Functions is our interview series profiling parties from across the world. Next up is New York City's Club Night Club.
New York City nightlife is a breeding ground for unorthodox music. In the city that never sleeps, far beyond the undercurrent of big-name nights and popular clubs, there’s a spread of underground events looking to take New York back to its experimental golden age. Though the challenges that come with running nights from the ground up are often unforeseen.
“It’s much more difficult to run independent events here when faced with the insane prices attached to real estate, draconian liquor laws and a general disregard for nightlife culture on the part of the city,” says Blake (Only Child) and Roddy (Significant Other), the brains behind New York City promoter Club Night Club. “But often the extra time and effort to work around constraints not faced in other major cities lead to a certain magic, one where you really appreciate the value of the event that has come together, either as an attendee, artist or promoter."
Now in its fourth year, CNC is bursting at the seams when it comes to underground music. Recent events from the likes of Hessle Audio, Batu, Objekt, and Giant Swan have moved Club Night Club far beyond its burgeoning beginnings, with nights that set up across the city in rogue locations like warehouses and disused spaces to New York favourites like Bossa Nova Civic Club and Sugar Hill Disco.
We caught up with CNC’s founders Significant Other and Only Child to chat about the challenges that come with running independent nights in New York, run-ins with the police, and how they bring something different to NYC nightlife. Check out our Q&A below.
Tell us about the origins of Club Night Club - how did it come about?
CNC officially started in January of 2019 after fermenting as an idea we had had for a while. In around 2017 we (Significant Other & Only Child) met and became friends, quickly realising that we had a big overlap in our musical interests and nightlife sensibilities. It started mostly just out of love for music and a desire to hear more of the sounds and artists we were into in bigger and better settings. That along with pure fan enthusiasm and the enjoyment that came in scheming with a friend about building something new. Blake had the original idea that really propelled it into what it is today - the plan to buy a soundsystem and, with it, have the freedom to run our own events independently without relying on rentals or venues to do so. In early 2019 we bought the original configuration of the CNC system - built and assembled in Minneapolis by DVS1. To pay off the loan that meant we almost didn’t have a choice but to hit the ground running and start planning parties seriously.
You’ve said that CNC was created to showcase ‘a specific sound’ - can you expand on that?
The two of us met and bonded over a few different shared passions. The first was growing up raving, albeit on different continents at different times. We both discovered dance music through off-the-grid independent parties and promoters. Significant Other in the UK, and Only Child in the Midwest. For both of us, the dream setting for dance music was always in unconventional spaces - warehouses, basements, wherever - just somewhere you turned up to and were really like, ‘wow this is different’. Events with an edge to them that you could really tell were shaped by intent. The other area our friendship really centred around was an overlap in musical taste. Particularly a love of broken sub-heavy dance music mostly subcultures indebted to soundsystem culture - jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, dub etc. With CNC, there’s a conceptual overlap between the kind of listening environments we try to build and the music we choose to showcase itself. The spectrum is broad but in general, we gravitate towards platforming artists who are doing something unique and exist in a space outside of a specific genre. In other words, the stylistic range of DJs who play is extensive, but in general, we loosely try to provide both a musical and sensory experience that is a little left of centre and has that outsider feel. A big part of that is pushing artists who don’t really fit into a box genre-wise or who are expanding an existing genre and doing something new with it.
At the end of the day, a rave is a rave and the first priority is the dancer. So the general ethos would be weird and unique but not so deep into the territory of experimentalism that functionality is lost. With a lot of the programming, if we want to showcase someone who we know might go full-on off the rails we try to program them in a sandwich of artists who we know will keep dancers moving. New York has an amazing legacy of dance music spanning decades and the city in general has a really unique energy when nightlife comes together. Our rough intention from the beginning was to push the kind of leftfield contemporary club music that we loved, which falls into this grey area between genres and try to slide it into the city’s already thriving scene.
Club Night Club is an artist-led night but also turned into a label in 2020. What sound do you typically showcase on the imprint?
There’s no explicit formula for what we want to do with the label. Generally speaking, it’s just an extension of the intent of the party as well as being an outlet for music that resonates with us personally. With the label we want to release music we find to be in line with the events; left of centre and unconventional but ultimately danceable club sounds, with priority given to lesser-known producers we think really need to be heard. The debut release was Herron’s ‘Lowflow’ EP which encapsulates this. It’s experimental and rhythmic, with a totally weird collection of sounds used, but wrapped up in a structure that allows it to hit hard on the dancefloor. That’s the ethos really - subverting expectations and getting weird whilst all the while serving to keep people moving on the floor.
As the label grew we also began releasing tapes - both live recordings of sets at Club Night Club and mixtapes from artists who have played the party before. When we record at CNC we make sure to get both the line-in recording from the mixer and the mic recording of the room - that way the two can be mixed down into the same file and really capture the energy in the room the night of the recording. Through this combo, you end up with an artefact that feels like a slice of time or something closer to the kind of memories we all have of special nights. Putting these into a physical format felt like a really nice way to archive moments in time and the party’s evolution.
