In the booming, bustling world of urban nightlife, things are neither silent nor still, nor necessarily what they seem. Here, when most people have begun cashing in on their eight hours of rest, we hit the streets with our most beloved, insatiable crew of revelers—from deejays and drag queens to one very poised 92-year-old single gal—to experience the debauchery and decadence of the world after dark.
The Downtown Dynasty: Geordon Nicol, Leigh Lezark and Greg Krelenstein of The MisShapes with Sophia Lamar and Spencer Product, photographed at the Annex, New York City. Never mind the fickle nature of the deejay lifestyle. The enduring hipster phenomenon known as the MisShapes — Geordon Nicol, Greg Krelenstein and Leigh Lezark — continue to garner momentum while other club kids simply spin out of control (Lezark has even managed to leverage her downtown success into international stardom, most recently as one of the celebrity faces in this fall’s GAP campaign). When not living out of suitcases — filled, almost exclusively, with black clothes — they most often frequent the Annex, a casual, beer-soaked club on Orchard Street overrun with irony and seam-defying denim. “I want to feel excited and sometimes nostalgic when I’m out listening to music.” says Krelenstein.
Their close friend Sophia Lamar, a trans-gendered Cuban refugee, style visionary and onetime member of the Michael Alig crew, shares the same passion for the deep, dark bowels of evening revelry. A nightlife fixture for years, she cops to having witnessed some strange sights: “I once saw a performer who was naked on stage eating corn on the cob. She then blew popcorn out of her ass.” Lezark and Nicol chime in with their own memory: “We saw someone in a bear suit catch fire, and his friend pissed on him to extinguish the flames.” In response to a question about rest, Lamar’s longtime friend and party conspirator, deejay Spencer Product, whose mix album …Product was released last month, asks, defiance in his tone, “Sleeping pattern? What sleeping pattern?”
The All-Nighters: Deborah Harry, musician, actor, and Justin Bond, cabaret performer, photographed at The Diner, New York City. Rock goddess Deborah Harry and international cabaret star Justin Bond (aka Kiki of Kiki & Herb), friends for over 10 years, revel in pleasures of the evening — creative and otherwise: “I look at it like this,” says Harry, casual and still utterly iconic in her white blouse and stripey pants, hair platinum blonde, fresh from Blondie’s Parallel Lines anniversary tour. “My favorite part of the day is from about 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. I love those hours. I think that being in the city, staying out all night and facing the dawn offers an amazing perspective. It’s a very creative time. I either get there from the back side or the front side.”
For Bond, charismatic and festive in eyeliner and quilted jacket, the hours between 10 to 12 offer the first window of nocturnal magic: “Putting on my makeup is like zen meditation, especially if you have girlfriends to get ready with,” he says, seated across from his partner in crime over blue plate specials at a Chelsea diner. “Then, three to five is good, because all the hardcore people are left, the risk-taking people who’ve come out from their buildings to mingle with each other.” Living in one of the world’s 24-hour cities, both agree, is a major perk. Bond’s after-hours itinerary includes catching up with moonlighting deejay John Cameron Mitchell at Mattachine, a Thursday night blowout at Julius in the West Village. Harry, whose favorite clubs over the years have included Jackie 60 and Mother (“high on the list, if not the top”), CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54 says: “At least in New York, you can act like an adult. You can be responsible for your own irresponsibility.”
When it comes to their choice libations, Bond, whose boozy chanteuse Kiki has a celebrity-addicted following, says that he likes “a nice slug of Jack and Coke.” Harry, the quintessential diva of the night, whose seductive “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture” are inevitable pleasures in any nightclub (the endurance of the songs “is the best thing that happened to me, but I prefer now to the past. I’m not really a nostalgic person,” she says), gets her thrill from champagne, Cristal to be precise: “It’s the ultimate. You can always rely on it. I never get hangovers.” But if they mix their poisons, or have one too many, what do the dedicated nightbirds turn to for hangover cures? “Advil, or a hamburger,” Bond offers, “and sex. Anything that makes me sweat.” “There you go,” says Harry. “Best cure yet.” — Ray Rogers and James Servin.
The Late Bloomer: Zelda Kaplan, nightlife legend, photographed at Bungalow 8, New York City. Zelda Kaplan, 92, sits tucked away in a booth at the back of Bungalow 8, one of her favorite New York City haunts, sipping from a champagne flute. Scheduling an appointment with her days earlier came with the following caveat: “Remember, sweetie, don’t call until four or five in the afternoon. Otherwise, I’ll still be in bed.” A trained ballroom dancer, the twice-married humanitarian has traveled throughout Ethiopia to raise awareness about female genital mutilation (“It’s excision, not circumcision,” she says). These days, she saunters about town at all hours of the morning, wearing that cylindrical hat of hers, draped in rich fabrics she discovered while touring Africa. “I like to go out,” she says, her sharp eyes shielded by sunglasses. “I like to be with nice people, although not the types who get sloppy, sloppy drunk.” She remembers, after the loss of her second husband, “going home at night and thinking, My gosh, this is so boring! But how could I possibly go out without an escort? And then one night, I went to Bungalow 8. There were people in line, but I was let right in. I went straight to the bar. To take up a table by oneself is awful, and besides, I wanted to talk to people.” Which is precisely what she did, forming a core group of friends, many of whom could pass as her great-grandchildren. And that’s just fine with Kaplan, who has little patience when her few remaining nonagenarian peers complain about rheumatoid arthritis. “After two or three minutes, I’m like, Whatever,” she say, smiling. The club scene, of course, has changed drastically since Kaplan first hit the dance floor, and she’s the first to notice: “Women today, these girls, present their fannies to men by bending over at the bar. And the men, they come up close behind them, you know, moving. I’ve presented myself to men like that before, but never in public.”
