This is the final installment in HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor JamesMichael Nichols' 30-part series "After Dark: NYC Nightlife Today And Days Past" that examines the state of New York nightlife in the modern day, as well as the development and production of nightlife over the past several decades. Each featured individual in this series currently serves as a prominent person in the New York nightlife community or has made important contributions in the past that have sustained long-lasting impacts.
HuffPost Gay Voices believes that it is important and valuable to elevate the work, both today and in the past, of those engaged in the New York nightlife community, especially in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Nightlife not only creates spaces for queers and other marginalized groups to be artistically and authentically celebrated, but the work of those involved in nightlife creates and shapes the future of our culture as a whole. Visit Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about individuals currently making an impact in nightlife, but those whose legacy has previously contributed to the ways we understand queerness, art, identity and human experience today.
Over the past six months, HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor JamesMichael Nichols sought to provide a platform for the spectrum of performers, designers, promoters and artists engaged -- either currently or historically -- with what we collectively refer to as "nightlife" in New York City.
In a time where queer culture is increasingly both folded into the mainstream and appropriated by society at large, queer nightlife in the urban mecca of New York City serves a crucially important function. Not only do nightlife spaces act as central meeting points for creatives to showcase their work and meet like-minded individuals, but they also serves as as a preservation of queerness in this age of gay marriage and homonormativity.
Nightlife also acts as a major source of cultural production, both within the context of the queer community and the fabric of our society as a whole.
For all of these reasons, "After Dark" was born as a platform for artists to discuss and self-reflect on the current state of nightlife and the foundational role it plays -- or played -- in the formation of their work and identity.
At a time where the exponential growth of technology provides a constant excess and influx of information, many people engaged with the queer community oftentimes seem to have little awareness surrounding the history of our collective struggle for rights and citizenry. For this reason, "After Dark" aimed not only to elevate the work of those currently engaged in the NYC nightlife community, but also historic and legendary figures whose work has gone on to shape queer culture on a large scale.
In an effort to step back from the singular installments of "After Dark" and formulate a larger perspective surrounding this narrative -- as well as the future of nightlife in New York City -- we reached out to each individual featured in this series to hear their thoughts on one final question:
"As New York City continues to change, especially with some arguing that the city increasingly functions to primarily serve the wealthy and elite, what do you see as the role and future of nightlife for queer artists and performers in this new vision of NYC?"
“I think there is going to be a very important and welcoming forum for queer artists in NYC nightlife for a long, long time, as we have been a cornerstone for the club scene for generations and by now it's sort of a 'tradition.' There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and elitist, per se... as long as a nice portion of that wealth is funneled in the proper direction. While I have never liked the idea of separating gay and straight artists -- I have always found it demeaning -- I have always included queer youth in my budgets and club payouts, paying people like RuPaul, Richie Rich Larry Tee and Lady Bunny
to basically just show up and be themselves so they would not have to concern themselves with things like rent and phone bills and instead concentrate on honing their skills, preparing themselves for... whatever it was they were supposed to be doing with their lives that would so enrich all of ours.” --Michael Alig, The Original Club Kid
"As New York becomes more expensive there may be more events outside of Manhattan. I see Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey becoming places more artists live and collaborate with the city being a central meeting location. The Internet and social media also provide a means for which queer artists can connect and gain exposure. Nightlife is still a necessary element, however, and artists and audiences will always have the need for a place to physically expose themselves artistically and become inspired. I don't see nightlife disappearing but it will have to continue to evolve -- and it is dependent on those who are passionate about creating and curating these experiences." --Ryan Burke, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Walt Cassidy // Waltpaper
Derek Van Oss
"That is dependent on the vision of promotors and their drive to cultivate interesting night time venues. It is the responsibility of artists and DJs to be pioneering and push forward some new ideas to fill these spaces with energy. Much of our community seems stuck in the past and dependent on the dated vernacular of 'drag' and ball culture. I want to see and hear invention when I go to a nightclub. I want to see people taking risks. New movement styles like Finger Tutting and Tecktonik dancing from France have emerged over the past few years, but nothing comparable has come from the existing queer scene in New York. At present, transgender activists seem to be the sole proponents of new ideas coming from our community, which is very exciting to see, but has nothing to do with nightlife.
Movement, identity, language, sound and format must all be re-invented -- all of the time -- in order to keep the game engaging. It is vital to initiate some new battles, which requires courage and ambition. Elegant transgression and aggressive localism are two additional principles that could be interesting counterpoints to the insidious domination of the money agenda that has taken over New York City. I see these principles coming through, in the daylight, at events like the AfroPunk Festival, which was, hands down, the most invigorating function that I attended within the past year. Those kids are giving new looks, language, sound and politics. It would be great to see nightlife follow suit, upgrade and push forward some things that are really visionary and inspiring." --Walt Cassidy, AKA Waltpaper, Artist and Former Club Kid
"I think it's always the role of art and artists to smash barriers and to counteract established power structures, religious oppression, etc... so I don't think that will change anytime soon, no matter what percentage of the 1% resides in the city. Keep them coming -- they can help fund the resistance." --Muffinhead, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Yes, NYC is increasingly becoming a place where the offspring of the upper middle-class come to spawn in a cupcake and ramen-fueled mating dance and where the wealthy of every rank have pied-à-terre's, but also a temporary destination for tourists. To that end, nightlife and club life will always provide a haven for artistic malcontents. The question is more: can queer nightlife be the seeding ground of a counter culture not simply court jesters to the ogliarchy?" --Penny Arcade, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Courtesy of Acid Betty
"Nightlife and performers have always served the same function for centuries. Nothing has changed. The wealthy have always displaced the poor and they went into ghettos for new art.
Historically, artists have always suffered. Thats where the art usually comes from." --Acid Betty, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Ben Hider via Getty Images
"Those who claim that NYC has no room for queer artists and performers anymore don't go out much, since I see such artists performing in bars, clubs and theater spaces virtually every night of my life. They're also willfully ignoring the fact that New York consists of five boroughs, and there happen to be thriving scenes in some of the ones that aren't Manhattan. There are more affordable neighborhoods out there filled with bars, shows and experimentation, and they totally count -- even if they're a (quick) train ride from the alleged center of the universe! So, despite all the dark challenges and creepy gentrification, New York is still the place to come, create and express, and I suspect it always will be." --Michael Musto, Cultural Critic and Nightlife Personality
"I think the role of queer artists and performers in NYC is to continue being leaders -- keeping an adventurous attitude on the scene. People may feel threatened by the way New York is changing, but I think that the leaders on the scene have used their resources -- the elite -- to make their vision and dream come true." --Leo Gugu, Stylist and Nightlife Personality
"Here’s the solution: Invite all the wealthy elite to a big gala party. Once they’re inside, turn off all the lights. Then the queer artists jump out and steal all the guests’ wallets, purses and precious jewels. The money is used to fund fabulous parties and nightspots for the years to come! For more of life’s solutions, please visit me at email@example.com" --Linda Simpson, Drag Queen Celebrity and Nightlife Personality
"The interesting thing about nightlife is that it exists on every class level. The poor, the rich and every subway stop in between; everyone wants to party! Because of this, I see nightlife’s creative playing a role to break down the growing divide between various monetary platforms. We should be encompassing the entire city into nightlife; inviting everyone to experience our art regardless of how 'elite' they are. This might be an old idea of nightlife but I think it is one that has slowly faded away.
Nightlife’s artists should be shocking and dazzling all classes of the city at the same time and inviting them to comment and react with each other. This way nightlife not only brings different groups together, it also begins a dialogue between them... allowing for monetary meaning to be meaningless for a few hours while people experience drag culture in ways they’ve never seen before." --William Noguchi, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey // The Fabulous Pop Tarts
"Back in the day -- 1989 we'd say -- it used to be you had to come to New York for that downtown experience, but those ideas and experiences can be had on YouTube today. Of course, virtuality is not actuality. But all across the country there are other affordable downtowns populated by artists and performers. Even L.A. The other week at the World Of Wonder Storefront gallery opening of Mathu Anderson's Instagram Art, we looked around the crowded room and commented, 'this is so East Village 1989.' So, ultimately, downtown is more of a state of mind than a specific place. And whatever you may think of New York's new ambassador Taylor Swift, her new album '1989' shows just how far and wide those ideas have travelled. '1989' also speaks to a certain nostalgia, but it would be a mistake to think things were better then than now. The cultural revolution downtown NY has spawned is more alive and more vibrant than ever before. It's just no longer confined to a few clubs and VIP rooms. It's everywhere." --World Of Wonder's Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, AKA The Fabulous Pop Tarts
