For a city that famously "never sleeps," nightlife is a vital part of New York City's fabric. From the heyday of glamour at Studio 54 to the grit of CBGB, the avant-garde fashion of club kids and the balls of Harlem, NYC after dark has taken many shapes over the years. At each twist and turn, the city's night owls have consistently led the cultural zeitgeist. If you want to be on the pulse of what's next, you'll probably find it percolating in the backroom of some Brooklyn club on any given weekend.
"Nightlife in New York is special because there are so many different pockets and social bubbles," says photographer Julian Camilo, who's been documenting its chic, sweaty chaos in recent years. "Friday, you are at a Baile Funk Party hosted by a collective from Rio and Saturday you can find yourself at an underground rave that’s a screenshot of a screenshot of a super secret location. The options feel endless."
For the uninitiated, NYC nightlife is its own beast and the first step can often be just locating the party. Thanks in part to rent being astronomically high, new venues tend to not last terribly long, making the rise of DIY spaces — warehouses converted lofts, basements and whatever nook and cranny an organizer can get their hands on without risking a noise complaint — the new standard. "Parties on boats, abandoned train tracks, under a tunnel on the beach, a soccer field," Camilo lists. "These moments keep the scene alive, and push for innovation and creativity."
That being said, there are always exceptions. Prior to closing, Bossa Nova Civic Club was a techno hub and used to be Discwoman's home base; Silent Barn was its own little artist commune with a constant rotation of indie and bedroom-pop rolling through; and there was The Spectrum (AKA "Dreamhouse"), which achieved that rare cult legend status so few places have managed to. "There were no rules at The Spectrum and it was a special place where everyone fit in and stood out all at the same time," Camilo gushes, adding that "RAGGA at The Spectrum was the very first time I was offered payment for my photography. I couldn’t believe it."
Local parties and collectives like Papi Juice, Dick Appointment, Bubble_T, Club Cringe and more have nomadically traversed the city's club terrain, carving out niches and developing their own devoted followings along the way. "I have always loved Papi Juice and the team behind it (Oscar [Nñ], Mohammed [Fayaz] and Adam [Rhodes])," Camilo says. "These parties started in small bars and grew into selling out at Elsewhere every single time."
Each has its own unique flavor; for instance, "Dick Appointment always has the baddies," Camilo says, while emphasizing the power of inclusivity and making room for those left out of the conversation. "There is a stronger sense of community in the underground nightlife scene and it genuinely centers queer POC," he continues. "We are all creatives here and we always find a way to include each other in creating these spaces. I feel fortunate that my photography has been supported in nightlife throughout the years and I have photographed amazing parties by organizers that have gone on to become amazing friends of mine."
Even when things don't go according to plan, New York nightlife's ingenuity and emphasis on community shines through. "The most surprising moments in nightlife are when there are technical difficulties and you see everyone come together with the purpose of just wanting to have a good time, with or without the lights and music," Camilo says. "I photographed a party at 3 Dollar Bill once where Malibu Miitch was set to perform on the main stage. Right before she went on, the speakers cut off and there was no sound. The performance was moved to the bar area and she performed on a small platform. Everyone was living. Moments like this are humbling and encouraging."
Where previous eras of NYC nightlife may have centered on Warholian fascinations with excess and fame or rebelling against authority, today's chapter seems more about grassroots camaraderie than ever before. Amidst all the DJ sets, sweaty dancefloors, cigarettes shared outside and drunken make out sessions is an inward focus to foster a sense of togetherness and celebrate the basic human thrills that nightlife brings out. "My wildest nights are those I don’t remember," Camilo admits.
It's the Telfar bags, home brewed Doja Cat and SOPHIE bootlegs; it's the astrology-themed cocktails at Mood Ring; it's those nights you come home "smelling like an ashtray," as Camilo says, that give New York nightlife its spice. At the city's core remains that counterculture torch, rejecting internet isolation in favor of an IRL orgy of bodies, all of which keep Camilo's camera busy. "When I am documenting nightlife, my goal is always to capture those real and candid moments," he says. "I aim for raw and sincere."
Photography: Julian Camilo
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