Why You Should Support Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

When I talk to potential sponsors and charitable foundations about supporting nightlife culture, the first question I normally hear is “Why does nightlife culture need support?”

This is a good question. When people normally think about donating to cultural organizations ballet, operas and museums quickly come to mind. Nightclubs, bars and lounges are not normally identified with culture or the need for charitable support. What most people fail to see is that nightlife culture is a social good that is just as worthy of support and protection as any library, art gallery or concert hall. This is true for several reasons.

Nightlife culture is central to a city’s the quality of life. Without a thriving nightlife culture, our social dynamic is crippled. When that aspect of a city is gone students, tourists and young professionals migrate to other areas to satisfy that social need. Without a thriving nightlife culture, the artistic and creative community withers. When that happens, the economy and reputation of a city falls dramatically because people do not feel drawn to that environment. The health and progress of a city is directly related to the health of its nightlife culture.

Nightlife culture in New York is complex and multilayered. It has fostered our arts, giving us dozens of musical genres, culinary innovations, fashion styles and architectural novelties. It has shaped the relationships between people of different classes, races and backgrounds. It has attracted people from all over the world to visit, live and work here. It is as much a part of our history and identity as Wall Street, Times Square or Fifth Avenue.

In recent years, nightlife culture has been damaged by political, economic and technological changes. Nightlife has been made a scapegoat and held responsible for everything from drug abuse to urban crime and a general lower quality of life. Rampant gentrification, higher real estate costs and contradictory urban planning have created conflict between nightlife and local communities. Advancements in digital technologies and fragmenting entertainment markets have stifled many traditional creative outlets in nightlife. While nightlife culture continues to grow and adapt, it has suffered recently.

Supporting nightlife culture isn’t about supporting any one venue or style of club. It is about recognizing and appreciating everything that we gain from a healthy and vibrant cultural experience. This isn’t just the responsibility of the club owners. Everyone can benefit from nightlife culture, so everyone can play a part in appreciating and sustaining it. Without nightlife, New York would lose an essential aspect of what makes it the dominant city that it is.

So care about nightlife culture because it is one of the reasons you live in New York City. It is our soul and economic engine. Understand that it is important to everyone whether or not they patronize nightlife venues. Expose yourself to the cultural side of nightlife and experience everything it has to offer. Most importantly care about nightlife culture to make sure that it isn’t further eroded to the point where the city completely loses its artistic and social prominence.

Have fun.

Gamal Hennessy

New York Nightlife Is More than Just a Tough Door

A storm was created in the teacup of New York nightlife writing this week when Elite Daily posted an article lashing out at nightlife because it was becoming oversaturated. The point of the piece was that more and more exclusive venues are fighting over the same small client base to the point where no one is getting a good crowd. The article suggested that New York nightlife would die a slow sad death

There was a small but spirited reaction to the piece that generally fell into three camps:

1)      The author is right. Nightlife in New York will (and should) collapse on itself because small handfuls of people can’t sustain revenue for more than a few venues.

2)      The author is right but no one should care because people don’t need to worry about going to the nightlife they went to 10 years ago. (Chichi 212)

3)      The author is missing the point because New York nightlife is bigger than just the exclusive clubs so the expansion and contraction of one scene doesn’t define an entire industry.

I am a flag bearer for camp 3. From an economic perspective, it might be accurate to say that there are only so many people who can go to the Boom Boom Room, 1OAK, Lavo, double seven and the new incarnations of Beatrice Inn, Pink Elephant and Bungalow 8. But the idea that the only real nightlife in New York City is the exclusive tough door venues is like saying that the only real movies are the summer blockbusters. It is a statement that ignores dozens of different scenes in nightlife culture and hundreds of different venues.

To say that people should move past the type of venues they went to 10 years ago is also accurate…if you went to those places 10 years ago. If you’re just getting into nightlife now, how can you be tired of something you haven’t done yet? It’s true that the nightlife culture you enjoy evolves as you get older. Maybe at 21-25 you want to break into the exclusive scene then at 25-35 you want the lounge scene and then at 35-50 you want the live music, wine bar and cocktail scene. People's tastes and preferences change but someone will always fight to get into the tough door because someone will always be (or pretend to be) 24 years old.

But New York nightlife is a diverse environment. We do have exclusive clubs. We also have dance clubs, wine bars, beer halls, cocktail lounges, strip clubs, sex clubs, sports bars, pubs, live music spots, date spots…you get the idea. That doesn’t even take into account the specific spots we have for different races, types of sexuality, music styles, income levels and a host of other variables we choose to congregate around in what Steven Lewis refers to as the safety in numbers syndrome

New York nightlife may or may not have more exclusive venues than it needs, but that issue will be resolved by economics. Some clubs will stay open. Others will close. But the larger issue revolves around what the nightlife writers define as New York nightlife. It is bigger than the exclusive clubs that we may or may not grow out of. It is bigger than the bridge and tunnel traps that Elite Daily attempts to casually lump every non exclusive venue. There is a lot more to New York nightlife and If you only focus on one narrow, isolated segment of the experience then its not surprising that your reaction will be disdain, frustration and cynicism.

Have fun.
G

How to be a DJ

 

One of the current clichés in modern nightlife culture is the idea that anyone can be a DJ. Digital technology has taken an arcane and underground art and opened it up to the masses, leading to very mixed results.

There is a heated debate within the DJ world about technology, skill, celebrity and other sensitive topics. I’m not here to push a particular aspect of those battles. I want to offer some advice on how a novice can actually become a DJ and contribute to the creative aspects of nightlife culture. Whether you use Technics turntables or Numark CD-J’s, Serato or Abelton and whether you carry crates or computers here are some tips to get yourself started.

  • Love Your Music: Being a DJ is very similar to being a musician in the fact that very few of either group ever makes it to the level of Tiesto or Grandmaster Flash. In the beginning at least, you’re going to need something besides fame and fortune to get you through the sometimes frustrating world of nightlife performance. If you don’t love your music you’re going to burn out fast.
  • Learn Your Craft: There are two main ways to learn DJing; classical and formal. The classical method involves learning on your own or under a professional DJ who is willing to work with you. While this method use to take 5-10 years, now with online tutorials,  YouTube videos and books like How to DJ Right you can cut down that time considerably. This can be a stressful way to learn, but if you want to follow in the footsteps of the masters, this is the way to go.

The formal method involves learning DJ skills in a structured classroom workshop setting. There are several DJ schools currently in operation, including Scratch Academy and Dubspot. Because the skills have been synthesized into a curriculum, what used to take years can now take 6-8 months. While it doesn’t have the rebel cache of the classical method, it saves a lot of time and frustration.

No matter which method you use to learn, keep in mind that you will still need to practice to master the art form. You can try to fake it with an app, or software or other shortcuts, but there is no substitute for technique and professionalism.

  • Get Experience: At some point, you’ll have to get out of your apartment, go out in public and play. This could mean playing an open turntable night at a local bar for you, the bartender and a few friends. It could mean being the warm up DJ at a lounge, department store or house party. There is a skill to dealing with unfamiliar equipment and unfamiliar people that you can’t get by making mix tapes at home. Go. Out. and Play.
  • Develop a Sound: If you play the same songs that every other DJ plays, then you can be replaced by any other DJ. Unless you create your own party, most of us will have to deal with the musical styles of the venue, promoter or event organizer. However, you need to be known for something other than just a generic, cookie cutter vanilla DJ. This goes back to loving your music. The key is to be able to play everything but be known for something.
  • Grow: Being a DJ means being an artist. To be an artist, you have to expand your horizons in terms of the music you play, the people you play for and the things you are able to do. It also means not being left behind as the art evolves. Your collection of music, whether analog or digital needs to grow. Your relationship with venues, promoters and other DJ’s needs to grow. Your abilities not just to play music but to promote yourself and express yourself needs to grow. If you can do that, then your interest and love for the art form will give you back far more than you put into it.

This isn’t a comprehensive article, so if any DJ’s out there think I left anything out, or if anyone has a specific question, leave a comment and let me know.

Notice I left out discussions about buying equipment, industry practices and the pros and cons of one type of DJing over another. There are a lot of other people out there with more experience, knowledge and perspective than me if you want to read stuff like that. All I want to do is show you that there is an art and science to being a DJ and that if you put in the effort to become one you can have some fun, try something new and listen to some good music in the process.

Have fun

G

 

 

 

 

Nightlife Culture Expo Recap Day 4: Debating the Past, Present and Future of Nightlife Culture

Mornings are often not good for nightlife natives. Most of us would rather stay in bed after a night of dancing, drinking and general carousing. That made it even more impressive when the artists, experts and interested showed up for our brunch seminar last Saturday. It would have been easier to stay home on that sunny spring afternoon, but group all felt that this topic and this discussion was worth the effort. I’m sure the free brunch didn’t hurt either.

My view of the meal before the round table was encouraging. I saw operators talking to academics about the impact of gentrification on the nightlife industry. I saw friends sharing stories about meeting over body shots several years ago. My guests enjoyed eggs Benedict and waffles with a mimosas or a Bloody Mary.   By the time we started our formal discussion the crowd was well fed, relaxed and ready to talk.

The subject of the discussion was the same as the message of the entire Expo; importance of nightlife culture to New York City. To do justice to the topic, I collected a diverse group of experts to approach nightlife culture from different perspectives. Steven Lewis is a former operator and current nightlife personality. Paul Seres is president of the New York Nightlife Association and a member of several community boards. Shonali Bhowmik is an underground musician and comedian who performs in nightlife several times a week and madison moore is a doctoral candidate from Yale who created a nightlife culture course at Yale University. With this collection of opinions, I was hoping for a lively debate.

That is exactly what we got. Steve prickly insights counterbalanced Paul’s pragmatic expertise. Shonali’s defiant optimism blended with madison’s quiet observations. The discussion often shifted into debate and at times the debate became heated, but the passion that everyone brought to the topic infected the audience and gave everyone a new appreciation for the importance of nightlife culture. That is exactly what I was looking for.

We ended the seminar and the Expo with a private burlesque performance, because there is no better way to end a discussion of nightlife culture than with music, dancing and sexual innuendo. The Expo ended on a high note. Hopefully next year’s Expo will pick up where this one left off.

Have fun.
G

Nightlife Culture Expo Recap Day 3: Rakim Celebrates the Rise of Hip Hop Music

 

The energy for that night had been building up for 25 years.

In 1987, the Paid in Full Album was released and helped start a new age in hip hop music. Up to that point, hip hop was rarely on the radio. It was an underground sound that filtered down out of the Bronx to dominate block parties and after hours clubs. It was a fad. It wasn’t real music. It wasn’t going to last.

In 2012, hip hop music dominates the pop charts and popular culture on every level. It has altered the American language. It has evolved into different sub genres and migrated around the world. Now there are Egyptian rappers making protest songs as the soundtrack to the Arab Spring. Hip hop artists own fashion houses, liquor companies and multibillion dollar sports franchises. At this point, a significant part of American culture is hip hop culture and artists like Rakim made that possible.

