Culture

Down and Out at Up & Down: Controversy in New York’s Nightlife

Culture

Down and Out at Up & Down: Controversy in New York’s Nightlife

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New York’s most recent Internet-fueled culture war has spilled into Manhattan’s west side. The battle is between Up & Down, the club on 14th Street that commandeered Fashion Week last February, and the It Kids who booked fashion-y parties there. 

 Things escalated to all-out-war a couple of weeks ago when Melissa Burns and Oscar Sanchez’s inaugural “Massive” party at Up & Down was abruptly shut down by club staff. Just before 2am, Up & Down management interrupted DJ Joey LaBeija during his set, reportedly telling him the music was “inappropriate” and “too hard.” The song they were referring was Total Freedom’s “Get Lowered,” a macabre Lil Jon remix that was released on GHE20G0TH1K’s Soundcloud page three months ago.

Before pulling the plug LaBeija told one blog, “They threatened to put on a DJ that wasn’t affiliated with ‘Massive’ if I didn’t change the music.” As silence ensued, Burns made an announcement that the party was over and glasses were lobbed towards the club’s DJ booth.  

 In a Facebook post following the debacle, Melissa Burns explained how the party was proposed: “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. They also knew what kind of music my team and I are deeply involved with. They mentioned names like Mike Q and Fade to Mind at our meeting. Saying those are the sort of DJs they are interested in.” Noting the preliminary meeting, Joey LaBeija and fellow “Massive” DJ False Witness found the club’s demands baffling, in no small part because Total Freedom is a prominent artist on the Fade to Mind label.  

The music was not the only problem that night. Some guests said they heard guards scoff at the crowd of mostly LGBT people of color who waited in line to enter the party. Even some of the event’s hosts were beleaguered at Up & Down’s entrance. 

Cultural politics are confusing and nightlife is an arena where they often play out. Up & Down staff tapped Burns to throw a cool party, but forgot to let her know they had token-ism in mind. There’s a fine line between exclusivity and overt discrimination at the expense of artists and community leaders who are sought for their cultural cachet.  

Weeknights are the only times when these venues are willing to adopt different models. “Club Yes,” the party that Melissa Burns started with DeSe Escobar on Wednesday nights at Le Bain, is one of these exceptions. The weekly roster of hosts has included members of the House of LaDosha, Princess Nokia, Thunder Horse Video’s Alex Gvojic, Eckhaus Latta, and Leilah Weinraub. A formidable group, but by no means imposing, the multi-talented singer and resident host K Rizz assured me that everyone is welcome at “Club Yes.” The name is an affirmation of that principle, with the yellow and black logo used as an intentionally gender-neutral symbol. In fact, part of the driving force behind the party was to counter the male-dominated hold on nightlife.  

 “People talk about ‘Club Yes,’ okay. It’s not only just a thing, it’s a movement. And there’s a lot of women involved in this specific party. There’s a lot of men in nightlife, it’s easier for men. But for girls like for me, I’m a woman I go out like this,” K Rizz pointed to her lace-up jumpsuit. “In the straight community it wouldn’t necessarily be that easy for me would it? Even though there’s a lot of trans-friendly, gay-friendly people, there’s a lot of straight people [here] that support women like me. Also, there’s a lot of feminists that come here too. They understand that there’s something different. It’s like blossoming. We’re like a blossoming flower— a yellow one.”   

While K Rizz may have restored some of my faith in New York nightlife, I was also reminded that “Club Yes” is not completely unscathed by the nightlife-industrial complex. Diesel has recently become the party’s corporate sponsor and even sent the Yes team to Los Angeles to liven up the city in-between Coachella weekends. I’ll take subdued corporate branding over tacit discrimination any day, but it’s surprising how many artists seem unfazed by these sorts of business partnerships.

Believe me, I know that punk is dead—hyperbranded fuccbois are just its most recent death knell. And artists need to make a living too, though, I wonder if this indifference towards corporate sponsorship is wholly excusable six years after the peak of the financial crisis. That said, “Club Yes” is not a sponsored hashtag clusterfuck. The Yes circle of emerging artists and performers certainly deserve more than Brooklyn warehouses to showcase their work, but landing downtown venues should not necessitate compromise, however minor.