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THUMP's Guide to Throwing an Illegal Warehouse Party

We mined some DIY warehouse party veterans for tips on how to host a legendary underground (illegal) event.
May 7, 2014, 8:30pm

In every major city, DIY party scenes  are under constant threat of shut-down. Between the authorities who want to ban unregulated and raucous events, neighbors who can't stand the noise, and official nightlife establishments that can't take the competition, there are a lot of powerful enemies out there.In an effort to breathe some life into grimy (and often unauthorized) spots around the world, we reached out to a few warehouse veterans who have years of experience throwing epic parties in industrial hangars in Brooklyn, roomy lofts in San Francisco, and abandoned storage spaces in LA. Though our sources preferred to remain anonymous, they still hooked up plenty of tips and tricks of the trade, and the result is THUMP's handy guide to throwing your own legendary bash at whatever venue you have on hand.

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1. Develop your brand.

Double denim rave. Photo courtesy of Mark Durban.

Before you start setting a date and posting flyers, you'll need to come up with a name for your party and/or the "venue" you're working with. It helps to have an angle in mind when you're developing your series, so start thinking about what might make your events unique. Take, for example, Richie Hawtin's legendary warehouse parties, which are notorious for their dark and minimal aesthetic. It also helps to come up with specific themes for each individual party which helps to draw non-music nerds, so brainstorm costume schticks or special occassions like little-known holidays (Purim-rave anybody?). It can really lighten the vibe to attract people who are more interested in a good time than "cool" house and techno. If you're playing good music, the heads and normal people alike will stay

2. Have an open bar.

Instead of charging people for drinks, the experts claim it'll behoove your party's vibe to charge a flat rate at the door and allow your guests to drink as much as they like. Don't waste your money on fancy juices or expensive energy drinks, because you'll end up with a surplus at the end of the night at a financial loss for you and your crew. Instead, stick to the basics and stock whiskey, vodka, beer, and a few sodas or mixers. An open bar will encourage people to invite their friends, especially if your door price is fair—the veterans suggest a fee of $10-20.

3. or, BYOB.

This is an even more simple way to run your bar. Plus, if the authorities bust your gig, you won't be liable for operating without a liquor license. However, the downside is that it kills the vibe a little bit. Most people won't bring enough booze to them as wasted as possible, and so they'll want to leave your party and find some more. Make sure there's a 24-hour convenience store within walking distance (with a bribeable clerk to sell to you after last call).

4. Build a mystery.

Less is more. Although it seems like paper flyers won't work in the age of the Facebook event page, the masters assured us that analog means of communication are still highly effective. Don't print all the event details on your flyers, lest one get into the wrong hands—stick to the essentials: the name of the party, a reference to the theme of the night, the date, and perhaps your DIY club's logo. While official events include as much information as possible, building a mystery around your underground soirée will set you apart. Wait to release the exact location of the party until the day of, and make your guests contact you (email, Twitter DM, voicemail on a dedicated phone line) to get it.

5. RSVPs only.

Our sources' key piece of advice was as follows: exclusivity is the key to cool. A glance at the history of club culture from Studio 54 to the Hacienda to Berghain validates their insight. Celebrated nightlife institutions became highly coveted because their strict door policies, making clubgoers feel special. Of course, the DIY warehouse party falls more in line with a come-one, come-all egalitarian tradition, but requiring guests to RSVP still has its benefits. It will not only give you a good idea of how many people you can expect, but you can tell the bozos who show up last minute that they're out of luck (or charge them extra to enter). More importantly, you can stealthily build a decent list of VIPs to blast with info about your next rager.

6. No lingering allowed.

People hanging out in front of your unlicensed building can attract authorities and incite noise complaints from the neighbors. Accordingly, you might want to consider instituting a strict no-reentry policy. If you have access to a balcony or roof, that's great, because it provides a place for partiers to get some fresh air or have a smoke without leaving them vulnerable to the cops who could try to cite or even arrest people as soon as they leave your illegal party.

7. Pay your staff.

You may need people to staff the door, tend the bar, or even keep an eye on your sound system—and it's best not to rely on pro bono work from your friends. If you're not paying your staff, they're that much more likely to drop acid and wander off, leaving the door (and possibly the cash box) unattended. It's not glamorous, but you might need some brave people to help you clean up, both during the party and afterwards. Tip jars can help rake in some extra income for the bar staff, but be a buddy and pay them a flat rate at the end of the night as well. If the cops do show up, you'll be happy you had someone outside to distract them and someone inside to turn the volume down. In most jurisdictions, the police won't be able to search your venue without probable cause or a warrant—and although they COULD wake up a judge in the middle of the night to get one, they won't.

8. Keep your toilets CLEAN.

Again, you're gonna need paid laborers—because someone's gonna have to clean the bathrooms, and they're not going to do it for free. It's a good idea to block off the stalls/bathrooms a few times throughout the night to clean up the mess that has accumulated and fix any clogs before they get really grim. You don't want to wait to tidy up at the end of the night when all the potties are overflowing with vomit, piss, and toilet paper, so do a few quick cleans every few hours.

9. Build a core team of DJs.

Since your DIY warehouse party probably won't have the budget to hire name-brand DJs right away, you'll need to create a solid group of residents. Ideally, they'll be friends of yours and intimately involved in throwing and promoting the event as well. Even though they won't be the draw, your residents will help to make all aspects of the party really cool, not just the music. Some promoters advise that you keep your team small—maybe just two or three DJs—because a high rotation of DJs can encourage guests to leave, wheras having long sets will add a marathon-like dimension to your event, bolstering its credibility and retaining your crowd.

10. Infrequency is key.

Word about a really sick underground party will spread quickly, but the buzz will burn out on it if it happens too often. Even the people involved in throwing the party will get worn out if hosting it starts to feel like a job. You need time to unwind after a big event, more time to think of a genuinely cool concept for the next one, and a solid month for promotion. Infrequency also makes your party special. Your event exists to break the monotony of all the boring, official club events that happen every weekend. Just make sure it doesn't become one of them.