Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nightclubs: from the Aristocracy of the Fabulous to the Decorative Dance Floor

'Once upon a time New York nightclubs catered to the aristocracy of the fabulous, to those with the looks, the style, or the connections to gain admittance to the world of the night. That all changed with the invention of bottle service. Buy a table for some astronomical sum, and mere money will admit you to this world which once excluded the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, with their real jobs and neat suits. Sucking the credit cards out of their wallets became the main game, and the nightclubs became big business. Nightclubs ceased producing their own kind of celebrity, and became dependent on attracting the sports and entertainment stars of their day. The nightclub became, in other words, just an enterprise dependent upon the spectacular, rather than one of its prime engines of efflorescence.

The game became one of attracting celebrities, who might in turn attract the bankers and hedge fund men for the VIP rooms. The general admission crowd down on the dance floor would be largely for decoration, The kinds of mixing of the classes that both troubled and thrilled Manet’s contemporaries* will now be carefully vetted. Managing such intercourse calls into being new kinds of labor. Rachel Uchitel was a VIP concierge director. She was an ambassador of client desire, making sure the big names and big spenders came to her club and kept on coming.... one of the roles of a VIP concierge director is to introduce people who matter to women they may find attractive. “It’s not our job to get anybody laid,” Uchitel insists. But it was her job to populate the VIP rooms with women as attractive as they are discreet. Models, perhaps. Or almost-models. And it is the job of club promoters to bring these almost-models in. The contemporary nightclub, in other words, is a sophisticated machine for the highly selective mingling of money and sex. Or perhaps just the promise of sex, and sometimes just the promise of money. Whether the girls put out or the boys shell out is none of the club’s concern’

*Wark is discussing here Manet’s depictions of 19th century café-concerts, ‘the beginnings of a spectacular industry that has since been perfected. Now that the threat of the dangerous classes seems half a world away, at least from a New York nightclub, the danger to guard against is not that the rabble might reject the desires on offer, but that it might rather embrace them with too much gusto. Leisure, sex and suburbia are no longer marginal sites within which new kinds of spectacular economy grow. They are the very center and essence of that spectacular economy'.

The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century by McKenzie Wark (Verso, 2013)

Studio 54, New York - a 1970s example of glamorous clubbers as celebrity bait?
[I think everyone will recognise this as one tendency - but not sure that it is something that has replaced all other forms of nightlife, or that it is new. I distinctly recall the horror I felt when VIP rooms became a thing in 1990s London clubs like the Ministry of Sound, something that seemed to totally contradict the egalitarian feeling on the floor. But there was always too a sense that those hidden in their VIP suites were actually missing the real experience. And celebrities 'slumming it' in 'lower class' clubs - and the management of these clubs catering for their wealth - goes back at least as far as the jazz clubs of the 1930s in New York, London and elsewhere]


Anonymous said...

Yes, i was describing a tendency. Its not the whole story. Elsewhere in The Spectacle of Disintegration I talk about the cafe concerts of 19th century Paris, where there was a whole discourse about the problems of the mixing of classes at night. McKenzie Wark

Transpontine said...

Hi McKenzie, yes the stuff about Paris cafe concerts in your book is interesting, will no doubt return to that at this site at some point.

Anonymous said...

Please ping me if you do!

Transpontine said...

Well in terms of clubs serving up women to be looked at by higher paying punters look no further than today's lamentable news from the Shimmy club in Glasgow: