Battle Hymn On The Dance Floor
Ladyfag’s new weekly residency, dubbed Battle Hymn, is a church-themed affair, though it was clear from the crowd Sunday that her congregation is all-inclusive.
Or almost. “It isn’t cargo pants,” said the doorwoman Connie Fleming, clutching a clipboard outside of Flash Factory, the Chelsea nightclub located on 28th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The trans model, who worked her first door in 1991 for Erich Conrad’s party at The Supper Club, described Battle Hymn’s opening night as a reunion of sorts. “The crowd tonight is eclectic and fun and creative, which is always great to see in the club scene in New York.”
Inside, neo club kids twirled with slicked-back Chelsea boys and scruffy Brooklyn art fags, with appearances by fashion notables like Riccardo Tisci and Andreja Pejic. Where most party promoters appeal to specific demographics—say Brain Rafferty’s army of shirtless circuit boys, or Susan Bartsch’s gang of effervescent club creatures—Ladyfag continues to revel in the intersections of New York nightlife.
Walking into Flash Factory, which opened in January after seven million dollars in renovations, the churchly inspiration is literal. The single-story, 10,000-square-foot nightclub is adorned with pieces salvaged from New York churches. Nineteenth-century convent doors and temple pews infuse the space with timeless warmth, while a 130-decibel sound system makes clear that the only thing you’ll be worshipping here is the music. Ornate, custom-built arches flickered red over a rectangular-shaped dance floor that managed to feel both spacious and intimate. The placement of the DJ booth, elevated like a pulpit and backed by stained glass, reinforces the nightclub’s music-driven focus. Early on, resident DJs The Carry Nation preached to a choir of giddy nightlife denizens.
“I have always declined initiations to throw parties at big clubs when they've asked, because I didn’t feel they were the right venues,” says Ladyfag. “They always felt too big and commercial and soulless.” Seeing Flash Factory and meeting the owners, Ladyfag was immediately convinced. “I could tell they just understood and believed in the same things I did as far as what I wanted the party to be. And I mean the space speaks for itself. It's much more of an old school club vibe.”
Though the crowd was inclusive, Flash Factory’s prices were another story. While standard for a Manhattan nightclub, drink prices —$14 for a gin and tonic, $5 for a bottle of water—felt exorbitant for a Sunday. But that didn’t seem to be on the mind of partygoers who raged late into the school night.
“It’s not even a party, it’s a gathering,” said nightlife staple Sussi Suss, who donned a Bcalla gown composed of pink mesh, red latex, and a cartoon head jutting playfully off of his right shoulder. His “date’s” sequined eyelids and red lipstick mirrored Suss’s own heavily painted face. “It’s so great that this style of music is being praised by a large audience,” he said. “Usually when you’re listening to house [music] it’s pitch black in a basement and it’s sweaty but with this you can open up and breathe for a second. It’s better sounds and better lights—everything is upgraded.”
Near the dance floor, Tom Jackson, who publishes the bi-annual magazine Gayletter, described the party as “a wonderful continuation of the 90s gay club.” “It feels like the people who created the venue really care about the idea of a party and what people want from a party,” he said, adding that he’s excited to see how the residency, which features DJs like Kim Ann Foxman and Honey Soundsystem, develops. “Lady knows what she’s doing. I have faith in her.”
Designer Sam Enriquez was also enticed by the promise of a new Ladyfag production. “When I found out a few days ago: Lady Fag, Flash Factory—it’s a match made in heaven,” he said, peering behind a metal helmet sprouting feather studded horns. He was inspired to create the headpiece after going to Burning Man. “Once I found out the theme I knew I was going to wear this because it looks like a gladiator archangel. This was my New Year’s look.”
Ladyfag envisions Battle Hymn as an old-school nightclub experience, in contrast to her other regularly occurring events: downtown’s weekly soiree 11:11—“A small party…like an extension of your living room, but a lot more fun”—and Slake’s monthly multi-level Holy Mountain, which explores a hodgepodge of musical genres and themes. Instead, Battle Hymn specializes in classic house music, which the nightlife priestess noted was lacking from New York’s club scene. “It’s funny, I’ve been noticing more and more that so many people I know are running off to Ibiza and Berlin to club,” she said. “People want it, it just isn’t available enough here.”
Whether or not people will be up for clubbing on a Sunday is of mild concern. “The weekend is three days after all! When I first moved here 11 years ago, people went out almost every night of the week. Now people just work,” Ladyfag said, adding that the party starts at 9pm so that nine-to-fivers could make it to bed by midnight. “Then those who think it's worth being a little tired on Monday can stay till 3am and remember why they moved to the city that never sleeps.”
After playing a propulsive four-hour set, The Carry Nation’s Will Automagic and Nita Aviance made way for special guest DJ Todd Terry, a house icon who came up in the 90s club scene. The Carry Nation described him as a “god amongst DJs.” He opened his set with a snippet from “Oh Fortuna,” the epically dramatic closing number in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a vocal composition recorded in 1935. The crowed stood still in anticipation, before erupting into a frenzied sea of yelps after Terry deftly transitioned into a celebratory house beat.
For the next two hours, he didn’t let up. “Our favorite moment had to be the last few records of the night,” said The Carry Nation, referring specifically to Terry’s closing number, “The Pressure,” from Frankie Knuckle’s Sounds of Blackness. “That mega-hit takes you to church and really speaks to why we return to the dance floor for salvation, time and time again.”
(photos by Wilson Models)