GBH's Decade of Decadence
Party promoters GBH—who started in 1998 as a one-night weekly residency at Great British House, and currently helm three monster dance parties per week (including the flagship Cheeky Bastard, Thursdays at Hiro Ballroom)—turned 10 years old last weekend. To help celebrate, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, MSTRKRFT, and Does It Offend You, Yeah? provided the beats for an intimate crowd of, oh, 2,500 or so at Webster Hall, hosting the fans of Cheeky Bastard, Trashion (Tuesdays at the Inn), Robot Rock (Fridays at Le Royale, my personal favorite of the GBH parties), and the myriad one-offs that New York native Alejandro Torio and British-born Tom Dunkley, GBH's co-founders, have produced over the years. Late last week, I sat witness to the duo's charming rapport as they looked back on the last 10 years, discussing the evolution of GBH, the evolution of New York nightlife in general, and the days when Tom was more of a fun drunk.
So tell me the quick history of GBH.
Alejandro: We got our start at Vanity, playing house for around 300 people or so on Friday nights with the big house guys of the time—guys like Roger Sanchez. After a year, we moved to the Cheetah Club, which was maybe a 700-person venue. We were there for two years.
Tom: Then we moved to Centro-Fly, which was the nightclub of the time—it battled a bit with Twilo, which was sort of for the Ecstasy crowd. For another two years, we had crazy shows by the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, the Crystal Method, Dimitri from Paris. And then the big recession hit and house music started dying out, so we moved to Lotus, which had more of a celebrity scene.
Alejandro: It was the original lounge, really—it kicked off that whole meatpacking-district trend.
Tom: And at that point, we sort of went through a reinvention—left house behind, started to focus more on electro and indie rock. And when we left Lotus, we left behind the Friday-night scene, really, until Robot Rock. Now Cheeky Bastard is sort of our marquee party. Are we boring you?
No! So, at this point, can you book pretty much anyone you want?
Tom: We're in a much better position now, yeah, but I'm not sure anyone can get whomever they want. Booking artists isn't as easy at you might think—it has so much to do with their availability.
Who hasn't played one of your parties yet that you'd like to get on board?
Tom: Daft Punk.
Alejandro: I like having DJ sets by guys from great bands— Depeche Mode, New Order. So maybe the lead singer of the Cure.
Tom: Robert Smith.
Alejandro: That'd be cool.
Tell me about your favorite shows of the last 10 years.
Tom: Oh, wow, there have been so many. I remember when Justice played for us at Movido (the original home of Robot Rock) for maybe 150 people. It was before they'd gotten big here, and no one really knew who they were. A bunch of cool French kids came out. It was literally the noisiest show I've ever heard. God, the next day—my ears have never hurt that much before in my life.
Alejandro: I remember this one Thanksgiving weekend. It was the day after, a Friday, and there was a huge snowstorm, and I just remember thinking: 'This is going to kill us. Everyone's still with their parents, they're still home eating turkey; we're screwed.' And when I showed up to Centro-Fly, there was a line for two blocks. I couldn't believe it.
Tom: There was also that one-off, maybe seven years ago, with Fatboy Slim.
Alejandro: Oh, that was such a great night. It was the best vibe, in this great loft space. He hardly ever spins here, you know, and it was this crazy crossover crowd. It's still fresh in my mind. And remember that Groove Armada show at the World Trade Center?
Tom: Oh, yeah. We produced that with Terry Casey, who's one of the owners of Le Royale.
Alejandro: Everyone was just shakin' their ass on the top of the World Trade Center. And then, a week later . . .
Tom: It wasn't a week later.
Alejandro: It was! It was exactly a week later. I remember.
Where are you guys from, anyway?
Tom (in his British accent): Queens.
Alejandro (laughing): He says that because he makes fun of me for being from Queens.
What do you think of the people saying lately that New York isn't fun anymore—you know, like Amy Sacco and Madonna? How much has nightlife changed since you got your start?
Tom: I think it's less fun in certain places, but there are a lot more clubs. So many people who appreciate music moved to Brooklyn, you know, so that was a big change. When I moved here from England [12 years ago], I expected New York to just be crazy. And while I'm sure I was missing things then, I feel like now there are just so many more choices. There's so much more to do now than there was 10 years ago. You just have to dig around.
Would you consider doing a residency in Brooklyn?
Alejandro: The only reason we don't is just because we're really, really, really busy in Manhattan.
Anything you miss from when you started 10 years ago?
Alejandro: Tom was more fun then. He was this really big party guy, drank all day—I remember asking someone, "How does he do it?" And they were just like, "He's English."
Tom: And Alejandro used to be the straightest guy—but you only ever see him with a bottle of vodka.
Alejandro: Yeah, these days Tom's stuck in the office while I party.
Tom: Well, someone's got to do the work around here.
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