Broadway New York performances over the entire span of her career — has on audiences. We have impresario Daniel Nardicio to thank for that. Long known for producing some of the raunchiest gay parties in town, he branched out to Fire Island several years ago. After being rebuffed by club owners in Fire Island Pines, he moved a quarter-mile west to the more modest gay community of Cherry Grove. For years, every Friday night, the buff boys of the Pines have trekked over to the Grove’s ramshackle disco, the Ice Palace, for his massive underwear parties.

Then, a few years ago, Nardicio began booking talent, including a pre–”Poker Face” Lady Gaga. What really bumped up his cred in the gay world and beyond was bringing Alan Cumming and Liza Minnelli to the Grove. Since then, he’s made it his mission to introduce divas like Carol Channing and Chita Rivera to a new generation of gay men — even if he often isn’t sure whom he’s booking.

“I love talent, but I’m definitely not a devotee of Broadway, to be sure,” Nardicio tells the Voice. “Sometimes I have to look them up to see who they are when I work with them. The guys who work for me are all show queens, which helps.”

The Piaf concert began as an idea birthed in Cumming’s car, where Piaf was playing over the speakers during a road trip. On a whim, he called Town Hall to see if the date nearest her birthday was available. To his surprise, it was. “Then,” he says, “I started the whole process of piecing it together.” He enlisted Andy Brattain, Michael Feinstein’s production assistant, to come up with some names. Brattain brought in the American Pops Orchestra, but Nardicio was the one who thought of asking Paige.

“I’ve worked with a lot of grandes dames,” he says. “Frankly, everyone has told me there’s nothing like an Elaine Paige performance. So I asked, and she enthusiastically jumped on board.”

For Australian cabaret star Meow Meow, the attraction to Piaf was the opportunity to explore her “exquisite pain of longing.” “She wasn’t just a singer, but a storyteller — so much drama packed into two or three minutes.” But it’s worth noting that Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” is an ode to the joys of life. “People look for the tragedy,” Meow Meow says. “It says a lot about what an audience wants that she’s always seen in a tragic light.”

Vivian Reed, for her part, was originally trained to be a classical singer at Juilliard but found herself attracted to the story-songs that are cabaret staples. A seven-year sojourn in France and a French manager, Lionel Lavault, inevitably got her interested in Piaf’s repertoire. “I’m particularly drawn to performers who live their lyrics, make them come alive for the audience,” she says. “She was known for that. She was a dramatic performer; that’s what I’ve always liked about her.”

With two recent Piaf tributes at Feinstein’s/54 Below under her belt, downtown cabaret favorite Molly Pope “was thrilled” to be asked — even though she worries about her French pronunciation. “I’m a bit of an amateur Francophile,” she says. “When I started taking French at Cooper Union, the teacher asked if I was a singer. Singers move their mouths more violently, like the French. I know some French people and fully intend to have them coach me.”

To help segue between songs and singers, TCM host Robert Osborne will be on hand at Town Hall to provide connecting anecdotes. Nardicio promises that this will indeed be a celebration that emphasizes the glorious triumphs of Piaf’s checkered life — none of that bathetic Judy Garland stuff. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t stuffy,” Nardicio says.

The Town Hall event marks another step in Nardicio’s own evolution from hot boys in underwear to divas in diamonds (or diamanté). He calls his beloved divas his “Norma Desmonds,” but maybe it’s because he’s had some Norma Desmond moments of his own. “Someone said to me, ‘You used to be huge,’ ” he says. “I’m working on a TV project with Alan. It’s not going to be so much about throwing parties. It’s a younger man’s game.”

Bien sûr. But reflecting the title of one of Piaf’s most famous popular songs and her last big hit, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” Nardicio doesn’t regret what he’s done. Instead, he’s looking forward to the next phase — and a rose-colored one at that.


DJ Sharon White Returns to NYC Nightlife For a Celebration 35 Years in the Making

In a career spanning nearly four decades, Sharon White has been responsible for breaking through more barriers than probably any other DJ. She was the first woman to headline two major New York nightclubs, the Saint and Paradise Garage, and the only DJ to spin at both. Billboard named her its first female DJ reporter; Motown, when it brought her aboard, became the first major label to hire a woman as a promotion director. She was the first DJ in any gay club on Fire Island. White, however, refuses any notion that she should be lionized for being a trailblazer. “Everybody thinks I went through this big struggle,” she tells the Voice. “I don’t subscribe to that bullshit. I knew they weren’t ready for a woman to be in that position in a club.”

Born in 1954, White grew up in Babylon, Long Island. From an early age, she loved music, especially rock ‘n’ roll, which has always informed her sets. Her first passion was drumming, which she was studying at a Manhattan conservatory when she was befriended by Alison Steele, the WNEW-FM DJ who pioneered the album-oriented radio format. White became interested in becoming a DJ and even got radio airtime. Her first live gig was at a Long Island bar with Roy Thode, her friend and mentor, who is recognized as one of the great innovators of his craft.

“I can tell you so many wonderful stories about Roy,” White says. “One time, he went into a fabric shop to get a couple of yards of silk to ground the turntable. There were no slip mats.”

That was the least of the problems DJs had to deal with back then. For one thing, vibrations from the dance floor tended to make needles skip across records. White even recalls some clubs where the speakers were so rudimentary that certain records produced ear-piercing feedback.

Plus, when she moved to the city, White was limited to playing in women’s bars. Whenever she could get away, she went downtown, where abandoned industrial lofts had been converted into gay clubs such as 12 West and Flamingo.

As White danced through the night, the only black woman in a sea of white muscle, she was also analyzing how well the DJ could shift the mood with a different tempo or key change. As a drummer, she was especially keen to figure out the best way to pick up the beat from record to record. “I’m a drummer, a percussionist,” she says. “It depends on which beat you’re catching.”

Paradise Garage opened in Soho in 1977, and it was a different kind of gay club. Women and many more people of color populated the dance floor. The resident DJ, Larry Levan, quickly established a reputation for his eclectic mixing of musical genres. Along with many other up-and-coming DJs like Junior Vasquez and “godfather of house” Frankie Knuckles, White was fascinated by the way Levan could hold the crowd rapt for hours on end. Like other DJs in the late Seventies, Levan was attempting to string records together to take clubgoers on a musical journey — a concept especially appealing to White, with her knowledge of music theory.

“The journey began with David Mancuso at the Loft,” White recalls. “He taught Larry. You had to be there from the beginning to hear what was coming. At 12 West and Flamingo, the equipment was sophisticated enough to stand up to that kind of abuse. It had become state of the art. It was at the Garage that the journey was finally coming into its own.”

And it was at the Saint — which opened in 1980 — that “the journey” would become a recognized sequence of stages that began with lighter fare, moving into Hi-NRG and then hard-driving beats before coming down with melodic morning music and ending in the slow, romantic ballads that became known as “sleaze.” Bruce Mailman already owned the St. Marks Baths, the most popular bathhouse among the city’s most attractive gay men, when he conceived of a club that would surpass any yet built. He spent a fortune realizing his vision — which included a sound system of 28,000 watts, 8,000 more than Giants Stadium’s at the time — and the result was a club still widely regarded, nearly three decades after it closed its doors, as the most advanced in the world. A retractable giant planetarium dome supported lights that blazed, twinkled, and soared over the dance floor, which was a technological marvel in and of itself: A vast hydraulic system allowed the floor to gently react to the dancers’ movements.

[pullquote]’I knew they weren’t ready for a woman to be in that position in a club.'[/pullquote]

When the Saint opened, White had no reason not to expect to be named one of its resident DJs. She had been invited to join a pre-opening tour. A tentative date had been given to her when she realized that “Bruce didn’t want me to play there. He made it clear in no uncertain terms he did not want me in that DJ booth.”

