Will One-Offs Take Over the Nightlife Scene?
Forever, visitors to New York have sought adventure in Manhattan clubs looking for something they can’t find at home. Nowadays, the bottle service model of nightlife has been exported everywhere so most Manhattan clubs resemble places travelers can find anywhere. The different or unique club that made NY famous has largely moved to Brooklyn. The creative New Yorkers which helped define nightlife of the last century have migrated to the boroughs and seldom cross a river for their fix of unique sounds and crowds.
It can be blamed on higher rents in Manhattan but it is actually far deeper than that, as whole communities were created around the artistic movements in Brooklyn 10 years ago. In nightlife, promoters are sometimes considered the lowest form of life. Their job requires unrelenting harassment of patrons. You sometimes hear more from them than your significant others. They are a text with a funny story or an almost believable big promise. They hook you up. They're your pal, your bud your dude. They are your network to the best parties in town, introductions to real models or a table (for a price) near someone that passes as a quasi-celebrity. This type of promoter has been the standard for a decade or more.
Most promoters are big deals if they can draw 50 to 100 people. Most bring considerably less. These promoters are called image promoters. They are mostly wanna be owners who can dress the part and say anything with a straight face to get their posse to the right spot (the one that pays them) at the right time.
Brooklyn is very different. Promoters there are not catering to bottle service black card holders. They curate great events in ever changing locations. It is a moveable feast with thousands of creative types, hipsters and music heads responding to social media blasts by the thousands. My hero of this scene is Seva Granik.
His Halloween event in a 600,000 Square foot abandoned glass factory didn’t come off due to last second complications but a week later right after Sandy he got 1200 rsvp’s to an event he was curating in a couple of hours. He shuns the idea of a conventional fixed clubs but employs the staff and DJ's that could instantly create the next great club in NY. Clubs with multi-million dollar investments are facing an era where competition with one off spectaculars will drain their A-crowd. A house party is often more fun than a club where drinks are expensive and cigarettes are persecuted forcefully. Plus those clubs often cater to those big spenders with mainstream tastes.
Seva is the future but more importantly he is the now.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): How did you get your start?
Seva Granik: I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1975, into a family of Jewish engineers living in the Soviet Union. We immigrated to the United States in 1991 and came straight to NYC when I was 16. I went to high school and college here and assimilated quickly, earning a bachelor's degree in film which I put to work for a few years. The film industry was unpleasant and I quit. Then I did a few stints as a web developer and a programmer but quit that too. In 1991, when the building I worked in went down on September 11th, I started and broke up a string of bands and generally just floated around until I started a marketing/events business with some friends in 2005. Through that business, I produced a ton of events and became particularly fond of the DIY aesthetic here in Brooklyn. I then started a tiny one-man events agency called BRCDBR which does nothing but put on these crazy parties that try to upend everyone else's ideas of nighttime entertainment. Et voila!
NCC: Brooklyn clubs are very different. What defines Brooklyn from other areas?
Granik: Music in most Manhattan clubs is pretty similar while an underground scene exists in Brooklyn giving it its own vibe.
NCC: Will the bands, DJs and sounds in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint break out to mainstream culture in time? Are the next Beatles jamming in Brooklyn garages?
Granik: I feel like Brooklyn music culture—and the brand that is Brooklyn—has already made it into international mainstream via culture hubs like Vice and Pitchfork. There are Pitchfork music festivals in Paris, Pitchfork stages in Barcelona, Vice events in Beijing, and Brooklyn bands are touring to Russia now. We're now squarely in a post-Brooklyn world. As far as the next Beatles jamming it out in some garage here, maybe, but I doubt it. Very little originality has come out of Brooklyn as of late; this scene is mostly just regurgitating itself.
NCC: You as a promotional entity offer events in off the beaten path locations. Is the idea off the fixed nightclub obsolete? Do people want unique experiences?
Granik: I prefer to explore un-used and off-the-grid spaces because they tend to excite people more than some tired old spot. People wanting unique experiences is exactly why it's so easy for me to succeed here in town—I tend to work on special, one-off events that take time to prepare and produce because I like to leave impressions and make memorable impact rather than just collect money at the door and move on to the next best-paid gig. This, of course, runs very contrary to the club philosophy which is nothing but churning out the same stuff, week after week. This doesn't mean that I don't appreciate a good club, but those are few and far between in NYC now, and I can't even think of one good club but rather a few good club nights at different places. NYC club life isn't necessarily gone, it's just different now, fragmented and very diverse.
NCC: How do you create an even? What are the ingredients of a great event?
Granik: The most important ingredient is the sense of community. You could put on the most amazing party at the most boring, simplest space, and I've done just that. Like, last week. Giving kids a safe space that they can feel is their own for a limited time is priceless, because then they take ownership of it and have some serious fun.
I first start with a sense of whom the event is going to appeal to. That's usually hard to sort out, particularly if the event is big. A good line-up of talent and a venue would be the next steps, but, of course, it doesn't always fall into place like this and things may come at you from different angles and finally fall into place. Or not. Mostly not.
I try to take care of people with a well-stocked, quality bar and good staff and ample bathrooms. Careless promoters who pack in 300 people and offer well booze, slow bartenders and one bathroom make me sick.
NCC: How are people reached these days. Texting? Emails? Tweets? A combination? Is there such a thing as word of mouth?
Granik: Facebook is key for most people but I usually use everything: direct email blasts, personal emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, etc. Audiences are very fragmented these days, and everyone is a promoter, so it's hard to stand out and cut across all that noise. Also, people have lives. There is just a lot to do in New York.
NCC: Are you only as good as your last party or can you get an A for effort?
Granik: Wow. Hmmm. That's a scary question. I've found people to be very forgiving, particularly if you have a good record going. I've had some events shut down before they even started, and kids still lined up for my other parties, believing in my ability to succeed and deliver something new and fun. Oddly, sometimes the courageousness of your vision alone may earn you some points, even if it fails. I've known a promoter or two whom I had the biggest respect for just for trying something insane, even if it failed. It's the vision that matters. Mediocrity is plentiful but real vision is scarce.
NCC: On Halloween you were scheduled to have an event in a 600,000 square foot factory. That’s more than five times the size of any club in NYC. This didn't happen. Will there come a time where your brand will need to be confined and defined into a regulated environment?
Granik: I hope not. I've been offered management and/or creative directorship of a big venue once or twice and I didn't take it, fearing that I'd get stuck in a rut of having to churn out show after boring show. I'm finding creative ways around the legal environment that's increasingly hostile to independent and DIY producers, like working with off-duty cops and going out to non-residential areas for noisy events. I don't know; it's conceivable that things will get impossible after a point.
NCC: What are the sounds and maybe some of the DJs that haven’t been discovered yet.
Granik: Not sure if that's even possible—to be un-discovered these days. The ubiquity of Internet and the innumerable outlets for being heard and seen make that very difficult! Everyone I know has been already discovered in one way or another.