"As this cement metropolis grows and changes, it provides this strange and challenging opportunity to evolve and grow along with it. I moved here just for that very reason and no matter how robotic people become there will always be a need for creativity. As a creative, my natural instinct is to find ways of expressing myself or I would become a lunatic. I see a lot of companies using more creative types for campaigns and changing their marketing to speak to wider audiences that almost embraces the strange and unusual. Frankie Sharp
called me a "cockroach in a bustier" when I was 17 years old -- naturally I took it as a compliment and I think this description fits the queer artists and performers I know. When the world comes to and end there will be two things sashaying down the empty streets... cockroaches and queer artists." --Domonique Echeverria, Fashion Designer and Nightlife Personality
From The Collection Of Jimi LaLumia
"NYC will never be the same as it was during, say, the Warhol era, psychedelic drug era, Glam era, Punk era, or at the height of the Drag era -- that is all in the past. But I feel we can look back and take the best of all those eras and come up with something new and exciting. There are also a lot of drag, trans and gay icons still living in NYC and I am certain they will all brave the storm of mediocrity and continue to push our gay culture to level that we never dreamed was possible. Gay culture is going more and more 'mainstream' and even though there are forces at work who would like to push us all back into our closets, NYC will always be a beacon of freedom and a huge force of creative energy for gay culture! WE WILL SURVIVE!" --Jayne County, Transgender Musician and Nightlife Icon
"Queer nightlife has always existed on the fringe of the NYC mainstream. It's been a place where artistry and persona are held at a higher esteem than what's in your bank account. This will never change. There will always be a a crop of kids that continue the legacy of creation and reinvention even as the city around them demands otherwise… the night is ours!" --one-half NelSon, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Courtesy of Erickatoure Aviance
"I have always found nightlife to be a great equalizer. The good times roll out for anyone willing to step through the looking glass. You party. I party. We all party together.
I think the queer community has a capacity for subversion that is bottomless. Nightlife will continue to manufacture the provocative, the bizarre, the distasteful. When something of ours is co-opted into popular culture, there is always something far less acceptable waiting in the wings. The children of the night will continue to pull at the seams, poke the hive and forge unexpected creative alliances. They will charge ahead into the darkness, pulling all behind them far beyond anything that can be seen from our current cultural vantage point." --Erickatoure Aviance, Artist and Nightlife Personality
Courtesy of Kenny Kenny
"I generally ignore what's expected of me; I think that is important for all artists. Change is inevitable -- some of it good, some not so much. However, you still need to lead an authentic life -- thats all you owe yourself. I would love to see clubs hire artists to design their spaces, clubs to be more open to all kinds of music and clubs to be places to share ideas and celebrate new concepts and information. I believe this can only happen if people are committed to being authentic. I think, right now, there are a lot of people interested in nightlife for status and personal gain. This, to me, stunts the natural flow of the creative sprit.
I believe in the creative commuity of nightlife. I intend to just trust my inner vision, regardless of pressure from the outside, and continue to grow." --Kenny Kenny, Visual Poet and Nightlife Icon
Daughters of Devotion
"Our role is to simply stay put, and sometimes that in and of itself is a challenge. The draw of places like Berlin, for some, can be so great. The deregulation, the low cost of living... But we must not flee. We must stay and perservere in our quest to keep New York weird. Don't let conformity choke the magic out of the city. Hold on to the night.
Be seen, be heard, be freaks.
Inspire others to live out their fantasies. Because if everyone gave themsevles permission to do just that then this city and this world would be a more peaceful, beautiful place." --Daughters Of Devotion, Artists and Nightlife Personalities
James St. James
"New York has changed, no doubt about it. It's not the city I remember. It's a rich man's paradise now. Rents are too damn high, the scene has splintered and the cool kids are all living in the digital world. And yet. And yet. A tree grows in Brooklyn, so to speak. Art bubbles up in times of duress. Punk was born out of the '70s recession. The Club Kids flourished during some of the darkest days of the '80s. I've been watching a lot of artists and nightlife performers featured in 'After Dark' and follow them on social media. I like what I see. I have to believe that NYC nightlife is in good hands. The only constant is change, and it's up to this generation to react to that change and create some of their own." --James St. James, Original Club Kid and Nightlife Icon
gage of the boone
"I think its important to create spaces in NYC for things that are not happening. When I started throwing events, I wanted them to be specifically accessible for the queer babes who had no money. It's instrumental that people pay for parties, but nightlife shouldn't break peoples' banks. I've also seen so many horror stories at the doors of parties where people have not been let in, and I wanted to create a space that cut that out and was more universally accessible -- whether you look like a million dollars or not. I think it's really important to sustain the DIY world that a lot of NYC has sprouted out of.c I love to work with materials that are cheap and make them look expensive as much as i love expensive materials that look completely destroyed. Queer performers and artists are always ahead of their time and cutting edge, creating what ends up trending and being shown on runways a year or two later and trickling down….
