(Re) Presenting – ‘Inside the World’ – Interview – The World Nightclub 254 East 2nd Street in Manhattan’s East Village – AXIS Art Projects ‘Does New York Exist?’ – May 1988
AXIS ART PROJECTS was a media art collective formed in Brisbane Meeanjin, Queensland in 1987. AXIS was an acronym for Art X-tremists International Syndicate. It was conceptualised by co-founders artists Lehan Ramsay, Jay Younger and Paul Andrew as a theatrical guerrilla art documentary art collective principally formed for the unruly ‘Does New York Exist?” Project undertaken between Brisbane and New York cities in 1988 during the global HIV AIDS pandemic. This project built out from extensive Brisbane artist-run collaborations and interstate exchange programs undertaken by the artists between 1984 to 1988. These programs included creative and curatorial collaborations as co-founders of Brisbane ARIs including The Observatory, Artworkers Union Queensland,That Contemporary Art Space, Queensland Artworker’s Alliance [QAA] artist-run initiatives. During a three month self-directed artist residency in NYC the artists interviewed artists and art workers involved in alternative, independent artist-run spaces operating in NYC in 1988. The ‘Does New York Exist? ‘ program was funded by the Peter Browne Memorial Travelling Fellowship (Australia Council) and the No Frills Fund (Australian Film Commission) in 1988. A selection of transcripts of interviews from this project are re-presented here to form part of the 2020 (RE) Presenting activities being undertaken during the ARI Remix Living Archives & Social Memory Project – A Queensland Remix 1970 to NOW Stage Three activities (March 2020 – December 2021)
(RE) Presenting 2020 – ‘Does New York Exist?’ and ‘Sites of (Dis)Closure’ : AXIS Art Projects Interview with The World, May 1988
About: AXIS Art Projects BNE – NYC 1987 – 1989 – Does New York Exist?
AXIS (Art X-tremists International Syndicate BNE NYC) was a media art collective and Brisbane-based guerrilla art project scoping New York City (USA) artist-run/artist-led groups and activist/collectivist ecologies in Los Angeles, New York City, London and Tokyo in 1988. The project was instigated by artists Jay Younger, Lehan Ramsay, Paul Andrew for expanding the diversity of 1980s Brisbane artist-run practices into global discussions about independent and DIY practices. AXIS was motivated in part by an exchange exhibition ‘Outside Art’ curated by artists Toyo Tshuchiya and Malcolm Enright between No Se No Gallery in the East Village and That Contemporary Art Space in Brisbane in 1986. By an earlier IMA ‘exchange’ with Brisbane artist Bruce Latimer also organised by artist Malcolm Enright. Discussions with influential visiting artists, scholars and curators visiting Brisbane since 1982 including Lucy Lippard, artist Joanne Todd from YYZ Artist Outlet in Toronto, performance artist Fiona Templeton, New Museum Director Marcia Tucker and ICA Director Iwona Blazwick also informed the design of the project.
I = Interviewer AXIS Art Projects BNE NYC 1987-89- Artist Paul Andrew
R = Respondent The World Night Club – 254 East 2nd Street, East Village
I1: Interview at the World, first of July 1988. Hi I’m Paul from AXIS Art Projects and we love dancing here, tell us about The World?
R: The World itself is an evolving piece of art. It has been and always will be.
It was many things before it was a nightclub and what it is now is the best nightclub in New York. To be the best nightclub in New York City is like saying being the prettiest girl in the world; eventually that’s not true. But right now we are it. And the reason we are it is, I guess you can figure out yourself. We had a plan and it obviously worked. What we did is we took a space that was like ancient, it’s about a hundred years old this building, it was used as a jail in previous incarnations, it was a Jewish dance bah mitzvah hall wedding hall and later became a wedding hall for all different types of ethnics as the neighbourhood changed. And it has been over many years through different owners since then, an illegal or underground club, a club that didn’t have licensing. I guess they have licensing in Australia too. This was not a licensed premise for many years and was an underground club that opened up on dates like Halloween and new years eve and was primarily used to have bands like the Ramones, Beastie Boys, things that that went on. Now since September seventeenth, nineteen eighty-seven, I guess it’s eighty-eight, so eighty-seven, we opened as a nightclub, a downtown nightclub. And we opened up as a downtown nightclub when everybody in New York was lamenting that downtown was dead. This was a common knowledge except for a few people that knew better, everyone said downtown was dead. The reason downtown was dead is a very complicated thing.
The World, the people at The World come from various nightclubs and we knew that downtown was not dead at all; it was just not being serviced by any of the clubs that existed at the time. We set ourselves aside to service these clubs and you’re primarily interested in art, so as far as art goes, art is as much a part of the downtown scene as music or performance. And in many ways I think the word ‘style’ comes in to grip here because you have ‘style’ as the main word; art is part of the style of downtown. And you can’t be involved with music or in fashion or in performance in New York or downtown art or downtown scene without being artistic.