The people at Sutra’s Expo party last Friday grew up with songs like My Melody, Microphone Fiend and I Ain’t No Joke. They knew the words to Rakim songs in the same way that house heads know their anthems, jazz men know their standards and religious people know their scriptures. Even with the abrasive posturing and aggressive attitudes sprinkled into the crowd, the night felt more like a spiritual ritual and less like a musical performance. The crowd surged when he took the stage. They chanted the lyrics with him and strained to capture his image on their iPhones. I just took in the positive energy of the room that had been nurtured in New York City for 25 years.

I only got to talk to Rakim for a moment after his amazing performance. Hip hop groupies are dangerous ladies and I try not to get in their way. I thanked him for performing at the Expo and for everything his music has done for me personally and hip hop in general. He was gracious and cool with his response. He thanked me for remembering him and wanting him to perform. I laughed to myself when he said that. Considering the impact he has had on hip hop culture, nightlife culture and American culture who else would offer a better performance?

Have fun.
G

   

 

Nightilfe Culture Expo Recap Day 2: Celebrating the Gay Foundations of Nightlife Culture

The upper level of Stonewall didn’t have the look of an unusual party. There were women drinking at the bar and couples whispering in the corner. There were old friends reconnecting after a long period apart and new people getting to know each other. The major difference in this room revolved around attraction and identity.

Most of the women were sexually attracted to other women. A few of the men in the room were attracted to men. It was difficult to tell who some of the guests were attracted to. At a certain point, it was hard to tell if someone was a man or a woman. The party had an ambiguous fluidity that you could see, but only if you looked closely. In many ways this wasn’t an unusual party in New York nightlife because of the strong influence the LGBT community has had on us.

Nightlife is a sexual arena. It is a sexual metaphor. Sexual exploration, sexual identity and sexual expression are at the core of the experience. Boundaries are often tested, limits are pushed and possibilities are explored in ways that are not acceptable in most homes, work places, churches or schools. The LGBT community often came together in nightlife venues because it was the one of the few places where they didn’t have to repress who they were. It was in places like Stonewall that the community fought back against institutionalized discrimination. Many of them used nightlife as a springboard for acceptance and success in other parts of society. The influence of their perspective and taste can be felt in venues of all types today whether they are gay, straight or somewhere in between.

When we talk about nightlife culture, we have to recognize the contribution that the LGBT community makes to every type of nightlife. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about music, fashion, sexual exploration or sexual identity. Without the gay community, there really is no modern nightlife. We all need to recognize, appreciate and celebrate that. We did it with powerful and energetic performances from Maor, T.R.I.G.G.A and Paige Turner. You do it every time you go out, whether you realize it or not.

Have fun.
G

Nightlife Culture Expo Day 1 Recap: Little Louie Vega Provides a Soulful Start to the Four Day Celebration

   

By Gamal Hennessy

The first night of the Expo started the way many Roots nights start at Cielo. The drinkers hover near the bar to try and coax free vodka from the stoic and aloof bartenders before the open bar runs out. Hard core dancers take over the dance floor for a communal ritual that is part battle, part education and part experimentation. A ring of spectators circle the sunken dance floor looking for inspiration and drinking in courage to get their dance on.

This was when Roots manager and all around happy soul Katerina invited me into the DJ booth to meet Vega for the first time. I’ve been coming to Cielo for years and I wondered what the booth was like ever since I started to DJ myself, but I never had a chance to see it before last night. The little set ups I’ve played in various clubs couldn’t compare to the multi-leveled monster I saw. There were half a dozen interconnected decks, sound enhancers and machines that I didn’t even recognize. I admired the way Louie worked it all like a maestro manipulates an orchestra while Katerina whispered secrets about the origin of each song and where they all came from.

I talked to Louie for a few minutes and thanked him for supporting the Expo before heading back to our party. By then, the dance floor had a good sized crowd. Liquor had washed away the shyness from the more casual dancers and Vega’s beats have lured them onto the dance floor to express themselves. Smoke from the visual system was in the air and baby powder from the dancers was on the ground. We all got lost in the dancing, grinding and heat that comes when several hundred people all move to the same beat. Most of the dancers didn’t know they were celebrating the Nightlife Culture Expo and I had no problem with that. They were too busy living it and creating it to stop and think about it. That is exactly the way it should be.

If you’d like to join us for the rest of the Expo events around Manhattan this week, just click onto the events page and find the party that is right for you.

Have fun.

G

Special thanks to Katerina and Sabrina for making this night possible.

 

Pleasure Palaces: Bars and Clubs as the Cradles of Nightlife Culture

Environment plays a huge role in the way we play. You can’t look at nightlife culture without looking at the physical space that nightlife occupies. It is the spaces that influence what you can do when you are inside. It is the spaces that help create the image and the atmosphere that the patrons are looking for. It is the spaces that bars and clubs inhabit that become the frame and canvas for every other aspect of the nightlife experience.

As we were selecting venues for the first annual Nightlife Culture Expo, we were very aware of how the venue sets the tone for the experience. The history, vibe and style of each venue fit perfectly with the celebration we had in mind. 

Cielo was a natural choice for a house music party because it is a dance destination that has been home to house icons like Jellybean Benitez and Little Louie Vega as well as famous dance parties like Roots and Dance. Here. Now. 

Stonewall is synonymous with both the LGBT rights movement and queer culture serving as the launch pad for what would become Pride Weekend in cities around the US and countries around the world. 

Sutra is a beacon of East Coast hip hop that regularly offers intimate shows with some of the most well known artists in the genre like Q-Tip, the Roots and Rakim. 

Affaire is a new venue, but it continues established nightlife traditions of adopting French epicurean flair and offering a home to the art of burlesque. 

Finally, the double seven is a reinvention of the venue that anchored the development of the Meatpacking District. It established the nightlife that helped attract companies like Apple and Hugo Boss as well as public works projects like the Highline Park to a forgotten strip of Manhattan.

