It’s only by pure coincidence that the House of Rob Celebration is taking place just five days after September 11, but the unprecedented spontaneous outpouring of support from New York’s nightlife community and DJs far and wide demonstrates how quickly people respond to a call for help.
After longtime, much-loved club promoter Rob Fernandez died suddenly in July, Eddie Dean — owner of Pacha, where Fernandez was director of promotions and booking for the past ten years — and other members of Fernandez’s inner circle of friends tried to figure out how they could help his family. They knew Fernandez was most concerned that his young son, Rian, get a good education, so they immediately set up a GoFundMe account.
They soon realized that they’d have to take it a step further.
“Everybody was in shock,” said Dean. “Almost immediately after that, everybody that Rob had touched over the years felt they wanted to do something.”
The obvious answer was a party — but not just a party. It had to be the party, one that would reflect the outsize personality and influence of a man known as the “King of New York.”
“We had the idea it had to be massive, Madison Square Garden, the biggest thing ever,” recalled Kevin McHugh, a close friend whose association began when he was managing Danny Tenaglia, whose career took off with Fernandez’s Be Yourself parties at Vinyl.
“Pacha made the most sense,” he added. “They were donating everything.” After three months of wrangling, the city even agreed to close down the entire block fronting the Hell’s Kitchen nightclub on September 16 for a twelve-hour extravaganza DJ Johnny Dynell calls “the Woodstock of DJs.”
As of press time, 44 DJs had already been booked, with more expected to commit. If Guinness ever adds a “Most DJs Spinning in One Night” category to its World Records, this would be the winner, hands down.
The list encompasses those who’ve known Fernandez from the early days, like Dynell, who met him when he was a doorman at Sound Factory Bar, as well as the fresh faces he was mentoring when he died unexpectedly. In between are all of those whose careers Fernandez helped launch, like EDM superstar Kaskade. Several of the DJs who will be spinning are New York icons (Jellybean Benitez, Danny Krivit, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, Hector Romero, Hex Hector, et al.), producer-composers (e.g., Junior Sanchez), and newer scenemakers (Basic NYC’s Sleepy & Boo).
Of course, Pacha is heavily represented at the celebration, between the headliners (Jonathan Peters, Boris, Miss Jennifer) and veterans from the early years (Richie Santana and Peter Bailey). Fernandez may be best known for promoting big rooms like Twilo, Limelight, and Palladium, and giant venues like the Barclays Center and Central Park. But he was also instrumental in fostering the city’s underground club scene with parties like the Subliminal Sessions at Centro-Fly.
Many people also don’t realize how deeply embedded Fernandez was in the city’s gay club scene, where he produced the wild Asseteria parties. Gay DJs paying tribute on September 16 span scene staples (Merritt, Dynell) to straight faves (Jason Ojeda, Skribble), with gender-bending Lady Bunny somewhere in between.
Given the size of the lineup, don’t expect any musical “journeys.” Most DJs will be limited to 30 minutes, 45 max. “There may be three artists playing together at one time, EDM with techno or house,” Dean said.
Nor should you be surprised to find Kaskade, who normally plays the giant Hudson River pier spaces, spinning the low-level basement or Pachita, the loungy attic space. “Everyone is leaving their egos at the door,” Dean said.
Egos, yes, but schedules are set in stone, legally speaking, which made finding a suitable date that could accommodate everyone who wanted to participate impossible. “If it was one week, half couldn’t make it,” Dean said. “If the next week, the other half couldn’t. We finally chose Fashion Week.” Wednesday was chosen because it cut least into weekend travel.
What’s truly remarkable is that every single DJ is donating his or her expenses. DJs like Avicii who couldn’t juggle their schedules donated money. Nicole Moudaber, who will be there, and Victor Calderone donated the fees from their gig last Saturday at Brooklyn’s Mirage.
“It’s amazing that so many are flying in for this,” said former Pacha publicist Betty Kang, now of Plexi PR. “A lot of these DJs owe their career to Rob. He saw what was needed on the scene and gave people a chance.”
And not only DJs: everybody involved, from the producer of a laser-light show to security guards.
The London-based Moudaber spoke directly to the spirit of the event when she told the Voice, “This is a very special celebration, and I am so honored to be part of it. I feel at home in New York City, and Rob Fernandez has a lot to do with that. Rob was the very best of promoters. He championed me and gave me my first gig here.”
For those familiar with the underbelly of the nightlife industry, however, what really blows the mind is the generous response of other clubs and event producers.
Provocateur and Marquee are sending out the word to their bottle-service clientele. And Electric Zoo, McHugh said, “usually [doesn’t] allow DJs to perform for 60 or 90 days in a market. They changed their contracts — and put the benefit in their promotional material.”
Sharon Fernandez is blown away by “the outpouring of support from Rob’s nightlife family. We knew he had a big heart,” she told the Voice, “but we literally had no idea how beloved and respected he was across the globe by so many people.”
In the spirit of Fernandez, who, Dean recalled, “was a creative, fun guy who loved coming up with offbeat ideas,” Pacha’s personnel went to work on the city for an unprecedented permit that will allow West 46th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues to become an inner-city outdoor dance-music festival for five hours. There will be not only a main stage, but also a dunk tank, which will allow clubgoers to take revenge on industry bigwigs. Or, if they’re thirsty, they can watch Mike Bindra, founder of Electric Zoo, reprise his first nightlife job tending bar at Trax (where McHugh met him) as one of the guest bartenders.
“We want this to reflect Rob’s over-the-top personality,” McHugh added. “It’s finally time we get to celebrate and have some laughs.”
House of Rob will take over West 46th Street on September 16. For tickets and additional information, click here. All proceeds, including House of Rob T-shirts, jewelry, and keychains sold at the event, will benefit the Fernandez Family Fund.