What makes New York’s club scene unique?
In New York, a lot of the challenges inherent to the city are what make it a unique place for dance music. It’s much more difficult to do independent events here when faced with the insane prices attached to real estate, draconian liquor laws and a general disregard for nightlife culture on the part of the city. But often the extra time and effort to work around constraints not faced in other major cities leads to a certain magic, one where you really appreciate the value of the event that has come together, either as an attendee, artist or promoter. If you compare it to Europe, nightlife here has always faced a higher level of persecution. The crackdown in the 90s has led to this sudden explosion in the 2010s which makes you feel like you’re operating in and contributing to this ongoing renaissance of New Yorkers finding more and more ways to come together and party. Right now we’re in this wild time where it almost feels like you’re spoiled for choice on a weekend, when less than ten years ago this wasn’t the case.
How does CNC set itself apart from other club nights in the city?
Tough question. I think we try our best to just keep our heads down and focus on each event. We’re looking for ways to improve each party to make it better with sound, production, and experience. One of the biggest focal points of the party is to achieve a high quality sound on the dancefloor. We generally cram as many speakers as possible into a space and spend an excessive amount of time working and dialling it in to create a good listening experience. Nothing is worse than watching a sick artist play on a bad soundsystem.
One thing we try to provide with CNC is a degree of suspense for partygoers. By switching up locations and frequently taking over unconventional and industrial spaces, our regulars know that no party is ever going to be the same. We’ll find an empty warehouse and figure out how we can make it into a space for a night - where to put the system, how to accommodate attendees, what can be done to really make it unique. Music aside, the way we operate allows us to customise each event that happens outside of a club, and it feels like people are hungry for new experiences and new environments in which to dance.
Do you try to keep a balance between international acts and local talent? How does that booking process work?
An intention that has been present since the beginning was to build a party which showcases international artists you would be less likely to see in New York. This has stayed the general ethos over the years but naturally we balance this out with platforming locals who we love and whose sound we feel will make sense alongside internationals on a particular line-up.
You just passed your four-year anniversary in February - what did you do to celebrate?
For our four-year anniversary we did probably our largest event yet with an all-night takeover from the Hessle Audio crew at this enormous warehouse in South Brooklyn. It’s rare we do events on that scale, but for the anniversary, it felt like a nice challenge. CNC has grown a lot over the years and in the early days we would stress selling 200 tickets for the smaller more intimate events we started off with. It was a rare treat to do something on a huge scale to celebrate four years, an insane amount of work but fun to take it up a level to mark the occasion!
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Thinking back on those four years, are there any particular standout moments?
One that immediately comes to mind was our first party back after the pandemic. We had the venue fall through 48 hours before the event and spent a hellish two days trying to find an alternative that would work. It involved cruising around Brooklyn frantically checking out different warehouses/venues. We had already sold about 600 presale tickets and the idea of having to cancel the day before wasn’t appealing. By some miracle, we found a spot and locked it down the day before the event. By the time the party started, most of the crew had already been awake for about 24 hours. It got shut down in the early hours which is always a shame, but making it work the way we did was a standout achievement for sure.
Halloween in 2019 was a special one for us too. It was our first really big event that I think put us on the map a little bit for people outside our usual crew. A lovely, evil basement rave with Simo Cell, Solid Blake, Shyboi and Ploy. That was the first time we took a raw space and turned it into a proper party for the night. That happening with everyone there being dressed to the nines in NYC Halloween style really gave it that Blade vibe rave-throwers crave.
Another moment which was eventually commemorated on a tee we released was at the ******* shop in 2019 where we did a lot of our earliest events. A local spot that dancefloor regulars in Brooklyn will remember fondly. It was one of the many silly fun memories that happened in the early hours of a party and involved two attendees pulling out some insane pole dance moves on the counter of the establishment.
How do you go about picking spaces and venues for your events?
This is often a tedious process that requires a lot of effort on our end. It usually involves countless hours of searching and viewing spaces. We have to find something that delivers for a party but also meets our standards for safety. It’s important to have a knowledge of requirements from the DOB that calculate capacity, and codes that dictate whether a space is capable of holding gatherings safely. We also have to consider acoustics, egress, electrical requirements, and many other things. This means that often the venue that attendees experience will have been one of a dozen considered but the only logical conclusion or practical option. We take safety incredibly seriously and that is the primary criteria for judging whether a space will work. It’s easy to set up shop in some sketchy warehouse, but if doing so comes at the expense of attendees safety and is potentially hazardous, it’s not worth it for us.
What’s next for Club Night Club?
This past weekend we just had Batu & Objekt drop into town for an all-nighter in a warehouse we were using for the first time. The pair played a loose all night b2b and it was a really special one with a lot of day-one CNC regulars in attendance.
In addition to that, we have a lot of exciting projects in the works for the label, several of which should see the light of day before the end of the year!
For more information on Club Night Club parties and label announcements, head to clubnightclub.com
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter