The post-vax party vibes are off this summer
This is a lil preview of an essay is about the cultural forces shaping the new nightlife zeitgeist, and the vertigo-inducing gap between expectations vs. reality as we leapt into what the media (wrongly) predicted would be the horniest summer of our lives. It is also about the passing of time, the institutionalization of a scene, and the inevitable disillusionment of aging into a geriatric raver. To read the full version, support freaky nightlife media by subscribing to a paid tier.
Hot vaxxx summer in America officially started over Memorial Day weekend in late-May, when New York City lifted a midnight curfew for indoor venues, and vaunted nightclubs swung their doors open, operating at full capacity for the first time since the pandemic began. Suddenly, club culture was front-page news, rather than relegated to tabloid gossip or society pages; everyone poking out of their quarantine hovels now obsessed with knowing where the party’s at.
I guzzled the media’s gushing coverage of New York nightlife’s return—a high drama of club kids forging vaccine passports, cub journalists popping 2C-B pills, and other bizarre pandemic permutations. It felt like a new era of partying was dawning—a definitive departure from the previous nightlife paradigm I’d been steeping in. Raves in America have always felt misunderstood and marginal, with electronic music often ridiculed by “serious” rock critics as a frivolous culture of lazy hacks twiddling knobs for drug-addled children. Most people assumed New York nightlife peaked in the 80s with clubs like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, blissfully ignorant of the underground rave scene brewing in the Brooklyn warehouses and lofts where I was stomping around for most of the 2010s.
Here’s my quick story: at 32-years-old, I’m already a geriatic raver. The dancefloor is where I was raised, where I came of age—sneaking out to bottle-service nightclubs in Singapore and karaoke bars in Tokyo as a teenager, then queer warehouse raves in New York, towering techno temples in Berlin—and when I started to write about nightlife as a music journalist—countless parties and festivals around the world. Floating through these ephemeral moments, I refined an instinctual wisdom on what it means to live free—and sometimes, during rare nights of true transcendence, it went even deeper, like glimpsing the face of god in this bonfire of vanities that nightlife often seems to be.
Now, rave culture is going mainstream, Gen Z is arriving on the scene, and city officials are finally recognizing the economic value of nightlife—thanks in part to grassroots activism that kept beloved music venues afloat during pandemic shutdowns. Could all of this mainstream media attention finally destigmatize nightlife—a culture long associated with antisocial escapism and frivolous peacocking—and finally convince the gentry that partying is, in fact, an essential activity? The number of normies telling me they were dying to dance seemed to suggest this possibility.
Still, it was tough to parse the zeitgeist from my perch in LA, where the vibes are always decentralized and dispersed. LA’s underground party scene has been blooming with fascinating offshoots like weed garden parties and techno cave raves, but media coverage of LA nightlife is virtually nonexistent, so these happenings are ephemeral secrets rather than part of a broader cultural conversation. Pandemic-era New York, on the other hand, was a concentrated cesspool of pent-up angst, meaning the conditions were ripe for an energetic explosion like a pressure cooker about to pop. The concentration of journalists in New York obsessed with writing about their own backyards meant that even stupid parties would be endlessly dissected and talked about.
A friend who is currently building a club in Brooklyn predicts New York will soon overtake Berlin as the nightlife capital of the world, based purely on population numbers. The biggest obstacle to New York’s party industry has long been the authorities’ opprobrium, but all of that is quickly changing thanks to state budget deficits: the city just approved licenses for certain neighborhoods to be 24-hour nightlife zones, and clubs are now operating wantonly without fear of raids and shutdowns. There is a sense that around the corner and up the stairs, down the hallway and through the door, there is always a cute party happening in New York now if you’re clued in.
So, anxious not to miss the wildest parties of my lifetime, I made a beeline to Brooklyn in early June. It was easy to assume that a summer of wild debauchery would be just the thing to lift us out of the pandemic headspace—that the dancefloor would be a site of reunification and joy. After all, the transition back to partying is a process of resocialization, and nightlife is the most fab way to strut back into the world. Achingly lonely and wracked with grief over the deaths of many friends over the past year, I turned to the one thing throughout my life that has always given me solace and healing.
SUMMER OF LOVE, the headlines promised, and I was ready to get some.
~ to be continued~
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