You may not know this, but I was a raver. For many years I spent all my money on minimal techno and drum’n’bass records. While the rest of the world was freaking out over Radiohead, I was obsessed with Swayzak, Roni Size, and someone named Dillinja. From the age of 17—when I went to my very first rave in Las Vegas, held in a gentlemen’s lodge filled with sweet-smelling smoke billowing from a machine onstage—I went to every single party I could in Vegas, and then in Seattle (where I lived for six years), and then in New York, all the way up until, well, now. Yes, I did the weird raver shadow dance in public, but I never committed other raver crimes against humanity: Dancing With a Glow Stick While High, Inhaling Vicks VapoRub While Wearing a Mask, or Sucking On a Binky as a Grown Person. It’s been a long time since I properly went raving, but you know what they say: You can take the girl out of the rave, but you can’t take the rave out of the girl.
Perhaps this is why I responded so viscerally to Ruff Club, Spencer Product and Denny Le Nimh‘s weekly rave-meets-rock party at the Annex every Friday night. At first, it seemed like it could be the usual East Village rock ‘n’ new wave jams, with trendy hipsters poured into their tight jeans and pouting insouciantly at the bar. But then I heard the music (searing electro and hard-edged techno), saw the glow sticks, and noticed that all-too-familiar sickly sweet smell—billowing from, yep, a smoke machine—and I knew. Nope, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
The other clue that we were out of regular rockin’ territory came blaring over the speakers. Breaking news: DJs are mixing again! Matching beats! From last Friday’s opener DJ Micprobes to headliner Tommie Sunshine, the DJs demonstrated actual mixing abilities—especially Le Nimh, who worked a call-and-response battle between Justice v. Simian‘s “Never Be Alone” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” for 10 minutes. It really was sweet heaven to my ears, which are so used to—and bored of—hearing DJs afflicted with ADD, or even worse, “jukebox disease,” to steal Le Nimh’s term for DJs who play songs back-to-back without mixing. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in beat-matching—you know, actual technical skill.
“I think it’s catching on, mixing,” says Le Nimh of that once long-lost art form. “It’s definitely the way the music is going as well. Dance music is the new dance music. A lot of these rock bands are being remixed by house, techno, and electro producers. Justice and Ed Banger records—that sound, that French harder house sound—a lot of the jukebox DJs are starting to play that, and noticing that dance music doesn’t sound as good when you don’t mix it.”
Ruff Club was born in late spring 2006 out of the ashes of Hot Fucking Pink, which was probably the only party in the country with a home on both coasts. Le Nimh started it in Phoenix, and kept it going via frequent cross-country Jet Blue trips even after he moved here. He met Product at We Bite at the L.E.S. club Happy Ending; shortly thereafter, Product started Hot Fucking Pink New York at Scenic on Avenue B. It was soon obvious that the guys “were like two peas in a pod,” says Product. “We became good friends. His party out there was really awesome, totally along the lines of what I was doing here. We make a really good couple in a partnership kind of sense.”
The combo of Le Nimh’s rave-techno background and Product’s fascination with the grittier post-electro and rock scenes—which heacquired after a stint in London before he hit New York—worked like chocolate and peanut butter. “The British music scene always felt really edgy and interesting—they like that mix between post-electropunk and rock ‘n’ roll, and I’ve always been inspired by that,” Product says. “That sort of thing thrives in London. Ruff Club, I think it definitely has that sort of feel to it.”
So when the tumultuous takeover of Scenic began (it eventually became Midway) and the Phoenix event ran its course, they combined their parties and took the result to Annex—the mix of London’s street-smart style with the post-rave aesthetic has already earned Ruff Club praise and accolades, including a Best New Party nod at Paper magazine’s Nightlife Awards. On a recent Friday, girls with white-blond hair and heavy black eyeliner slacked against the wall and stared coolly at the crowd, which responded as enthusiastically to Tommie Sunshine’s hard-as-nails, Switch-heavy set as they did to headlining band Selfish Cunt, whose singer,
Martin Tomlinson—a Mick Jagger for the ’00s with his sexy heartstopper aura and ambiguous sexuality—pulled every rock ‘n’ roll cockapoo move out of his hat. He strutted, pouted, pranced, and scowled throughout the set, humping the stage, dousing the crowd in beer, and posing triumphantly at the end while wearing an “I Love NY” T-shirt. Larry Tee and Richie Rich watched, while hostess Sophia Lamar dispensed the air kisses.
Downstairs, Sean Fightcats and S. Valentine tore it up in the gritty, dirty Annex basement, playing a more trad L.E.S. set. (Did I hear Nirvana? Here we are now, it’s 1991.) In the corner, New York magazine set up shop, taking photos of the über-hip denizens posed against a white background. They also handed out a nightlife survey. Sample question: Which drug do you plan on doing tonight? Yes, all of the above.
The interplay between the downstairs retro scene and the focus on futuristic, forward-thinking sounds happening upstairs—Le Nimh and Product have had Boyz Noize, Tom Vek, Authur Baker, and We Are Scientists play, and are gearing up for visits from Trash Fashion and Stone Figs, with a tentative slot held open for a Happy Mondays DJ set—gives the party a distinctly London flair. The Brits, after all, are the masters at merging rave and rock. While we’re not quite in new-rave territory (le sigh), we do have a hint of it thanks to Le Nimh’s time in the Phoenix rave scene trenches: It turns out all the ravey touches—glow sticks, smoke machines, and even the lighting (a Ruff Club logo on the far wall)—are his doing.
“There are so many little things that I took from raves that I want to incorporate,” Le Nimh says. “From the atmosphere, lights, sound, and people that come to the door, I pay attention to the little things, like the cheesy rave light behind the DJ booth and the projector with a video loop.”
“My party is the first rave I’ve ever been to,” Product cracks.
“I don’t even know what to call Ruff Club—the ‘new rave’ thing? In Europe it’s a dated genre,” Le Nimh continues, referring to the scene that features buzz bands like Klaxons and “kids going to shows and parties dressing like pseudo ravers, with the whistles and stuff. I don’t even know what to call these parties.”
There’s one old trend that seems to be hinting at a comeback, though. “I do know a lot of rockers taking ecstasy,” Le Nimh says. “As long as it’s done in moderation. I don’t want there to be cuddle puddles and people sitting in front of the speakers.”
Ah, the good old days. Somebody pass me a glow stick.