The operators of each one of these venues understands the importance of nightlife cultures. They have built their businesses by offering their individual groups the space to express themselves. At the same time, they have improved nightlife and the quality of life in the city.  Your choice of venue plays a huge role in the quality of your experience.  In their own way, each of the Expo venues offers New York a unique taste of what nightlife is.

For more information and tickets, visit /events/

Have fun.
Gamal

 

Expo Update: Maor and Paul Seres Add Their Support to the Nightlife Culture Expo

The Nightlife Culture Initiative is adding two more names to its impressive line up for the first Nightlife Culture Expo, running April 4th to the 7th in New York City.

Maor (http://www.maormusic.com/home/ ) is an independent artist who has a long performance history in New York City. He has performed live at well known venues including Joe's Pub, Knitting Factory, CBGB, Don Hills, and The Bitter End. His newest single “Long Way Home” is a timely message about gay bullying and discrimination that needs to be heard in these turbulent times. Maor has agreed to bring his message and his music to Stonewall Inn as a part of the LGBT Appreciation Event on April 5th.

Paul Seres (http://bit.ly/Hh2UWh ) is one of the most influential operators in New York nightlife. As president of the New York Nightlife Association, he works with all levels of state and local government to ensure that nightlife is part of the political agenda. As a member of Community Board 4, Paul ensures good operators can open venues and poor operators are dealt with fairly. As an experienced operator himself, he has managed several venues and has recently taken over day to day operations of the new LES lounge DL . Paul has agreed to talk about the importance of nightlife culture from an operator’s perspective at the Nightlife Culture Panel at Affaire on April 7th.  

The Nightlife Culture Expo is a charity event created to help elevate the perception of nightlife culture. The inaugural Expo will have five events, four days at venues including Double Seven, Cielo, Sutra and Affaire. In addition to Maor and Mr. Seres, the line up of special guests already includes nightlife luminaries like Rakim, Little Louie Vega, Kevin Hedge and Steven Lewis.

For tickets information please visit /events/  for more information about the Nightlife Culture Initiative go to /

Fashion and Fantasies: A Nightlife Culture Interview with madison moore

    

 

Vital Statistics

Name: madison moore

Group Affiliation: Interview Magazine, Thought Catalog, Splice Today, Artspace Underground

Hometown: New York, NY

Website: www.madisonmooreonline.com  

Latest Project: Trying to finish this damn dissertation!

madison moore thinks critically and creatively about popular culture. A doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University, madison writes primarily about fashion, nightlife, and music, and his writing can be read in Interview, Jezebel, Art in America, Thought Catalog as well as on his weekly pop culture column at Splice Today. His dissertation is about how people in the worlds of fashion, nightlife, and music use glamour as a form of cultural critique. He gained public notoriety on the subject of nightlife largely in relation to a self-designed seminar he taught at Yale on Dance Music and Nightlife Culture in New York City.

NCI: A lot of your writing deals with fashion as it relates to American culture. Was it fashion that attracted you to nightlife culture or was it the other way around?

MM: You know, I’m interested in stories, and to my mind there is no greater story than the one a person’s fashion tells. Everybody gets dressed in the morning, and whether we know it or not, how we do it says a lot about who we are or perhaps even more significantly who we want people to think we are.

Whenever I talk to people about the relationship between fashion and nightlife, I always ask the person to think about what is typically the first thing a person does to go out? They get ready, they shave, they wear something new or different, they pull together an outfit—a look. So the question is how will you dress for the theater of nightlife? How will you prepare your body to be visually consumed by a largely anonymous audience? How will you dress to attract people you want to notice you, to get laid if that’s what you’re after (and who isn’t?) ?

I’ve always been a sort of club kid, and my favorite thing about going out at night is the fact that night time is different time—a time to do things we want to do rather than the boring things we have to do. For me, fashion plays a big role in night cultures especially since they are both about fantasy. The kinds of parties I like the most are the ones with the most fashion freaks—men in high heels and corsets, man tits fully out, girls dressed up like a fabulous bootleg Marie-Antoinette, people wearing outrageous wigs or aluminum foil, people serving beekeeper realness. This, for me, is one of the things that makes a nightclub interesting: it really hoists the intensity of the room into a kind of cinematic experience.

NCI: What is it about nightlife culture that attracts so many different types of people?

MM: Well, I’m nervous to talk about a single, monolithic “nightlife culture.” I prefer to call them nightlife cultures because, as a multi-billion dollar industry that’s responsible for a hundred thousand jobs and more than 65 million people every year in this city alone, there are various night worlds and various people who frequent them. There are swingers parties, gay sex parties and sex clubs for people who want to fuck. Some people want the jazz club experience, others want a wine bar. Some want to catch a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and go to the after party. Many enjoy an hours long conversation over an equally lengthy dinner. Some people go to a hotel like the Bowery or the W for an after hours cocktail, whereas others can’t wait to walk the categories at vogue balls.

What I’m saying is that there are different ways to do nightlife, and different people participate in it differently depending on what their fantasies are. That’s the key—fantasy. The one thing I think that links all the various night worlds and the pleasure-seekers in them is that everybody wants freedom, action. There’s that Alicia Bridges song, “I Love the Nightlife”—you know it—where she sings joyfully over a saxophone about loving the nightlife because she “wants to live,” she wants some “action,” and I think she leaves it up to us to decide just what she means by “action.” So what brings people out at night? : fantasy, freedom, action, wherever they can find it. 

NCI: Talk about the nightlife culture seminar. What was the reaction that your peers had before it started? What do you think the students expected at the beginning? What do you hope they came away with at the end?