We are ‘artsy’ let’s face it. The couches are from uptown Harlem and obscene, tacky places but we find them; almost everything here is found in obscene places, in strange places. We don’t go to furniture stores and buy conventionally like most of the stores do. We don’t bring in major designers; the designers of the club are really Arthur Weinstein and his wife Colleen, Colleen Weinstein. And they’ve done many things; Arthur has been involved in many clubs but everyone else I guess has put some input in to it. The club really is just itself designed by people who are long forgotten. You have these, whatever these things are up here, I mean this is old, old tin, you can’t get it anymore. The club exists, we just painted it, highlighted it and didn’t fill in too many of the holes…
I2: …Which is really good, it has the appearance that you’ve come in and discovered it and tried to keep it as close to how you first found it which is really good.
R: Absolutely, it has to be that way. The trouble with the clubs beforehand was you had, I don’t want to name other clubs, but before we opened people would get dressed up and go out and they’d probably spend more time worrying about what they looked like then why they were going out, for what reasons they were going out. And the reasons why people were going out was long forgotten. One of the things we did was we tried to create a space where no matter what night of the week you came, we would provide something that was happening and you would be comfortable here. It didn’t have to be ‘live on stage Deborah Harry’. I mean if that was happening, that’s great. But if it wasn’t happening, you could still come here and enjoy yourself. And another thing we wanted was we wanted people to feel comfortable and somebody famous in the downtown scene once said “if it isn’t a little tacky and a little bit dirty and a little bit messy people just can’t have fun”. And the perfect example is my wife; I’m married to a model and when I worked at the Palladium it would take her three hours to get dressed to go to the Palladium, which is great.
Sometimes it takes her three hours to come here, but sometimes it takes her twenty minutes because she comes in jeans and she feels comfortable. Yet she can come dressed up and if you’ve been here you know there are people dressed up and people dressed down and you can come here in any state of mind, you can crawl out of bed and say “look I want to go the fucking World and have a great time”, and that’s what people do. I think it’s another way to compare it is to an old leather jacket that your mum says “throw away. Why don’t you get rid of that thing already?” Some people just don’t understand that stressed leather or that old leather jacket’s got character. And if you don’t understand that you don’t really belong in The World, if you don’t understand what that leather jacket means and how fashionable it is to wear that leather jacket, and you wouldn’t understand what The World is about.
Now the artists that we feature, we don’t generally hang art shows, we have a forty by twenty foot screen and we have found that rather than hang things on these walls which, for two reasons; the walls may fall down, and it’s a piece of art in itself. And it would be like if you took a really beautiful painting and stuck it in front of another one, obscuring it a little bit. We’ve generally tried not to hang art on the walls, we have made an exception recently, for that we did a Mark Mothersbaugh, Gary Panter art show recently and it was very successful but most of our art is shown on that screen. We ask the artists or the photographers involved to literally take slides of their work and project it on the screen over the dance floor. We like the look of having people dancing while the art is going around and we put it on slides and we change it randomly and we think that movement… I think the artists that we want to show will understand that that’s the way their art has to be seen as part of a kinetic feeling inside the club. It has to be obscured by some smoke and by the movements of the people and the loud noise and sometimes they lose a little because the strobe lights are going but their works are generally seen. And you know we showed Peter Max here last night, he did a twenty-year retrospective, he showed a hundred works on slides for us and I think he was extremely happy, he thought it was great. If Peter Max is probably the oldest artist we’ve shown, but he spans a lot of generations in this country and it was a great show. We’ve also shown Christopher Makos, he’s a great photographer, and the work that you came to see which was David LaChapelle, he is a really up and coming artist and photographer. You speak more about this than I do but is he art? Is he photography? Right now it’s both.
I2: Well yeah, it depends what you want to call yourself, whatever you label yourself I guess.
R: I think he’s an artist, my wife doesn’t think he’s a photographer.
I2: Yeah well it’s really interesting; what we’ve actually come over to New York to look at is sort of alternative ways of showing art. And I was reading an article that was given to us by (Franklin Spurness?) and it was about showing art in clubs and about how important that is for example in Japan, people are really getting in to showing art in clubs. And something that we’re very interested in is public art which is, it’s far more public to show it in a nightclub for example than to show it in a gallery because you get, I mean you’ve got such a diverse crowd here.
R: That’s a very good point; our crowd is extremely diverse. We have people from the lower east side who can’t really afford… one of the rules of the club is we charge everybody to come in. People who don’t pay to come in are journalists, people who work in other clubs in some capacity or other and people who can’t afford to pay. A lot of people who live in this neighbourhood can’t afford to come in here, and they do come in here. If they’re well behaved… We feel it’s very important to mix crowds and if you’ve been here, we have every kind of person, we are really a mixed crowd and when we first opened I think we got a lot of heat for that. People came in and said, “wow! There’s black people there.” We said “well we’d rather have about thirty per cent black than thirty per cent yuppie”.
