The Next Brooklyns

New York's DJs flee overseas to Berlin and Barcelona

Berlin isn't the only epicenter for expatriate DJs. In Barcelona, New Yorkers can catch DJ Ilana, once resident at Plant, spinning around town, and run into Ariel Danziger, who was part of the local tech-house production team and record label Matter/:Form. Barcelona locals have the benefit of the annual Sónar festival, a three-day media, music, and arts festival forward-thinking enough to include Kid Koala, Roots Manuva, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Philip Sherburne, a Voice contributor, sometime DJ, and San Francisco editor of the club-listing website Flavorpill, called Barcelona home for a few months last year, and managed to save money even though he was paying rent in San Francisco as well. And Tronic label owner Christian Smith is set to leave his L.E.S. apartment this month for the seaside Spanish city.

Spain is a huge anti-war center—its citizens ousted its pro-Iraq war president immediately after the terrorist attacks in Madrid earlier this year. In Barcelona, Sherburne says he's even seen anti-war posters on the walls of the post office.

In Berlin and Barcelona, there is no MARCH, no nightlife task force. When techno DJ and lifelong New Yorker Dave Turov hit Berlin, a friend of his pulled out a bag of weed and rolled a joint in plain view at the bar. There's no smoking ban, no "No Dancing Allowed" signs on the wall. "The cops don't interfere so much," says Turov. "Sometimes they show up, but they very rarely close a party down." Beer costs two euros, clubs never close, and drinking is a 24-hour sport: Here's the sleazy vibe that's been missing from New York for years. It's a weird role reversal—New York City is the prim and proper maiden, Berlin and Barcelona the slutty mistresses.

Ariel Danziger, resting in Barcelona
photo: Sandra Myhrberg
Ariel Danziger, resting in Barcelona

"Spaniards, in general, have a history of socializing that is very different than in the U.S.," Sherburne says. "Life is really lived on the streets." In Barcelona, Sherburne found himself spinning to a packed dancefloor on Monday nights till five in the morning. In New York these days, that's rare even on weekends.

Before he left New York for Barcelona in early 2003, Ariel Danziger says, "I felt like someone had given me a really strong sedative tablet like Valium and prescribed me a long stroll through the Lower East Side and left me to drool over the pretty store displays."

Of course, New York City wasn't always this difficult for artists. Consider 1978: Studio 54 is in its heyday. The Loft is going strong. Club culture is thriving. Apartments in the East Village go for $220 for a one-bedroom. Krivit, a lifelong New Yorker, remembers when high-end Balducci's was a "rotten food stand" in the West Village, and when a cab across town cost $3. Clubs didn't charge a cover, and you could go out with $30 in your pocket and come home with change. Now, "that's one round, if you're buying for you and somebody else," he says. He remembers when everybody rented and nobody owned, and when cops laughed at noise complaints. Now, "as an apartment owner, as an investment you don't want [a loud club] on your block." So now, the cops will visit, "and say it's too loud."

In New York, "when I was growing up," says Krivit, "it seemed like there was just an endless amount of places opening." But by the Giuliani years, any new clubs had usually been another venue before.

And flashy new venues like Marquee are about money first, music last. Inventive music is not getting played. "When someone tells you 'Ooooh, a new club, it's really amazing,' the first thing you think about is, well, the more you tell me how spectacular it is, the more I know they are really trying to get a certain clientele and sell champagne," says Krivit. "It all starts to look like an MTV video. Bottle service is really annoying. If you don't see it, you feel it. It's there underneath. I almost wait for the other new places so that spot is not as shiny and new, and then maybe they do something artistic because they are desperate."

Danny Wang points out that many New Yorkers, like the artists on the DFA label and the critically acclaimed house duo Metro Area, are more appreciated in Europe than in their hometown. "Meanwhile, New York's old guard of DJs and club owners [such as at Shelter, Twilo, Roxy] seemed to have no clue that something else has been happening," says Wang, who cites Berlin's gay scene as another draw. "The gay nightlife has been dreadful for a decade now—all muscle boys and crystal meth. The diversity of New York City is always there. But it is constantly swimming against an unfriendly tide."

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