MM: The Dance Music and Nightlife Culture seminar I taught at Yale was probably the most exciting part of my graduate education at Yale. It all started with the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on, which is about fashion and nightlife, and I started thinking about ways to expand that chapter into an entire class. Doing that would also help me see the architecture of the chapter I was about to begin writing. It was a way to introduce students—and myself—to the history of nightlife, and I thought that doing a class on nightlife would ultimately help me write the chapter. I was after how studying nightlife is in fact studying race, class, social issues, gender, sexuality, the law, visual culture—among other things.

The class was awesome, and I have never taught such a captivated audience! Each week was inspiring, and I really believe students responded to my creative teaching methods. Honestly, I think a lot of people (in and outside of the class) thought it was going to be this sort of puff class—you know, one of these classes where you just show up half asleep and get an A. But, no ma’am, I wasn’t having any of that. The subject matter may be fun and I might come to class with spiked shoulder pads on, but don’t make me read you. So the thing is, people still think that the only way to think critically in the humanities with a capital H is to think about old texts written by dead white people. Dead white people are great, and there’s certainly a lot of value in studying them. But there’s equally as much value in what I do, too.

A lot of the critique about my class was on how silly it was, what an easy A it seemed, and why on earth people at Yale, with its hallowed halls and collegiate-gothic architecture, would be studying this. Look, the fact is that thinking about popular culture is hard because everybody just takes it for granted. Everybody thinks pop culture is easy because it’s all surface. But it’s easy to take a single idea and make it overly complicated, which is what a lot of scholars do. It’s hard to take a massive concept and make it easy so that people can understand the world around them. Hard is easy. Easy is hard.

I think my greatest accomplishment with the nightlife seminar was that, over and over, students told me how much taking the class changed their whole perception of the world, not just nightlife. They were able to see and understand the cues of visual culture better than ever before, and some who did come into the class perhaps a bit skeptical realized that, in fact, things are not as easy as they seem.

NCI: Talk about the role nightlife plays in terms of class, race and sexual orientation in America.

MM: This is a huge question, because I would say that nightlife cultures are unfortunately already segmented along the lines of race, class, and sexual orientation. I get really annoyed when I go into a space it’s all the same kind of people. Isn’t that boring? Some straight dudes are terrified of going to gay joints lest they be “hit on,” woe is them. There’s that funny story about Park Slope being nervous about having a hip-hop club (i.e. black people) move into the neighborhood. There are clubs that enforce strict dress codes, which is just another way of racially stereotyping so that certain kinds of “undesirables” don’t get to come in. If you really want to know, I think a club should have gay people and straight people and drag queens and transsexuals and fashion freaks and people who don’t know what the fuck is going on and Wall Street types and men and women and the gay dudes are making out with women and the straight dudes are making out with the gay dudes and the music is ridiculous, and everyone just tosses their inhibitions and roles out the door. You enter the space as a body, not as a preprogrammed black heterosexual male who works on Wall Street, but as a body that wants to consume.

This, I think, was initially the spirit of the Harlem cabaret circuit in the 1920s. Cabarets were small, intimate spaces where all sorts and kinds of people were forced to bump into one another, dine together. It was intimate, and that very intimacy helped to shatter preconceived notions about social groups. The rent parties of Harlem also had that kind of spirit, so did David Mancuso’s loft parties and even a commercial space like Studio 54. I don’t think we see much of that mixing anymore, perhaps not in New York, anyway. Though I did recently go see one of my favorite bands SSION perform at the Highline Ballroom, and it certainly seemed like a very mixed crowd. When I go to some gay clubs in New York (I won’t name names!) I’m amazed at how monocultural the room is. I do not go out to be bored or, for that matter, to hear the Top 40!

NCI: To what extent does nightlife culture play a positive or negative role on the broader culture? Going forward, do you see more of less impact from nightlife culture on the broader society and why?

MM: Nightlife reform is a fascinating topic, because the social ills the media uses to scare us about the dangers of young people get framed through nightlife. The media associates nightlife with debauchery, noise, underage drinking, pre-marital sex, not to mention recreational drug use, all of which is true. But you know, nightlife is kind of this catch-22. No matter how people frame nightlife as inherently negative, the fact is that if you look at any post-industrial city in America that is currently in the process of gentrification, and so of bringing single white people and empty nesters back into the city core, what is the first thing they advertise? Inevitably they say: we have shopping, we have dining, and we have nightlife, and then there’s a photo of some people drinking a glass of wine or posing at a bar at a “hot” local club. The point is, reformers have always chastised nightlife whereas developers see it as an industry that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars into the city core and which brings with it the power to gentrify whole neighborhoods if not entire cities. In New York City alone, just think about how the neighborhoods of Chelsea, the East Village, Williamsburg, and now the Meatpacking District all came to be.

Nightlife isn’t going anywhere, even if people in New York never stop complaining that it isn’t what it used to be.

Have fun.

G

 

 

From Nashville to New York: A Nightlife Culture Interview with Shonali Bhowmik

 

by Gamal Hennessy

Vital Statistics 

Name: Shonali Bhowmik

Group Affiliation: Tigers & Monkeys, Variety Shac

Hometown: New York, New York via Nashville, TN

Website: www.shonalibhowmik.com  

Latest Project: 100 Oak Revival


Shonali Bhowmik has spent years in New York’s music and comedy scenes. As part of our ongoing focus on the panelists at our upcoming Nightlife Culture Expo, NCI caught up to her to talk about her latest album, the benefits of the internet to the music industry and being a Southern Belle…

NCI: You have your own band (Tigers and Monkeys), an ongoing comedy show (Variety Shac), a pilot for a TV series and a day job. When did you find the time to record a new album? How long did it take you to finish this with everything else you have going on?

