Photos from Daniel Leinweber for Razberry Photography/Taken
I am cramped in a stiflingly hot bus, jammed next to a couple whose sweaty limbs are locked with mine. A man in a gas masks glowers at me from the front of the bus, and I have no idea where I'm going. The windows are covered in paper, but the humidity is causing the tape to slide, so I get glimpses of the cityscape outside. I'm guessing we're somewhere in downtown Brooklyn. And I'm hoping we get off sometime soon, since a claustrophobic anxiety is building up in my chest, and I'm seconds away from a full-blown panic attack.
But this is my fault. I signed up for this, along with three hundred or so other people, who've each paid around $90 for this experience. We're all participants in Hot Since 82's "Taken," a one-off event that the British DJ (given name Daley Padley)brought to New York for the first time last weekend after previous editions have landed in London, Snowbombing festival in Austria, and Los Angeles.
The concept is applaudably out-of-the-box: kidnap an exclusive group of fans, blindfold them and bring them to an undisclosed location, and deposit them at a rave where Padley DJs into the wee hours. As Padley's manager Jason Drummond puts it, the experience is like "secret cinema and immersive theater, mixed with elements of rave." Think: Sleep No More meets the late-80s Sunrise raves. In practice, a few missteps prevented the ambitious event from meeting its full potential in New York.
The logistical hiccups begin at the beginning of the night, when I show up to a meeting point in Midtown and find a crowd stretching down the block. Apparently, you have to wait in line to get kidnapped. Goons in ski and gas masks prowl back and forth, jumping out at girls who would squeal in delighted fear. A palpable sense of excitement and anticipation pulse through the air. But 45 minutes later, when the line hasn't budged an inch, the energy starts to plummet. Everyone around me looks bored and tired. Someone shouts: "When do I get to take some moooolly?"
Finally, almost an hour later, I'm loaded into a school bus and given a "Taken"-branded blindfold. The bus windows are also covered up to prevent you from being able to pinpoint where you were going—a nice touch, but one that is kind of subverted by the fact that many people start whipping out their phones to track their GPS locations. This is the problem with secretive events in the 21st century: a sense of mystery is too-easily shattered by the omnipresence of technology. Later, when I talk to Padley about this loophole, he admits that he didn't want to take away people's phones because the event is ultimately about having fun. "I'm hoping no one used the GPS on their phone. Do a lot of them know exactly where they are? I wouldn't imagine so," he says. I'm not sure if that's really the case.
As we find ourselves stuck in traffic and the bus ride stretches into the 30-minute mark, the premise starts to break down. Sweaty and antsy people start peeling off their blindfolds—followed by their shirts. "Let's play 'who's in my mouth!'" yells a guy in the back. The couple next to me starts texting their friends in an earlier bus, asking how much longer this bus ride is going to last. Even our kidnappers have given up enforcing the "blindfolds-on" rule. Finally, we arrive at our destination, and I'm disappointed to recognize it as The Bell House, an established bar and music venue in Gowanus, Brooklyn. (I'm told that the venue they'd originally lined up was cooler, but it fell through at the last minute.)
Other Taken events have been more exotic: the one at Snowbombing festival involved riding a bus into the mountains, meeting up with guys in ski masks holding lanterns, and trekking up to a log cabin for a rave. In comparison, a glorified bar just doesn't cut it—even if the glowing red lights, billows of fog, and tattered nets dripping from the ceiling did make for a rather mysterious atmosphere. When Hot Since 82's silhouette appeared on stage, however, everything was forgiven, as the DJ dropped into a crowd-pleasing mix of deep house and techno—showcasing all the brooding chords, thick basslines, and Ibiza-worthy anthems that have earned him spots on labels like Defected and Get Physical.
Backstage, Padley tells me that he was inspired to throw "Taken" after feeling that no one was doing anything particularly novel in the European club scene. "I've always wanted to throw my own party. But everyone's doing the same thing," he says. "Especially in the UK and London, everyone's doing the same thing with the same old DJs in the same old venues." I ask him what he thinks of Seth Troxler's "Acid Future," a similarly nostalgic party that will take place in East London's Tobacco Dock, and pays homage to late-80s acid house culture.
"I'll be honest, I'm pretty focused on what we're doing as a brand," he replies. "I've never looked to what everyone else is doing—I follow my own heart and let my creativity lead the way." He remains convinced that what he's doing is something really special—and despite the event's rough start, I remain impressed with his attempt to break out of the club mould. "We want people to be on their tiptoes, and get their adrenaline rushing a bit," he says. "You're blindfolded on a blacked out bus going to a rave. That in itself is... genius!"
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