Michele Saunders, The Rapture’s Luke Jenner, and more recall the parties, anxieties, and lessons learned on the eve of the new millennium.
One of the most commonly used tags on the Gen Z-dominated clothing reseller Depop is “Y2K,” a reference to a cultural phenomenon that happened while its users were in their infancy. Nostalgia for the early aughts seems appropriate for a generation who never knew a world without Instagram. As the first two decades of the new millennium come to a close, Document has asked our friends and contributors to think back to the time before camera phones and social media to the very night of the computer glitch that never happened, for which a clothing genre has been named. There were raging celebrations, artistic reckonings, and a cocktail of anxiety, loneliness, and personal renewal—but no sign of technological Armageddon.
“We had a damn good party that night, so wild it would take another two years to fully understand what happened. We would never try to party like that again. I’m still not sure who was there or what I was doing past 2AM at a brownstone on South Portland Ave in Brooklyn. I blacked out that night, so my first memory of the new millennium is standing on the roof, watching the sunrise. Someone went out and found a New York Times, and we all stared at it to see if everything was ok. The paper’s 96pt headline simply displayed the date: 1/1/00. A bit reassuring but also kind of terrifying. No social media, no texting. Maybe that’s the last memory I have of a major event before 9/11.
Twenty years later, I’m looking at that same front page again, Google search results in my Google browser, just to see if this image beamed to me from the past might trigger anything else. I see that it was unusually warm that day, sunny, high 50, in NYC. The price of the paper was 75 cents. Yeltsin resigned; Putin took power. Revelers in Times Square. Everything was okay, on paper. I’m trying to find myself back there on the roof, at 31 years old, and it’s dim. I can barely see.
Farther down the page, the headline ‘Computers Prevail in First Hours of ’00’ seems to mock us now. They’re still prevailing, aren’t they. A few paragraphs in: ‘… the day arrived without the kind of catastrophic problems once feared, of widespread power failures or planes crashing.’ So much clarity, so little vision of the terrible future(s) we were inheriting in the moment. I’m thinking of everything that’s become visible in the last twenty years, unfathomable headlines and suffering and complexity. The 1/1/00 New York Times is an odd artifact now, the first souvenir of this millennium but really a leftover joke from the last. In comparison, we have so much vision today. What do we have the capacity to see right now?”
“My memory is definitely a bit spotty when it comes to recalling any news stories of this time. I was so caught up in living life as a young person in New York. The news, good or bad, never phased me. I think I lived in my own kind of downtown bubble. I had just started DJing that year and was fully immersed in nightlife. I was very focused on making it my career at this point in time and at times the outside world barely existed.
No one I knew believed the world would change or end. I certainly thought it was a bit of a technological hoax made up to instill fear in the hearts of impressionable people. Maybe it was our age, being so young, but I and my group of friends went about our usual daily routine of living and NOT preparing for the worst.
I went to Barmacy with a girlfriend to hear one of my favorite soul DJs (Georgie Goodtimes) and then jumped in a cab to Brooklyn for a very small house party. A guy I had just started to date was DJing in his parent’s living room. [January 1, 2000 felt] like any other wonderful morning in New York. Great!”
“I remember a lot of media fear around Y2K of major meltdowns, but I did not participate and was not taken by it. The build up for me was more around the momentum of a new millennium—I remember wondering how civilizations celebrated the new millennium one thousand years ago and how they will be in a thousand years from now. At the time, I lived in South Beach, Miami in an apartment right on the beach on Ocean Drive. I always referred to it as my ‘beach cabana.’ That night, a lot of people were gathered at the beach and were throwing flowers into the ocean, making wishes. Many people were from Brazil or different South American countries. They were all having fires and dancing and storytelling right there on the beach. The beach was magical; everyone stayed out the celebrate all night.
I slept on my balcony and woke up to ensure I would see the first daybreak of 2000; the first light came around 5am. I was obsessed with the idea that I needed to catch that first gleam of light in the new millennium, and I got it. It was the purest light, rising from the ocean, illuminating all of Miami. That was my mission. It was a gorgeous sunrise. And that was exactly how I wanted to ring in the new millennium.”