SB: I recorded this album in a way that I haven’t done in the past. It’s taken me a few years to complete this release because I flew down to my hometown of Nashville, TN on various weekends to lay down the basic tracks in the home studio of the enormously talented Paul Burch.

My intention was to just go for a sparse live recording and immediately release the “Shonali Basement Tapes” album. But instead, I returned to New York and just started hearing additional musical layers which absolutely had to be added to the recordings in order for me to feel satisfied. So over time, I scheduled sessions with Matt Gill in his Manhattan studio, Key Room where after work he and other musicians helped me add piano, cello, guitar, vocals late at night. I just couldn’t stop recording, and then there were technical issues with converting the tape to digital format which meant we had to rerecord instruments. So the short answer to your question is this album took forever. Ha.

NCI: You have had other albums with other groups in the past. How is this record artistically different from the previous releases? What were the inspirations for this CD?

SB: This new album includes a backlog of music that I had written over the years since I moved to NYC in 2002. For the most part, they are representative of a moodier, bluesier, more country Shonali. I grew up in Nashville, TN and although I had always believed that my country roots didn’t impact my music that much. It took reading music reviews about my music and the specifics on my singing drawl to realize that I actually sing like a Southern belle. And then it came to me that I sing like that because I AM a Southern belle. This album is certainly not as hard rocking as songs found in my Tigers and Monkeys repertoire (of which we are currently recording another release).

NCI: There have been a lot of changes to the business and technology of music during your career. How does that affect the way you create an album now and how you sell it once it has been released?

SB: Honestly, the myth is that Napster and ITunes killed the music industry. The reality for me is that the internet is a direct way for me to share my music with the entire world. Due to the advances in recording technology, I don’t need to spend $100,000 making an album anymore, which believe it or not I did at one point. So now artists can spend a whole lot less money to make great music. This is an exciting time for musicians. As a business person, I think that artists have to be proactive and dictate where the industry goes. We should be forcing the direction. Big labels aren’t the experts anymore. So we can load up our music and sell it directly to the people. I find that “Pay what you Want” is the way to go. You want folks to have your music, but let them decide what it’s worth to them. Everyone has a different scale – be it they are broke, or they are rich, or they are somewhat fond of heavy metal, or somewhat fond of country music.

NCI: You perform a lot of your music in Brooklyn now because a lot of live music has migrated from downtown Manhattan over the past few years. How has that affected the way you and your friends create and perform music? Do you see musicians coming back to the city or do you feel that it will move farther into Brooklyn and Queens?

SB: Honestly, although I love NYC, I wonder how good it is for a rock band to live and pay bills here. I started playing music in Atlanta, Georgia where the rent was cheap, rehearsal spaces were cheap and jobs were everywhere. It was the perfect place to live as a member of a touring rock band.

In Manhattan, rock clubs will always be a mainstay, but I think the question regarding where the music will go has more to do with the viable living options available to artists. It’s been a long, long time since living in the East Village was an inexpensive place for rock n’ roll and artist types. Brooklyn and Queens have taken on those titles but those boroughs are getting more and more expensive day by day. I just read that Austin was where all the young artist types are moving. New York and the entire United States needs to do more to preserve its artistic culture especially if everyone is just ripping music off the web. (Yeah, and I was saying that this was a good thing in my response to your earlier question - yup, contradictory that’s me.)

Have fun.

Gamal

Why Do You Enjoy New York Nightlife? The Motivating Factors in Nightlife Culture



By Gamal Hennessy

People usually have reasons for why they do things. We go to work to make money. We eat because we’re hungry. We fall asleep on the train because we’re tired. We may not consciously know why we do certain things, but if we think about it, we can usually figure out the reason.

So why do we go out at night? It can deprive us of sleep, money and the chance to watch reality TV if we don’t turn on the DVR. We put something into nightlife. Do we get anything out of it?

I think there are as many reasons for going out as there are people who go out. But after years of non-scientific, anecdotal, and random observation, I’ve come up with seven broad categories to define why we go out. Six of them can be lumped under the concept of ‘having fun’, and one is almost like work (but much better than being in the office). Take a look and figure out which category fits you best.

Consumption: (The things we take in)
For some people its beer. For others it’s dirty martinis. Some of us want to eat and some of us want substances that are illegal in many states. It doesn’t really matter what your particular poison is, a big part of nightlife is to indulge in eating, drinking and smoking. The reason cocktail lounges, wine bars, micro brew bars and hookah bars do so well is because we are willing to pay to satisfy our hunger to imbibe.

Connection: (The people we meet)
You meet a friend at a bar for a drink when she wants to talk. You go out for happy hour after work with your co-workers to bitch about your boss. You might have girl’s night out once a month. You might cruise the hotels bars for cougars. Humans are social creatures. We have a need to connect with one another. At work and at home, you are constrained in your behavior and limited in the people you can interact with. In nightlife culture, the walls come down. You can talk and act more freely. You can meet people for a minute or forge bonds that last for years. The connection might be intense or shallow, but the energy is different at night.

Entertainment: (The things we see and hear)
The chance to see, hear or feel something is a huge part of nightlife culture. You might be listening to an unknown comic or garage band one night and part of the insane crowds at a Police or Danny Tenaglia concert the next night. You might go out just to see other patrons devolve into a hot mess Jersey Shore style. Entertainment can be something as innocent as watching a baseball game at a local bar or as corrupt as the back room of a swinger’s club. It’s been said that one man’s porn is another man’s art, and no where is that more true than in New York nightlife. What you want to see and hear at night actually says a lot about how you see yourself as a person.