I love how raw the art, performance and looks are because they push the line of what is acceptable and marketable -- what is beautiful contrary to magazines. Gender can be whatever you want it to be. Nightlife can be a space to critique the mainstream thirst for money and our world that is based on consumerist existence." --gage of the boone, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"As the wealth disparity between the rich and poor in the U.S. becomes a gaping chasm, New York City is a place welcoming for the incredibly wealthy. Out of town billionaires own penthouses that sit empty most of the year, while over 50,000 people are homeless -- but that hasn't halted the stream of struggling and talented artists that continue to be drawn to the city in hopes of success. Such has always been and will be the glittering attraction of New York for not only queer artists and performers, but people in general. I don't think the increasing financial roadblocks and hardships stop those who are truly passionate. But, having said that, the social and financial climate make the path difficult and the burn out rate is high. But it was like that in the '80s as well. You've just got to pull your socks up and work harder, and be better.
The role of our community is to loudly and proudly explore what it means to be a New Yorker, what it means to be pushing boundaries, and what it means to be a unique, larger than life personality in one of the biggest metropolis' in the world. Our future? As it always has been in New York; to brighten it up a little, to dance on a few podiums and to remind people that New York City is still the outrageous, thrilling and, at times, terrifying city it has always has been.
By the way, New York nightlife isn't dead, it just can't afford the rent in Manhattan." --Ms. Fitz, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"I don't think it's any different for straight performers -- we all have to eke out a living and get inspired by what is now a glitzy, homogenized shopping mall. I now notice a lot of club performers shifting to working private events as clubs die down. The difference is, we are doing the roles that we are cast in rather than actually expressing ourselves in the way that we want, knowing that a cool crowd will come to support our endeavors. If we want to preserve the funky and diverse feeling of NYC, those of us who cherish it must make an extra effort to appreciate those who still strive to create a vibe.
I also notice clubs are dying, not only because of wealthy, new residents who aren't going out much due to their day jobs, but also because of the Internet. There's an online 'community' and many people seem to prefer socializing online with likes and retweets or in chat rooms. Any good club or good promoter creates a vibe that makes people want to physically meet up in a space you must travel to. But many peoples' inclination is to not leave their homes and try to catch performances on YouTube. Younger people are even shying away from making phone calls, so you can best believe that the need for actually assembling in a club with others is dying.
The party is on your phone, and it goes everywhere you go. And you sit gazing into it or taking selfies when you do actually make it out. That way, you can suck the energy from the party you actually made it to and funnel it back to Internet to get more likes and retweets. So, the technology seems to be connecting people with distractions and an overload of often meaningless click-bait, but leaving them unable to focus on even dancing and socializing for very long without referring to their device.
I know I sound old -- but who needs hashtags when they have skin tags?" --Lady Bunny, Drag Icon and Wigstock Founder
"I really don't feel qualified to speak on the role and future of nightlife for queer artists at large. The variety of artists and their differing opinions featured in this series alone speaks well to the diversity of values and motivators for this dynamic community. I have much respect for, and am continually inspired by, those performers -- queer or not -- who continually carve out new directions, new spaces and new expressions that fly in the face of the "new New York."
There are certainly people actively creating and sustaining a thriving counter-culture. Last week I attended some events at the MIX NYC Queer Experimental Film Festival
and was completely amazed at the space and community they have created. So I do believe that one role is to carve out and hold space for truly radical and experimental work, as well as just good ol' fashioned heartfelt community for freaks and the people who love them. At the same time, I think it's incredibly useful to infiltrate those other spaces as much as possible. I may not be as principled in this regard as some of my more radical sisters and brothers, but I see these wealthy elite as people who can perhaps support my work financially, which I find value in. Additionally, I do feel that my presence in these spaces which cater to a more conservative/heteronormative/elitist clientele can potentially have an impact; both as a mixed up picture of gender -- not quite a drag queen, not quite a dude -- and as an artist who takes great care with my craft.
Even if the impact is simply to confuse or even irritate someone, that can plant a seed." --Darrell Thorne, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"There will always be a place for queer nightlife and a taste for the 'taboo' and 'forbidden' with any class system. I feel this is a story as old as time except the locations change and the names change. For example, what was once the home of artists, the East Village, is now a glorified college campus. We all know that right now Brooklyn is that place where people can get a little seedy and, therefore, be less commercialized. But in another five years Brooklyn will be the sell out East Village and so forth.
