On a freezing Saturday in February, a group of friends and I found ourselves among the many eclectic young people meandering through the streets of Bushwick on their way to something greater. Through a river of giggling bodies, we landed at the non-obtrusive front door of Rash, a new bar and club making a name for itself in the New York techno nightlife scene. Standing outside of the black facade were a handful of souls huddled in oversized puffer and workwear jackets lit by cigarette tips. Once the bouncer checked our IDs and vaccination cards, he opened the door to the low-lit, high-volume venue.
The front end of Rash is a uniquely decorated bar draped in red light. On the night we went, it was filled to the brim. People sat in the sharp, plastic, off-blue bar stools, hung around the edges of the room or lounged in the side area with cheap, but austere, leather couches. Every railing and empty flat space was piled high with uniformly monochrome black winter jackets. The vibe was upbeat; a jittery sense of newness still hung in the air. The sound of bass wafted in from the back room.
After grabbing drinks, we made our way into what seemed to be a solid wall of strobing smoke. Upon entering, you found yourself in a room of incomprehensible size and space. The only thing keeping you grounded was the consistent red light that illuminated the DJ booth. Through flashes of multicolored lights, I got glimpses of bobbing heads and smiling teeth. The volume was exponentially louder than the hushed front bar would have you think. The hypnotic combination of sensory overload in the forms of the dizzying lights, the smell of artificial fog mixed with perfume and sweat and the music, played at breakneck speeds, produced warping sounds of a myriad of synths and bass culminating into a feeling of an alien invasion on acid.
Everyone was eating it up.
Since bars and clubs reopened in New York around March of 2021, nightlife has come back strong. As with anything related to pleasure and government mandates, underground organizations were the first to pop back to life once the vaccines rolled out. Mainly sticking to small house parties or outdoor events, a new array of DJs began cutting their teeth seemingly out of necessity. If you couldn't go to the clubs you loved, why not become your own favorite DJ? This space allowed not only for new DJs, but for local favorite performers to shine as headliners at these operations. Then, once businesses reopened, these young talents were the first to hop to the vacant venues and perform for larger crowds of bass-starved ravers.
After gestating indoors for over a year, DJs are employing sounds both familiar and delightfully left-field. The music of the underground techno scene right now is hard hitting and fast. The genres lean towards a 1990s/2000s aesthetic with industrialized trance, glitchy drum and bass and gabber, a lesser-known hardcore genre popularized by labels such as Mokum and listened to by the drugged-up jocks of easter European cities like Rotterdam in the late 90s. These culminate into something that feels unique in its temporality. As an audience member, you experience the sound of the time. This is the sound of now: stylized, grungy and, at the same time chic. It’s devilish yet ethereal, the play of light and dark bringing opposites together into one. The distinctions of time and genre are blurred but unified.
This aesthetic is reflected in the crowd themselves, dressed in a blend of both designer and DYI clothing that drape loosely and hold tight just the same. This isn’t an absence of decision, but rather a show of the arbitrary nature of decision itself. Why not wear biker gloves, baggy cargo pants, a gaudy tight-fitting graphic tee, $600 shoes and a fuzzy trapper hat? It’s fun, silly and, most of all, absurd. A competition of who can be the most esoteric bitch in this club right now.
That night at Rash was my first time at the venue. Opening their doors in fall of 2021, Rash has quickly become the beating heart of emerging nightlife, hosting acts big and small. You’re just as likely to see world-renowned DJs as you are to see a friend of a friend’s noise project playing any given day of the week. It seems that Rash has hit the right mark of mystique, accessibility and aesthetic allure. They draw in not only the fans, but DJs and performers who are flocking to get their time behind the infamous plywood booth.
Besides Rash, there is, of course, no shortage of available clubs to check out in the city (even with the unfortunate temporary closing of the beloved Bossa Nova Civic Club). Some of the larger-named clubs include Nowadays, Basement, Elsewhere, Good Room, Public Records and House of Yes, all providing something different for every kind of dance music listener. Nowadays and Basement both boast some of the largest capacities in the city, as well as providing consistently premium-quality experiences. Elsewhere hosts more accessible line-ups, and Public Records holds audio-file quality sound systems that can’t be missed.
As we move closer to an equilibrium in our collective lives living with COVID, more seemingly unlikely spots are opening their doors for nightlife activity. It’s common on Saturdays to find a line outside of the local Cuban restaurant with thumping bass leaking through the front windows with a $15 cover. There’s also the ephemeral, yet wildly popular, events hosted by More or Outlaw, situated in sporadic locations including, but not limited to, a seemingly abandoned apartment building, an old train yard, a military fort in Sheepshead Bay, a gutted storefront on 5th Ave. and, of course, a myriad of warehouses. The variety of locales adds to the allure of any event, with party-goers wanting to find that one event that just can’t be missed. Though you can’t beat the consistency of an established club, there is an undeniable thrill to the immediacy and unfamiliar nature inherent to these pop-up events.
At the end of the night, in the early morning hours of Sunday, sound systems across the borough continue to thump into their last notes. As the lights came on at Rash, I found myself in a shockingly small space, about the size of a decent living room. With the walls painted completely black, it’s hard to gauge scale until you hit the edge. I stood among only a handful of people: all drunk, smiling, sweating and ready for one more song that wasn’t going to come. We made our way outside, and before we departed, we gave hugs to all friends, old and new.
Art by Avery Slezak