Flash: (The wealth we display)
There are people who want to be seen spending big money on table service. They want you to see their Mercedes SUV. They want to drop a few thousand on membership to a private club the rest of us can’t get into. The idea of a discount service or happy hour makes them cringe. Why? Because they are living the glamorous life and they want you to know it. Consumption here isn’t as important as being able to afford the consumption. If you have the money (or just want to look that way) you want the car, the clothes and the Grey Goose. What better place to display your status than in the New York dance clubs?

Obligation: (The social debt)
There are times that we go out when we don’t really want to. The client is in town from Kansas and someone has to take them out. Tag, you’re it. You’re girlfriend’s brother is having a birthday party. She’s going, so you’re going. Tag, you’re it. You’re friend just got fired, dumped, rejected for the cast of Real World 37. They want you to meet them for a drink. Tag, you’re it. This is the only reason for going out that might not be fun, but compared to being stuck in your office or bored at home, it’s not that bad, is it?

Release: (The temporary escape)
Sometimes you need a break. You can’t sit in your cubical anymore. If your boss calls you one more time about TPS reports, you’re going to cut someone. You’ve tried to like The Voice and its just not working for you. You need to dance. You need to spend time with your friends. You need to get away from the desk and the TV for a few hours. New York nightlife doesn’t last as long as a vacation, but you don’t have to get frisked by Homeland Security to get into the club.

Sex: (The foundation)
Expressions of sexuality can be found in almost every aspect of New York nightlife. The clothing is tighter and more revealing. The conversation has more carnal energy. Inhibitions are lowered with alcohol. The movements on the dance floor don’t leave anything to the imagination. Nightlife is a sexual metaphor on a city wide scale. It can be simple or elaborate, fun or dangerous, satisfying or forgettable, mysterious or revealing, expensive or cheap, all at the same time. Maybe that’s why so many people keep coming back to it night after night.

Of course, many of these categories overlap. Any of us might have several goals on any given night, making any club night an exercise in multi-tasking. But if you think about why you go out, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of place you want to go to and finding the right place for you will be much easier. In short if you know why you go out you will have more fun.

Have fun.

Gamal

 

My Heart in Focus: An Interview with Meleni Smith

 

Creativity and connection are the heart of nightlife culture. The artists who perform and celebrate our experience are the foundation of that intimacy. As a fundamental part of our look at New York nightlife, we are going to take time to talk to the artists who bring life to connection. The first conversation in this series is with the singer songwriter Meleni Smith.

Vital Statistics

Name: Meleni Smith

Group Affiliation: solo

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Websitehttp://www.reverbnation.com/melenismith

Latest Project: My Heart in Focus

Next New York Performance: 2.1.12

GH: How did your musical journey start? What was your first motivation? What was your first performance like?

MS: I started singing when I was six. The expression of music always moved me. It was the only art form, besides acting, that had the ability to make me feel extreme emotions.  I always felt very connected to it. My first performance was when I was in the 3rd grade for the entire school when I was chosen to sing the lead to "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love." I was terrified. I wasn't even trying out for the lead but one of the student teachers overheard me singing to myself and told me to sing for my teacher.  I didn't even think I was doing anything special, but they chose me.  

GH: What is it about performing, especially performing in New York that you enjoy the most?

MS:  Performing is a rush.  You literally feel the adrenaline, the anxiety, the excitement… so many different emotions are experienced no matter the size of the audience.  I have such a love/fear relationship with it because the moment right before I begin, it's like looking down from the top of a cliff and everyone is telling you to jump.  But once you jump the relief and realization that you can do it and its ok feels so great.  Especially when the crowd is there with you and showing love and appreciation for what it is you're sharing. It's amazing.  I think some of the best crowds are in New York because New Yorkers really appreciate art and they love the experience of the live displays... but on the flip side New Yorkers are so spoiled.  They literally have seen and done it all so they can be tough crowds at times too.. haha.. But I love the energy always.  New Yorkers know what they like so if they're into it, they're REALLY into it. 

GH: How have your travels to places like Egypt and Thailand affected your writing and performing?

MS: Being exposed to different forms and styles always affects my art even if only on a subconscious level. I absorb it all and all sounds somehow find their way in my music whether it be new melodies that I pick up or rhythmic patterns.  Egyptian music, in general, uses more notes than American music so it was amazing to hear all the in between notes that I wasn't used to hearing on this side.  The entire experience of traveling by myself to these countries made me fearless and that fearlessness has definitely affected my performing.  I learned that life is really just about sharing your gifts with the people you meet and inspiring as many people as possible along the way. 

GH: What have you learned the most from working with artists like Alicia Keys and other superstars?

MS: I actually never got the opportunity to work with Alicia Keys but hearing her voice on one of my songs was awesome.  I guess from working with more well-known artists, I've learned that at the end of the day, we're all the same. We're all just artists yearning to express what we feel we need to channel into this world.  

GH: Tell me about the creative relationship between your music and your videos? Are they conceived and created at the same time or does one give rise to the other?

MS:  Everything begins with the music. The music is the fuel for all other art forms.

GH: Is there a driving message or focus in your new album?

MS: Well the record is called 'My Heart in Focus' and it basically chronicles falling in love, then falling from love or whatever happens when things change... what we all go through during this human experience. What reminds us that yes! We are alive!! It takes you on a journey of a heart. I have a song for every stage of love from the beginning to the very end. 

GH: What performances do you have planned for the new album in 2012? Are you planning a tour?

MS:  I'm just going with the flow.  I believe 2012 will be all about the flow... But definitely visit my pages for updates!!

http://www.reverbnation.com/melenismith

www.youtube.com/melenismith

www.facebook.com/melenismith

www.twitter.com/melilove

www.mymeleni.tumblr.com

Have fun.

