DJ Spooky, Occupy Wall Street, and the Frictions of Radical Chic


It was an unlikely marriage from the start.

When DJ Spooky invited the Occupy Wall Street Library to hold a book-party / dance-party at the chichi Vandam club Work in Progress, it was an open question how the revolutionary politics of the occupation and the glitz of the downtown nightclub scene would mesh.

The answer is: Not at all. The collaboration ended early with harsh words between the librarians and the club’s management, as the occupiers packed up their books and left just as DJ Spooky was beginning his set for the club’s well-dressed patrons.

Since the occupation’s November eviction, when the New York Police Department lost, destroyed and mangled much of the collection, the library has become a sort of talisman of virtue and martyrdom for protesters, a symbol of the movement’s commitment to community and knowledge in the face it’s enemies disregard for and hostility to free speech.

When the city removed the barricades blocking access to the park this week and protesters flooded back in, the library moved back in within an hour, becoming a rallying point once again when security guards told the protesters the books were not allowed in the park.

For Paul Miller, who as DJ Spooky has built a career on self-consciously remixing and re-purposing archival material, the partnership with the Occupy Wall Street library made sense.

“Occupy Wall Street is a movement of fragments,” Miller mused before his set, placing a donated book, his own Rhythm Science, on the library’s table. “This whole library project is kind of sampling text.”

Miller doesn’t claim to have followed the Occupy movement very closely. “I travel too much. I’m mostly in Europe and Asia,” he said. The idea for the evening came out of emails with Stephen Boyer, one of the movement’s librarians, who was recently accepted to the European Graduate School where Miller is on the faculty.

At Miller’s direction, flyers billed the free event as “Occupy the Library — books and dance featuring DJ Spooky and the People’s Library.” Librarians promoted the event on their website, urging other occupiers to attend. The library would serve as outreach for the movement to a heretofore untapped demographic, while soliciting book donations for its collection.

But last night, things turned sour early. More than 50 library supporters were kept outside in the pouring rain and ultimately turned away as bouncers determined they didn’t fit the look the club was going for.

“Some of your people my door is telling me haven’t taken a shower and smell and look homeless we can’t let them in cause this is a business,” WiP’s creative director, Stuart Braunstein, told Boyer in an email when Boyer asked that why library supporters were being turned away from what was promoted as a library event.

Relations deteriorated from there. A club manager brusquely told the librarians to get their table of books out of the club’s main space, where they had been set up for several hours. “I need this all out of here, now,” he said.

“Wow — that whole exchange felt exactly like a lot of our interactions with the cops,” said librarian Darah McJimsey afterwards, as behind her a heavily feathered burlesque dancer began to strip down for the club’s growing crowd.

After Miller intervened on behalf of the library, they were allowed to keep their table, albeit in a hallway outside the event space. But at that point, the librarians weren’t clear why they were even there.

“I want to give a shout out to the People’s Library!” Miller said as he took the DJ’s podium a few minutes later. “Who brought books to donate tonight?” The audience barely looked up from their cocktails, and Miller launched into his set. Out in the hall, the last occupiers pushed past the bouncers and out into the rain.

“The club failed us,” Boyer said as he left. “We had an understanding. Our name and our imagery are all over the flyers for this event, we promoted it, and now they’re not letting us in. We feel used.”

Good riddance, said Braunstein afterward. “I found them fucking ungrateful. I did them a favor, and it wasn’t the favor they wanted, so they threw a little fit. A bunch of them tried to get in, and they probably hadn’t showered in days. All of a sudden I’m supposed to change my rules for them? It’s a night club!

“I’m not about dividing people into the 99 and the 1 percent,” Braunstein said. “But honestly, the Wall Streeters inside are a lot nicer than those guys, and at least they pay some of my bills.”