Saturday, June 25

The clubs of New York are back, and with them a sense of community that I had forgotten existed | Larissa Pham

In 2018, upon her return from a trip to China, my roommate gave me a pack of black surgical masks. Attached to the plastic packaging was an explanatory note: RAVE MASKS 🙂

He knew the look: the masks were purely cosmetic for certain ravers; dressed and masked in serious black, passing me at warehouse parties in New York, where I live. But it was hard to measure up, and my rave outfits leaned more toward sweaty efficiency, anyway.

The pack of black surgical masks lived on my dresser, collecting dust. Then the news began to speak of a virus, very contagious, that was spreading. In March 2020, I didn’t head to a rave but to the grocery store, took off the sticky note, opened the plastic packaging, and put a mask on my face.

During the following year, I did not dance. I found other ways to listen to music: I cycled up Bedford Avenue in New York, listening to Aurora Halal on my portable speaker; I drank wine with my boyfriend while we broadcast sets from Hear, a shop window turned radio station in Berlin. I left NTS open on my computer, filling my headphones throughout the day. But he was alone. My body went deeply still. Now, in New York City, the nightclubs are finally open again.

For some, the party never stopped: there were clandestine raves under bridges, in parks, on the beach. But Clubs, indoor spaces, sound systems, bathroom lines, and bar lines are finally making a comeback. And with them there is a sense of community that I had almost forgotten existed.

One rainy night, I catch the train to Ridgewood for my first party in the world turned upside down. Inside, it’s full of people, the energy is palpable. We meet a friend, then another, touch each other’s forearms and clasp hands; We ordered matés with skewers at the bar. He’s a DJ playing all night, promising to take us on a trip; the music is heavy, deep and exuberant.

The sound feels bigger than before, bigger than ever, or maybe I just learned how small my life is without it. Perhaps there is something in me that grew to be adequately prepared to receive it; I had a conversation about this the other night, at another party, about how we had to make room in ourselves for all the space that the reopening fills. Take, maybe.

The night at Ridgewood doesn’t feel like just another night – it feels like a homecoming. I dance alone, facing left, with my eyes closed, letting the music fill me. But, I am not alone. I can feel the crowd around me, the touches of eyes, the body heat, the sweat. Months ago, all the contact would have scared me; Now I have double emptiness, I feel there is less to fear. On the dance floor, the beat suddenly sinks: desperately, boldly muddy, rumbling through my chest, making my nose tingle. The music plummets, thunderous, and we cheer. It reminds me why I love electronic music – it’s not just about the ride, it’s about the company. It’s one thing to follow where a DJ takes you; even better, share it with others.

Wandering around the club, I find that a year of pandemic has made us all grateful. Kinder to each other: no shoving, no shoving. The girls smile at me in the bathroom line and I smile back. I want to compliment everyone’s outfit, I mean, I always did, but now I feel it bodily, like it’s a practice I missed. I find where the toilet paper is stored and replace a missing roll – this, I think, is mutual aid.

And in that spirit, I’m tipping more, remembering the fundraising activities that came about when clubs, bars, and restaurants closed. Suddenly each matte vodka feels like a bulwark against an uncertain future. If we do not reach a certain threshold of fully vaccinated people around the world, Covid variants will continue to develop and spread. Nightlife has always been a bit underground out of necessity, lax on liquor laws and zoning concerns, but now the danger feels acute in a different way. If there is another lockdown, the clubs could be closed again and everyone will have to find their own ways of getting ahead.

But that is not now. I push the thought away. Now I’m back at the party. I’m in Ridgewood, I’m in Bushwick, I’m in Bed-Stuy. I meet friends I haven’t seen in over a year, wrapped in mesh and black latex. We all touch. We know what we have lost this year and how much. Only sound seems to contain that immensity. Under lasers and fog machines, strobes and roofs, interiors that protect us from the rain, a testament to being indoors together, we dance and celebrate all that we have survived.

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