Mailman wanted the Saint, to the greatest extent possible, to be an all-male preserve. The club was limited to members, nearly all men; female guests had to be approved ahead of time. Although she was one of a very few female members, White had only been to the club for a handful of occasions when she decided that she wanted to hear Jim Burgess play one last time. Burgess was the club’s biggest name, and it gave him a going-away party on January 31, 1981, for which he was paid $6,000 — an impressive amount even in 2015 dollars. “At 8 a.m.,” White remembers, “he stopped the music, left the DJ booth, got into his Bentley, and left. By the grace of God, I was in the right place at the right time.”

People’s drugs had kicked in, and, not knowing what else to do, they milled around the dance floor wondering what was happening. Adding to the disaster, the coat check, like everything else state of the art and then some, had broken down, which meant people would have to leave without their jackets. “Can you imagine 6,000 queens trying to get home in January in their T-shirts?” White asks.

A frantic manager spotted White and demanded she get into the DJ booth. After sorting things out in her own mind, she directed three staffers to her home, instructing them to return with bags of records identifiable by their color. She ended up playing until 1:30 p.m. and was an overnight sensation. She remained one of the Saint’s most popular DJs until it closed in 1988, but she never realized the extent of her reputation until composer Leonard Bernstein — of West Side Story fame — popped into the booth one night.

“I had made a medley of things that I made into a dance project,” White recalls. “He said, ‘I heard you did something to a few of my pieces.’ He asked, ‘May I hear it?’ I said, ‘Yes, maestro.’ I said, ‘We are going to take a full-tilt pause for this song.’ The crowd loved it. He was very pleased with it.”

After the Saint’s run ended, White went international, playing clubs in cities from Tokyo to Berlin. At the request of the Department of Defense, she spent six weeks in Reykjavík, Iceland, for the opening of a USO facility. Still, the weirdest gig during those years had to be a command performance in Saudi Arabia.

“Ladies-in-waiting dressed me in a burka and taught me how to approach the king. When that was all done, we left and went to the prince’s palace. He said, ‘It’s jeans and T-shirt time.’ He had converted the entire palace into a disco, with a sound person imported from London. I knew him from Fire Island. He was on the down-low. He said, ‘Everyone here knows. I have three wives.’ ”

Then, in 2000, White’s life took a horrific turn. She was viciously sexually assaulted, severely wounded on both physical and mental levels. She fled New York for Washington, D.C., where she slowly began to pick up the shattered pieces of her life and career. She played house parties, in a small club, and at an after-hours bar. “I really learned to open doors and expose myself to different types of music,” she says. She found herself mentoring the next generation of DJs. A few years ago, she was invited to spin at a party that reunited her with some of her Saint colleagues. It brought back pleasant memories and a desire to return. “I said, ‘I have to go home.’ ”

She wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Two years ago, Stephen Pevner, a distant relative of Mailman’s who took over the Saint-at-Large, which strives to keep the spirit of the original club alive, invited her to help spin at the Black Party, the huge fetish-themed annual March bacchanal. That led to a second invite, this one for Night People, a 35th-anniversary celebration of the Saint to be held at the Wick in Bushwick on November 21. White will team up with DJ-producer Nita Aviance, along with Saint alumnus Michael Fierman and Ryan Smith. Night People — which bears the same name of the Saint’s annual night-before-Thanksgiving party — will also celebrate the life of longtime Saint-at-Large manager Michael Peyton, who died earlier this year.

Currently living in Newburgh, sixty miles upriver from the city, White already has a few gigs lined up for 2016. Meanwhile, she keeps busy posting podcasts and reintroducing herself to a new generation of DJs and clubgoers.

Aviance considers himself honored to be sharing a DJ booth with White. “I’ve known about Sharon for so long and have heard about her from so many people,” he says. “They’d tell me, ‘You have to meet her. She’s brilliant.’ You hear the stories. I know my history, and I’m excited.”

Sharon White will spin the Saint-at-Large celebration at the Wick on November 21. For ticket information, click here.


Rob Fernandez’s Memory to Be Celebrated With House of Rob, the ‘Woodstock of DJs’

It’s only by pure coincidence that the House of Rob Celebration is taking place just five days after September 11, but the unprecedented spontaneous outpouring of support from New York’s nightlife community and DJs far and wide demonstrates how quickly people respond to a call for help.

After longtime, much-loved club promoter Rob Fernandez died suddenly in July, Eddie Dean — owner of Pacha, where Fernandez was director of promotions and booking for the past ten years — and other members of Fernandez’s inner circle of friends tried to figure out how they could help his family. They knew Fernandez was most concerned that his young son, Rian, get a good education, so they immediately set up a GoFundMe account.

They soon realized that they’d have to take it a step further.

“Everybody was in shock,” said Dean. “Almost immediately after that, everybody that Rob had touched over the years felt they wanted to do something.”

The obvious answer was a party — but not just a party. It had to be the party, one that would reflect the outsize personality and influence of a man known as the “King of New York.”

“We had the idea it had to be massive, Madison Square Garden, the biggest thing ever,” recalled Kevin McHugh, a close friend whose association began when he was managing Danny Tenaglia, whose career took off with Fernandez’s Be Yourself parties at Vinyl.

[pullquote]If Guinness ever adds a ‘Most DJs Spinning in One Night’ category to its World Records, this would be the winner, hands down.[/pullquote]

“Pacha made the most sense,” he added. “They were donating everything.” After three months of wrangling, the city even agreed to close down the entire block fronting the Hell’s Kitchen nightclub on September 16 for a twelve-hour extravaganza DJ Johnny Dynell calls “the Woodstock of DJs.”

As of press time, 44 DJs had already been booked, with more expected to commit. If Guinness ever adds a “Most DJs Spinning in One Night” category to its World Records, this would be the winner, hands down.

The list encompasses those who’ve known Fernandez from the early days, like Dynell, who met him when he was a doorman at Sound Factory Bar, as well as the fresh faces he was mentoring when he died unexpectedly. In between are all of those whose careers Fernandez helped launch, like EDM superstar Kaskade. Several of the DJs who will be spinning are New York icons (Jellybean Benitez, Danny Krivit, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, Hector Romero, Hex Hector, et al.), producer-composers (e.g., Junior Sanchez), and newer scenemakers (Basic NYC’s Sleepy & Boo).

Of course, Pacha is heavily represented at the celebration, between the headliners (Jonathan Peters, Boris, Miss Jennifer) and veterans from the early years (Richie Santana and Peter Bailey). Fernandez may be best known for promoting big rooms like Twilo, Limelight, and Palladium, and giant venues like the Barclays Center and Central Park. But he was also instrumental in fostering the city’s underground club scene with parties like the Subliminal Sessions at Centro-Fly.

Many people also don’t realize how deeply embedded Fernandez was in the city’s gay club scene, where he produced the wild Asseteria parties. Gay DJs paying tribute on September 16 span scene staples (Merritt, Dynell) to straight faves (Jason Ojeda, Skribble), with gender-bending Lady Bunny somewhere in between.

Given the size of the lineup, don’t expect any musical “journeys.” Most DJs will be limited to 30 minutes, 45 max. “There may be three artists playing together at one time, EDM with techno or house,” Dean said.

Nor should you be surprised to find Kaskade, who normally plays the giant Hudson River pier spaces, spinning the low-level basement or Pachita, the loungy attic space. “Everyone is leaving their egos at the door,” Dean said.

Egos, yes, but schedules are set in stone, legally speaking, which made finding a suitable date that could accommodate everyone who wanted to participate impossible. “If it was one week, half couldn’t make it,” Dean said. “If the next week, the other half couldn’t. We finally chose Fashion Week.” Wednesday was chosen because it cut least into weekend travel.

What’s truly remarkable is that every single DJ is donating his or her expenses. DJs like Avicii who couldn’t juggle their schedules donated money. Nicole Moudaber, who will be there, and Victor Calderone donated the fees from their gig last Saturday at Brooklyn’s Mirage.

