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Another week and more news of New York's underground club scene being co-opted by assholes who just don't get it. First, Venus X decides to end her legendary NY party/institiution GHE20G0TH1K because the name has been used, without any credit, by Rihanna. Now, it's not just the name, but the whole underground sound and ethos that is being co-opted by shitty downtown clubs that want a "Fade To Mind / MikeQ" vibe but who straight-up refuse entry to the black, Latino, and queer kids who have made NY's rave scene so vibrant.
The party in question was called MASSIVE and it was booked at the club Up & Down in Chelsea (of all places!) last Saturday. Fittingly, Up & Down has previously hosted parties for Rihanna and Jeremy Scott, not particularly known for respecting the hard work and intellectual property of others. The DJs Joey LaBeija and False Witness, booked by respected promoters Melissa Burns and Oliver Sanchez for their exemplary taste in dembow, ballroom, grime, club, etc., were told to leave the decks after just over an hour, to be replaced with somebody playing (ironically) Rihanna. From a laptop.
This upset the crowd, or at least, those who could get in - Up & Down's security were already refusing to let people in based on skin color and sexual orientation. Even though this was a vogue party. The no-minorities door policy even went as far as some of MASSIVE's hosts, like MCs Cakes Da Killa and Jay Boogie. The music was switched off. Drinks were thrown at the DJ booth. Drinks that cost $20 a bottle. The DJs and the their friends in the crowd were escorted outside.
In a statement on Facebook, promoter Melissa Burns says:
"I have thrown a lot of parties in NYC in my time. And I've never encountered anything even vaguely close to the way last night went down. Up & Down approached me and my team, I did not approach them. They knew full well what kind of crowd I am deeply involved with [qpoc]. They mentioned names like Fade To Mind and MikeQ at our meeting, saying those are the sort of DJs they interested in. This lead me to believe we were all on the same page. I was excited to throw a Saturday party that really represented NYC. A real actual party, you all know what I mean."
Yes, we do. The kind of parties that Up & Down could never organically create but are desperate to get for the coins and the cachet. The kind of parties that take years of hard work to build, by pioneers like Burns and Sanchez, and False Witness and Joey LaBeija. I spoke to LaBeija to find out more about what happened.
You were on the decks at the time. Tell me what happened?
Marco (False Witness) and I were the only DJs for the night, so we agreed to switch every hour. It was around 1:15AM when I went on, and at first things were going well. It was a mix of our slew of friends and bottle service Beckys in tight dresses and Louboutins. To make a long story short, the owners and management of the club were antagonizing me while I was working and everyone was [saying that] the music was "too hard." They threatened to put on a DJ that wasn't affiliated with MASSIVE if I didn't change the music. I refused to change the music and I began to purposefully play the hardest and most obscure music I had on my USBs just to be a dick. They came behind the booth with another DJ that had a computer opened to Serato. Melissa and Oscar were trying to reason with them but the guys were adamant about the music behind changed. Instead of letting the DJ know they were about to set up his stuff to start playing seamlessly after my set, I shut the music off completely and the club was silent for a good five minutes. At this time Melissa shouted to the crowd that the party was over, the club hated our music, and that she was sorry if there was any drama with anyone gaining entrance to the party.
What was the reaction from the crowd like?
Actually, what happened when the music stopped and Melissa made her announcement was really beautiful and uplifting. The entire room started booing and shouting "RACISTS," drinks started flying, someone threw a drink directly at the DJ when he started playing. I went outside to meet my friends and the sidewalk was MOBBED with all of our people. It definitely brought everyone together. A lot of our friends came up to us to apologize that we had to go through this and they loved what me and Marco were playing. It was dope to feel everyone's support.
Did you know many of the crowd?
Yes! There were sooooooo many familiar faces and a plethora of friends there. Everyone that mattered came to support and turn up. They were dancing having a great time, shouting and giving so much love. There wasn't any shade or bad energy in the air between our people at all. Everyone was mad hype to be out in the city on a Saturday night with good music and friends... Especially because Saturday is the night that all of the Bridge-and-Tunnel, SantaCon celebrating, gentrification-supporting douche bag mob every nook and cranny of Manhattan.
Do you think there was a racial/gender/orientation/ aspect to what was going on, such as some of the hosts being refused entry?
Absolutely! This club has hosted parties like Jeremy Scott's NY Fashion Week party and Rihanna's MET Gala after party. Up & Down really wanted the "cool kids" to have a party there, but once they saw our demographic was black and Latino straight/gay/curious/trans kids, they were not about it! Several people told me that the security at the door kept asking if "more people like this" would be coming to this party. This type of shit pisses me off the most, you know, when people try to soften the edges of ignorance and insults. "People like this? Oh, you mean black and Latin fags and dykes in athletic wear?" Melissa and Oscar hired MsFitz to do the door to ensure that something like this wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, security and management over-rode MsFitz's door capabilities and wouldn't let any of our crew enter.
How had you been brought in to do this party in the first place? And what did you expect from it?
I've known Melissa and Oscar for quite some time now. I have always respected their ability to conjure up such a diverse and mixed crowd for their parties. The respect is mutual; they have always been supportive of my journey and style of DJing. They asked me to be the resident for this party and we were all working together on picking the DJs that would play with me. With Up & Down being such a swanky venue, I genuinely thought that this event would be reminiscent of what Susanne Bartsch used to do in the '90s: mix the weirdoes with the rich folk and introduce new music and talent to them. I think that's what we all thought, to be honest.
Did Venus X have anything to say?
Venus was a big help that night. She came very early, before the party started with False Witness, and helped us get the DJ booth together. There was at least an inch of dried and sticky alcohol on the mixer and CDJs. Right after the party started to clear out she went up to one of the managers and asked them why they had booked us if they knew very well what kind of music would be played and what demographic would be showing up. She has played such a huge role in NYC and as a niche DJ herself, she totally empathized with what we were going through because she's been through similar situations. Shit like this is what led to GHE20 G0TH1K to become what it is now, an institution. She's created a home for people like us to go and hear talented DJs tell a story through their music.
How does this experience compare with others you've had DJing in NY? Is this part of any trend that you can see going on right now?
I have had plenty of shitty experiences in my two years of DJing, with complaints regarding my music, but this one was the most disheartening and I will tell you why: when the management of Up & Down approached Melissa and Oscar about throwing a party at their establishment, they EXPLICITLY referenced Fade To Mind and MikeQ as what they wanted the sound to be like. I played Total Freedom's "Get Lowered" track, and the management said that it sounded like Halloween music. Uh, do these dudes know that Total Freedom is a major part of Fade To Mind!? The way the management handled this situation was beyond disrespectful. It was tactless, tasteless, and unprofessional, to say the least. One would expect more from a club that charges $8.00 for a Red Bull, right?
I guess the point I am trying to make is that the Big Apple is slowly but surely rotting from the inside out with plenty of maggots and worms slithering around the core. Part of me wants to run away, give up, and do something totally different, like become a veterinarian. The other part of me is inspired to keep pushing and work hard to bring back old New York. You know, that time when parties were a HAPPENING. Not a machine with the same lineup of DJs every week to ensure a crowd will come and spend money so promoters can pay their rent. This is my art, my way to express myself. I don't do this to please crowds, get write-ups, hook up with cute boys or make pay checks. I do this because it has a really special place in my heart and it's upsetting to not have a party or venue to call home. On the bright side, at least I have a strobe light and a set of Pioneer CDJ 900s in my room, since people can't seem to metabolize what it is that I do "as a DJ."