G

Why Should You Care About Nightlife Culture?

By Gamal Hennessy
When I talk to people about being an advocate for nightlife culture, the first question I usually hear is “Why should I care about nightlife culture?” It is a good question. This is my good answer.
Nightlife culture is central to the quality of life of acity and the people who live in it. Without a thriving nightlife culture, our social dynamic is crippled. When that aspect of a city is gone students, tourists and young professionals migrate to other areas to find that connection. Without a thriving nightlife culture, the artistic and creative community withers. When that happens, the economy and reputation of a city falls dramatically because people do not feel drawn to that environment. The health and progress of a cityis directly related to the health of its nightlife culture.
Nightlife culture in New York is complex and multilayered.It has fostered our arts. It has shaped the relationships between people of different classes, races and backgrounds. It has attracted people from all over the world to visit, live and work here. It is as much a part of our history and identity as Wall Street, Times Square or Fifth Avenue.
In recent years, nightlife culture has been damaged by political, economic and technological changes. Nightlife has been marked as a scapegoat and held responsible for urban crime and a lower quality of life. Rampant gentrification, higher real estate costs and contradictory urban planning has created conflict between nightlife and local communities. Advancements in digital technologies and fragmenting entertainment markets havestifled many traditional creative outlets in nightlife. While nightlife culture continues to grow and adapt, it has suffered recently.
So care about nightlife culture because it is the real reason why you go out. It is one of the reasons you live in New York City. Understand that it is important to everyone whether or not they patronize nightlife venues. Expose yourself to the cultural side of nightlife and experience everything it has to offer. Most importantly care about nightlife culture to make sure that it isn’t further eroded to the point wherethe city completely loses its artistic and social prominence.
Have fun.
G

Nightlife as a Marketplace of Transgression


By Gamal Hennessy
Every community claims to offer its members differentbenefits. Fashion offers glamour and self-esteem. Higher education offerspreparation for adult life. Religions offer various types of spiritual guidance.Nightlife is similar. At its core, nightlife is a marketplace of transgressionand we need that service to advance as a society.

What is Nightlife Transgression?
Transgression here means deviating from the norms ofcontemporary society. The environment of nightlife offers us the chance totransgress on a variety of levels that we can’t or won’t do in daily life.

Forms of Nightlife Transgression

1) Sexual: As asexual metaphor, nightlife encourages various forms of sexual expression,pursuit and exploitation as a fundamental activity. On a certain level, thesexual instinct within us that nightlife caters to provides the motivation forall other forms of transgression.

2) Creative: Drivenby sexual energy, the music, fashion and dancing in nightlife is a thinlyveiled public expression of indiscretion that has produced enormous amounts of artisticcreation.

3) Consumption: Innightlife, food and alcohol are consumed in combinations and quantities thatare often frowned upon by polite society. Illegal substances are also found innightlife and their consumption clearly crosses public norms,.

4) Social: Thesubtle and blatant role playing that patrons engage in is an expression oftransgressive behavior in modern nightlife. To a certain extent, the racialmixing and subculture creation that nightlife fosters is also a form oftransgression even if it is not explicitly rejected the way some other forms ofnightlife transgression are.
Benefitsof Nightlife Transgression
Deviatingfrom the norms of society provides the catalyst that a culture needs toprogress and advance. The transgression inherent in nightlife has createdseveral sparks that have led to evolution of American life.
1) The racial and class mixing of the jazz and disco agessupported widespread integration among different ethnic groups.
2) Increased acceptance of the LGBT community was sparked bynightlife persecution and protest several decades ago.
3) The safe havens created in nightlife for variousmarginalized groups allows for interpersonal bonding that isn’t readilyavailable in day to day life.
4) Finally, nightlife offers an organic environment forartistic and creative progress that cannot be replaced by mainstream or socialmedia. Although not everyone enjoys nightlife’s cultural advancements (because everygeneration rejects the new music and fashion of the next generation) it is theact of transgression that gives rise to creation. Nightlife is the sociallaboratory for that creation.

DetrimentalEffects of Transgression
Publicdiscussion about nightlife often focuses purely on its negative aspects. Thiscreates a perception that nightlife is nothing more than a harmful influence onthe city. Transgression in nightlife can create malicious criminal, social andhealth impacts from overconsumption or illegal consumption. Overspending cancreate financial liabilities as patrons pursue the objects of theirtransgression. Destructive prejudices including racism, misogyny and homophobiacan also be a part of nightlife transgression. It would be naïve to suggest that all transgression in nightlife ispositive. However, it is just as naïve to conclude that all nightlifetransgression is negative. Both exist in this environment and one should notovershadow the other.
Anotheradverse type of transgression is pseudo transgression. This situation is thewatered down experience that attempts to create a transgressive feeling but itpurely a commercial endeavor that does nothing to move nightlife cultureforward. Scenes where everyone wears the same clothes, listens to the samemusic over and over and sheepishly follows established trends are as harmful tothe spirit of nightlife as any other detrimental effect of transgression.
Checksand Balances
Nightlifeoperators need to combine two ingredients in order to be successful. On onehand, they need to generate revenue that will pay the bills and satisfyinvestors. On the other hand, the need to provide an experience that promotesthe benefits of transgression while limiting the detrimental effects. Programslike the Nightlife Best Practices and the internal policies of each venue providea system to ensure transgression does not get out of hand. When handledcorrectly, the nightlife experience can feel liberating without beingdangerous.
Nightlifeis a marketplace of transgression. While there are clear detrimental effects,New York needs the catalyst that nightlife creates to advance artistically,culturally and socially.
Havefun.
Gamal