Friday, March 23, 2007

The Roxy, New York

As previously mentioned the Roxy club in New York closed this month. It opened in 1979 as a popular roller disco and, since 1991, had hosted a gay club on Saturday nights. Now it has been sold to developers - as the New York Press notes: 'sprawling redevelopment has engulfed much of the neighboring land on West 18th Street in recent years, and Roxy’s prime location directly below the soon-to-be renovated High Line made the former truck warehouse an irresistible target'. As it came to an end, the DJ played as the final record 'This used to be my playground' by Madonna.

In the early 1980s, the club was a critical stepping stone for hip-hop from Bronx scene to global phenomenon. As Jeff Chang describes it in his essential 'Can't stop ,won't stop: a history of the hip-hop generation':

"When Kool Lady Blue finally found a new home for her "Wheels of Steel" night, her club became the steamy embodiment of the Planet Rock ethos… To its ecstatic followers, the Roxy would become "a club that changed the world." In June [1982], Blue hung out a sign at the rink: COME IN PEACE THROUGH MUSIC. Her gamble was immaculately timed. She opened the club with all of the scene's leading lights at the beginning of a hot summer when graffiti and b-boying and hip-hop music was on everyone's minds.

"The regulars were Bam [Africa Bambaataa ]and Afrika Islam, and then Grandmixer DST, Jazzy jay, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and I'd rotate them," she says. "We had no booth. The DJ would be in the center of the floor on a podi­um. Everyone could see what he was doing, and he was kind of elevated to rock star status." On both sides of the DJ, large projection screens displayed Charlie Ahearn's slides of Bronx b-boys, rappers, and scenemakers. Nearby, the Rock Steady Crew convened all-night ciphers on the beautiful blonde wood floors.'"

Although it was "billed as the anti-Studio 54", the club attracted David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Talking Heads et al, facilitating the cross over of the music to a wider audience. One regular recalled "The crowds were very diverse. That was why I was so excited to be there. Suddenly this racially mixed group was having a good time partying in a room, which was a very rare thing. On the level of music and art, people were able to bridge all these boundaries."

The club was used as a setting for the 1984 film 'Beat Street', including the classic break dance battle between the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers (see next post for clip).

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