5 Promoters Who Are Reinventing New York Nightlife

Promoters are a dime a dozen in this city. But then there are people who look at events the way a painter takes to a blank canvas. For them, an event is a means of expression of a musical, theatrical, and crowd-building kind, one where all the elements including performance, space, and guests, require a curator’s touch. Such is the case with the following individuals. We’re reluctant to call them show promoters, because they’re people who produce unique events that are extensions of their lifestyles. Some produce regular events that demonstrate their interest in fashion, music, or visual art, while others spend the better part of six months researching abandoned warehouses and galleries for the perfect space to house a great new musical act. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re worth checking out.

image Susanne Bartsch For anyone who was around during the club-kid heyday of the ‘90s, Susanne Bartsch’s all-night soirees take you back to that most decadent of decades. Bartsch made her debut on the New York scene with an avant-garde clothing store in Soho in the early eighties, and became a promoter of parties for the city’s most fashion-forward set. At her parties, you were, and are, best off wearing a vintage corset, face paint, a headpiece, a cat suit, anything by ThierryMugler, Alexander McQueen, or Vivienne Westwood, or barely anything at all. At her wedding to gym owner David Barton, at which RuPaul was the best man, Bartsch wore a flesh-colored leather bodysuit with built-in breasts. Bartsch began throwing her exclusive parties in the ‘80s at infamous clubs like Bentley’s, Savage, and Copacabana. And getting an invite wasn’t necessarily easy. If you dressed creatively enough at a club, you might be selected and personally invited to Bartsch’s next event by a member of her ground troops. And while Bartsch disappeared for a while during the nineties, as nightlife had its crack-up and RuPaul went on to become a spokesperson for M.A.C., Bartsch is back at the pinnacle of the circus-set. Watch this video of her New Year’s Eve Party in Miami Beach to get an idea. Since her come-back, the Swiss-born Bartsch has been steadily re-energizing nightlife with events like her weekly parties Vandam at Greenhouse, with Kenny Kenny and Ladyfag, and Bloody Mary at the Hudson Hotel, as well as her one-off events. Now, Bartsch’s carnival of freaks continues at Le Bain, at the Standard Hotel on Tuesday nights with “On Top” making us forget she ever went missing.

image Ladyfag The Susanne Bartsch for the DIY art set, who like to frolic in darker, more lugubrious settings, Ladyfag was first spotted by legendary nightlife promoter Kenny Kenny, while crawling across the floor of a nightclub in a leopard-print catsuit.She was asked to come to a party thrown by Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny at Happy Valley, where she danced in the go-go cage and soon became a fixture on the nightlife scene. She is recognizable by her Freida Khalo eyebrows, her unshaved armpits, and her original outfits, which have inspired designers like Ricardo Tisci of Givenchy, and have supposedly been cribbed by Nicola Formichetti for Lady Gaga. Before moving to New York, Ladyfag ran a vintage store in Toronto. And though “Lady” has hosted events with Susanne Bartsch and has clearly taken cues from her, Bartsch is all about the surreal ball aesthetic, while Lady is totally DIY, booking raw, burgeoning talent, and garnering the attention of the fashion’s young, hip element. “The fashion world element is quite unique and never cheesy,” said one show promoter about Lady. “All of her promo is via Facebook and surprisingly effective.” If you’re looking for that anything goes environment, try Ladyfag’s popular Clubber Down Disco, in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel on Fridays, or her latest event installment, WAHWEE, on Saturdays at Drom.

image Seva Granik While some show promoters exhibit their event work on a weekly basis, there are others like Seva Granik who choose to nurture their eccentric vision over months, and exercise it only occasionally, with a show at a space you’ve probably never been to before. The purveyor of the secret DIY show, Granik, under the aegis of his company ABRACADABRA, which until recently he ran with Rebecca Smeyne, has played host to secret shows for Sleigh Bells on the eve of the release of their debut album, and one for Michigan-based band Salem in a Chinatown gallery that could barely fit forty people. (Liv Tyler and Terence Koh got in though.) Granik also booked shows for MoMA PS1’s Warm Up series last summer. For ABRACADABRA’s last event, Granik turned an empty space next to a parking lot on the Bowery into an “enchanted forest,” an event underwritten by Hendrick’s Gin that featured St. Vincent and Julianna Barwick. On June 17, Granik brought together some original talent from the art and music world’s for an event at Sugarhill Disco, a Bed-Stuy venue “frozen in another era.” The showcase performance was The Crystal Ark, DFA recording artist Gavin Russom’s 9-piece musical ensemble in collaboration with multimedia artist Viva Ruiz. And as with all ABRACADABRA shows,it featured designed lighting and visual effects, this time by artists Bec Stupac (Deitch Projects, Whitney Biennial) and Johnny Woods of Honeygun Labs, and custom sound by Jim Toth (the sound designer for MoMA).

image Todd Pendu One of New York’s hardest working DIY promoters is Todd Brooks, aka Todd Pendu, who spearheaded the dark music trend of 2010. Pendu is often looked to by other promoters for discovering the “next big thing.” He introduced the New York music scene to the relatively unknown band Salem in early 2010 via his weekly party Pendu Disco. He recently signed rising musician Chelsea Wolfe to his label, Pendu Sound, and has also recorded the debut album of former pornstar Sasha Grey. Artist Richard Phillips recently joined Pendu Sound’s brightest acts in a short film for the Venice BIenniale, starring Sasha Grey with a soundtrack by Chelsea Wolfe. He has presented an art exhibit by underground punk film legend Nick Zedd, has conducted a black mass at the Convent of St. Cecilia, and has been photographed by Andres Serrano and David Sims. On June 24, you can experience Pendu Disco, featuring Jokers of the Scene and Follower. But if you want to experience something a little more esoteric, check out Licker License on July 2, a touring one-night event with all-female video and performance artists, featuring video by the legendary Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and performance by No Bra, an electronic pop band based in England who join industrial grooves with macabre Germanic folk.

image Photo by Piotr Redlinski for the New York Times

Kenny Scharf Psychedelic painter Kenny Scharf threw his first dance party in 1981, in the closet of an apartment he lived in with Keith Haring. He took a black light to some trash he found there and created an environment he named the Cosmic Closet. He then threw the party at PS1, and changed its name to the Cosmic Cavern. Later, it moved to the Whitney Museum. At that time, Scharf was known for walking along Broadway with a silver-painted vacuum cleaner. Though Scharf took a break from New York for about twenty years, moving between Miami and Los Angeles, his Cosmic Cavern returned to New York in 2009, combining the DIY vibe of his closet party with the grandness of a museum installation. The Cosmic Cavern A Go-Go is housed in the basement of a Bushwick warehouse where he lives and works. Later this month, step into the Scharf dimension, a magical grotto of junk painted in day-glo, suspended from the ceiling, and affixed to walls through which the oddballs of the world can saunter. Scharf awaits you at the door, ready to paint your face and grant you entry to his dreamscape. Dress for blacklight.

Photograph of Seva Granik by Matthew Salacuse

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