I1: See one of the things about New York is that a lot of the really good clubs, they have fantastic music a hundred per cent of the time are actually way uptown and you can’t get in because you’re white.
R: It’s kind of funny that the British and I guess all foreigners I know are very into the ethnic and you know when they go to New York they want to go to Harlem. They want to go to the underground clubs; they don’t want to go to that standard New York club. I mean I don’t want to name names but other clubs seem to cater to a more middle of the road club. Now that’s something we stopped doing right away; we didn’t do it. We said “Hey, if you want to have a middle of the road crowd then you’ve got to play middle of the road music and you’ve got to charge middle of the road prices” and it was just no reason for us to do it. We’re here for the fun of it, believe it or not this is owned not by a corporation. This is owned by individuals who come from clubs and I have a large background in clubs, I worked with both the corporate clubs as well as the most downtown trendy clubs. This particular club is a downtown pure club. Now Yuppies are allowed in here if you want to use a word or a category, Yuppie, they’re allowed in this club, but they’re not really catered to as most clubs cater to them because of financial reasons. They have money, they pay other guys, we lose a little bit in terms of money. But we’ll be around longer then them we think. These clubs last two years tops, I mean honestly the Palladium is over right now, completely over and only a year and a half ago it was really happening. That was a year and a half ago. Frank and I both were there working, Frank Roccio, the owner and myself. I was director of promotions and he booked the music there and honestly it was happening. I did Jean Paul Gaultier’s party maybe a year and six months ago, a year and seven months ago I did a party for Jean Paul Gaultier, everybody came out, it was happening, it was hip. But they went so corporate that it’s completely gone and clubs die.
I2: Well I mean from what we’ve seen here it seems to be really important for you to really integrate that music, dance, art, performance and that seems to be quite an unusual way to work because things tend to be separated in to the different mediums.
I1 Obviously in your case there’s history of that over the past couple of years but this seems to be the only place that is still successfully doing it.
R: It’s kind of funny that nobody has been, since we did it in September, and everybody was shocked! I mean the first thing we did was shock everybody, was we put Public Enemy on, which is a rap act. And we brought rap in to this downtown quote ‘trendy’ club, and we use this word ‘trendy’ because it’s acceptable as a term, we don’t have any ego about the word ‘trendy’, and that’s the point. We took Public Enemy, these black kids shouting at people, people went “whoa I’m never coming back here again!” But six months later everyone is coming here and they’re coming here so often that we’re closing down in August because people are coming here so often that we feel it’s best to give everybody a break and appreciate us and we’re going to take the month off. I’ve worked seven days a week since September seventeenth. I work most days from one o’clock in the afternoon the day shift and I work at night, I’m here when the club closes and after everyone’s gone.
I1: Can you talk about the music? Who your DJ’s are and what styles…
R: …We have the best DJ’s on the planet, period. It’s not something that happened by accident. Frank Roccio comes from a music background and we said if we’re going to have a club the heart of any club is that dance floor. That’s a maple dance floor, you can’t buy maple anymore like that and it’s ancient and it’s the heart of any club. You throw a party for an artist, you do a party for a magazine, you do a party for a photographer, for a rock star and think “okay great”. But the dance floor is the heart of any successful club and it’s my opinion personally that if a club doesn’t have a dance floor it’s not a club, it’s a bar. That’s my criteria; it has to have a dance floor. Our DJ’s are pretty well set. The core of our line up, I don’t know if you have baseball, with three, four, five hitters, count our Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Thursday is David Morales, David Morales comes from a background of two Puerto Rican’s, a black man and a Dominican, and he’s the original guy there, he’s phenomenal. The Village Voice a couple of weeks ago said he’s the best DJ in New York, the best up and coming DJ. He’s phenomenal and he’s one of these people you see in underground clubs. Frankie Knuckles on Fridays is our clean-up batter. Frankie Knuckles invented the word ‘house music’, he is it. He started doing it in warehouses in Chicago, the word warehouse became house. He went to a warehouse because he was playing in other clubs and he just couldn’t get them to accept the music that he was playing, the really underground music that he was playing, which is now of course generally accepted in New York, although most clubs still don’t play it the way we do. And Frankie Knuckles is the guy who invented house music. He’s done twenty-odd albums, he’s working now with everybody, as much as Prince, he’s doing Prince’s television commercials.
I1: is it possible to line up an interview with him?
R: Oh absolutely, Frankie’s extremely accessible, he’ll be here tonight.
It’s Friday isn’t it? He’ll be spinning.
I1: Well I’d like to line up an interview with him.
R: Absolutely, Frankie is one of the most wonderful big black panda bear you’re ever going to run in to in your life. I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t love him, it’s scary.
I1: Actually I’m just wondering, just to cut you short there, is it possible to get some tapes from?…
R: It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Frankie is very accommodating. I have tapes of his, I’m going cross-country and he gave me tonnes of tapes.