“Well our band is called The Rapture, so there were a lot of Rapture jokes. We even considered playing at a Mayan pyramid or something. If we would have had social media we could have had a field day.
I guess my general level of anxiety and depression was way higher then. I probably didn’t actually think the world would end. You can tell someone’s general emotional health by asking them what they think the state of the world is. If they answer it’s totally messed up and we are all going to hell, they are generally talking about how they feel day to day without really knowing it.
[On New Year’s Eve,] I went to Times Square with my friend Zach who was The Rapture roadie, and we almost got trampled by a horse. I hadn’t met my wife yet, but I was trying to dream her up, and I felt really lonely. I guess all I wanted for Christmas and New Years my whole life was for someone to love me and stick by me. I’m glad that came true. [The next morning] I was kinda disappointed I wasn’t dead and probably went about my dream of being famous all the same.”
“In late 1998 I received a commission to produce what became the first version of the Human Race Machine for the London Millennium Dome, London’s rather bizarre homage to the turn of the century. The idea to show viewers what they’d look like as a different race was a collaboration with Zaha Hadid, who had been selected as the architect of the Dome’s gigantic “Mind Zone.” The grand opening was scheduled to premiere January 1st, 2000, or Y2K zero hour.
It wasn’t so much that I was concerned about the possible end of the world, but I certainly had friends who were experiencing visions of mankind’s doom beginning at midnight that New Year’s Eve. By early December ’99, we were just finishing up the work when Zaha’s office invited us to the “soft” opening of the Dome in late December. My feeling was to avoid being in London for the actual Dome opening on New Year’s Day. Better to go sooner and focus on perfecting the installation itself rather than to add more angst to the general unease that permeated conversations. And besides, I wanted to meet the legendary Zaha and knew that would never happen at the grand opening.
My son (age 10 years) and I traveled to London, and after two days of testing to assure hardware/software compatibility and camera angles in alignment with monitors, the displays were complete. The massive amounts of exposed electrical wiring had magically disappeared into discreet hiding places under the flooring.
Meeting Zaha felt as surreal as the Dome itself. What she had already achieved in the form of architecture served as a role model for all of us doing our best to make it in the new, emerging fields of technology dominated by maleness. All I remember saying was thank you.
Back in NYC, friends alarmed by Y2K were still certain there would be plenty of trouble in major cities at New Year’s. I took my son to Texas where one friend owned a retreat center. Together, we were a cheerful gathering, focusing on hope for a peaceful transition to the year 2000. Looking back, maybe that was our training ground for all the prayers we’re still sending today.”
Eva and Franco Mattes
“I will always remember the date December 31, 1999 because it was my very first suicide. My second suicide would have been about 10 years later, in 2010, when I pretended to hang myself in front of a webcam, in our studio in Brooklyn, and filmed viewers’ reactions. We called the work ‘No Fun.’
But back in 1999 we were living in Bologna, Italy, and we were not Eva & Franco Mattes yet. We were called ‘Luther Blissett’: a multiple-use name, an ‘open pop star,’ informally adopted by hundreds of artists and activists all over Europe. The pseudonym first appeared in Bologna in 1994, when a number of individuals began using it to stage a series of urban and media pranks and to experiment with new forms of authorship and identity.
But after having ‘been’ Luther Blissett for five years, all the people who had launched the project decided to discontinue usage of the name by committing symbolic ritual suicide, or seppuku, the night of December 31, 1999. After that date, none of us ever used the name again. And maybe even more interestingly, none of us claimed what we had done under that identity. All the works had been done by Luther, and Luther committed suicide.
Luther Blissett was so popular that we were given a TV show. We had produced 3 episodes, and the last one was about Y2K. It was a very well produced, absolutely believable piece of TV news where we basically spread Y2K paranoia, with computer scientists and economics experts predicting how the bug would create a catastrophe of unprecedented scale. We used to call it ‘cultural terrorism’ (consider that 9/11 hadn’t happen yet). Then the show was canceled.
But the strange thing is that I was just trying to reconstruct what happened on that night, and I just can’t, I have no photos, documents, emails or messages to look at, I didn’t even have an agenda, let alone mobile phone and social media. It’s probably the last New Year’s day that got undocumented, and will only live in people’s memories…”