In her biweekly column for Document, McKenzie Wark explores what we seek on a night out—and how we often find ourselves wanting more
Nightlife has many functions. It’s 5 a.m.; Jenny and I are in a former brewery in Maspeth for a rave—let’s call it Fluffer—mostly to dance, but the people-watching also has its charms. I like to be close to the sub-bass and feel it through my body, which means I usually head for the front—but Fluffer usually puts the DJ in the middle of the room and the sub-bins up the back, so that’s where we are. There’s two levels of risers back here, which, through the splash of colored light, afford an overview of the main dance floor.
I like to close my eyes and dance, but this morning, I’m too curious. We’re on the higher level of risers, and there’s so much to see. One of the functions of this party is cruising—there’s even a dark room upstairs. The man on the riser below me has his phone out. I can’t imagine a more chaotic place to be on Grindr. He checks the app, scans the crowd, and is off.
A group of three take his spot. I read them as two cis men—one white, one Black—and one white cis woman. She is at the center of the group. From the sheen on their skin, and their compulsion to touch, I gather they’re on molly. The woman smoothes her own thighs, luxuriating in them to the pounding techno. The white guy keeps insisting on her attention. He looks at his watch. He looks toward the exit. He holds her by the back of the neck, like property. She is unmoved. He lets go and wanders off.
She touches the Black man, dancing nearby. He turns to her. I can see his smile. He touches both her hands. She pulls him toward her. They’re dancing in unison, his thigh between hers, his hands on her ass, her hands on his. They kiss. Their hands sculpt the curves and angles of each other’s bodies.
The white guy returns. He looks at the two of them. Twenty beats pass. He wraps himself around the blend of their bodies. This dance of three becomes ungainly. He pulls away, he shouts something in the ear of the woman. She pays no attention. He shouts something in the ear of the other man, who responds. He breaks the embrace. The two men wander off together. The woman is alone, but not really. She embraces the beat, opens her body to it.
Jenny signals that we need water. I also need to pee, so we leave the risers together for a break. After the pit stop, we try a different spot on the dance floor. The lighting at Fluffer is one of its finer features, but we’re not feeling its energy flash this morning. It’s 7 a.m., and there’s an hour more to go, but we decide to leave early for another rave. While waiting for the car, we see the woman, still alone, searching the space, phone pressed to her ear. She doesn’t look happy.
Flocker is a different kind of party that meets different needs. The lighting will be very simple. There’s no dark room. Like Fluffer, it is always at an “undisclosed location”—but it’s always the same, a former clothing showroom in Greenpoint. The DJ lineup is not announced in advance, you just trust they’ll be great. The little flock that gathers for it will mostly be here to just dance.
“I’m not sure how fictional to make this column, in part because our favorite raves like to hide, and I’d like to keep it that way. Anyone can find them if they’re dedicated, but they’re not for tourists.”
We’re among the first to arrive. We rest up on an old sofa in the chill-out space and drink restorative mates. I’m thinking, as I often do at night, about writing. Jenny writes fiction and I don’t. I’m in need of her expertise; I’m not sure how fictional to make this column, in part because our favorite raves like to hide, and I’d like to keep it that way. Anyone can find them if they’re dedicated, but they’re not for tourists. If the column is more fictional, I’m not only able to respect their discretion; I can also turn the people we see into characters. But I don’t really know how to do that.
Jenny advises me: “If you are creating a character, here’s some basic things to ask yourself: What do they want? Do they know they want it? What obstacles confront them? Will they make any effort to overcome them?”
I’m thinking of the woman with those two men in front of us at Fluffer. “If she’s my character, then I’d say she wants to be free to explore and express her sexuality,” I tell Jenny. “She wants to be adored by both those men. The white guy is her boyfriend, and he is possessive. He is anxious about his hold over her. The Black guy and the woman are attracted to each other, but the Black guy does not want to upset his friend. The woman wants to keep the white guy as a boyfriend, while also wanting her freedom, but she doesn’t know how to ask for it. All of this was subtext, until they took molly together and went to Fluffer, where it all came to a head. Nightlife is a place to explore what one wants, but one’s wants can tear through the fabric of daylight life.”
Jenny gives me a little smile, like she is indulging my amateur attempt to write fiction. “Let’s dance,” she says. The beat is picking up as ravers filter in. We weave through to the front, next to the sub-bin. The music is more spacey, hypnotic than the bangers that Fluffer DJs serve. We’re soon in a groove. I do a bump of ketamine. This produces a gauzy, unfocused haze around the perimeter of the senses, but also brings little details into crispness. The beat and my body merge into chthonic sludge while a cluster of pointillist high notes seize all my attention, carving out of the fog and mist.
For a moment, I think I see the woman from up on the risers at Fluffer stalk through the crowd, phone in hand, like she is still looking for something. Maybe that’s a fiction— if it is, I wouldn’t know.