I1: Well the program we’re doing is actually for a radio station so…
R: …Yeah I think Frankie would love to help you out. I’m sure if you’ve gone to other clubs you’ve run into so many rules that it’s scary; you can’t do this, you can’t shoot that. I can tell by the questions you ask; “can I do this?” Yeah, you can do anything you want, I don’t care. We’re not about that, we’ve got nothing to hide. Frankie will surely accommodate you. Anyway our Saturday DJ is the story of how it all happened. Last summer we were trying to get open, had a lot of problems with licensing, we eventually got over them. But last summer every time we went out someone would say “when are you opening? When are you opening?” Because there was nothing happening. We went to a club called Black Market; we would go to another bar and Frank, myself and everybody would sit around and get bored to death, there was no place to go. I mean it was only a year ago and you couldn’t go anywhere. Maybe there’d be a good party, nothing. But we went to this obscure after hours club called Black Market and there was an English DJ named David Piccioni, and David just blew everybody away. “Well what is this music he’s playing?” We’ve heard a lot of it and Frank and I found ourselves, I don’t dance but Frank was completely danced out and Frank went to him and said “hey, I’m opening a club called The World and you’re going to be my DJ on Saturday night”. And David said “yeah, right. Who’s this strange guy?” And now he is. Since day one he’s been here and he’s the least known of our DJ’s but we think he’s absolutely as good as any of the others. He’s brilliant and he’ll be here tomorrow night. We also have DJ’s Michael Connolly, and Larry T, they play in the room downstairs and one of the things we do on Tuesdays, we do Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar.
I1: Yeah we actually got, you gave us press tickets but we never got along to that.
R: Well you must catch it…
I1: … Well we won’t be able to; we’re flying out on Tuesday…
R: Okay well Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar is one of the cornerstones of downtown life now. To call it Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar… “How could you call it Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar? Doesn’t that offend people?” No, because they’re fags, they know it, it’s rock ‘n’ roll music and that’s what it is. And everyone comes; everyone comes every week, period. No doubt, if you’re not at Fag Bar you’re over, that’s the way it is. And it’s rock ‘n’ roll music and it’s great and it’s not just gay people, it’s everybody. It’s predominately a gay scene, we have go-go boys and stuff like that and it’s a Tuesday night and for Tuesday night to be one of the hot nights in New York you got to realise that’s you know… Everyone does go to work these days, our economy’s okay. Anyway that’s what’s happening. So music was the basis.
I2: So the kind of art that you show, what’s your policy on it? How do you organise it? And who…
I1: … Yeah how do you decide who’s seen and who’s not?
R: You just sort of feel it.
I2: Do you see people’s work that you really like and ask them to show it?
R: Well we just get a feel, honestly we just get a feel. You know like, I don’t know, my wife said to me yesterday “I went to see this, it’s really good, you should really look into it”. I said “Jennifer, I booked it, it’s coming in two weeks, we’re doing it”. I really appreciate you telling me that, but if I don’t know that I’m not really doing my job. As a promoter, as a person involved, I live here. My desk is a bed, you know. That’s true, if you came to my office, my desk is a bed. If you don’t know what’s happening … you get a feel, a pulse whether it be an artist, a DJ, it’s happening. When it’s happening we go for it. We felt that Peter Max was starting to happen again and maybe some people disagreed with us, but he’s starting to do clothing, he’s doing a show out on Long Island. And there was something in the air that we felt Peter Max, it was time to show our crowd Peter Max. David LaChapelle he was doing a major opening at the 56 Bleecker gallery and he was doing a restaurant called Echo, he’s showing some work and the buzz about him just in the scene, people really appreciate his work I’ve known David for four years but right now is the time for us to show David.
I2: Do the artists really consider that it’s important to show here?
R: Absolutely, it’s increasingly important in New York because of legislation, which requires artists to show the prices of art in any gallery. And what has happened now is that if you walk in to a gallery there must be a price tag next to the painting or readily available for public viewing. And there are some artists who feel that’s great, but the commerciality of that, you lose a little bit. And to show in a club which is not predominately a gallery, therefore legally not bound to show prices; there’s a certain freedom. And also again, something you brought up, the diversification of the audience. The David LaChapelle show at the 56 Bleeker gallery and Echo restaurant is great but a limited audience saw him and he was appreciated by a limited audience, which is great. I personally would never have gotten down there. I just don’t have the time and I just don’t go to art galleries, it’s just something I don’t do. I read the books, I hear and I’ll look at the invitation, basically I’m exposed to that. We do a lot of parties for openings of galleries here, much more than we do the art themselves. We often, if we hear of a hip artist that’s showing at either Artwaves Gallery in Soho or the (Stucks?) gallery, we see something we like because we get an invitation for it, we say “hey, that’s a great opening, let’s do a party for it”. And what we do is provide entry and we service the art community in that way also.
