Do New York clubs need stricter door policies? · News ⟋ RA

Sep 22, 2022 3:07 PM
  • We spoke to owners, DJs, promoters and door personnel about the changing tides of club culture, nightlife safety and whether venues should tighten the rope.
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  • As post-lockdown nightlife booms in New York, should clubs be doing more to ensure a positive experience for their most vulnerable attendees? The Covid-19 pandemic radically altered demand for nightlife in New York. This means new faces are finding their way into venues, some of whom may have insufficient understanding of dance floor etiquette, the roots of dance music or the historical lineages of New York's underground. What for some is a space of refuge, community and catharsis is for others a trendy locale. "Not all nightclubs are the same, not all of their goals are the same," BASEMENT founders Téa Abashidze, GeGa Japaridze and Tyler Myers told Resident Advisor. "A door policy helps keep those people out who have different intentions coming to the club, those who only know how to try and make the experience about themselves, those who aren't part of this community, who don't respect others' space, their pronouns, their privacy… the list goes on." But the process of appraising someone at the door, the founders explained, can be subtle. "It's not about what a person looks like or where they're from, it's just about their intentions and their attitude." Eric De La Cruz, director of security at local party Wrecked, said the best method is "an eye-sight attitude test." For queer parties like Wrecked and Papi Juice, weeding out those individuals who "don't get it" is imperative. "Some straight people don't understand. You can tell that they don't understand the concepts. They don't understand the pronouns, they don't understand anything." Earlier in the summer, De La Cruz had an interaction with a man in line as he explained—as he does to everyone—the nature of the party. "Wrecked can be sort of explicit sometimes," he said. "There's sex going on all around and on the dance floor. And most people will be like, 'That's fine.' But there was this one guy who was like, 'well, as long as nobody touches me.' And I was like, 'Cancelled!'" For De La Cruz, a strict door policy "promotes a better harmony." He added: "A community should be a community. Everybody should be able to be harmonious together without anyone having to give a thought about who or what is around you." Informing people in the line about the night's party means partygoers at least know what to expect. "Having simple interactions in line or at the door and gauging peoples' attitude feels most important to me," said DJ, curator and Nowadays safer space monitor Alyce Currier, AKA Lychee. "If someone is acting entitled, rude, creepy, etc. before they even enter the club, their behaviour isn't going to get any better inside. I think that's one basic layer that most clubs and parties can implement." On the surface, more people in nightclubs is a positive development for an industry operating on razor-thin profit margins. Were it not for government funding during the pandemic, some of New York's most cherished venues may have closed. To say the least, it's a fragile economic ecosystem with many moving parts. In a time of skyrocketing rent prices and heavy inflation, an influx of new partygoers is necessary to keep the lights on, the DJs paid and the speakers booming. "There exists, for lack of a better term, a scenester vs. normie dichotomy that most of us aren't ready to acknowledge," Paragon owner John Barclay told RA. "The scenesters are hotter and cooler and certainly dance better but they spend no money. The normies are generally more annoying and less respectful of dance culture but are willing to pay what it costs to keep the scene alive." He added: "Without the normies we have no way of paying the rent, DJs and staff. Without the scenesters the culture devolves into Señor Frog's. We need both for the ecosystem to survive and it's not an easy balance to strike." Beyond the bottom line of profits and losses, the venues drawing on the creative, social and financial capital of marginalised communities have a basic responsibility to prioritise safety. But stricter door policies may not be a catch-all solution. According to Barclay, "the majority of the terrible headline incidents that have happened [in New York] recently wouldn't have been prevented by any sort of door policy. That is to say that the people who committed these acts aesthetically and demographically 'fit in' with the people they targeted. It wasn't rednecks in MAGA caps, it was hip people that appeared to have experience with queer and dance culture. People that would have gained entry even up against the most selective of 2022 Brooklyn door policies." For small capacity venues, limiting who can and can't come in seems financially irresponsible. But for larger spaces like Nowadays, Elsewhere, BASEMENT, Good Room and public records, the matter seems less about money than about balancing an open, inclusive door policy with a strong system of risk assessment. That elevated risk only increased as Covid-19 restrictions retreated further into the rear view and a generation of new clubbers—many of whom came of age during the lockdowns—flocked to the clubs. According to this year's IMS Business Report, 18- to 24-year-olds are buying tickets at three times the rate they did before the pandemic. This demographic is growing twice as fast as the rest of the electronic music fanbase. "Post-lockdown, we noticed a shift in energy across our attendees as restrictions started to lift," Elsewhere's director of security, Manny Rivera, told RA. "Emotions ran high as people navigated the return to normal." Another club trying to strike the right