The New York City nightlife scene is often depicted as a cutthroat world of intense competition and bitter rivalries. But as word has spread about the untimely death from a heart-related illness of super-promoter Rob Fernandez on July 10, there has been a universal outpouring of love for a man who managed to balance a passion for music with a warmth that belies that reputation.
In the early 90s, Fernandez became one of the earliest exponents to bring house music to New York. He began as a doorman at Sound Factory Bar—the legendary club where, every Friday night, Frankie Knuckles and Little Louie Vega were resident DJs.
He soon broke into his own, and Rob Promotions quickly became known for parties that helped foster an underground club scene in contrast to the era's velvet-rope megaclubs. Fernandez's events also introduced a new generation of DJs, including Subliminal Sessions' Erick Morillo and Be Yourself's Danny Tenaglia. At Cielo, a tiny club with an exquisite sound system, he gave top names like David Guetta and Paul Oakenfold a chance to get back to their roots by playing for a musically savvy crowd in an intimate environment.
Fernandez's reputation opened up gigs at the city's major clubs, including the original Sound Factory, Twilo, Limelight and Palladium. But it was Pacha where he found his true home. He began a year before the Ibiza-based club opened its New York outpost, and served as director of promotions and bookings for ten years. He also joined forced with Pacha's Eddie Dean to form RPM Presents, which put together events at Governors Island, Pier 92, Central Park, MetLife Stadium, Citifield, Radio City and various warehouses.
On July 10, 2015, later that same evening, an outsized banner hung outside Pacha that read "House of Rob. But it was only the most visible tribute to a universally loved and respected member of the dance-music community.
Here's what DJs, promoters and friends have to say:
"Years ago I remember sitting at Cielo one night with Rob and he was telling me, 'Benny it doesn't matter that this is a small club! You have to promote like you're trying to fill Yankee Stadium!'
All of a sudden, I realized how totally crazy he was. And how right he was. Rob gave new meaning to the word 'work.' He was relentless. Unstoppable. He was always moving. Always ahead. We would have a great night and he would burst my bubble, 'Yeah but what are we doing about next week! We're headed for a bloodbath!' I'd get totally freaked out and then he'd say, "Wanna go to the diner?"
Another time I was having some health issues and I was freaking out. My doctor ordered a colonoscopy. Rob took the opportunity to promote a whole party around that! He had his designer Andrew make a hilarious short movie. It was a trip through my colon. There were DJ friends making cameos, parties, bats flying around! Even my son appeared dancing around! On the flyer he put 'Benny Soto's Colonoscopy on the big screen!' --Benny Soto, Dance.Here.Now.
"It's really hard to put into just a few sentences how instrumental Rob was to our career, or how much he meant to those of us who knew him. He gave two young teenage nobodies their first-ever headlining slot In NYC, the first of the countless that were to follow—and that fact rings true for many a DJ. But what I think we will miss all Rob more for will be his genuine spirit, the laughs, the jokes and the really good times that he brought to us and countless others. It's a really hard blow for NYC and it won't be the same without him." -- The Martinez Brothers
"I knew Rob for many years and I long ago lost count of the number of times I played at parties he threw. It's hard to imagine I won't do so again. Always quick with his ready grin and his warm personality, when you were talking to him, he had that rare ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. Rob was as genuine a guy as they come.
He spent his life introducing new and inventive ideas and sounds to one of the greatest club scenes in the world and was effortlessly creative at whatever he was throwing his boundless energy behind. His passing is a loss that can't be measured and will cast a shadow hard to lift. New York's clubland will be that much emptier a place without him." -- Paul van Dyk
"I think the big thing we'll miss about Rob is that he always had a smile on his face and was happy to see you. For the many years I've known him, he has always been an important part of club culture behind the scenes, where the real work is done. My condolences to his family and friends." --Paul Oakenfold
"I met him at the original Sound Factory Bar in '91. He always had a good ear for music and programming. He loved house. He was a disciple of Frankie Knuckles. When Frankie passed away, he was very upset." -- Jason McCarthy, long-time club manager
"Rob was not just a promoter. He was different, one of the good guys in the biz. He was everywhere in NYC, he attended every party, not just his own.The guy with the biggest smile and a friend. He used to say, 'The party won't stop.' It won't." – Loco Dice
"Rob Fernandez was one of few people in this industry who was able to navigate the daily BS with a smile in his face. He had the touch of gold, and could turn any frown upside down. The world is a better place for him having lived on it. I will forever visualize his one of a kind smile, and hope to channel his positive energy as I move forward." -- Lee Anderson, AM Only
"I remember Rob Fernandez as being the most 'hands on' promoter I knew since I moved into Chelsea in the early 90s. If I'd be at The Big Cup coffee shop, he was outside. If I went to any of his events as patron, he was a gentleman with a youthful and charismatic charm for everyone. Even if he was telling us all to wait, it was cool.
He helped every step of the way when I wanted to throw a party during Pride at Pacha. It was work. It was NYC. And it's not a walk through the park during such a competitive time of year. But he never made himself unavailable to us. That's how I've known him since I was a kid. -- Tony Moran
"Rob was a star and one of a kind. It was impossible not to be touched by his presence and personality. To me, he was the epitome of House music and all the positiveness that comes with. He was kind, inclusive, supportive, uplifting and so easily lovable." -- Ash Pournouri, At Night Management
"The way Rob would glad-hand everybody at the party, you'd think he was running for office. We often joked, 'Rob Fernandez For President!' He was our fearless leader and nightlife visionary.
He was the consummate party host with the kind of charisma that made you feel like a VIP every time. He worked tirelessly day and night because you were only as good as your last event and even then, you were always promoting the next one. He had a seemingly endless supply of catchy party concepts and clever flyer designs that succeeded in bringing all walks of people together on the dancefloor.
He was the ultimate DJ-maker and launched countless careers here in NYC; the city he loved, the city he built, and the city that loves him back. A million tributes wouldn't be enough to celebrate his legacy. His legacy is on the dancefloor and under every disco ball. Every time I hear a beat or walk into a party, he'll always be in my heart. I've already told him this many times to his face, but now I want the world to know: Rob Fernandez, you're my hero!" -- Betty Kang, Plexi PR
"He was the first promoter that believed in me and gave me my first show in NYC back in 2010. He had given so many new artists that opportunity for many years in the city before me, I felt privileged to have that opportunity.
I will never forget the little walk from the hotel to Pacha where we would talk about the industry and about life in general. Rob was definitely one of the good guys in this world, kind, his smile would light up any room, loyal, with morals and principles and he set an example for many." -- Chuckie
"I have known Rob for many years now. He has always been a real gentleman and an absolute honor to know. We always met up in cities all over the world, but he always reminded me of New York. He will be massively missed not just by his hometown but from everybody within our industry, an industry that he loved and loved him back." -- Danny Whittle, IBZ Entertainment
"He introduced New York City to me and supported me from day one. When I think of Rob, all I see is a big smile. He was one of the nicest human beings I've ever known, and it breaks my heart knowing i will never see him again in this life." -- Eddie Dean, Pacha & RPM Presents
"Rob Fernandez was a superb meteor, every atom of him a magnificent glow. He let his light shine and unconsciously brought the light out in others; smiles and laughter followed him everywhere. He believed in people and gave many of us an opportunity to live our dreams. I'm grateful and proud to have called him a friend, though he was much more, he was a 'once-in-a-lifetime' person." -- Mac Clark, CAA
"Rob, we ll miss that golden smile under that baseball cap. Thank you so much for all the great times and opportunities." -- Laidback Luke
"Rob was one of the rare guys in the scene who embraced the true art of the DJ. He represented not only New York City but he represented the best in the U.S. scene. He will truly be missed as he was one of the ones that understood what the scene represents: past, present and future." --Markus Schulz
"Rob Fernandez was a true visionary and passionate champion of electronic music, club and DJ culture in NYC for over two decades. During that time, he worked almost every significant club. He was a curator a guiding light and a true gent—and he will be sorely missed by the professionals and all on the dancefloor. He left us way too soon." -- Pete Tong
"It was always a pleasure to work with Rob. He was always a gent and very supportive of our scene. It's such a shock and so sad it's happened to someone so young." -- Sasha
"A really sad day for earth but a glorious day for heaven. He'll be missed and never forgotten. Rest in peace my friend! Love from below." -- Steve Angello
"Rob was a great person first and foremost. His personality and presence as a promoter was unique. Rob greeted each of our artists with a warmth and gratitude that made each of them want to continue playing and supporting his events. It was truly impossible not to love the guy after spending five minutes with him. He had such a positive energy with a smile and a laugh that you couldn't help but love." -- Paul Morris, AM Only
"If you grew up in the NYC scene, you knew that every week you would find Rob at 'Be Yourself,' Danny T's legendary weekly party. Anyone who knew or even met Rob quickly found that 'Be Yourself' was more than one of his favorite parties; it was his theme and motto for life, and the principle that made his influence and now his legacy so pervasive in New York City and beyond.
I have never known anyone who celebrated and encouraged originality the way Rob did. He was never one to judge, and only provided positive reinforcement over the years to the diverse group of friends he kept, the variety of business partners he acquired, and especially the artists whose careers he stood by and developed. Originality was also the founding principle of the precedent-setting parties and events he put on, as reflected in the themes, artwork, lineups, and overall feel.
Rob's drive and determination to nurture the city he loved came second nature to him. When most felt defeated after September 11, Rob approached a changed city with positivity and enthusiasm and helped contribute to the healing process. As such, he was so much more than a promoter, he was a man who kept his finger on the pulse of the NYC scene and cared for the city and the music community like family.
New York City's dance music scene would not have the nationwide reputation and influence it currently carries without Rob's constant commitment and enormous contributions to the many generations of fans and numerous reinventions of the scene that he helped create. Rob will be dearly missed, and will always be remembered by the community of friends and music lovers that emerged from his influence." -- Joel Zimmerman, WME
Fernandez is survived by his mother, Sharon; two sisters, Kim and Laurie; an infant son Rian, and Rian's mother, Viviana. The family requests that contributions in Rob's name go to the newly established Rian Fernandez Education Fund.
Friends, colleagues and everyone else will be welcome to a memorial and celebration of Rob Fernandez's life to be held in New York on September 16. Details forthcoming.