New York City is globally known for its nightlife. Within the dance music scene, the city that never sleeps boasts renowned venues such as The Brooklyn Mirage, Avant Gardner, Knockdown Center, Webster Hall, House of Yes, Brooklyn Steel, Elsewhere, Basement, Superior Ingredients, SILO, Musica NY, 3 Dollar Bill, Paragon, Public Records, Schimanski, Terminal 5, Brooklyn Monarch, H0L0, Sony Hall and Good Room, just to name a few. Artists from all around the world flock to New York City to grace these stages, with some of the biggest dance music names including Hardwell, Skrillex, Aphex Twin, deadmau5, Kevin Saunders, Chris Lake, Tiësto, Steve Aoki, Charlotte de Witte, David Morales, Green Velvet, Dillon Francis, Carl Cox, Nicole Moudaber, Malaa, The Martinez Brothers, Chris Liebing, Armin van Buuren, Honey Dijon, Excision, Rezz, DJ Snake and Black Coffee. Indeed, the city proves to be an international hub for dance music.
“I feel as though New York’s nightlife space has gone from being a private/closed-in dance community to a true global nightlife destination over the last decade,” Adam Simon, head of marketing for Teksupport, says. “I remember having to hunt down secret location events just to see some of my favorite artists. Nowadays, we are blessed to see some of the best curators from all around the globe on big stages with top-tier production.”
While New York City’s nightlife is alive and thriving, the scene has undoubtedly changed throughout the years. One of the most recent examples includes the closure of Output, which was a mecca for house and techno lovers. The club opened in 2013 and closed in 2018, and it was known for its ban on photos and videos. The intimate venue prided itself on offering no bottle service or a VIP section. The three-room club fostered a strong sense of community for it to thrive, but gentrification, corporations and cultural swifts are among the reasons smaller venues like Output had to close their doors, says Hayata Ishikawa, marketing director for The Bowery Presents and AEG Presents.
“Independent venues are bought out or forced to close due to rising costs, or an area becomes too residential and the neighborhood nightclub isn’t welcomed anymore,” Ishikawa says.
New York City offers large, iconic clubs sought after by dance music fans around the world. Seers founder and elrow’s head of North America Michael Julian Kovadlo, also known as MJ, believes Output’s closure was in part due to mega venues popping up.
“Once the bigger venues started opening up and they were able to offer more money, the smaller clubs couldn’t afford to keep going,” Kovadlo says. “That’s why Output and a number of other really great clubs closed in recent years.”
It’s important to note, though, that these larger clubs are welcomed as they draw in top talent and offer stellar production. Mike Weiss, co-founder of Nervous Records, which started in 1991, says The Brooklyn Mirage “changed the landscape” of venues with its ability to offer an outdoor experience. Kovadlo adds that the club is arguably the best in New York City, and its summer shows can draw in up to 9,000 people. The Brooklyn Mirage, owned by Avant Gardner, proves to be a distinguished center for dance music in New York City.
While most venues are now based in Brooklyn, there was a mass exodus from Manhattan to Brooklyn 10 years ago, affecting the city’s nightlife, Weiss says.
“[Manhattan] still always had, I think, the essence of New York,” he says. “The legacy was all about first going back, way back, to Paradise Garage and Studio 54. Then more recently, [you had] the legacy of places like Sound Factory and Twilo, then spots like Red Zone and then more recent places like Pacha that represented the essence of the New York nightlife experience.”
Weiss adds that these venues closed years back when the scene moved to Brooklyn, and Output imprinted the concept of the borough being a going-out destination. He doesn’t see Manhattan returning to the premier nightlife spot.
Renowned producer, deejay and remixer Danny Tenaglia echos a similar sentiment, saying Manhattan was formally home to some of the “best [nightclubs] in the world.” He notes that clubs were formerly spread throughout the city, but when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, they got pushed to the West Side Highway and industrial areas. However, those areas became filled with high-rises, resulting in noise complaints on venues, so smaller clubs either closed or were pushed to areas like Brooklyn, which is home to many warehouses in areas that aren’t as residential.
Benny Soto agrees, adding that the relocation of venues was also due to Manhattan becoming too expensive. Soto is an established member of New York City’s nightlife as he does promotion, marketing and bookings, with his impressive roster including Dance.Here.Now and 718 Sessions. He previously did the same for Output and Cielo, however, both of the clubs closed due to the changes seen in the city’s nightlife.
Lee Burridge, a deejay, producer and the founder of daytime events series and label All Day I Dream, says the scene has been affected by government authorities at certain times, particularly when developers want to build condos in the area or a city official needs re-election.
“Many times, it’s nightlife that breaths new life into areas no one else is interested in,” he says. “This leads to restaurants and bars popping up, and the areas then start to become more attractive as a destination.”
However, Simon offers a different take: “I believe with our community gaining more support from city officials, we are going to see a lot more events at never-before-used, ‘outside-the-box’ locations, which I find very crucial because as the crowds evolve, people always want something fresh, different and exciting.”
Jen Lyon, the owner and artistic director of MeanRed Productions, says if New York City supported artists the way Europe and Canada do, it would make the nightlife and art scene more viable. However, she sees this, as well as the decrease in New York City rent, as actionable items that will “never happen.”
