At the end of the day, or more accurately, after a long, tempestuous night, I’m ultimately happy I got off my ass and went to Friday’s installment of “How Did Our Dreams End Up Like This,” a big Halloween rave co-produced by You Are So Lucky and MATTE Projects, which took place on Governor’s Island, a location that, according to the production team’s website, “has never been experienced before.”
Ugh, if you say so.
General admission tickets started at $120. Premium tickets, which netted you a slightly more exclusive silver wristband, afforded you access to a series of frat-like military houses on the island’s periphery, which were, for the most part, entirely devoid of any accoutrements or built-in entertainment, save for one house that might have had a little S&M show behind a curtain. For this experience, guests had to wait for it to be set up (Why wasn’t this ready to begin with?). Once it was ready (for two guests at a time), lines were far too long to stand around for what sounded like a basic spanking. This was an ongoing trope: the line was offensively long, “Let’s try to come back later,” only for the performance to be canceled, shut down or abandoned entirely.
Super-exclusive blue wristbands presumably got you access to hotel-like sleepover sex quarters on the top floors of these “officer houses.” This is also where the party’s producers and reoccurring VIP lurked throughout the evening like the nerdy love children of Howard Hughes, Gatsby and the Phantom of the Opera, which they’re of course entitled to do. The general public had access (at least in the very beginning of the night) to the island’s stately Governor’s Mansion, which was lit up on the outside with massive red floodlights. Inside (this writer can only speculate) were all sorts of performers (over 150 from various camps [Cirque Du Nuit, etc.] and agencies) doing their particular thing. Unfortunately, just a couple of hours into the night’s proceedings, just as the weather was taking a massive, wet, windy, and chilly turn for the worse, right as the ridiculously long, increasingly exasperated line to get into the mansion was finally dwindling, the big red house got entirely shut down by authorities.
This is an interesting thing that I continually witness at these types of oft-pretentious, highly produced raves; a series of plain-clothed officers in black hoodies, dad jeans and Timberlands, standing around the perimeter of these party hubs like superfluous, poker-faced, most certainly armed heavies for B-grade Batman villains, while the faceless uniformed NYPD and FDNY flood into the building like storm-trooper party exterminators. One gets the strong (alleged) impression that huge under-the-table cash bribes exchange hands with a corrupt law-enforcement infrastructure, especially right before the next, previously scheduled night (Saturday). It’s a rare glimpse into New York City’s enduring strong-hand, fully integrated Mafioso intimidation: “You want Saturday to go off without a hitch? Pay up now, bitch.”
This really sucks for Friday’s paying guests and for the performers who prepared all week or longer. If the whole thing was a legitimate fire and safety hazard (which it appeared to be), wouldn’t you hope the producers would take this into account ahead of time? They knew over 5,000 people would be in attendance. And yes, rumors were circulating that over two-dozen cases of alcohol poisoning and drug-related health emergencies were reported. Getting these amateurs and unfortunates out of a massive, multi-room labyrinth of horrors (there were no bathrooms in the mansion, even for the performers, who were forced to use outhouses) quickly and safely using very few exits (which guests were continually trying to sneak into) would inevitably turn into a real-life nightmare.
Around midnight, most people piled into the main tent, which struggled to hold the full breadth of the party’s many guests, especially after the mansion became unavailable. Security also struggled to keep scantily-clad, goose-pimpled, rain-soaked GA guests out of the premium spaces and at times things got ugly, if not offensively sloppy. The trouble with parties like this is, the event’s staff, whether bartenders, fixers or security, cannot discern who is a total, incapacitated yuppie douchebag and who is cool, so they default into a “screw all these entitled jerks” setting and end up treating all the guests like shit.
While on line at one of the many overpriced bars, I stood behind a girl, sweating and tripping her face off while licking her dehydrated lips like some desert lizard as she requested a $5 plastic cup of ice water from a frazzled female bartender. After offering up her debit card, the mean-spirited, pop-up barmaid retorted with “Cash only!” and literally pulled the already poured cup away from the girl’s trembling fingertips. The girl was standing there dumbfounded (as I was) in front of an iPad fitted with a Square swipe. I bought the egregiously priced water for her with cash and the evil bartender seemed pissed at me for this. What a cunt!
