“Kids love walking into a space knowing that no one’s looking at them or after them. They feel like it’s home. That’s when they start to have fun,” says Seva Granik, the laser-obsessed party boy behind Club Shade, a roving underground party that’s been the most recent toast of New York City’s demimonde. Granik, a lanky Russian with the heavy eyelids and chiseled cheekbones of a benevolent thug, is leaning his shaved head against a cold leather booth, ruminating over his security guards’ dress code, or rather, the intentional lack thereof. According to Granik, plain-clothed bouncers are essential to a party’s success, because surveillance is the ultimate buzzkill.
This little pro-tip is one of many that Granik’s picked up from spending 22 years slouching around this city’s many after-dark playgrounds—from staging underground punk shows in South Brooklyn, to promoting Chelsea’s gay palaces, from booking indie concerts in Chinatown lofts to throwing raves for Russian socialites, Granik has, quite literally, been around the block and back. But Club Shade is his piece de resistance, encapsulating Brooklyn’s revitalized nightlife scene in its ephemeral, strobe-lit glory.
But Club Shade is far from a solo effort. In fact, the most essential pro-tip in Granik’s party arsenal is to team up with an equally weathered veteran, Ladyfag, a queer-friendly Frida Kahlo-lookalike who was supposedly discovered by the old-school New York promoter Kenny Kenny while crawling across a dancefloor in a leopard-print catsuit. Ladyfag made her name staging spectacles for Manhattan’s long-limbed fashion elites. Last year, she infamously threw the launch party for Maurizio Cattelan’s Toilet Paper magazine at The Eagle—a leather daddy gay club an S&M club on the West Side where editors nibbled nervously on hors d’oeuvres next to nipple-clamped bears and drag queens.
Granik and Ladyfag met by chance when they were seated next to each other at Blackbook’s annual nightlife awards. That first encounter quickly grew into a shared vision: meshing their two glittering worlds under one abandoned warehouse’s roof. “We wanted to bring a taste of club cultures from all over the world to New York City’s club kids,” said Ladyfag. Hence, each iteration would be dedicated to a different nightlife metropolis; the first, held back in April, paid homage to Berlin.
Admittedly, I rolled my eyes when I first saw the invite. What good could come out of another clichéd techno party stunting after Beghain? But that was before the “rave” reviews starting rolling in. John Barclay, owner of the tiki disco Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick, declared on Facebook that it was his favorite party of the summer. Another friend wouldn’t stop laughing about following a stranger into a portapotty thinking he’d grace her with free cocaine… and getting graced with a handful of dick instead.
I showed up to Club Shade when it happened again in June. This time, it was called Coast 2 Coast, and themed after New York and California. After the shock of recognizing the 10,000-square-foot warehouse as the same one used in a (terrible) episode of Girls, I also quickly noticed the swells of hopefuls getting bounced at the door. We were in the heart of Bushwick, but the mob scene at the door was more befitting to a ritzy Meatpacking joint like Le Bain.
The scene inside was startlingly similar to a megaclub too. Strips of LEDs, dizzying laser projections and a nearly-immaculate sound system quickly confirmed that I hadn’t stepped into, say, a crusty rave thrown by money-grubbing organizers. To put it frankly, Club Shade’s level of production was extraordinary. “We spent $7000 on AC alone,” admitted Granik, “It got really complicated with electricity because there wasn’t any. You’re basically building a club from scratch.” “We also put nice lights in the portapotties, but people stole them,” Ladyfag chimed in, “But this is the boring stuff.”
“The point is,” she continued, “why would you do it if you weren’t invested in it? The kids can’t do it. And the people with the technical expertise only want to do corporate events.”
1700 people showed up to Club Shade: Coast 2 Coast. Ensuring the party didn’t devolve into a ramshackle clusterfuck required months of planning—and an unmentionable number of dollars in sunken costs. “Let’s just say Seva ran out of credit cards,” Ladyfag quipped. Ensuring the party stood out amongst the dozens of “Brooklyn rave, location: TBA” events happening simultaneously that night required something else altogether: artistic vision. Ladyfag is adamant that the themes for each Club Shade aren’t meant to be overly literal or kitschy—“This isn’t your bar mitzvah,” she laughs. Instead, she and Granik aimed to capture the experience of partying in a different city in the way a perfumer might try to recreate different scents. “For Berlin, I’m thinking blue,” she said, gesticulating impressionistically. “And for the next one… which will be like a drunken walk through Shibuya, I’m thinking pink.”
Club Shade’s level of technical production, of conceptual planning, and of sheer dedication shared by both Granik and Ladyfag points towards the biggest development in Brooklyn’s recent revival in DIY nightlife: that a “club” is no longer a physical construct, defined by four permanent walls and an unwavering identity. In fact, any venue can be transformed with the right budget and grit into a nomadic party, without the effort and regulations associated with large, enduring venues.
“We are the club. Shade is the club. It doesn’t matter where it is. It’s ever changing,” declared Ladyfag while Seva continued to bump his head, slowly, against the leather booth. He looked away. “Club is a feeling,” he said wistfully, “A club is… a happening.”
(Photos: Rebecca Smeyne/Papermag, used with permission; Club Shade blueprint courtesy of Seva Granik)
New York-based Michelle Lhooq has written for Vice, the New Inquiry and Hyperallergic.