I can't help but wonder if the spirit of NYC will actually remain in NYC literally, but I feel it's more than a location at this point -- a mentality and a spirit that will never die!" --Kayvon Zand, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"There will always be a place in NYC as it changes faces... Nightlife is important to this town. Without it NYC would surely
die. Queer artists and performers are too smart to be pushed away or erased. I've seen it happen many times -- you Make the Best of it.
I remember as a child my mother would take away anything that looked like a doll or clothing. So I would create something from Nothing and my mother was shocked at how fast i came up with my Fantasy dolls made of string and paper. I feel the same with the "new New York City."
You create from nothing -- the power of queer art! --Joey Arias, Drag Icon And Nightlife Legend
"My plan is to continue to build spaces that have no hierarchy or exclusivity that embraces and spotlights all of the impactful and influential artists, musicians and talented friends we have. I mean, that's our job as promotors and producers in the “Greatest City on Earth" right?
In regards to the wealthy and elite, I think it's important that everyone in the shared space does exactly that: share the space. Sure, you could buy a bottle at one of my parties and I certainly encourage it because it’ll get you drinks faster and it secures you a great spot in the club at my events... but it certainly doesn’t make you better or cooler than anyone else." --Frankie Sharp, Party Curator and Nightlife Personality
The Culture Whore
"New York City, the top of the empire we call capitalism, has always contained a tension between the wealthy who work to sustain the system that feeds their power and radicals who seek to change that system from the inside out. All of us who create independent art in this moment are heroes sustaining a legacy that is the core of what this city represents to the world. Nightlife gives artists the ability to put our bodies out in the real world and manifest our anger, our joy and our hope.
This city never sleeps because she can't stop creating, communicating and celebrating. We believe this legacy will never die as long as the city exists, as long as she’s shining like a beacon for visionaries all over the world who know that this is a place of limitless possibility. The role of the artist in the night will remain the same as it's always been: to question the world we live in, provide visions of the future and revel in the joy of being alive." --The Culture Whore, Art Collective and Party Curators
"Nightlife will always exist, especially in NYC. I would like to see smaller people able to develop their vision for a turn-up into some real coin. About a year ago there were so many different parties happening. It was exciting! I feel that it is up to the artists and performers to take it into their own hands and create the space/world they want to escape to. I’m getting older and my focuses are turning away from nightlife. But the beauty of New York is always there for a new batch of kids ready to rage every year." --La'Fem Ladosha, Performer and Nightlife Personality
"I do think that in the beginning nightlife catered more towards artists and people that were dressed up. The rise of bottle service and having to pay for things has kind of ruined all of that. But most of the places I work with cater to the scene -- I wish there was more like that. There was a time when you could go anywhere in the city and it would be affordable; it’s becoming almost like Miami now [laughs]
." --Amanda Lepore, Fashion Icon and Nightlife Legend
"Cities change; New York has always been ever-changing, and nostalgia can be dangerous. Every generation laments how it was better in their days, so I don't focus on the past. Every era has its fair share of obstacles.
It is true that New York City has gotten more expensive, but that doesn't squash creativity, it just makes people work a little harder to find places and ways to express themselves. The biggest change due to increase in costs is many people moving things to Brooklyn. But nightlife still holds the same role for artists and performers -- queer or otherwise.
Nightlife is our home: a playhouse, a stage and a platform, and the nexus for our community to express ourselves, unite and celebrate. New York has a legendary history of creativity and nightlife... nothing can stop us, we're New Yorker's!" --Ladyfag, Party Curator and Nightlife Icon
"The city has become more generic and balance- sheet oriented. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing -- it just makes us have to work harder. In a way it forces us to be more creative and think outside of our normal box. A perfect example is me. I have never done New York parties outside of Manhattan in all the years I’ve been doing events, but in the past year I decided to get out my machete and compass and explore the wilds of Queens and Brooklyn [laughs]
. And they've turned out to be some of my best events." --Susanne Bartsch, Party Curator and Nightlife Legend
Much like the city that it exists in, nightlife in New York City encapsulates a constantly evolving narrative. While the reality of existing in an urban mecca that seems to increasingly function to serve the needs of the elite certainly presents its own set of challenges, queer artists have historically continued to thrive and create in the face of institutionalized oppression.
In fact, few things hold as much political and social weight as living openly and authentically in the face of a world that has historically tried to "correct" or kill you.
As technology and the economic realities of New York City in the 21st century continue to augment nightlife, the value of the work coming out of these queer spaces will no doubt be the one constant within this narrative.
Our culture at large will continue to be shaped and informed in the future by the individuals navigating the NYC nightlife community -- a queer world that operates entirely within the hours After Dark.