“It’s amazing that so many are flying in for this,” said former Pacha publicist Betty Kang, now of Plexi PR. “A lot of these DJs owe their career to Rob. He saw what was needed on the scene and gave people a chance.”

And not only DJs: everybody involved, from the producer of a laser-light show to security guards.

[pullquote]’A lot of these DJs owe their career to Rob. He saw what was needed on the scene and gave people a chance.'[/pullquote]

The London-based Moudaber spoke directly to the spirit of the event when she told the Voice, “This is a very special celebration, and I am so honored to be part of it. I feel at home in New York City, and Rob Fernandez has a lot to do with that. Rob was the very best of promoters. He championed me and gave me my first gig here.”

For those familiar with the underbelly of the nightlife industry, however, what really blows the mind is the generous response of other clubs and event producers.

Provocateur and Marquee are sending out the word to their bottle-service clientele. And Electric Zoo, McHugh said, “usually [doesn’t] allow DJs to perform for 60 or 90 days in a market. They changed their contracts — and put the benefit in their promotional material.”

Sharon Fernandez is blown away by “the outpouring of support from Rob’s nightlife family. We knew he had a big heart,” she told the Voice, “but we literally had no idea how beloved and respected he was across the globe by so many people.”

In the spirit of Fernandez, who, Dean recalled, “was a creative, fun guy who loved coming up with offbeat ideas,” Pacha’s personnel went to work on the city for an unprecedented permit that will allow West 46th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues to become an inner-city outdoor dance-music festival for five hours. There will be not only a main stage, but also a dunk tank, which will allow clubgoers to take revenge on industry bigwigs. Or, if they’re thirsty, they can watch Mike Bindra, founder of Electric Zoo, reprise his first nightlife job tending bar at Trax (where McHugh met him) as one of the guest bartenders.

“We want this to reflect Rob’s over-the-top personality,” McHugh added. “It’s finally time we get to celebrate and have some laughs.”

House of Rob will take over West 46th Street on September 16. For tickets and additional information, click here. All proceeds, including House of Rob T-shirts, jewelry, and keychains sold at the event, will benefit the Fernandez Family Fund.


Time Warp, the Most Prestigious Techno Festival in the World, Makes Its Way to New York

For three months, Time Warp found itself in limbo. The first festival in the city where it is still based — Mannheim, Germany, having debuted in 1994 — Time Warp has grown to become the most prestigious techno festival in the world. But that didn’t mean getting to New York would be easy.

Two years ago, Rob Toma and Antonio Piacquadio invited Time Warp founder Steffen Charles to check out New York. Charles knew the two men, now working at Space, from their years in Ibiza. After a six-day working holiday, Charles says he was blown away by the vibrancy of the local underground dance scene.

“What I see going on in New York,” Charles says, “is people playing regularly, underground artists with a huge following. That’s super-great. Not a lot of other big capitals have developed such a vibrant underground scene over the last two years. I’d talk to promoters who’d say, ‘I play this little warehouse.’ You only hear about EDM, but there’s all these underground spaces that don’t play commercial music at all.” Not just in “outlaw” spaces, either: Charles was equally impressed by the lineup at big rooms like Pacha, Output, and Space.

On September 3, Sinatra’s iconic crooning of “New York, New York” announced Time Warp’s first U.S. events, on November 28 and 29. Although both Kraftwerk and Donna Summer’s ur-techno song “I Feel Love” originated in Germany, there’s no question that techno really began with black DJs experimenting in Detroit. So for Time Warp, the 20th-anniversary year took on new meaning as a homecoming of sorts.

After obvious choices like Pier 94, which couldn’t make a commitment far enough in advance, were ruled out, the selection of Kingsbridge Armory seemed inspired. With its huge layout (180,000 square feet) and the Bronx’s strong association with underground music, the armory harked back to the genre’s roots in Detroit’s abandoned warehouses and factories.

Then, on October 16, the Daily News reported that “the party’s over for ravers looking to takeover [sic] Kingsbridge Armory.” The News wondered whether the party would happen at all. For the next few weeks, ticket buyers and scheduled artists wondered the same thing. In a strong — not to mention unusual — show of support, however, most ticket buyers expressed strong support on social media. The first night, November 28, had already sold out.

“None of the artists were worried that it wouldn’t happen,” Charles says. “They knew from 20 years that we have never had an event canceled.” Brooklyn-based DJ Francis Harris, booked as Frank & Tony with Parisian DJ Anthony Collins, tells the Voice he was philosophical about it: “I figured there’s nothing you can do. Things fall through all the time. You keep your head down and hope for the best.”

Only two weeks before the first night, it was announced that Time Warp had secured the 39th Street Pier in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For two nights, the warehouse will become “the Cave,” a traveling total-design concept with dozens of laser lights beaming between rows of man-made stalactites. Charles must have taken Sinatra’s optimism to heart; he shipped the Cave from Germany before signing the final papers.

Charles has agreed not to reveal what went wrong. “We had signed an agreement,” Charles says. “We were good to go. The process is complicated. New York,” he adds, in a classic understatement, “is a little different and a little tricky.” He’s especially sorry for community leaders who hoped the event would herald a Bronx renaissance.

The city has a well-earned reputation for red tape that could put Old World capitals to shame. Back in the mid ’90s, during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s war on nightlife, pioneer rave producer Matt E. Silver was able to obtain the necessary permits only by telling officials they were for bar mitzvahs. When the inevitable raid came, he was tipped off that a competing promoter had phoned in the complaint.

Far from schadenfreude, “Everybody has been pretty supportive,” Charles enthuses. Not only that, but the city has apparently come a long way from “Giuliani Time”: “The authorities,” he adds, “were very helpful in finding a new venue.”

Getting past the State Liquor Authority, the police, FDNY, and myriad other city departments is only the beginning, however. There are rules for everything from
security (one guard for so many attendees, regardless of ticket sales) to ticket sales (forbidden on-site). “We were chaperoned through the process, but yes, it was difficult,” says Stephen Pevner, producer
of the annual Black Party in March.

Pevner estimates the cost of installing a state-of-the-art nightclub for a few nights at upwards of $400,000. When Pevner wanted a trial run, he managed to piggyback with another event to amortize the cost. But the owner decided, for reasons unknown, not to turn on the heat. And the Greenpoint location mandated shuttle buses from the subway.

For his part, Charles is impressed by New York’s liberal hours — far more than those granted in most European cities. Time Warp will begin at 9 p.m. and end early the next morning. The 39th Street Pier is near a subway stop serviced by four lines, which eliminates shuttle buses. It’s also near the clubs that will host the inevitable after-parties.

Anyone wondering why Time Warp is being greeted with such wild enthusiasm need only look at the DJ roster. Many of the 19 DJs scheduled are more video artists than superstars. Dubfire, for example, will present the U.S. premiere of his “liveHYBRID,” a show that weaves 3-D animation into his set. Joining Ritchie Hawtin, who has done avant-garde installations at distinctly non-raver venues like the Guggenheim, Art Basel, and the Olympics, are fellow techno pioneers Sven Väth and Josh Wink; all three first played Time Warp in 1995.

Harris himself has collaborated on an installation in a Chelsea art gallery and released an album, Leland, featuring orchestral, jazzy arrangements and a Danish singer in the breathy tradition of Brazil’s Astrud Gilberto. Harris says his much briefer Time Warp set will be straight-on techno — unlike the seven-hour “journeys” at Output that might begin with a composition by the Finnish late-Romantic composer Jean Sibelius.

For his part, Charles doesn’t disparage giant EDM festivals or the giant paychecks for hands-in-the-air headliners. A few attendees, he says, are sure to wander over to the smaller stages. “Big EDM festivals bring in all these people to hear headliners,” he says. “But they go to the secondary stages and hear more underground DJs.”