The Firestarter: Luke Worrall, model, photographed at his “mum’s house” in Croydon, London, U.K. Luke Worrall was only 17 years old when he made his second appearance on the cover of Dazed & Confused magazine, the lascivious proposal “SEX ME UP!” brandished over his body, which was tightly braided in an embrace with two other naked models — one male, one female — colorful phallic blow-ups adorning their heads. A few months later, in January of this year, Worrall cracked the pages of W in little more than an Ann Demeulemeester coq feather vest, actress Hilary Swank on all fours in front of him. Photos like these, along with his closely monitored romance with Kelly Osbourne (about which he’s chosen to remain reticent), have positioned Worrall as quite the party boy. It’s a label he’s quick to discard, and one of the reasons he vows never again to model naked. “I like to go out,” he says. “But I also party at home with my family.” A run-in with a torch might explain his preference for celebrating on his own turf: “I was recently at the Versace party in Milan during Fashion Week. I had just modeled in a show where they had done up my hair in fine cornrows. I walked past a hanging lamp and, the next thing I knew, my hair was on fire.”
The Stone Thrower: Perez Hilton, celebrity blogger, photographed outside of the El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, California. At 5:40 a.m., merciless Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton, 30, sits down at his computer to defile a few well-known faces with the hand-drawn semen he’s become famous — and reviled — for. But while most guerilla gossips remain faceless, if not altogether nameless observers, Hilton has built an online empire on the promise of full disclosure and constant exposure — which hasn’t always worked in his favor, especially among certain members of the tight-lipped, West Coast nightlife set. “Getting kicked out of Chateau Marmont was shocking,” he says, “because I didn’t do anything to deserve it. They just knew who I was, what I did for a living, and made it clear that I was not welcome there.”
He has, however, befriended the inspiration for his eponymous website. “Paris Hilton knows how to throw a really good house party,” he says. “At her place, I always see the most random group of people, from A-listers to D-listers.” When asked if he’d rather throw down in New York or Los Angeles, the self-appointed “Queen of all Media” says, “New York is dangerous because the clubs don’t close until 4 a.m. My favorite place in Los Angeles, which I go to pretty much every weekend I’m in town, is Akbar in Silver Lake. There’s no velvet rope. There’s no cover. They have a dance floor, but they also have a jukebox in the other room, if you feel like lounging. In L.A. — even though clubs close at 2 a.m. — you can get in a lot of trouble because you still have to drive home. And we all know how much celebrities love to drink and drive.”
The Keepers of the Faith: Michael Musto, Andre J., Joey Arias and Amanda Lepore, club kids, photographed in the bathroom at BBar & Grill, New York City. Outside of the tiled bathroom at BBar & Grill on Manhattan’s recently sanitized Bowery strip, hundreds of fragrant men cluster together in shape-defining jeans for Erich Conrad’s notorious Tuesday night happening, Beige. They sidle up to one another, impatient for cocktails. Inside, in front of a wall lined with urinals, French Vogue cover model Andre J., dressed in a hot pink halter with matching booty shorts, bends down to cool his face with the breeze from a nearby hand-dryer. Next to him in a black pinstripe suit, The Village Voice columnist Michael Musto jokes with drag cabaret performer Joey Arias, while Amanda Lepore, photographer David LaChapelle’s muse — and “the world’s most famous transsexual with a fully-functioning vagina,” according to her voicemail greeting — places the scarlet heel of her right Louboutin into the urinal beside her.
But despite being crammed together in that scant, airless room, business proceeds as usual for the club kids who discovered themselves and one another throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The surroundings don’t faze them, especially not Musto, who used to ogle Michael Jackson at Studio 54 and dodge streams of projectile breast milk used to make White Russians at Susanne Bartsch’s infamous bacchanals. Because he doesn’t drink, Musto describes himself as “a eunuch at an orgy,” and says, laughing, “I think heaven will be awfully boring — Mother Teresa and Angelina Jolie tending to the children and Julie Andrews singing ‘Chim chim cher-ee.’ Give me hell anytime!” Of his relationship with the other three assembled here tonight, Musto says, “They are people of the night! My kindred spirits pursue their dreams, living as their most extreme and fabulous versions of themselves. Most people don’t have the balls to do that.”
