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McKenzie Wark Wants You to Know NYC’s DIY Culture Still Exists

But you have to go find it yourself.

4:39 PM EDT on June 14, 2023

McKenzie Wark, wearing a black tank top glasses, sitting against a wall and looking off to the side.

The critic and author McKenzie Wark. (Photo credit: Z. Walsh)

Media theorist McKenzie Wark's hybrid memoir "Raving," about transcendent dancing at techno parties in New York City, has been a critical success. "It really resonated with people," she told me in a phone interview. "They recognize the state of being that I'm talking about." "Raving" is a jolting reminder to people of the necessity—as in, the life-and-death necessity, for certain of us—of nightlife. Wark described it to me as "a love letter to the scene." 

I asked her where she was looking forward to partying this summer. "There's a longstanding, well-known queer-friendly rave that's having its last season. They want to go out in a blaze of glory," she told me. Another: "There's one that's been emerging as a really well-run party, and they're going to do a 24-hour thing." What're the names of these events? "I'm not going to tell you!" she replied.

Is there a virtue to exclusivity, I asked, bringing up the guy who died trying to crawl into Studio 54.

"Yes!" Wark answered, before clarifying that she isn't "into the celebrity version of exclusivity." "Studio 54 borrowed ideas from The Loft, where you had to be on the list, you had to know somebody, and that was because this was the '70s and gay people were there. You had to be cool. Exclusivity is a good thing," she said. Wark is interested in what her friend, the DJ Nick Bazzano, calls "reparative discrimination."

"Where's the space where people who are excluded everywhere else get to cut the line? Where they are honored, rather than told to go away," Wark said. "Those places are rare. I don't even think it's exclusivity. If you don't need it, you don't need to know it's there."

Since Wark is someone who spends time in today's DIY and fugitive nightlife spaces, I was interested in her perspective on the nightlife doomerism that I sometimes get caught up in, the idea that there's a decline on its way. Wark quoted Cisco Bradley, who wrote about the dwindling of the Williamsburg DIY rock scene as "post-cultural," referring to the way that Williamsburg is now—sleek and culturally inert. It's important, I explained, to untangle the actual reasons why DIY spaces are being impoverished (RIP The Glove, Shea Stadium, Silent Barn, etc.) from nostalgia for a particular scene. "I'm always opposed to this narrative where people want to say, 'Oh, you missed it.' Like that LCD Soundsystem song [with the line] 'I was there!' I don't want to tell anybody that," Wark told me. "The enemy of party X is not party Y, it's the real estate business, the police and the City. That's who you're really up against." 

Groundbreaking culture is always going to be a product of the space that’s available for cheap. Right now, that’s hard to find in NYC. But we shouldn’t let a structural critique of the city's cultural infrastructure trap us in the idea that everything good has already happened—we can do the requisite and intimidating work of finding what's still happening. Wark agreed. "It's always possible," she said. "Make something. There's always a scene somewhere. Go find it and join it."

Here are some places she recommends you start:

Saturday, June 24: Pride Nonstop, Nowadays, 56-06 Cooper Ave, Queens ($20 to $40, not including fees)

"The actual Pride weekend raves are coming up very soon, and they're going to be absolute saunas. It's going to be like a jackhammer in a sauna."

Sunday, June 25: Octo Octa and Eris Drew, The Ruins at Knockdown Center, 52-19 Flushing Avenue, Queens ($37.86)

"It's an annual ritual that people should know about."

Saturday, July 1: Fourth World, Knockdown Center, 52-19 Flushing Avenue, Queens ($30 to $40, not including fees)

"It's great, it runs all night. It's all local artists, all local DJs getting their shot, and you only get to play it once. That's a special thing." 

Any weeknight: Bossa Nova Civic Club, 1271 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn (Free to $10)

"Bossa doesn't list more than a few days in advance, so it's hard to know what's coming up. But I'm always going to be at Bossa Nova Civic Club at least once a week, nearly always on a weekday. Because on a Tuesday at 11 p.m., those are people that are there to dance and hang out, people who know other people in that universe. So that's my go-to. You can find that also at BASEMENT or Nowadays on a weeknight, a dancing crowd. I go more for the crowd than the DJ sometimes. And, you know, there are some places I won't mention."

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