A veteran clubber, Charles was running a record shop when he became intrigued by customers who’d formerly opted for “really shitty commercial music” asking for more experimental fare. After a brief, disastrous stint as a DJ, he formed friendships with DJs while working as a booking agent. Twenty years on, he, marketing director Robin Ebinger, and a dedicated staff have not only helped to preserve techno, but have seen it move from underground venues in Berlin and New York back into big rooms.

If the Thanksgiving gigs are successful, New York will likely be added to Time Warp’s regularly scheduled cities. It will also, Charles adds, likely be the last such addition. “We don’t rent out a license or a brand,” he says. “For this event, we have already put more work into it than any other event that has come before. We don’t want to get too big.”

If Time Warp were to be bought by a public company or an international party brand, Charles says, his close personal relationship with DJs would inevitably go corporate as well. “We don’t want to go to artists asking for favors — ‘If you play this venue, you get that one,’ ” he says. “I can’t give Champagne to resident DJs. The artists have always seen me as one of their own, not a promoter just out to make money. We need to make a living, but I don’t have to drive around in a Porsche.”


Bands Can No Longer Afford to Practice in NYC

When Josh Copp moved to 248 McKibbin Street, he joined what the Times called “an instant artistic fraternity that is all but extinct in New York.” That same 2008 profile made 248 briefly famous as a post-graduate animal house where residents partied non-stop and “people honk saxophones and bang drugs at 3 a.m.”

Today, dirty, dilapidated factory lofts are being renovated into expensive units that have attracted a different kind of tenant, professionals who value a good night’s rest over music and mayhem. “Now it’s a real apartment building,” Copp says. “In the past, everyone would be rehearsing. In more recent years, we had to make agreements with our neighbors: If you let us make noise during the day, we won’t make noise at night.”

See also: With the Coming Closing of Death By Audio, Many NYC DIYs Are Going Legit

Copp also has moved on, trading in the perilous finances and iffy future of a rock band for more lucrative and secure work in postproduction and music for commercials. At the end of the month, he and his songwriting partner will join an exodus of musicians seeking cheaper and more lenient digs in Gowanus. But the search wasn’t easy, he recalls: “Gowanus has some raw spaces but, like Bushwick, there are more and more professional people. Wherever you looked, the landlord immediately said, ‘No noise. No band rehearsal.’ ”

Alyse Lamb sings and plays guitar in Eula, a band the Voice has hailed as “a force of nature” and “the fine line between chaos and order.” Eula also recorded in Gowanus. The neighborhood, long known solely for its foul-smelling creek, has its own Whole Foods. With Bushwick already having gone the way of the East Village and Williamsburg, musicians in New York remain “all but extinct,” at the top of the city’s critically endangered list.

The compromises of living in the human equivalent of rabbit warrens can affect a musician’s genre. When Lamb first arrived in New York, she says, “My songwriting became very quiet, more cerebral, because I couldn’t be loud.” What the Voice called her “guttural wails” can be heard for a few hours in the tiny Bushwick space Eula shares with four other bands.

“The time constraint limits our writing and practicing,” Lamb sighs. “There’s pressure, when you can only play for a few hours. I know several people being pushed out of their rehearsal space from noise complaints as buildings are upgraded. It pushes you to the limit. Where do you go now?”

With the music industry itself in a state of near extinction, the days of a label granting a band production space, let alone a contract, are long gone. “Bands don’t get the big record deals,” notes studio owner Jon Buck. “They have to record themselves.”

After Annabelle Cazel, a classically trained pianist turned art-rock musician, returned to the States six years ago to tour with the Fiery Furnaces, rising prices drove her out of her Soho studio to four different rehearsal spaces in Williamsburg and one in Bushwick before she landed in Gowanus.

“Who knows when the rents will go up there?” she asks. “Most of my musician friends have moved several stops on the L train or further on the G train or way south, to Ditmas Park, Sheepshead Bay, Windsor Terrace, or Flatbush. Gowanus is done with.”

Sylvana Joyce & the Moment used to rehearse in her Astoria apartment, where the drummer couldn’t use his kit and the guitars were acoustic. Fed up, she and her bandmates relocated en masse to a Jersey City townhouse, where they split the $850 rent.

The landlord lives right below them, but only requested they quit rehearsing by 10:30. He even installed soundproofing. While Joyce appreciates such cheap and spacious digs, “I regret not being able to live in the city,” she says. “I grew up in Astoria. The musical community in New York is suffering. People have to leave to afford the room to grow.”

Studio owners, already “hanging by their fingernails,” Buck says, face a similar predicament. They put more inventory on the market just as demand diminished. Galloping gentrification, meanwhile, is taking more and more buildings off the market. Buck has been scoping properties as far to the east of the five studios he currently rents as Glendale, Queens.

Retrofitting a rundown commercial structure costs at least $500,000. These days, bands demand add-ons like Wi-Fi. As a serial studio renter, Cazel at least has noticed improvements. “The quality of renovations seems to be getting better,” she says. “The first space in Soho had no air conditioning. It was little better than a hole in the ground. Now they at least have fresh paint, central air, security cameras.”

The improvement in amenities, however, has resulted in even smaller studios. Every Wednesday, Chamber Band meet in an old Williamsburg Pfizer factory that singer-guitarist Chris Littler wryly describes as “the size of a large walk-in closet.”

Freelancer Benjamin Ickies fondly recalls gigging with a drummer “who had a studio in Williamsburg that was a palace. You could put a full orchestra in there.

“Now that real estate is so valuable,” he says, “a restaurant would probably have trouble meeting the rent.”

Ickies considers himself “really, really lucky” to live in Williamsburg near Lorimer Street: “I can practice in my apartment, a pre-war with thick walls between units. I’ve been there for five years, and I’ve also been the beneficiary of a generous landlord who didn’t raise
the rent as much as he could have.”

Lisa Niedermeyer, program director for Fractured Atlas, runs SpaceFinder NYC, a free service that matches artists with rehearsal space and helps them negotiate deals. She’s scoping the Bushwick border of East New York, to Sunnyside, Queens, all the way north to the South Bronx in the endless quest for potential spaces.

Galloping gentrification: Modern Bushwick.
Galloping gentrification: Modern Bushwick.

Fractured Atlas has joined up with studio owners, music industry groups, and interested parties like the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce under the umbrella of New York Is Music, a coalition trying to find a solution to the city space race. The immediate goal is a bill that would grant tax credits to struggling musicians.

State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, whose district includes Williamsburg and Greenpoint, has been pushing for the bill in Albany.

“Unfortunately,” he told the Voice, “only a few of us are thinking about it. We’re looking for fresh ideas, but it’s an enormous problem. The more gentrification that occurs, the worse it gets for the small musicians who want to set up shop.”

Lentol’s wish list includes affordable housing and rehearsal space. They won’t do much good, however, if musicians can’t find venues. As the Voice reported earlier this month, the imminent closing of Death by Audio and Glasslands has marked the end of Williamsburg’s underground DIY scene.

Massive residential complexes threaten to do the same to clubs in Greenpoint. “Go in and around the West Street area near the waterfront, down the street from Greenpoint Landing,” Lentol says. “It’s close enough to affect development where these venues are located. Unfortunately, they’re going to be pushed out.”

As are the musicians themselves, like veteran rocker Leesa Harrington-Squyres. The drummer for tribute band Lez Zeppelin recently had to find new digs after her Greenpoint home — near the infamous Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, now a tastefully designed nature walk — was sold to a developer.

And yet, despite such seemingly impassable obstacles, New York continues to attract aspiring musicians. After graduating from NYU, Littler moved to L.A. for three years. If he misses the luxury of transporting his guitar in a car, the tradeoff is more than worth the hassle. “I love my day job, and I love making music,” he says.

“It’s hard to make a career as a musician, but it can be done,” Ickies says. “There are musicians who don’t want to do anything but their act, and there are musicians who will play weddings, bar mitzvahs, whatever.”

On November 12, Lentol will chair a New York Is Music roundtable at the Wythe Hotel. Although closed to the public, musicians can request an invitation by calling his office at 718-383-7474.



The Return of the Giant NYC Dance Club

Victor Calderone is looking forward to the October 4 debut of his residency at the newly opened Space Ibiza NY as a long-delayed homecoming. Sure, Calderone, one of the city’s true superstar DJs, has enjoyed residencies at nearly every big-room club in town. And he has been fielding other offers. But this time, it clicked.

“I’ve been waiting for something that felt right,” he says from Portsmouth, England, where he was putting the finishing touches on a long-awaited follow-up to 2007’s mercilessly beat-driven Evolve. “Whenever I heard someone has opened a new venue, I checked it out. But I have to feel the moment I walk in. Space was that venue.”

Fellow Bensonhurst native Rob Toma, the club’s talent manager, hopes that booking the one DJ most closely associated with a hard-as-nails sound will send a definite signal to clubgoers. “We program for adults,” he says. “EDM is more pop. It’s for college kids. We don’t want to be a young venue.

“Victor is a staple in New York,” he adds. “He needs a proper home.”

Both men can thank Ibiza for their success. Almost as soon as Calderone landed on its shores, he captivated the crowd. It catapulted him to international fame, and he gratefully travels there every summer to return the favor. Toma, a veteran of New York’s club scene, and his partner, the DJ/producer Antonio Piacquadio, became the first Americans to own and operate a club on the tiny Mediterranean island.

If Space Ibiza NY sounds unwieldy, it conveys Toma’s plan to re-create the flagship club’s vibe. Perched on the edge of Manhattan, at the intersection of West 50th Street and the West Side Highway, Space opened on September 12 (after an aborted November 2013 date). It was a welcome and much-needed addition in a town where big room after big room has succumbed to the pressures of NIMBY neighbors, blue-nosed politicians, and skyrocketing real estate prices. No more proof is needed than the long lines that stretch down the block outside Space into the wee hours every Friday and Saturday.

Patience is rewarded with a blast of music from the imported Funktion-One sound system, which duplicates the one in Ibiza, and with real-girl and statuesque drag-queen dancers wearing little else than Day-Glo body paint. An exposed-brick wall is a nice nod to the building’s previous incarnation, but what really sets Space apart from the city’s other megaclubs — and, for that matter, from every other nightclub that has opened since Prohibition ended — are the floor-to-ceiling windows along 50th Street.

They stay shuttered until dawn, when they’re dramatically opened — a nice bit of theatricality Toma borrowed from Berghain, the Berlin ur-megaclub. As the sun rises over the majestic Hudson, the crowd on the 5,000-square-foot dance floor erupts in cheers. That’s not only as far from the dungeon-like vibe you’ll get in other venues, but as close to an Ibiza experience as you’re going to get without boarding a plane.

“It reminds me a lot of Space Ibiza,” notes Calderone, who sees his return to his native city as marking a new phase in his career. “The timing couldn’t be better. I already had plans to be in the studio to record new music. I was planning the launch of my new brand, Matter. When I was presented with Space, I thought, ‘This would fit in perfectly.’ ”

His old brand, Evolve, is being replaced with Matter, also the name for his residency. “I felt like Evolve had gotten worn,” he says. “I was starting to do Evolve parties that were not great. There was a lack of good venues in the city. A new venue, new night — what better way to start clean?”

Calderone’s remarkable musical journey has itself been an evolution from bouncy anthems to pure drum’n’bass. Back in the ’80s, he was the hot young straight guy on the dance floor at Paradise Garage, the revered gay club where he, Junior Vasquez, and the late Frankie Knuckles were present for the birth of a sound that combined Motown funk with the military march of disco to create house.

After a brief brush with spacey trance techno, Calderone stepped away from the DJ booth for a few years. When he returned in 1996, he started to find his own unique style with the release of hard-house anthems “Give It Up” and “Beat Me Harder.”

Meanwhile, he was making a name on the gay party scene with gigs that included Fire Island. He proved popular enough to become the first straight man to play the city’s most notoriously erotic gay event, the Black Party; and to land the coveted gay Saturday night at the old Roxy. That and a residency at Liquid, the Miami club owned by Madonna’s BFF Ingrid Casares, earned him the notice of pop’s reigning queen, who chose him to remix her 1998 single “Frozen.”

Calderone was well on his way to fame when, the next year, Sting, acting on Madonna’s recommendation, tapped him to remix “Desert Rose,” a megahit that has eclipsed the original. Calderone’s heart, however, wasn’t in remixing sensuous, slow vocals. “You have to evolve. I came from a techno background. After my hiatus, there was a lot of vocal house and tribal.”

During a Crobar residency, “I was playing a lot of techno music,” he recalls. “But I had to create my own sound by layering the records I loved.” In the studio — and in a series of residencies that took him to nearly every big room in town — Calderone was slowly refining Vasquez’s super-hard house into a rarefied distillation of pure drum’n’bass. He followed the lure of the drums to originate an even harder iteration of tribal.

More recently, Calderone has been returning to his techno roots, albeit with a drum’n’bass backbeat. His wife, Athena, a raven-haired beauty who has made her own way doing interior design work and penning the lifestyle blog Eye Swoon, calls her husband “a true artist. He doesn’t like to compromise.”

Even if EDM rules dance floors, there are enough worshippers of the beat to have enabled Calderone to build a pretty comfortable life for his family. When not on the road, he, Athena, and their young son divide their time between a penthouse in DUMBO and a beach house in Amagansett. Described by Harper’s Bazaar as a “sophisticated bohemian,” Athena has filled their homes with funky furniture and decidedly more upscale items, like a painting by wunderkind artist-of-the-moment Lucien Smith.

The area around Space likewise combines grit with chic. Along with Studio 48, around the corner, and that other Ibiza big-room brand Pacha, four blocks south, this has morphed into the city’s nexus of big-room clubs. With a parking lot next door and a block-long Con Ed substation across the street, Calderone can pump up the volume as loud as he wants.

Unusual in a city where nightclubs are typically about as welcome as an addiction-treatment center, Space has the distinction of actually having been embraced by the local block association. “Before it opened, we went over there and had a meeting with them and the Midtown North Precinct,” Steve Belida, co-chair of the 5051 Neighborhood Association, says. “We figured that’s where it should be. So far, everyone is happy.”

Toma is already looking to take advantage of the spectacular daytime views with a Sunday party that will, he says, “bring in some Ibiza brands.” Meredith Rothstein, the special events planner at Roseland for 10 years until it closed in March, has been brought on board to book corporate events when the club is dark during the week.

With New York’s top DJ now in residence, the outlook for Space is as sunny as a hot July day in Ibiza.


Has Electric Zoo Turned Into a ‘Day-Glo Version of North Korea’?

The producers of Electric Zoo, it seems, just can’t catch a break in New York City. Last year, the last day was canceled in the wake of two drug-related deaths and the subsequent flood of negative media coverage. This year, human nature wasn’t to blame for an early end, but rather Mother Nature.

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, people were jazzed up to make the trek to East Harlem and board one of the buses to Randalls Island for Electric Zoo’s final hours. Then the sky darkened to a threatening hue as cell phones went crazy with beeps alerting to an emergency text: “Imminent severe alert: Flash Flood Warning.”

See also: How Mega Rave Electric Zoo Will Try to Keep the Drugs Out

Judging from the dozens of postings on Electric Zoo’s Facebook page, EDM fans were especially outraged by the cancellation of the rest of the night. True, the sky cleared up and stayed that way for the remainder of the proceedings (following a late-afternoon rainstorm of biblical proportions).

With rumors swirling around the reasons for the abrupt decision to cancel, Stefan Friedman, the senior publicist in charge, attempted to set the record straight. In an exclusive interview with the Voice, Friedman went to great lengths to explain that the various city agencies involved — especially the Parks Department and the NYPD — had determined that “extremely unsafe conditions,” including lightning at Orchard Beach, a mere stone’s throw across the sound from Randalls Island, requested that the Zoo shut down for good.

A source told us off the record, however, that Zoo officials were more than willing to let the acts continue after the thunderstorm. The torrential rains had left the field a muddy mess; but ever since the mother of all pop-music festivals, Woodstock, has that stopped people from slipping along, sliding about, and even covering themselves with acres of mud?

What has changed since the ’60s, of course, is a general hardening in the public and official perception of what are considered “safe conditions” for such a massive gathering. Chief among them is drug use. In the wake of a spate of deaths at festivals over the past few years, the fallout from designer drugs has become a source of anxiety among public officials and the festival promoters themselves.

At the Zoo, there’s no question that the publicity from last year’s deaths resulted in a considerable tightening of security that was meant to be as visible as possible — and, indeed, it was. That’s what made the cancellation doubly disappointing to the organizers. “The sad irony of it is that the shows were really good and really ‘clean,’ ” Friedman said. “The huge preponderance of people were sober and enjoying the evening.”

The searches began with bag checks when attendees boarded the buses and continued with body searches through at least two on-site checkpoints. The prominent presence of drug-sniffing dogs, TSA-level searches, security both identifiable and plainclothes, and even the placement of a dozen cameras throughout the festival grounds let attendees know, in the words of one source, that the organizers “weren’t fucking around this year.”

In addition to deterrents, there were visible signs that this year’s Zoo intended to treat anyone who was experiencing negative effects. The four medical tents on the field were supplemented by 50 to 75 young medical students keeping an eye on possible dropouts.

As for the well-publicized “amnesty bins” that offered a last chance to get rid of contraband before entering the grounds, they were not nearly so prominent as other deterrents. It’s unclear how effective they were, since organizers understandably are tight-lipped about exactly what and how much was left in the bins. Equally unquantifiable is how much another heavily dissected precaution — the two-minute PSA of a young man rolling into oblivion that was required viewing before wristbands could be validated — ultimately affected what partygoers tried to smuggle into the field or how much they dropped once they got there.

Although there was inevitable grumbling, it’s questionable whether the overall vibe was quite the “day-glo version of North Korea” described in the New York Post. “Was there a show of force?” Friedman asked rhetorically. “Absolutely. But nothing more than what you see in a nightclub. The fans were far more understanding than a tabloid newspaper.”

As a veteran of the city’s club scene, I can testify to experiencing and witnessing body searches that have included taking off my shoes and socks and even female security reaching into a woman’s bra. Undergoing such demeaning procedures has become an unfortunate reality of going out dancing these days.

While attendance didn’t reach last year’s, there were enough people to pack the main stage when headliner Armin van Buuren played the Saturday-night set that was the culmination of a day of superstar DJs. Producing organization Made Event is still working out whether and how thwarted attendees will secure refunds, but it would be difficult to dole them out to those who were inside the grounds on Sunday and had to leave early.

Whether the event made a profit probably won’t be known for several weeks, until all of the vendors are paid. Friedman echoed the sentiments Made Event principals Mike Bindra and Laura de Palma made in my preview article that they look at this year’s Zoo as a labor of love as much as a way to make money.

“Mike and Laura love New York,” Friedman said. “They love this venue. They want to do everything possible to save it.” This year, that meant responding to the many media requests for information and interviews. Far from shying away from the limelight, Zoo officials made a conscious decision to embrace it as a way of getting out the message of vigorous monitoring of drug use. “You saw more press about security than the music,” Friedman noted.

In the same article, however, the Post, which proved it was no friend to EDM festivals when it led the media sensationalizing of last year’s Zoo deaths, admitted that this year’s Electric Zoo had “an energy that few other festivals can get close to.”

Meanwhile, a source close to the organizers reiterated the point made in our preview story that, sooner or later, Americans are going to have to face the reality that European governments reached long ago: Like it or not, drug use is a part of the landscape. Groups like the Harm Reduction Coalition and DanceSafe are going to have to be brought in from the fringes to become an integral part of helping ensure that people at least know what they’re putting into their bodies.

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How Mega Rave Electric Zoo Will Try to Keep the Drugs Out

As many as 100,000 EDM fans will descend on Randall’s Island this weekend for the return of Electric Zoo. Over three days, the mostly 20-something crowd will hear an impressive roster of DJs that includes superstars David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Victor Calderone, Kaskade, and Sasha.

But first they will have to have their wristbands electronically validated after proving they have viewed — either online or there on site — a video on the dangers of Molly, the Ecstasy derivative responsible for several recent deaths at EDM events. Written and directed by James Manos, Jr., creator of the popular Showtime series, Dexter, and his teenage daughter, Ellie, the two-minute PSA shows a young man getting so high on the dance floor that he ends up alone in a very dark head space.

It’s only one of the steps the festival’s producer, Made Event, is taking after last year, when two attendees died, and several others were reportedly hospitalized. In the wake of intense media scrutiny and criticism, and after a strong recommendation by the mayor’s office, the third day was abruptly canceled.

This year, attendees will be greeted by drug-sniffing dogs and “Amnesty Bins,” which offer a last chance to trash the stash, no questions asked.

See also: GIFs: The Anti-Drug PSA All Electric Zoo Concertgoers Are Required to Watch This Year

The dogs, according to Made Event principal Mike Bindra, are “more of a deterrent factor. They aren’t storm trooper German shepherds. You’re going to have to go through a gauntlet. It’s a way to bolster our security practices and eliminate stuff from getting into the festival.”

Other innovations new this year are geared toward keeping partygoers happy and healthy. Messages from the stages will give advice like how to stay hydrated. EMTs will roam in the field, along with “Zoo Keepers,” young medical students casually observing, offering free water or electrolytes, and offering assistance where necessary.

EDM fans took Electric Zoo to task on its Facebook page after it announced it would not allow CamelBak-type hydration packs, even empty ones. But the list of prohibited items at another local event earlier this month included empty cups, eyedroppers, Kandi bracelets, and even pacifiers and stuffed animals, a decision that might seem more reasonable in light of the two deaths and 20-plus hospitalizations at the EDM-heavy Mad Decent Block Party in Washington, D.C., just a few weeks ago.

Bindra says he is seeking a middle path. “When people in their early 20s are dying, even if some of the actions seem overreactions, we have to do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again.”

Tammy L. Anderson, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware who closely follows youth culture and drug use, says that in the heyday of rave culture music fans banded together on websites.

“They were wiser about their drug consumption,” says Anderson, also the author of Rave Culture: The Alteration and Decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene. “They had a methodology about recovery. Then came the ‘realists,’ the routine clubbers, the do-overs or pretenders, who said, ‘I want to be a part of this scene’ — frat boys, college kids. The sometime-goers would just overdo it and not have as much drug knowledge. Finally, there were the ‘bandwagoners.’ They would just do dance events to get fucked up.”

The founding publisher of website, Jordan Keeling, also blames bandwagoners — “the most damaging thing to our culture, the types of people who attend massive shows, whose sole purpose is to get laid, take handfuls of pills, get totally wasted.”

Getting wasted, of course, is hardly unique to the EDM world. While national media blare headlines about a fatality at an EDM festival, there was far less coverage last month when more than 20 people were hospitalized due to “alcohol-related issues” at a country music concert starring Keith Urban.

Binge drinking at college sports events has become a national epidemic; dozens of hospital admissions were attributed to a giant tailgating party before a 2004 Harvard-Yale game, yet no one calls for the stoppage of intramural competition. In March, when I wrote a Voice cover story about Roseland closing its doors, Donald Bernstein, the industry attorney for the city’s nightlife establishments, made a pointed analogy: “Should George Steinbrenner be penalized if drugs are found at Yankee Stadium,” he asked me. “Could you imagine the police closing down Madison Square Garden if drugs were found?”