In addition, nightlife has become more difficult as a promoter, Soto says. Deejays are more expensive and bookings need to go through an agency, which gets a percentage of the booking. He adds that agencies are “squeezing” promoters and venues for higher deejay fees, and this has worsened since the pandemic. This, he says, makes it harder for promoters and venues to make money because of operating costs and promoter expenses. For example, an agency can push to get a $10,000 fee for an artist. Why? Because they are the ones that have access to the producers. It’s been reported that deadmau5, a top-tier tastemaker, makes roughly $400,000 to $1,000,000 per show.
Ishikawa adds that venues are now required to create the “right vibes” at events, adding that “the standard for events [now have] to be an immersive experience.” He adds that “top-notch branding, environment, decor, production, designer sound systems, crowd and even food lineups are what customers are looking for from arrival to departure.”
Weiss makes a similar statement, saying that production, such as lighting technology and effects, has become a standard expectation, even in more serious clubs that are focused on the music rather than the bells and whistles.
New York City’s nightlife, and the going-out scene in general, has also changed from a consumer standpoint. Morgan Deane—who is the primary partner at 508 Operations Morgan and focuses on large-scale event and festival operations as well as production—says it has become more acceptable for deejay sets to sometimes run for less than 60 minutes. To her, performances shouldn’t be less than 90 minutes as the return on investment for concert tickets isn’t worth it.
“This idea that you would pay money to go and see an artist who will only play for 45 minutes, 60 minutes, 75 minutes is mind-blowing to me,” she says. “I can’t imagine prior to 2010 being comfortable paying the amount of money that people are willing to pay to go to see headlining, big name deejay [play] for an hour, [and] in some cases less than an hour. I think that people are more comfortable doing that because a lot of people’s point of entry right now in dance music, EDM specifically, is through the festival circuit, and festival sets can often be pretty short.”
However, the city does boast impressive open-to-close events, which is when a deejay performs for the entirety of the show. This can be seen with acclaimed acts such as Maceo Plex, Cosmic Gate, Charlotte de Witte, Victor Calderone, Claude VonStroke and even New York City house legend himself, Tenaglia.
Lyon says that after-hours parties, which typically take place at somebody’s home and run into the early morning, are still popular from a consumer perspective but to a lesser level than a decade ago as the climate and energy of the city have changed—there are more condos and less temporary spaces. She has also seen fewer women attend events as people are seeking dates on online apps instead of searching for them on the dancefloor.
Lyon believes that the excitement of events has recently diminished due to social media. She also finds that producers have become more focused on playlist placement and releasing singles instead of albums, which affects “people’s attention span for consuming music.” Burridge has also seen an impact from artists releasing mainly singles, but he thinks it does more than affect people’s attentiveness.
“Technology has become more accessible and affordable to a wider audience,” he says. “This has created more opportunities to explore how to make music to many who might not have otherwise tried it. One of the downsides, though, is that the market is flooded with a lot more average—or worse—music. A lot of deejays who are in a hurry to be famous and/or successful don’t spend the time to hone their craft. Tons of music is just pumped out there with the hope that it will stick. It really makes it much harder to find talented artists as they are a drop in the musical ocean.”
Technology has done more than affect music releases as it has also impacted marketing, Lyon says. Now, marketing is done online instead of handing out flyers. This, she notes, has changed the energy of audiences as they can now learn about producers through platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud instead of discovering artists at shows.
Despite the changes that New York City’s nightlife has gone through, many believe there is still a sense of community, but in different respects. For instance, Lyon believes that there are niches of communities. Weiss has a similar take, adding that this can be seen in venues: Knockdown Center brings in more of a techno and house crowd while Avant Gardner attracts attendees from a wide range of genres since they book artists across the spectrum of dance music, including those with more mainstream appeal.
However, Tenaglia and Deane say the answer is both “yes” and “no.” Deane says the development of social media is the reason why there is less of a community. This is because clubbers were able to connect on message boards in the past while concert attendees now use Facebook and ticketing websites to find shows, which doesn’t foster relationships between people in the same way. The two agree that there is a community with older generations who were into dance music during the era of Manhattan being the go-to nightlife destination, but they don’t believe the same is true for the EDM scene.
It’s imperative to note the difference between dance music and EDM in this circumstance. EDM is an umbrella term for dance music, but it mostly refers to big room house—which gained popularity in the early 2010s—and pop-dance music, which is intended for nightclubs and hit radio. EDM is a commercialized word, and it neglects all of the nuances of dance music like Detroit techno versus industrial techno and Chicago house versus tech house. In this context, EDM is seen as mainstream and may attract large crowds that are looking to party while dance music, which respects numerous genres by its naming, tends to bring in fans who are truly there for the music and have fostered their own community.
As for the future of dance music, Lyon believes smaller, niche venues will rise in popularity because they foster a more personal experience. Kovadlo, though, thinks that New York City’s nightlife will become similar to the scene in Europe where there are multiple parties happening in one night, which wasn’t previously seen in the city. For Burridge, he expects the scene to thrive with the re-entry of more mature ravers, which was recently witnessed at a Tenaglia show where the majority of ravers were over 30 years old—further showcasing the sense of New York City’s nightlife community that Tenaglia and Deane previously mentioned.
“What has happened in recent years [by] allowing the scene to flourish is that people are returning to it in their thirties and forties,” he says. “It’s no longer just for ’the kids’. It’s escapism, and this has no age limit, in my opinion. Electronic music is a very welcoming community and you’re never too old to go out and have fun at music events. People no longer feel out of place. Musical tourism to festivals or destinations such as Ibiza, Tulum, Mykonos, Burning Man, etc. have become a staple for a more mature demographic with money to spend on experiences. This is definitely an interesting part of the future of dance music.”
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