Diary

The Dreamhouse

Crowd at the Spectrum in Ridgewood, New York. Unless noted, all photos: gage of the boone.

THE SPECTRUM WAS ONE OF THOSE RARE PLACES in the world where you could feel totally free. It was an art space, illegal nightclub, and ephemeral proof in the possibility of building an alternative queer utopia. From residence of the cofounder, the artist gage of the boone, to spiritual home for a generation of New York artists, club rats, and orphans, the Spectrum lived for seven defiant years before the Dreamhouse—its second iteration in Ridgewood, Queens—closed in fabulous, Dionysian excess this month.

While many DIY spaces have been predictably crushed in this city’s capitalist gears, the announcement of the Dreamhouse’s closing in October felt less like a fresh wound and more like the passing of an era. Luckily, since the Spectrum is not like the real world, it could end with multiple bangs and no whimper. Artists who had cut their teeth and shared their sweat in the early years—such as Arca, Lauren Flax, and Juliana Huxtable—gave noisy goodbyes across three raging months. Although known as a creative incubator and after-hours haunt for a certain Brooklyn avant-garde, the Spectrum has most importantly been a refuge for marginalized people seeking community, a rare embodiment of the politics of radical inclusivity, or, as xXx-cutive producer gage put it, “a larger-than-life, social piece of art.”

The place was heaving by the time I arrived past midnight at the closing party two weeks ago. Partygoers in looks unthinkable posed against the iconic plush diamond wall padding or gyrated furiously under the oversize disco ball and tacky chandeliers. The dismembered mannequins basked in phosphorescent glow; the basement bathroom was already overflowing; a gaggle of queens was perched in plastic Barbie Dream Cars (ephemera of gage’s lifelong obsession with dolls).

Oscar Ouk, gage of the boone, and Ryan McNamara.

While the Spectrum used to feel like a secret, the secret had clearly gotten out. “I guess everyone who went once decided to show up,” quipped Ryan McNamara as I slithered through the pulsing crowd to the DJ’s perch—a white marble countertop wedged between a statue of trans deity Quan Yin and a column whose paint had worn thin from the work of voguers past. NE/RE/A was layering techno in the same space where she started her mixing career years ago, under the mentorship of Spectrum sound manager, co-booker, and resident DJ, Danny Taylor, aka A Village Raid.

Later, as I shimmied around Spectrum stalwart Jacolby Satterwhite, the young artist Ser Serpas, and a trio of cutely slobbering boys, I caught Michael Magnan in the backside of the booth after his set. Over the past two decades, the DJ and House of Ladosha member has seen a lot of clubs come and go: “The good ones might leave a mark, but others like the Spectrum will just change you completely.”

The first time I knocked on the unassuming door in Williamsburg, paid six dollars, and walked into the magical mirrored hotbox that was the first Spectrum, it felt like my entry to Technicolor Oz. This was Queer—ova the rainbow, with your chosen family all around, clothed or not. At the closing party, I inevitably ran into the boy I went home with on my first night there, years ago, in a half-peeled singlet. “Just wait for a new crowd of young’uns to roar through,” he offered in hopeful eulogy. Richard Kennedy—Spectrum performer, host, door, you name it—texted me the next day from LA: “It will never truly end—just begin and end again.”

gage of the boone with Fecal Matter (Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran).

By 4 AM that night, word had spread that the Carry Nation would zip over after their own party—which has now moved on to a bigger club with more muscular homos—to close out the space that had “conceived, birthed, and nurtured” them. I spotted club kid Jordan Stawecki stumble in and snap photos with freakish conceptual fashion artists Fecal Matter. gage had retired to a couch with sculptor Raúl de Nieves, where hours earlier PIN-UP magazine had captured family portraits of the joyous funeral.

There it goes, one more entry in the New York nightlife canon. Who could forget the night Björk showed up, or Wolfgang Tillmans was shooting, or Mykki Blanco started a fight? I could, since I wasn’t there for them. But floating through the Dreamhouse that night, I knew I would never forget my own Spectrum moments: the night I wore nothing but an IKEA bag with two leg holes cut out; the time I consumed an entire White Castle Crave Case at a Telfar afterparty; this last dance. gage calls the project a “collective journey,” “an ever-changing adventure over time.” At the closing party, I saw a boy voguing in head-to-toe white step off the stage, glowing with satisfaction and style. “This place is everything!” he exclaimed. “It’s my first night.”

Crowd with DJ Michael Magnan.

By the time the purportedly final-final decades-themed “Belle Époque Ball” rolled around this past weekend, a meme was circulating: “The year is 2439, Spectrum is throwing its 743,125 ‘Final Experience’ . . . Inside is the last place smoking is legal.” For a place seemingly unable to die, what better way to proceed into the unknown future than by looking to the past? Adherence to the best (or worst) of the twentieth century was thorough in both dress and music. I arrived during the 1950s to find a crowd of 2019 queers swinging to singer Nath Ann Carrera’s selection of proto rock ’n’ roll. As we moved from the British Invasion toward Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” the married lesbian drag duo Sateen offered an inevitable Velvet Underground tribute and a taste of their own sultry disco sound. Rather than feeling cheesy, the imposed musical time line—a new decade each hour, starting with the 1910s—gave the night a meaningful teleology and served as a thankful reminder that dance music has improved over the past century. Disco turned to house, then hip-hop, and when Spectrum mainstays Sadaf and Just Dosha (of the House of Ladosha) mixed the ’90s, the millennial and Gen-X crowd finally had their own memories to dance to. In a surprise performance recalling Spectrum’s early sweaty days, Le1f stormed through the crowd in white leather chaps and a sequin cap, delivering fiery verses to an unrestrained crowd.

Sateen. Photo: GG.

“The Spectrum isn’t just a performance space—it does something,” observed Nick Bazzano, spinning two weeks ago as a part of DJ duo Pure Immanence. The night unraveling before us was itself a performance. What people did on the decks, in the backroom, on the stage, in the bathrooms, was all part of a performance in queer world-making. According to Danny Taylor, the music policy “has always been about uniting and mixing communities,” often swinging from reggaeton to noise to house—a soundtrack to which time at the Dreamhouse bent and sputtered along. When the DJ was suddenly interrupted by a performance—glam, punk, both—one was inevitably forced to look around at the brown, black, white, green, red, yellow, purple, queer bodies and ask, How is this place possible?

The energy was far from flagging as I exited the Dreamhouse one last time into the bright winter morning. Revelers in platforms, hoodies, and smiles waited for Ubers back to reality. All the world’s a stage, but inside the Spectrum, we were performers in a play of our own imagination. Till that radical world becomes possible again, here’s to all tomorrow’s parties.

Renee Imparto and Pheral Lamb.

Crowd.

Artist Raúl de Nieves.

gage of the boone.

Ceyenne Doroshow, right.

Pam Tietze & Avory Agony.

Candystore, Raul De Nievez, and Whitney Vangrin.

Eartheater.

Mateus Porto.

Boy Radio. Photo: GG.

Amira Gundel and Pauli Cakes. Photo: GG.

gage of the boone. Photo: GG.

Danny Taylor. Photo: Santiago Felipe.

Sir Jacob. Photo: GG.

Aarron Ricks. Photo: GG.

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