balance is Queens venue Nowadays. One of the city's best dance floors, it's known as a place where experienced clubbers can catch a night (or an early morning) of top-class programming on a premiere sound system. But it's also gained prominence on a broader scale, attracting people who are less familiar with the communities and histories from which Nowadays draws its power. One staff member agreed to speak to Resident Advisor on the condition of anonymity (they chose the pseudonym Val). "If the goal is to create a clubbing environment where your staff—who's majority femme, BIPOC, queer and trans—feels safe and people who are enthusiastic clubbers want to come to your club, that is in direct conflict with this totally open-door policy," Val said. Val shared a recent experience at Nowadays. "There was somebody who was on the dance floor, who I have to assume was a cis man, probably middle-aged, a little older than the average Nowadays guest. And, he was just very blatantly leering at me. And I handled it the way that I always handle this, which is that I walked up to him and was very friendly and said, 'Hey, can I help you with something?' And he was like, 'Oh, hey, baby, you're really beautiful. Will you teach me how to dance?' And I said to him, 'This is not that kind of club.'" The man was eventually removed for making other guests uncomfortable. These sorts of interactions aren't uncommon. Walk-ups coming in at peak times are often ignorant of the implied etiquette of spaces like Nowadays, regardless of the safer spaces speech they receive at the door. The same goes for other clubs in the city. Though current times are far from normal, New York's return to nightlife has been swift and forceful. On any given weekend, partygoers can experience a dizzying number of events, DJs and venues. It's a constant choose-your-own-adventure. "I think about how cities like New York are becoming more like Europe, where clubbing is now less of an underground activity and more of a norm, and more people are interested in an occasional night out, but not invested in the culture," said Currier from Nowadays. "Those people tend to treat the night, and the nightlife workers behind it, as a commodity." But what can be done beyond denying people entry? There's a constellation of factors that make for a healthy and effective safety policy, such as a well-trained (and well-paid) security staff, versed in de-escalation, sensitivity training and the underlying ethos of club culture; a team of safety monitors throughout the club; and a set of clear guidelines that are communicated prior to entry. Of the venues previously mentioned, Nowadays is the only one to directly communicate these rules before people can enter. In addition, they empower their door managers to make decisions of their own "discretion on whether or not they want to let somebody in, as long as it's not based on someone's physical appearance," said co-owner Justin Carter. "If somebody is like, excessively intoxicated, if someone is aggressive, if somebody's like giving off a vibe, if someone is dismissive of the safer space speech, if someone is cutting in line," Carter continued. "There are certain behaviours that we're looking for that are, I mean, I don't think anybody would find surprising, right?" Still, as with most clubs in the city, Nowadays prides itself on welcoming everyone inside, as long as they adhere to these guidelines. "We've always been this open, inclusive place where everybody is held to a certain standard," said co-owner Eamon Harkin. "And once you decide to do that, then it's all about a very disciplined process on an ongoing basis." But is this process enough? Even in a club like Nowadays, where strict measures are in place, things still happen, whether at the hands of ignorant partygoers or even new security professionals. "One of the challenges we have, and I think a lot of other spaces have, is that while we have regular security members, security is outsourced," Carter said. These third-party firms hire their own staff and handle their own training, so the clubs only have so much time and power to vet and orient their security personnel. "It's a very transient job for a lot of people," Carter added. "There's not a lot of people who are getting into security work as their career." Because of this, the process of training security is, for some clubs, constant. "A lot of the time the security staff are older folks, often non-white, who have lived in New York their whole lives, who are working totally insane hours," said Currier. "These aren't people who've grown up living and breathing social justice language the same way a lot of our scene has." They added: "I think club owners and management need to take some responsibility here for educating and including all of their staff in broader conversations, and doing their due diligence to hire staff who might have experiences with these kinds of spaces already." In this regard, Elsewhere has a unique perspective—the Brooklyn club hires and trains its own security. "The majority of our staff have been hired through a recommendation," said Rivera. "This helps ensure our hires are aligned with Elsewhere's values from day one." This feels like a strong model. Clubs and venues should take a holistic approach, from educating staff and would-be attendees, to ensuring everyone is on the same page in terms of their intentions and understanding of the spaces they're entering or helping to curate. A door policy is just one part of the process. Still, to promoters and venue owners like the BASEMENT founders, it's a vital part. "Having a door policy can help shape the dance floor way better than having no door policy at all." Photos: Luis Nieto Dickens (Elsewhere), Sean Schermerhorn (Nowadays)
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