Black Party ’Rites XXXIII’: Turning Japanese
The 2012 Black Party won't be your uncle's Black Party. Nor will it be your older friend's, or anything like the Black Party you went to two years ago. In fact, "Rites XXXIII," if producing organization the Saint-at-Large has its way, won't be like any other party in history.
For decades, men have flocked into New York City from all over the world to celebrate the advent of spring by dancing through the night (and into the afternoon) on the city's largest dance floor.
This year, once again, the Black Party will be held on the Saturday-into-Sunday closest to the Spring Equinox, March 24-25. And once again it will be held at the gargantuan Midtown Manhattan compound Roseland Ballroom.
But its date and time will be the only similarities to previous years' events. Stephen Pevner, the impresario behind the party, and his staff at the Saint-at-Large spend a great deal of the year ensuring that the Black Party gives its attendees a memorable time - and this year they're trying to amp up the party once again. It's no easy trick, continually re-inventing the most notorious gay gathering in the world.
2012: Pacific Overtures
Over 5,000 people attend the Black Party. Ever since its previous incarnation at the legendary gay nightclub The Saint in Lower Manhattan's East Village, the party has been a focal point on the calendar of gay men who love muscle, a truly underground vibe and serious dancing.
Over the past few years, the Saint-at-Large has taken its guests to Mexico ("Lucha Libre"), Germany ("Schwarzwald") and, two years ago, to Argentina. This year, Pevner & Co. looked east for inspiration. This year's party will be a riff on the gangsta culture of East Asia, specifically the yakuza, Japan's version of the Mafia. But, as per the producer's artistic ambition, the party will transcend that specific reference to connote nothing less than "Asia, Asian traditions, an Asian underworld," in the words of the Saint-at-Large's Mike Peyton.
As the party's designer, Adam Koch is responsible for the overall look of the event. While he's not giving too much away (and really, would you want him to?), he hints of a "gangland street party." Expect to see hanging lanterns, banners, and streamers - all the colorful, noisy flavor of a Chinese New Year, crossed with a Bruce Lee film.
"There are a couple of things that are always present when designing a Black Party," Koch said: "Dangerous and sexy." As inspiration, Koch looked at Anthony Mingella's acclaimed sleek production of "Madama Butterfly," which has been playing at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. He's also been listening to another Puccini opera set in Asia, the opulent "Turandot." The opera references aren't accidental.
"The Black Party is the opera of parties," Koch said. "Opera is oversized, so much bigger than life. The Black Party is, in every way, so big. The design and expression of the theme has to reflect that. Any Black Party has to be apocalyptic. And hot, hot, hot!" Koch compared the arc of the whole night-into-day of the Black Party to an opera in three acts - a notion that makes perfect sense.
The first act is the set-up, meeting the characters, setting down the plot basics. The second act is when the main themes are brought to the fore. And the last act involves conflict streaming into a resolution.
In the same way, Koch plans to change the visual texture of Roseland throughout the evening. Early the colors will be red-hot. Later, the décor will be a lot more eclectic. At the end, for the Morning Music segment, expect anime springtime.
What Koch is to the look of the party, Melanie Armer is to the feel. Two decades producing theatrical events of all kinds informs her role as the party's director. "I create and develop visions" is how she describes her work. She and her staff will "create the big picture brought in by Stephen" Pevner, she said. The tribal nature of the yakuza and of the East Asian underground in general works in well with the Black Party's tribal vibe.
Keeping It Sexy
Although it is hard to imagine what can possibly top last year's aerialists in flagrante delicto (OK, OK, they were doing it while flying through the air high above the dance floor), Armer promises some surprises.
The one thing that, she added, will not happen is the DJ slowing down (or worse, stopping) the music, lights flooding onto the stage, commotion - in other words, nothing that will interrupt the flow of the music and the dance floor.
There will be set pieces and other bits of drama that will, Armer hopes, enhance the party experience. But they will be sufficiently enigmatic for people to read into them their own interpretations. And don't think for one second that Armer doesn't know the most basic theme of the party.
"Keep it sexy. That's the best part!" she enthused. So yes, there will be the "Strange Live Acts" that have helped to contribute to making this party the most legendary such event in the world.
But Armer also understands that all of those thousands of people on the dance floor are part of the show as well. "I never underestimate the quality of the attendees at the Black Party," she said. "People who come are celebrating the tribe. We work with that, not against it."
As the man behind the vision, Stephen Pevner leverages a background that includes film and theater production (he is one of the executive producers of the hit film "The Ides of March," among many others), and literary managing. He considers the Black Party "an art experience."
"Every year, we start from the ground up," he said. He well knows that his audience is a sophisticated, well-educated group of men (and women) who demand a high-level experience and will not settle for the same-old party formula - at least not for this party.
A lot of that has to do with the music. Perhaps more than any other major annual American gay party, the Black Party has "broken" new DJs into the scene. Often, they have already made their mark in other clubs or outside the Circuit and gay nightclubs.
If it's true that for a few years, attendees to the Black Party could expect a certain sound (attendees may recall "I Feel Love" being played by all three DJs in 2002), for the past few years that has certainly not been the case.
Pevner realizes that not everybody is happy with the tried-and-true, proven DJs, but it's that "surprise element" that, he says, has given the party an "element of wonder. I really do believe that if you say you've 'experienced the Black Party' you don't know what you're talking about."
And besides, if, as Koch says, this really is the "opera of parties," then the sound has to be, in a word, operatic.
DJ Line-Up Spans Musical Genres
This year's DJ line-up is no exception to Pevner's vow to "make it new." As the opener, it's entirely appropriate to have Japan's most popular DJ this year. Satoshi Tomiie is already well-known for his remixes. We'll see if he gives the early hours at Roseland a twist of his signature electronica with an underlying bass beat.
When Tomiie hands over the DJ booth at 3 a.m., the highly popular Spanish mixing duo Chus & Ceballos will take over for the main part of the evening. This is C&C's return to Roseland; they opened the Black Party in 2005, which was also their introduction to gay Americans. The crowd must have liked what they heard, because these guys have gone on to play some of the biggest Circuit parties around the country.
Hector Romero gets the coveted Morning Music set when he takes over at 9 a.m. until close (around 3 p.m.). Romero is a well-known fixture in New York's big-room club scene, so it will be interesting to hear how he approaches what many consider the "sacred" part of the evening.
Pevner has some good news for people who felt dissed by security in the Men's Room last year: The Saint-at-Large has taken over all responsibility for policing the restrooms. (The problem is that many people use the sinks as mini-bathtubs causing periodic floods, so be considerate.)
There will also be no VIP passes. Everyone will be admitted everywhere, although, as happened last year, the balcony will be monitored so that it doesn't get too crowded - as mandated by the New York Fire Department.
• If you're under 25, you can buy a ticket for less than half the regular price, purchased at the door of Roseland only; before 12:30 a.m. or after 4 a.m. with valid I.D.
• If you're devoted to the Morning Music, there's a special price if you arrive after 9 a.m. (at the door only).
• In a nice nod to the party's history, if you can produce an original membership card to the old Saint itself when you get to Roseland, you get a special price as well.
• This year will also see the return of the Black Party Expo on Saturday and the Hookies, the awards party thrown by Rentboy on the Friday night before the Black Party. The Expo is a great way to acclimate yourself to Roseland, as well as to the very sexy goings-on that will be happening later that night. At the Expo itself, you can buy DVDs and all sorts of erotic paraphernalia. It's also a one-stop shopping mall if you still need to accessorize your outfit for the party. A Black Party tickets gets you into the Expo for free.
• As at previous Black Parties, you will be required to check your cell phone and camera at the door. The Saint-at-Large promises extra security during heavy entrance times.
1) If you're planning on changing, bring a big bag that your coat can fit into. For a nice tip, the coat check staff will be happy to let you retrieve it and then return it. We suggest: mouthwash, toothpaste and toothbrush; sunglasses; and at least a change of socks if you're staying more than four hours.
2) Wear street clothes over your outfit or change once you get there.
3) Don't bring your wallet, but bring your primary-care physician's business card; one piece of nonessential ID or card with your address and home phone; a non-credit, pin-access-only ATM card; a Metro card (for the subway, just in case).
4) We don't know why someone would bring his wallet or credit cards, but be sure to check them. You'll have to check your phone, because what goes on inside Roseland stays inside Roseland.
5) That also means that you will not blab to your friends or (especially) the media if you see someone famous having some fun (We'll be there anyway - EDGE always has the scoop). That also goes for co-workers or your best friend's boyfriend.
6) Don't plan on doing the whole party. No one does. Some people like to watch the party grow. Some like the peak. Some like the down trip.
7) New York State mandates no alcohol sold between 4 a.m. and noon on Sunday. New York tap water is very clean; nearly anyone can drink it. There will be fresh fruit at all the bars, and the back bar will have free coffee and cookies. Caffeine and carbs - the perfect pick-me-up!
8) You probably won't need their services, but scope out where medics are (usually to the right of the main stage). If you see someone in trouble, take him there.
9) When you first get on the dance floor, pick a spot where you and your friends can meet up in case people get lost (or wander away). Don't waste the party looking for anyone. Your boyfriend is over 21. He can take care of himself.
10) If you're going home with a stranger or strangers, introduce them to someone you know.