I2: Did Mark Kostabi introduce his Last Stand at The World?
I2: What happened that night? We missed that, what happened?
R: Mark Kostabi is a controversial artist. To say he’s a great artist would create a lot of disagreement but I think that’s great about any art or anything. A lot of people hate him and people said “wow, you’re doing something from Mark Kostabi. Why? He’s just a commercial freak”. To tell you the truth I love his work, I personally love his work. Frank loves his work, Frank owns some of his work. Mark did an invitation for me a couple of years back which I still think is one of the best invitations in my portfolio. I think he’s great and I think he’s happening, he’s controversial. So what Mark has done is he’s take that route, a publicity route, he’s no longer painting for himself, he’s hired people to paint for him. And now he’s no longer appearing in public as himself, he’s decided to hire somebody to do that and I think yes, he introduced his stand-in at The World, there was his brothers band which was not exactly the greatest band to ever play the club, played downstairs. A folk singer sang the Ballad of Mark Kostabi, which lampooned everything that we stand for and it was all in all an artistic evening. He was here and he introduced his stand-in. His stand-in will now supposedly appear in public for him.
I2: Does his stand-in look like him?
R: No, not at all.
I2: Were there lots of people here to see Mark Kostabi? Do you think he’s trying to set himself up as some pop star?
R: Yeah, sure, why not!? Andy Warhol did any less? I mean, why not? I like his work, his work is all over. I like the people who work for him too. Almost everybody who is now doing the work for Mark Kostabi or, I don’t know if they’re doing the work for him, what are they doing? They’re …
R: …Executing the work for Mark Kostabi, I think they’re all fabulous people. Ron English who helped bring this party to me, I think he’s a great artist on his own. He’s done a lot of things that are standing around the east village, a lot of graffiti type, I mean graffiti in the sense that they’re on buildings, not the spray paint type. It’s great stuff. We’re working right now on a party, I’m not sure if I’ll do it or not, again I’m in the middle of July right now, beginning of July and I’m closing August first for a month… There’s an art newsstand opening, something you might want to check into on Avenue C. The newsstands in the city of New York are being attacked by the government, they’re increasing the tax on newsstands by seven thousand, five hundred per cent, which is an incredible percentage for people who make a nickel a newspaper or four cents …
I1: What’s the rationale for that?
R: Well the rationale is they interfere with the ability for crowds to move, they create litter and they’re always located near subway entrances and bus stops and that interferes with the service of these…
I1: So they upped the percentage to get rid of them?
: To get rid of them, right. And in fact there was a story the other day where the city demolished a newsstand from a blind veteran for no reason, in quotes “in error”. So anyway this one artist in the neighbourhood has decided he’s going to do an art newsstand. He’s going to open up a newsstand as an art piece and it’s not going to be a newsstand its going to be an art piece. And he will sell magazines but it will only be the underground magazines and stuff like that. And it’s just an interesting concept and we may do a party, we’re talking about doing something in support of something like that. That’s something you hear about, but see that’s how you book art. You hear about it. Everyone tells me everything, so I walk around the club you’ll see me constantly in motion throughout the club and everyone has something to tell me, whether it be gossip or of an idea. I have to hear it because I can execute it for them.
I1: What does The World think of Independence Day?
R: Well it’s a revolutionary day. I think that personally, I’ll speak for myself and not The World, alright because The World is so many people that I really don’t know. But I would say that my opinions stand for everyone else. Independence and the idea of the American revolution, I guess is grand. Any group of people that rise together to overthrow corruption and greed I think is great. I think that the American revolution has been obscured in general as society has lost the meaning of the American revolution, in fact frowns on revolutions everywhere. I think It’s kind of funny that the great revolutionary country, America, now fights against revolutions everywhere else. I think that’s an irony. So I think that the Independence Day has been lost. What we have now is a nice day where people blow off firecrackers and barbeque and sleep because they have a day off, but I really don’t think there’s meaning anymore to many people. I think that it would be great if people almost took it religiously and Independence Day gained a new religious meaning but I don’t think that’s happening.
I2: Are you doing anything special?
R: Yeah I have a cat that I’m taking out to the country, she likes the trees and she lives in an apartment, and I’m going to go barbeque somewhere, just relax. We’re having a barbeque for some friends on the roof of Franks building, lots of things. And I’ll blow off some firecrackers, I never did it before so I may lose a finger, but I’m going to try.
I2: I get the feeling that in some ways you feel like The World actually services some of the needs of the community?
R: More than anything else, this is a community project. We do a benefit, once a month, against aids research. Obviously you had trouble getting in to see me today, one of the things is that at least one Wednesday a month we are giving our door proceeds to fight against aids. We’re doing a benefit Monday for the Henry Street settlement, coalition for housing. We’re completely dedicated to the community.