“All events are plagued with substance abuse,” Meghan Ralston, harm-reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, says. “It is unfair for music festivals to be taking such a hit in the press.”

Certainly, two deaths at last year’s Zoo was two too many. But that’s two out of nearly 100,000 attendees. Not that you’d have known that from tabloid headlines like the Post‘s “Death-plagued Zoo,” or the Daily News‘ “Death Fest.”

In a damning Huffington Post column after the Zoo deaths, “dance-music journalist” Kia Makarechi compared the current state of EDM to rock ‘n’ roll after the disastrous 1969 Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California: “The broader society now views it as underscored by drug use and reckless behavior.”

In other words, perception equals reality.

Today, nearly 40 years to the day after a Woodstock announcer warned the crowd not to take the brown acid, aging rockers look with disdain at the music enjoyed by millennials as only fit for druggies. Two months ago, veteran rocker Tom Petty told USA Today, “I don’t think it would be any fun without the drugs. It’s a drug party.”

“The only thing that differentiates raves is that it was needed to reinvigorate the war on drugs,” Anderson says.

It fits a pattern that began at the turn of the last century. As long as a drug remains in marginal communities, the rest of the country doesn’t pay much attention. Pot was only made illegal after white, hipster types picked it up from black musicians.

Could the fact that the majority of EDM fans are middle-class and white have anything to do with the present national hysteria over MDMA? Politicians across the country have responded with harassment and bills, like the one signed into law by California governor Jerry Brown, which requires state agencies to consider accoutrements like neon gloves, pacifiers, and stuffed animals as drug paraphernalia.

In New Orleans, a zealous prosecutor invoked a law against crack houses to try to put away three rave promoters for 25 years because they had glow sticks, Vicks VapoRub, and bottled water. In 2003, then–Delaware Senator Joe Biden pushed through Congress the Rave Act, which was so vaguely worded even Fox News called it “raving lunacy.”

Even if judges throw out cases brought on such ridiculous charges, Missi Wooldridge, executive director of DanceSafe — whose stated mission is one of both harm reduction and popular education at live music events — believes they send a message to lawyers and insurance brokers that they could be legally responsible for drug use.

Worse, the net effect is, in Bindra’s eyes, a catch-22: Any on-site medical help becomes tacit approval of drug use. Promoters are so afraid to be seen as so much as acknowledging that attendees might be doing drugs at their events that they pretend that no one is using, even if that means people in extremis could die. Bindra should know: After last year’s Zoo, the tabloids gleefully associated him with Twilo, the Chelsea megaclub where he worked as a talent manager, which was closed down after two fatal drug overdoses.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t feel bad last summer, when the tabloids were making stuff up,” Bindra says. “That was a lesson of operating in a harsh media environment. It’s dangerous because then the legitimate media start to pick it up.”

Electric Zoo
Electric Zoo

For EDM producers it’s a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Daniel Raymond, policy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, says. “The politicians and media want to make you accountable for keeping drugs out of the venue altogether, although they know it’s not possible. You need to give these promoters space so that people can be using in safe and healthy environments. The crackdown approach only exacerbates the likelihood of an OD.”

Most Western European nations have accepted the inevitability of drug use at festivals. One of Ralston’s colleagues just returned from a festival in Portugal, which decriminalized drugs 12 years ago. Mobile drug-testing vans went from club to club to ensure that what people were dropping was clean. “How many times do we hear stories about kids who don’t even know what drug they’re taking?” Ralston asks.

For 16 years, DanceSafe has been working on the margins of the EDM industry to provide information and assistance. After the deaths at last year’s Zoo, Wooldridge says, producing organizations finally began considering on-site harm reduction and education. “Folks in the industry are starting to have conversations with our organization.”

DanceSafe has also begun receiving favorable media attention, such as a sympathetic segment on Katie Couric’s late daytime talk show. “We’ve been shown in a very positive light, as has harm reduction,” Wooldridge says.

Last year’s Tomorrowland was the first time DanceSafe was able to work closely with a producer. (It’s probably not a coincidence that Tomorrowland’s parent company is based in Belgium.) The event brought 140,000 people to a location in rural Georgia without one serious drug-related incident.

Bindra is optimistic that the tide may indeed be turning. “I feel we’re moving in a positive direction,” he says. “I do see a consensus building around these events. Harm reduction is more sensible. How do we get the right harm-reduction message out there?”

While Ralston applauds Made Event for making an effort to try to reduce ODs, she wishes the compulsory video had gone the distance and specifically mentioned Molly. “Where they went awry was not including any information,” she says. “It doesn’t say how to get medical help, what to do if you combine drugs. At the same time, at least they’re trying to do something innovative here.”

Festival organizers would like to do the right thing, but “without the cooperation of local law enforcement, their hands are tied,” she adds. “They don’t want to raise the ire of the community as being seen endorsing drug use. It has to be a trifecta of promoter, law enforcement, and local elected officials.”

Harm reduction means acknowledging that people are going to do drugs, no matter how many laws are passed or how aggressively promoters try to police their events.

Wooldridge recalls an event where she had to pass through three different searches with state troopers and dogs at all three stations. “People were still using drugs. We have cavity searches in prison, and drugs still get through,” she says.

Attorney Bernstein says he’s “had clubs put in scanners, pat downs, everything I can. But if someone puts a pill in her bra, the most diligent club owner is not going to find that.”

Three weeks ago, an editorial in the Baltimore Sun came out strongly in favor harm reduction. “Although no one wants young people to use illegal drugs, it is certain that some will make that choice anyway,” Diedre Goldsmith wrote in a letter to the editor. “Therefore, we as a society need to adopt a policy of safety first. In other words, we need to adopt an approach that reduces the risks and harm associated with drug use.”

Goldsmith is not an impartial observer. Her daughter, a scholarship student at the University of Virginia, died almost exactly a year ago at a rave-type event in a D.C. club.

Even though they are now based in Western Massachusetts, Bindra and Del Palma both consider themselves die-hard New Yorkers and have an affection for the city. Del Palma says Bloomberg was “great with city agencies.” Bindra is especially grateful to Bloomberg for telling disappointed reporters smelling blood a day after Zoo’s cancellation that Bindra had a “stellar record” and was “nothing but cooperative.”

For this year’s event, Electric Zoo had to work extra hard. It only received final approval on April 30 — one day after presale tickets were scheduled to be made available. Electric Zoo will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention this weekend. If all three days pass by without incident, it may encourage other promoters to brave the city’s formidable hurdles.

With the cooperation of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, New York could help show the way toward an enlightened policy that faces the reality of drug use and where EDM can finally realize its ideal: P.L.U.R., peace, love, unity, responsibility.

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Triumph of the Sexy Nerd: Gay Millennials Reject the Chelsea Boy

In the video for Jonny McGovern’s song “Sexy Nerd,” guys strip down from cardigan sweaters, bow ties and pocket protectors to tighty-whities and black-rimmed glasses as McGovern sings, “Take your clothes off, but leave your glasses on . . . I need a man to sit on my laptop and open my download.”

The song, released in 2012, hit on a major change in the gay community. “The focus on becoming bigger and masculinity is all gone,” says Chris Ryan, a promoter of bar nights for gay twentysomethings. “Younger guys are really focused on looking smarter, being different from the older generation.”

Hollywood had already caught onto the trend when it cast Toby Maguire as Spider-Man. “Hollywood used to have Spider-Man play Peter Parker, now Peter Parker is playing Spider-Man,” says Matthew Levine, founder of Skin Tight USA, a group for fans of spandex and cosplay. “A lot of muscle queens were nerds who wanted to hide it by becoming gym bunnies. A lot of those muscle queens have let their geek nerd flag fly. Hot sexy geeks have come out of the woodwork.”

