Black Is Back: NYC’s Roseland Becomes a Perverted Playground
Like its original namesake in Coney Island, Berlin’s Luna Park has long been abandoned. The only visitors to what was once Europe’s largest amusement park are the punks, drug addicts groups of teenagers out for a cheap thrill that constitute the disaffected street people, the detritus left over from the former East Berlin.
The Berlin Wall might have come down, but the abandoned rides and forlorn midway stand as a decaying symbol of the stark contrast between West and East. Closed once by the Nazis and again in 2001, Luna Park also provides the perfect theme for the Black Party, the annual mega-dance party to be held March 23 and 24 at New York’s Roseland Ballroom.
I confess that some of the recent themes either went over my head (NASCAR and advertising) or seemed too esoteric (1930s Buenos Aires). But for Rites XXXIV, the Saint at Large got it exactly right. "Rough Trade at Luna Park" refers specifically to yet-another shuttered park of that name, this one in Rome, and the party will borrow heavily from the surrealist films of Italian auteur Frederico Fellini.
Still, however, Berlin just feels so right. And so right-now: Germany’s Prussian capital might be booming in the heady air of reunification, but it retains the faintly rancid odor of that country’s calamitous modern history.
The city has also emerged as the nexus of nightlife, attracting DJs from around the world, such as Israeli resident Mickey Friedmann. If Luna Park represents Wagner’s weirdly Germanic ideal of love-death, Berghain is electronica’s Bayreuth. This enormous former warehouse is not only the "world capital of techno," (per Wiki), but also "has a strong reputation for decadence and hedonism," with "people openly indulging in sex acts."
That’s just the mixed nights. Several times each year, Berghain plays host to Snaxx, the world’s largest and most uninhibited men-only fetish event. Just like at the Black Party, photography is not permitted.
It’s easy to see how Stephen Pevner, the impresario responsible for the Black Party, could have been seduced by this city and this club. Berghain, which Pevner calls "the best nightclub in the world," is the model for his own one-man battle against what he sees as a bland sameness that has pervaded the gay Circuit party scene.
"I’m not inspired by Circuit music," Pevner told EDGE. "I’m not feeling that tribal beat right now. Music should be experimental. Circuit parties shuffle the same DJs."
DJ Lineup Reflects New Direction
To that end, Pevner has booked an international roster of DJs. Most will be familiar at least to dance-music connoiseurs and those intrepid seekers who have abandoned gay clubs for the more progressive sounds at mixed club nights.
If you’re expecting diva anthems and hands-in-the-air pop tarts to open the evening, you won’t be getting them from Ryan Smith. The New York-based DJ, who spins from Saturday evening until 2:30 a.m. Sunday, has been quietly making a name for himself in Gotham’s underground gay club scene.
His resume reads like a events listing for the most with-it gay partygoers, beginning with Rocket at Hose in the East Village; various parties at Public Assembly Loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and most recently Wrecked, at National Underground. His blend of classic disco whirls, tribal beats and deep House has brought him gigs throughout Europe. To bring it full circle, he’s been in residency list at Berghain.
Pevner raves that Smith hosts simply "one of the hottest parties in New York right now." He cited recent openers such as Berlin’s Boris and Tokyo’s Satoshi Tomeil as emblematic of the "experimental" (for this crowd, anyway; mainstream to most others) music to open the evening, which usually includes a lot more socializing and schmoozing.
Playing the key 2:30 until 6 a.m. slot for any DJ means the most visibility. It’s when the cavernous dance floor at Roseland, the city’s largest, is most crowded. But it also presents the highest risk. Black Party attendees are notoriously finicky about the music and, post-party, love to discuss -- and frequently diss -- the DJs.
Maybe that’s why Pevner chose these peak hours for booking the one "name" DJ. Even if London’s Tom Stephan isn’t familiar to you, his DJ moniker Superchumbo probably is. Or should be: As a composer, producer and remixer, he stands at the pinnacle of the dance world, on the same plane as a David Guetta, Parul Oakenfold or Amin van Buuren.
Expect from Stephan electronica, but not the droning, soulless dance Muzak that has become to ’10s clubs what disco descended into in the late ’70s. Catch, for example, one of his earliest hits, Victoria Wilson-James’ "The Revoluion."
This is what I want to hear at 4 a.m.: the kind of song that gets the serious dancers out of their conga-line clutches to go deep within themselves; that moment everyone has his eyes closed and has finally let the music take over his body -- that moment the poet Yeats so well described in these lines: "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance/How can we know the dancer from the dance?