I2: Why do organisations like The World have to give their proceeds to (HIV) AIDS? Does this seem to mean that the government isn’t actually recognising the whole problem of aids? Or isn’t putting enough money in to…
R: … You’re talking about, I’m about to go cross country in a car to take my vacation and when you look at the size of America and you say the word government, there are so many governments… This country is so vast. I mean you’re talking to a New Yorker, I’m a New Yorker; I grew up over here, I went to school around here. When you’re talking to someone from Oklahoma, from Texas, from Iowa, from Oregon, Alaska these are really different types of people, as different as an Australian is from a New Zealander or whatever. I mean it really is a diversified country. But we are run by a bureaucracy because the country is so large. I’m sure that problems exist in every country in the world, you know anytime you’re dealing with two-hundred and forty million people or something, I really don’t feel that you can say that everyone in government is against or… I’m sure there’s a couple of my senators who would love to do everything they can to stop aids, I’m sure there’s tonnes of people in government who devote their time and energies and do everything they can to stop this. But the bureaucracy of the government is what the problem is. And you have a bureaucracy, the bureaucracy of aids itself the organisations like ANFAR whose efforts and ideas I’m sure everybody involved in ANFAR would do everything they can to stop aids right now but they in themselves are obscured in a bureaucracy and funds don’t always get to the right places. Not because it’s their faults, but because of the nature of being a bureaucracy. Aids is a bureaucratic problem as much as anything and yes that’s why maybe it requires a club to get to a grass roots effort. I think grass roots is the key to it.
That’s why a band would be showcased here, for the same reason. Yes, if we can raise twenty thousand dollars in a month and we can give it directly, which is what we try to do, which we seek out to do, directly to people who need food and clothing in this neighbourhood, that doesn’t go to Washington. It doesn’t have to come back down, doesn’t’ have to lose forty per cent of it before it gets to them and we can really cut through that bureaucracy. So to blame the government, yeah go ahead, blame the government but it’s not as easy an example.
The government is you, and to say ‘them’, who are ‘them’? Okay you can say Ronald Reagan, but maybe Ronald Reagan, maybe he really would love to do everything he can against aids. Maybe he’s just lost in the middle of it, I don’t know.
I1: How has HIV AIDS actually affected the club scene in New York do you think?
R: Well the immediate effect of HIV AIDS was to really cut in to the numbers of people who were going out. Honestly the only reason I went out before I got married was to get laid, let’s face it. I went to clubs to meet people and go home with them. And I went home with as many people as I could find as often as I could, that was sort of the way I lived my life a couple of years ago. I mean that’s terrible, my wife will kill me for saying this but it’s what I did. Now I’m happily married so I’m not looking for it and I’m not sure how many happily married people come to clubs other than to see a performance or something, or maybe go out with their friends. Okay so let’s say single people trying to meet people are the predominate people who attend clubs, let’s include that. Hey aids is scaring a lot of people. Now as more information comes out and it becomes apparent that you can’t just get AIDS from sitting on the couch or from you holding this microphone in my face, people are trying to come out again. And the education process on the use of condoms and the fears are a natural thing to happen, it was something we knew about and discussed years ago. The immediate effect was to cut down, now people I believe are going out and home with people almost as often and are sleeping around almost as often. I think they are just a little bit more aware and safe and I think that’s great in any way because aids is not the only disease that’s transmitted sexually. I think that it’s great that people are more educated. I think that socially right now aids is something that is looked upon and thought about in the back of everyone’s mind but people do go out and do go home with people.
I2: Did, do, clubs like The World actually try to help that kind of consciousness about what HIV AIDS Is about?
R: Yes, we do not have condom machines in our bathrooms; I mean that’s shocking. A lot of people disagree with our position on this but we don’t have them in there because we feel that it’s offensive to you as a woman or to you as a man to have that thrust upon them in the club atmosphere. We feel that you know that condoms exist, you know what you’re doing, if you’re old enough to be here and you’re old enough to go home with people you don’t need us to sell you condoms. You can buy them on the corner, there’s a deli it’s twenty-four hours, they sell them. I think The World, certainly by doing consciousness raising benefits has of course, as much as anybody educated the public about aids and it’s shown people how to live in the age of aids, if that’s what the eighties are going to be remembered as, the age of aids. Then yes, this club being the centre of the universe in one sense, I mean people who are performing here and coming out of this obscure little hole in the ground are the people who will be the Madonna’s, the Run DMC’s of two years from now.
I1: What is the media attention for The World?
R: We get a lot of people who want to know what’s going on here.
We’re not really, we don’t really go out of our way to help the media. We will absolutely give an interview like this, of course, but we send out brief press releases and we really don’t tell them everything that’s going on. We feel that reporters jobs is to find stories and we’ve got a lot of stories going on here, and the reporters find us and they give us a lot of media attention. Paper Magazine just called up and said they featured us in this article on ‘we are the best club in New York’, great, okay. We may not be the best club in New York, we’re the best club in New York for you, but we’re not necessarily the best club in New York for a person who’s in to Latin hip-hop music…
I1: …What is the best club for Latin hip-hop music?…
R: …Well maybe Ten Eighteen is the best place for Latin…
I1: …Where’s that?…
R: … Ten Eighteen, it’s on Tenth Avenue, Eighteenth Street, you know. It’s a dangerous, funky, downtown Hispanic place. I go there and dance, because I mean if you’re in to Latin, I’m not so in to Latin hip hop myself, I’m more in to house, but if that’s what you’re in to; The World may not be the best place. If you’re in to dinner and cocktails, you’re a bit older and you want to sit down and relax maybe MK is the best club in New York for you. The best club in New York, I mean, come on, who are you when you say that? I have a friend who just came here last night, his name is (Berjaje?) and he came here last night, he’s Indian, this is not the best club in New York for him. It’s some obscure place that I’ve never heard of on Lexington Avenue probably or in Brooklyn, is the best club for him. If you’re Moroccan or whatever, if you moved here tomorrow you’d be a New Yorker, do you know that? You wouldn’t be Australian anymore. Just the decision to move here, you become a New Yorker. I hope that helps you.
I2: It does actually, it’s interesting that New York adopts everything and it becomes New York straight away. I don’t think that necessarily happens in other places.
R: New Yorker is a desire to be here, that’s all a New Yorker is.
I2: New York seems to have a desire to make everything New York and other countries seem to celebrate the exotic more.
R: What’s New York? You can buy the best Chinese food in Chinatown, the same food, the people coming right there. It’s everything, New York is the world. The world is New York if you will, so there you go. You’re getting crazy here now, but that’s it right. If you want Arabic food, there’s so many different peoples living together, that’s what it’s all about and that’s why we call ourselves The World and that’s why you’ll see obscure and different types of people here that you will not see in other clubs. That’s why we cater to people who can’t get in to quote ‘trendy’ clubs and that’s why we are trendier than they are. Because the trend is the melting pot. We saw Big Pig the other day, that’s a trendy band; they had a Pakistani singer, does that mean that Pakistani’s are ‘in’ this month? Give me a break, or were they always ‘in’ if you’re in Pakistan, you know.
I2: Yeah we wanted to see them, that was a shame.
I1: It’s interesting they weren’t’ packaged as Australian, I wonder was there a reason for that?
R: What was that?
I1: They weren’t packaged as being Australian, was that…
R: Oh they were packaged as being Australian, but they packaged themselves as Australian with one Pakistani female singer.
I2: But the only thing about ‘Australian’ in it, the one I saw first was in The Village Voice.
R: I don’t know, I’m sorry.
I2: How did they go? Did people like them?
R: Great! They came across really great. I liked them a lot, I don’t like that kind of music usually, I thought they were great. They had a good crowd, a very nice crowd. A lot of the bands we put in here, we also operate as a concert hall earlier, where we book an act, we try not to book anything that’s not really current but there’s some acts without naming names, just aren’t our crowd. They may be too white or too this or whatever, maybe the don’t appeal to a diversified an audience as we would and they would tip the scales one way or the other for our evening. But these acts like Big Pig are on at nine o’clock and what we try to do is at eleven open for our general public. So in their case their crowd really mixed well with the crowd that came later in our normal evening. So it was successful in that respect.
R: Oh yes, we were sold out, they were great. They’re nice people and they had been to the club beforehand and I recognised them and when they came to the door in the past, and I’m often at the door, they didn’t identify themselves as “I’m Big Pig” you know.
I2: Had they been here for a while?
R: I don’t know, I definitely recognised a number of them.
I2: Because we saw them just before they were coming up here. I mean we don’t know them in Australia but we knew who they were, or Jay recognised them. We were going to interview them but they ran out of time.
R: I think they’d been here for a while. Are they big in Australia?
I1: Oh yeah, with a certain group.
I2: They’re very much, they’re pretty well known. They’re not mainstream.
R: So would The World work in Australia?
I1: Oh god yes!
I2: It would yes, but there isn’t anything like The World and we were talking about that and I think partly licensing is a lot tougher in Australia.
R: No it can’t be tougher than New York. It can’t be, believe me I know the licensing in England, I know the licensing in… Everyone thinks it’s true, but there is nothing like New York as far as it goes.
I2: Is this an old picture theatre? What is this space?
R: No it was never a movie theatre, again it was a dance hall. It was called Lennox Chalet, and funny story is that there’s a chandelier in our downstairs room, our room where Pink Floyd played and Squeeze played, and there’s a chandelier that really rocks up and down. Yes, you’ve seen it right? It’s kind of scary sometimes. Funny story is that some guy came by… The end of that story was that a guy came by one night and said “is this the old Lennox Chalet?” I go “no, it’s a nightclub, it’s called The World now”. And he goes “I got married here in nineteen thirty-eight”. I go “wow, really, that’s incredible”. He goes “does that chandelier still go up and down like this?” and we were always worried that this thing was going to fall…
I1: Actually a number of people have said to us that they’re really concerned about this thing…
R: Well it does look kind of…
I1: It looks pretty ominous actually.
