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My Dreams of Populist Clubbing in Manhattan Died on Flash Factory's Dance Floor

New York's newest night spot didn't live up to the hype that it was a club for everyone.
All photos courtesy of Jon Sevik.

My hopes for Flash Factory were shattered when I saw the fifth person bug Tiga on stage this past Friday. It was opening night at Manhattan's newest club spot, and some 60 people were gathered around a cluster of VIP tables behind the DJ booth, rubbing shoulders with the performers and pestering them to take selfies. The previous week, I'd read an article in the New York Times billing Flash Factory as a venue looking to take a populist approach to Manhattan clubbing. I'd imagined it to be a sort of club for the people—a venue where the focus was on dancing rather than being seen—so the sight of VIP tables right behind the DJ booth and in full view of the crowd just didn't sit right with me.

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Flash Factory was supposed to open a weekend earlier, but Winter Storm Jonas had forced the venue to cancel its first party, featuring Bronx duo The Martinez Brothers as headliners. The club's owner, Michael Satsky, isn't new to the New York club scene, having run the highly exclusive, celebrity-driven, Provocateur club at the Gansevoort Hotel for years. At a time when clubs on the island are struggling to compete with warehouse parties in the outer boroughs, he told the Times he spent over $7 million on Flash Factory, hoping to convince the ballooning techno crowds flocking to Brooklyn to take a chance on Manhattan.

I arrived at 1AM to see three separate lines outside of the club: one for bottle service, one for ticket holders, and one for the guest list. While the bookings for Michael Satsky's community driven, festival-inspired club might make it look more in line with the clubs across the East River (Tiga headlined the first night, and Jamie Jones, Cirez D and Dennis Ferrer are all slated to play future dates), its in-your-face VIP section and opulent interiors made it feel more Cielo than Output—and kind of like an unhappy marriage of a bougie Meatpacking bar and an European techno behemoth. I tried to go out for a cigarette to soothe my disappointment, only to find there wasn't a smoking area, which led to people lightening up wherever they pleased.

What Flash Factory does have over many of the other mega clubs in Manhattan, however, is its expertly designed dance floor. Walking into the space was truly breathtaking. For a begrudgingly confirmed Catholic like myself, the stained glass throughout the venue was also an impressive touch. A magnificent chandelier and large, Medieval-looking clock made for a ecclesiastic vibe I hadn't really encountered before in Manhattan nightlife.

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The bottle service booths surrounding the outer edge of the dance floor weren't in themselves offensive—if the VIP section were restricted to just these booths, you could enjoy the club without feeling as though bottle service were the club's main focus. But the addition of the large section behind the booth for VIPs tipped things over the edge—you couldn't look at the DJ without being reminded of it.

Of course, bottle service and underground club music aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Exchange in Los Angeles and Verboten in Brooklyn both offer bottle service without the classism attached—off to the side and out of the way. Both venues allow for just enough space for VIPs to feel Very Important while leaving the main area open for those who bought the standard tickets. Whereas at Flash Factory, the VIP tables were literally center stage.

That said, the 130db custom sound system by Divine Lab gave Output's Funktion-One a run for its money. Hearing Tiga play Spank Rock's "Gully" through these speakers was fucking mental. He went on to roll through hits like The Martinez Brothers remix of Green Velvet's "Bigger Than Prince," the Eats Everything recut of the Tiga and Audion track "Let's Go Dancing," Ghettoblaster's "Back That Ass Up," and Tiga's recent Hudson Mohawke collab, "E Planet." All in all, it was a night of well-curated floor-fillers.

Though the turnout left something to be desired—perhaps due to the storm, the room during Tiga's 2am set was only half-full—the clientele reflected a refreshingly broad cross-section of New York demographics; it's always tight when you see a drag queen twerking next to a stockbroker who just got off work. The bathroom and bar situations are also well thought-out. Multiple bars spread across an L-shaped room made getting a drink an easy task, and the bathrooms were far enough away from the dance floor not to interfere with its flow.

Flash Factory has a long way to go if it wants to win back customers from Brooklyn. But with a sound system like that and promising future bookings, it's hard to not see Flash Factory becoming a staple in the New York City clubbing scene. What that says about the direction New York club culture is taking, though, is maybe another story.

Kevin Camps is a writer based in Brooklyn who is uninterested in your Tropical House Night. @kpcamps