It’s entirely appropriate that the first sexy gay nerd superstar was Nate Silver, a short, slightly built, unassuming guy who became famous for spending countless hours poring over reams of data. “Now that everybody has a computer in his pocket, nerds are in, they’re cute, they’re even hot,” says McGovern (whose own fantasy involves hooking up with a guy fixing his iPhone).

Silver’s elevation to sex symbol was part of what Derek Buescher, a professor of cultural studies and media criticism at the University of Puget Sound, calls “a broadening of acceptable norms. The alpha male is more broadly defined as not just physical specimens but can also accomplish things.”

In 2012, Silver himself tweaked the description of him from right-wing website as “a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice.” Silver tweeted back, “Nate Silver seems kinda gay + ??? = Romney landslide!”

In The Social Network, a small Jewish guy with a borderline personality disorder not only gets to humiliate two arrogant Übermensch brothers, but ends up surrounded by hot tech groupies. If money isn’t the ultimate aphrodisiac, it certainly didn’t hurt the real-life Mark Zuckerberg’s sex appeal after he made $1 billion at age 23.

“Coders are now kings,” says Sean Van Sant, marketing director for Rentboy, a website for male escorts. Van Sant has been considering an ad campaign that plays down macho, muscular types in favor of “nerd-chic guys. Because that’s in style right now they’re featuring it more,” says Van Sant, who fesses up to a personal preference for nerds: “I’ve always had my eye out for those guys.”

Event promoter Daniel Nardicio has always looked for nerdier guys over “the mainstream gay Chelsea Boy types” when hiring go-go boys for his raunch fests in the city and on Fire Island, “adorkable” men, not far past voting age, with classic swimmer’s builds. “That whole bodybuilding mania had gotten so cliché,” Nardicio says. “The manicured Chelsea Boy is gone. Now it’s tattooed and scruffy. The B-List is the new A-List.”

In a 1999 Voice article, “Babes in Boyland,” Guy Trebay put down Fire Island Pines and Chelsea as the epitome of “tittie boy culture.” Trebay described Chelsea as full of men who “resemble a casting call for a Wonderbra ad,” while the Pines was “a small beach town populated exclusively by bendable action figures.”

Today, notes Fire Island fixture Morabito, a DJ with three decades’ experience on the island, “the Pines is a “real mixed bag,” where drinking is the drug of choice and the absence of a six-pack won’t immediately consign visitors to social oblivion.

As for Chelsea, as the eponymous Chelsea Boys aged into muscle daddies and bears, the next generation of gay men established gayborhoods first in Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village, and, more recently, Williamsburg and Bushwick. “Brooklyn,” says McGovern, “is the center of the ‘new attractive,’ the new East Village.”

Inevitably, Nardicio’s long-ago attraction to Williamsburg’s “more offbeat, tattooed, and scruffy” look has fallen prey to companies like Brooklyn Grooming, whose most popular fragrance is called “Williamsburg.” “The nerd is not supposed to be conscious about his appearance,” says Sean Rollins, a men’s fashion blogger who works with Brooklyn Grooming. “We’ve taken that aesthetic and given it groomed flourishes. What started out as not trying is now being replicated.”

While some sexy gay nerds affect a studied sloppiness, others emulate the dandy, whose avatar is designer Thom Browne: ultra-skinny pants sans socks, a sweater vest, and, of course, thick black-rimmed glasses. Browne readily acknowledges Pee-wee Herman, whose trademark is the bow tie, as a major influence and inspiration. When Matt Fox started Fine and Dandy, a website and retail store in Hell’s Kitchen, “people would always call out ‘Pee-wee Herman!’ Today, nobody notices.”

Scenesters and DJ duo AndrewAndrew always dress exactly alike in a style the New York Times called “conservative drag.” “We used to get odd looks, now we get compliments,” AndrewAndrew tells the Voice. (They — or rather, he — have made a lifetime commitment to be considered as one person.) “We still get comments, but now it’s a thumbs-up. A bro or frat guy’s read on it is that we’re peacocking, but really, it’s a rejection of the whole Abercrombie/Juicy Couture culture, and dressing like adults.”

The dandy, notes Natty Adams, straight author of the book I Am Dandy, is “harking back to an earlier style of masculinity. Only after Oscar Wilde did the dandy become associated with gays.” Black culture never rejected natty attire, he adds, but in the years after Stonewall, gay men favored the highly sexualized clone.

“The idea,” Adams says, “is to look dignified and elegant — sexy, but subtly. It’s not an in-your face sexuality,” he adds. “For gay men, dressing is a form of public relations. It says, ‘We’re not just sex-crazed lunatics.’ It goes hand in hand with marriage, the new normal. Today, walking around like a Tom of Finland drawing seems a little silly.”

Along with rejecting the Tom of Finland man’s hypersexuality, sexy gay nerds have embraced their feminine side. A bar hop or stroll through Hell’s Kitchen on any given Saturday night is proof enough of Ryan’s contention that “young guys are more openly femmy.”

Even when cruising online, “they’re not taking themselves as seriously,” Levine adds. Younger guys present themselves “with a wink, irony and a sense of self-detachment.”

The triumph of the sexy nerd is making those who still see a gay community obsessing about “muscularity and masculinity,” as Brandon Ambrosino did in the Atlantic in 2013, look like out-of-it outsiders. If anything, the emphasis on a slimmed-down physique has brought its own set of problems. Studies have shown that the number of gay men with anorexia or bulimia is several times higher than the general male population.

In the past, most of the male clients who came to the Alliance for Eating Disorders complained they weren’t big enough, a condition known as muscle dysmorphia. Now, says clinical director Joann Hendelman, more and more of them are “wanting to be thinner, thinner, and thinner. In the gay community, we see a tremendous amount of that.”

The one notable exception to the “lean is mean” aesthetic is costume play, or cosplay, essentially, dressing up like a superhero. “A decade ago, cosplayers at the comic cons were scarce,” says Chris Riley, a web comic book writer in Los Angeles. “Gays were treated very harshly in comic books, as either a joke or cannon fodder. Cosplay is what brought everybody out of the closet to accept their nerdiness.”

Nearly everyone agrees that the trend toward pumping and juicing in the gay world of the ’80s was a reaction to the AIDS crisis. Before protease inhibitors, when HIV brought with it prolonged and visible wasting, a beefy body served as a walking clean bill of health. “Now,” Nardicio points out, “men don’t worry about broadcasting that.”

The sexy gay nerd, McGovern says, “is a reaction to spending hours in the gym. They’re saying, ‘This is what my body is naturally.’ If you’ve got a naturally thin body, you can do a couple of push-ups and you’re there.”

But while “the bodybuilder physique is not something they aspire to,” concedes Morabito, “I see plenty of twentysomething guys with muscle. Saying the muscle boy is antiquated depends on what part of town you live in.” Every Saturday night, Viva, a gay party at Studio 48, “is filled with young muscle boys, she says. And the semi-monthly Alegria parties are largely populated by massive men

Some believe that we’re hard-wired to find muscular men attractive. “While we now have a proliferation of genres in media consumption, we still have an archetype of masculinity,” Buescher notes. Hollywood, having replaced Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger with actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt, is once again super-sizing its action heroes.

Jeff Buchman, who teaches brand management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, believes that men’s body types are as subject to the whims of the moment as the clothes they’re wearing. “Over the years,” he says. “just as women’s bodies have changed, so too [will] males’. The human body only has so many forms, so what’s cool and hip at one point is out the next.”

Josh Steers, an aspiring DJ who moonlights as one of Nardicio’s dancing adorkables, enjoys the work and the money. But he doubts if any other promoter in town would hire him. “People want to see what’s unattainable,” he says about the prevailing go-go boy aesthetic.

Even McGovern agrees that dedicated gym rats shouldn’t despair: “The buff, muscular Chelsea Boy will always remain attractive to gay men and women, and the object of envy for straight men. Big muscles never really go out of style.”