R: Yeah that’s part of the charm. The walls don’t scare you?
I1: No, it’s the chandelier when you’re dancing and the floor’s moving.
R: Well we’ve had engineers and stuff look at it. They said an atomic bomb would do it but generally speaking they don’t make stuff like this anymore, is the general consensus from engineers.
I2: I can imagine someone coming here and walking in and this being the first club they’ve ever been to and they would be so totally enchanted by it.
R: A lot of people hate it you know?
I2: Do they really?
R: Of course, a lot of people hate it?
I1: Why? Because it’s grimy?
R: Yeah I guess maybe it’s grimy you know. My father in law hated it.
I2: It’s really gothic, it’s quite elegant.
R: Within twenty miles of where we’re sitting there’s twenty million people. If some people hate us, we’re doing things right. I have enough of a market to draw from and I know we’re doing things right so that’s where it’s at.
I2: Have you run clubs before The World?
R: I was director of promotions for The Palladium before this, and I worked at Danceteria and I had brief stints at Limelight and 4D. I was more the fashion show producer for many years.
I1: Is Limelight still enjoying popularity?
R: No, not at all. Limelight hasn’t really enjoyed popularity since a week after it opened probably. It’s not really a trendy club. It serves a function and for many people that’s the right choice. I have nothing against Limelight, I worked there, they always paid me.
I2: Have you ever thought of opening this somewhere else, like in London?
R: Sure, we’ve thought of it. Sure, get it together, we’d do that.
I2: If you did that, would you be bringing like a New York idea somewhere else? Would you be transporting New York culture or would you…
R: …I think we’d do a little bit of both. I think you’d have to draw upon the neighbourhood and the culture that you’re within but I think we could bring the ideas of The World. I mean The World itself is not… This is merely air, it’s all we are. We are people, this is air, okay let’s get that straight. What we’re doing is feeling. The people who promote here are just feeling what’s going on, a pulse of the world and just presenting it to people, that’s all we’re doing. I mean it’s a stage, it’s wood, let’s not get too romantic about it.
I1: Can I ask a question if you don’t mind? What sort of fees to DJ’s command these days? R: It depends. Anywhere from a hundred to five hundred dollars.
I1: A night?
I1: I’ve got a friend who’s a DJ and she’s always complaining about not getting enough.
R: It’s very hard to break through, but DJ’s make their money producing. They make their money outside of clubs. To work in a club like this, if I wanted DJ’s for free I could have all the DJ’s I wanted because they would want to play here, and what we pay them is fair.
I1: I’m just wondering what’s the situation elsewhere? Is that sort of…
R: …Yeah, that’s about right. I mean there are DJ’s, famous DJ’s who command large salaries, even greater than the numbers I’ve heard. I’ve heard numbers like two thousand dollars, but sure okay, I think I have the best DJ’s in the world.
I1: I was going to say, have you seen the club scene in London?
I1: What do you think of it?
R: I haven’t been there in a year or so but I’m often in touch with London and what’s going on. I’m doing a, bringing Phillip Sallon from the Mudd club in London in a few weeks, because a couple of years ago I thought he was fabulous and people still tell me he is and we’re bringing him over to do a party here in a few weeks. I’ve heard nothing but horrible things about the club scene in London. I’ve heard all the standard clubs in London are over and boring, I’m not sure why, I’d have to go over. I’m going to go over soon and check it out, but I’ve heard nothing but bad things about London and the club scene. I think maybe they’re going through growing pains. I remember two years ago when I was there for an extended period of time, I found that the aids thing had not hit London yet, and I’m just throwing this out, maybe it’s just now banging them real hard and it’s really hurting the scene. I know that they were completely unaware of why people here were panicking, and I said to my wife “jesus when are these people going to get their act together towards aids?” People were having sex on dance floors at Heaven and I said “this is sick. These people are going to die, they’re all going to die”. I’m sure some of them have and I’m sure what we’re seeing now, maybe that’s it you know. I’m sure London, England is going through a lot of changes. Their government is strange and who knows? I’ll go over and I’ll let you know. You can ask me again in a year.
I2: Well we’re going there in a week.
R: Good, well how are you flying? Virgin?
R: Continental, not bad.
I1: Not good either.
R: No, Virgin’s the best, for real. It’s a trendy airline. Anything else I can help you with?
A special note of gratitude to Tfer Newsome LCR Sound for digital transfers and Jean Bowra for transcriptions. Thanks to The World for so much joy, rapture, good vibes and dancing
Photo: The World ( Falling Chandelier Remix 1988 -2018) Artist Paul Andrew in collaboration with artists Shehab Uddin, Christine Ko, Louis Lim at Live Image Brisbane