Les French Fries: Yelle, singer-songwriter, photographed in Paris, France. French siren Yelle (pronounced “gel,” not “jelly”) first performed the acerbic lyrics to “Je veux to voir” last fall, to a sold-out sea of neon tights and tattered T-shirts at one of France’s trendiest nightclubs, Le Paris Paris. “I wanna see you in a porn flick,” she sang, “Getting busy with your potato or French fry-shaped dick.” The audience went crazy, and one can’t help wonder if that’s why the spud theme has stuck. “I love a good hamburger with French fries,” she says, adding, “But a plate of pasta with butter is also pretty perfect after a long night out.” Since stomping her cyber footprint on MySpace only a few years ago, Yelle, 25, has taken control of French airwaves with tracks from her bold, brash debut album Pop-Up — sex toys, lesbian desire and love are all explored in her songs — for which she is currently touring America alongside her two bandmates. With her electro-sexpot look and wide, bewitching stare, one imagines she attracts plenty of attention when out with friends. “The worst pick-up line I ever heard was, ‘Your father is a thief. He took all the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes,’” she says, rolling them.
The Playboy: Sébastien Tellier, musician, photographed at Santos Party House, New York City. It’s nearing dusk when French musician and deejay Sébastien Tellier breaks from conversation in search of another drink at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. He returns, his Herculean sunglasses still firmly in place, and says, unprompted, “I drink one glass of white wine before every show to loosen up my throat. And, of course, I smoke a joint.” After a reflective pause, he adds, grinning, “I smoke a lot of joints, actually.” On tour in support of his latest album,Sexuality, a warm, writhing toe-dip into Gainsbourg territory that was given its pre-release exclusively at American Apparel, Tellier explains that his creative focus has shifted from politics to sex. “I used to make music for a room of French intellectuals,” says the self-described “enemy of convention,” who has worked closely with the members of Air and Daft Punk, with whom he also spends most nights out. “And now, I see young women in the crowd who are barely 15 years old. Their spirit and youth are wonderful. I don’t even really want to see people dance to my music, but I do want to see them kiss.” Has Tellier ever played his own love jams to set the mood? “Holy shit, no. I’m not that much of an exhibitionist.”
The Anarchist Gypsy: Eugene Hütz, singer for Gogol Bordello, actor, photographed at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, Rhode Island. In the dank, wood-paneled Bulgarian bar Mehanata on Ludlow Street, Eugene Hütz, the churlish but spirited creator of New York’s gypsy punk rock band Gogol Bordello, spins beat-driven songs for a messy crowd of dripping, drunk Lower East Side dancers. “I’ve never really liked hipsters,” says Hütz, 35, after being called one. “They’re an unfaithful bunch. I’d rather rely on intelligent people who can see past what’s of the moment.” His homespun, bedraggled looks inspired Frida Giannini’s breakthrough Fall-Winter 08/09 collection for Gucci, and his star will certainly rise this month with his top-billing role in Madonna’s feature directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, but his heart still belongs to the New York night and his riotous weekly parties. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who were brought up by 1970s New York underground culture, which was disorderly and uncompromising in a lot of ways,” says Hütz, who was born in Ukraine before immigrating stateside. “So, I came to New York with a democratic mentality. Someone would be playing an acoustic guitar in a little after-hours club with people who didn’t give a fuck, and something special happened — talent knew no borders, hierarchy was thrown out of the window. I live for that atmosphere.”
The Globe-Hopper: Nigo, fashion designer, photographed in Tokyo, Japan. Japanese fashion designer Tomoaki “Nigo” Nagao still calls Tokyo home, but he goes where the energy flows for inspired nights out. These days, that means New York. The nightlife there, he says, maintains a “genuine craziness. I can really feel the excitement.” It’s been 15 years now since the former magazine stylist and hip-hop deejay changed the look of streetwear — and the backstreets of Harajuku — with the creation of his fashion label A Bathing Ape (BAPE). Looking back, Nigo, 37, can’t help but notice a change in tenor throughout the Tokyo nightlife circuit. “Going clubbing in the ’90s, everyone cared about how they looked, and it was creative and progressive in terms of fashion. Today’s scene is much smaller and more disparate.” No matter — Nigo keeps that creative flame alive with his labels, which include BAPE, but also Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, with friend and co-founder Pharrell Williams. A retrospective of his work comes forth next month in the form of the Rizzoli tome, A Bathing Ape. But he’s got a tall order if he wants to top his most exciting night out to date with Pharrell. “I remember going to Miami for the first time ever, to the video shoot for ‘Frontin” from Pharrell’s first solo record. We went to some big club to celebrate, and almost every song the deejay played had been produced by the Neptunes. Pharrell really doesn’t drink, but we were all going wild.”
Photos: Victoria Will (MisShapes, Sophia Lamar, Spencer Product; Deborah Harry, Justin Bond; Zelda Kaplan; Sébastian Tellier), Atlanta Rasher (Luke Worrall), Brian Lindensmith (Perez Hilton), Lizzy Sullivan (Michael Musto, Andre J., Joey Arias, Amanda Lepore), Yoann Lemoine (Yelle), Isa Wipfli (Eugene Hütz), Maria Amita (Nigo).
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