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With the inauguration drawn behind us like an iron curtain, the banal weight of fascism has begun bearing down on our generation. The symptoms range from explicit attacks—anonymous alt-right trolls trying to close down alternative venues—to a creeping sense that our perilous future has rendered creative endeavors futile. Why bother making anything when global warming or lack of healthcare or militarized police or white supremacists will probably destroy society first? The temptation to give up is understandable, but in reality it won't help you or anyone else get through the next four years. Parties will, though.
It might sound corny, but partying really is a form of resistance. It confirms the liberal values that make a free society worth fighting for: freedom of expression, tolerance, and inclusivity. Great parties require putting these lofty ideals into action. That's why parties are targeted by repressive forces—look no further than the attacks on clubs in Orlando and Istanbul, and the politicized crackdowns on queer events in New York and beyond. The best parties piss the right people off. That's not to say that parties alone can solve anything. But at their best, parties can demonstrate what an ideal society might look like, and offer a brief reprieve from crushing reality. They can help provide the motivation and inspiration we'll need to keep the real fight alive.
As affordable legal venues face closures in major cities around the world, promoters are increasingly turning back to the format that birthed electronic music—warehouse raves. Below, we've compiled a list of practical tips from pros with decades of experience in throwing events on both sides of the law. These include Sophia Saze of Brooklyn techno institution Dusk & Haze, Ric Leichtung of AdHoc, and several others who chose to remain anonymous. Read on for handy advice on everything from serving alcohol, dealing with cops, maintaining fire safety, and more.
How to find a venue:
Ric Leichtung: "If you see a cool building, look inside and find someone who looks like they could be in charge and talk to them. Be friendly and transparent about what you're looking to do with the space. They'll likely say no so asking if they have any friends who have extra space is always a good idea."
Sophia Saze: "Scope out new parties, delve into unused locations, the weirder the better. NY thrives on real estate and there's always at least one fitting landlord out there who wants to make a quick buck. With all the warehouse venues getting shut down, Dusk & Haze has some obscure locations planned for 2017."
Anonymous: "Find a dormant spot with a big back room. In this case it's likely to be legal which proactively circumnavigates a lot of potential snafus. Dive bars, restaurants, party rentals, etc…"
How to promote a party under the radar:
Leichtung: "Get to know the names and faces of people that go to your party and develop a friends-only email list or text list that will keep out the randos and party ruiners."
Saze: "Word of mouth is by far the most effective. Invite the right people and everyone else will come."
Anonymous: "Text only."
How to not lose money on a show:
Saze: "Over time you develop a formula and the numbers start making sense, but even then, there's always a risk. our last event was on track to be profitable, but then we got shut down for noise complaints, and in the blink of any eye, we were suddenly in the red with losses."
Anonymous: "Firstly, don't work through people's agents. YEAH, I SAID IT! Find someone who is down with the artist, have them intro you, get them down for the cause, and make it clear that if you get shut down it may jeopardize agreed upon guarantees. People who aren't down with the possible casualties of DIY shouldn't be trying to make money off the people who are willing to take the risk, fuck outta here with that! The artist then intros you with the agent and says that they want to do it for the terms you have discussed and they understand the risk, and the agent just handles the paperwork accordingly.
Secondly, establish a strong promotional base—it is a good idea to team up multiple presenters, hosts are a good idea, and you need a synergistic bill where the support is extra excited to play with the headliner so that they try to get everyone they have ever met to come. Hold all artists accountable to promoting; have someone check all involved parties socials every day to be sure people are promoting, and if they aren't promoting, follow up."
How to keep your party safe:
Anonymous: "I've often filled the position of technical director on massive, multi-million dollar events and a big part of that job is compliance and safety.
1. Venues must have at least 2 egresses—not on the same side of the building—and overall capacity of the space must never exceed 125 persons per exit. Actual FDNY and DOB numbers per egress are more stringent and are contingent on the width of the egress as well as travel distances from the farthest reach of the venue to the egress, but 125 per egress is a good rule of thumb for regularly-sized doors.
2. Every room MUST HAVE a functioning fire exit sign replete with emergency flood lights.
3. Every 25 linear feet throughout the space there must be an emergency flood light unit.
4. Every room that has only one exit MUST HAVE a fire extinguisher hung on the wall (or on a stand) with a fire extinguisher sign pointing to it; we go a step further and point a wireless, battery-charged spot light upon fire extinguishers so as to etch the location of every unit into the party-goers' minds, and provide a visual aid/path to the unit should the lighting in the space fail.
5. Door staff, security, and bar staff should obtain NYC Fire Guard Certification; it's an incredibly affordable way to educate your staff on how to act in case of emergencies.
6. All doors between rooms inside the space must be fixed in an open position.
7. All egress doors must swing outwards, not inwards, and be fixed in an open position or made impossible to be locked.
8. No combustable, flammable items should be left inside the venue: wood, curtains, paper—anything that can catch fire should be removed or treated with fire-retardant paint or spray. If you must use curtains, use fire-retardant duvetyne
9. One serious recurring mistake underground promoters continue to make is being inattentive to proper ventilation. It's rare for underground venues to have central air conditioning, and when big groups of people get together in small spaces, heat and hot air can do serious damage to your guests' lungs and oft-dehydrated brains. Invest in some fans—move air around.
Ultimately, all of these are just cost issues, and I can't say it enough:
- DON'T BE A CHEAP BASTARD. LOVE THY GUESTS.
- PROTECT THEM, MAKE THEM COMFORTABLE AND SAFE"
How to serve alcohol:
Leichtung: "Don't overdue it. Overestimating your party and getting too many varieties of alcohol is the easiest mistake to make. Just keep it to one or two cans of beer, maybe three bottles at the most, plus your basic mixers and liquors. Your staff will resent you for over-ordering and making them load cases of beer into an Uber at sunrise."
Saze: "In the current environment, why bother trying to sell liquor under the radar? The margins aren't worth enough to take that risk."
Anonymous: "If you don't have a temp permit, or a proper license, it is illegal to have alcohol unless you are in a residence that is ZONED as a residence. Having BYOB is no more legal than having a cash bar, so you might as well sell. Develop a tight system of communication for notification of bar staff if cops come—first thing, hide the money, except for the tip jar—leave that out. The line is, "Drinks are free, bartenders are working for tips, it's a private party." Same for the door: hide the money, show cops the will call list, and tell them it's invited guests with RSVP only. If you do this effectively, they MIGHT let you go; operative word is MIGHT! Remember, cops can shut you down no matter what if they want to, and they MIGHT!"
How to react if cops show up:
Leichtung: "It's incredibly difficult to operate a pop-up party above the board so if the police come just cooperate. Understand that if they want to nail you they will. The best way to avoid repercussions is to be respectful and transparent. An attitude can absolutely make things worse."
Anonymous: "Run it like it's legal even if it's not and do a professional job of it. If you haven't worked in clubs before, find someone who has and who knows how to do this. First, get legitimate, professional, licensed security, and make sure their licenses are not expired; they should also be fire certified. If you are all ages, have a stamp for show entry, a wrist band to drink, and Xs for under age OR w/ no ID. Its important that people with no ID are not given wrist bands. RUN A TIGHT SIDEWALK. If the cops come thru and your sidewalk looks orderly, and you have professional bonded security whose certifications are up to date, they are probably not coming in. For gods sake, don't let people smoke inside, especially not weed. Honestly you deserve to get shut down if you can't figure out that cops are going to not like that.
If they come, even if they just pull up and sit on you, go up and introduce yourself and talk to them. There is nothing a cop hates more than no one taking responsibility for what is happening. Tell them it's a private party, RSVP only, you have bonded security and everything is in order. Ultimately, cops do want to fight real crime—if you're not that big of a fish to fry they will probably just leave you alone. But give them a reason to get out of the car, and you're basically done. BELIEVE THAT!"
How to respond if someone gets hurt:
Leichtung: "Remember that safety is priority number one. Don't be tempted to prioritize your party over someone else's well-being. Call 911 in the case of an emergency and don't worry about an ambulance outside of your venue. EMTs are not there to shut down your party, but they are there to make sure folks are safe."
Anonymous: "Call a fucking ambulance?! But seriously, the main thing here is to be proactive. Be an adult (sucks) and don't be an idiot. DON'T OVER SERVE PEOPLE! Don't let people do stupid shit like climb on the roof or hang from beams and pipes on the ceiling, that shit is only fun in pictures. If people are over intoxicated on any drug, get them the fuck out of there, pay for the cab, reimburse their money, whatever, but get them out of your club. DO NOT OVER SELL THE ROOM!!! A lot of this can be handled in advance; if you tell all the artists and presenters and hosts the kind of vibe your going for, and the kinds of things you do and don't want to have going on, and you request everyone's assistance in policing that vibe, you will set a tone that people will respect. If you try to take it all on yourself it can easily go off the rails."
How to hire and manage security:
Leichtung: "Try talking to the guards you see regularly at the parties you already go to. The right kind of security is professional but still friendly and approachable. Remember that security is the first face your patrons will see. Be sure that they have their fire guard license and physical proof of insurance. It may not seem like something important but if police come it will come in handy and show that you're running your party safely and responsibly."
Anonymous: "You need to find a real security company. You can go to a club that does legit business and just ask the guards who to contact about booking other guards. Most companies work events ranging from totally illegal to totally legit, so don't feel weird just asking a guard at a legit club for a contact. The key thing is legitimacy, there are lots of folks passing themselves off as guards, who aren't actually legally bonded guards, or whose certifications are not up to date. Make the person you are contracting with promise that everyone is bonded with up-to-date certification, and check the certifications when they arrive. If a cop asks to see that, and the guard does not have it or it is out of date, that can easily be the difference between the cop coming in or not.
If you get an unqualified guard on the night of, hit your contact and tell that person you need them to send another guard; ordinarily they are able to do this. Also, security needs to be managed—you need to have an event plan, a role for everyone, and you need to tell them what to do, and monitor them. Don't let it look loose, there needs to be an organized line not a mob, and guards need to be steadily doing their job. During the peak-time rush, there should be a guard checking bags (DO THIS!), a guard checking IDs, and a guard wristbanding and Xing people, two people at the door—one for list and one for cash—and a floor manager watching over the whole operation. Your event needs to look tight and professional; if a cop rolls bye and it's bad news bears out there, you're finished."