I want to make this clear: It is a huge liability and an inexcusable offense to life and humanity to not make H2O readily available, accessible and affordable to a massive number of ravers who you know full-well will most likely be on some type of water-sapping, synthetic drug. This is a pathetic, callous, deliberate, supply and demand cash grab that genuinely puts guests in harm’s way. Kevin Balktick and William Etundi Jr., the duel, seasoned impresarios behind You Are So Lucky as well as the ascendant, faux artist hipsters behind MATTE should be ashamed of themselves. Also, specialty cocktails (there was absolutely nothing special about these tiny, criminally light pours) were $15 and beers started at $9. I suppose this is how you make up for the aforementioned (alleged) old-New York bribe costs.
Make no mistake, behind flowery language that may lead you to believe you’re going to engage with “an expansive landscape of sight and sound, of the spirit and the animal, of the high and the low, of the light and the dark,” you will eventually discover that you are simply a carbon-based cog in a deliberately secluded, capitalistic machine looking to drain you of essential fluids and way more money that you should ever have to fork over after purchasing a ticket. To be transparent, as a writer, I was given two comped premium tickets to cover and review this experience. As I mentioned earlier, this essentially allowed my guest and I enter into and “explore” a couple small, empty old houses with chipped paint and not much else. If I had to pay for this the next time around, I would most certainly pass. On more than a few occasions, I felt bad for those who did.
Even with two “premium” tickets embedded in an email somewhere I almost didn’t go. I was sitting on the couch in my Brooklyn apartment feeling death’s lurking, seasonally depressive presence, feeling too old and lamenting the fact that my two previous, potential plus ones weren’t going to work out for various, understandable reasons. For one, I had no time to create a proper costume. Also, it was well known that typhoon conditions were going to descend on the island just as the party would be getting into the full swing of things. Feeling a self-imposed responsibility to the event’s otherwise gracious PR, I whipped up a makeshift costume and reached out to my friend Shelby, who recently co-starred in a short film with me. Ironically, she would have to bail on the Halloween house party thrown by the film’s young director.
As you may know, Governor’s Island is reached by a short ferry ride, and things weren’t too difficult on the way there. In fact, this helps build anticipation. Guests are mostly models, finance bros, year-round burner-types and trust-funders who probably function as nebulous, freelance “creative directors” for God knows who or what. In preparatory, tip-sheet emails from the event’s PR, guests are encouraged to make of the party what they will and to “be generous,” which is beyond ironic. In the main DJ tent, the music was good and the atmosphere was hot, sexy and sweaty. I personally ingested two separate psychedelic compounds that actually melded together into one beautifully liquid, multicolored, shifting lattice experience, which at its peak allowed me to fully tap into the unified field and a greater consciousness. What you discover at these isolated human experiments, is civilization is ultimately segregated into artists and consumers-wolves and sheep. Such is the cocktail of life.
While sitting comfortably (but depressively) on my couch earlier Friday evening, I made the conscious decision to embrace this multiple millennia-old tradition of facing off with the scythe wielding specter of death and the looming inevitability of winter in the American northeast in order to violently shock my stagnant, cobwebbed system to its metaphysical core. Despite wading through the long-lines and red tape bullshit, it worked. For this, I am grateful.
Around 2am, while my ride-or-die plus one shifted more into a self-contained sit down, people watching mode, when not happily transfixed by her own fishnet stockings, I embraced, if not completely morphed into a psychotically mischievous, Faustian, James O’Barr-approved, crow-like demon dancer with multiple party goers informing me that they enjoyed this particular, hyperbolic character very much. Several guests with blue wristbands approached and propositioned me to be their third sexual wheel. Rolling hard and feeling like a physically asexual demigod, I would decline with a courteous “No thank you,” and bow.
I will give some credit to the event producers for subliminally foretelling this anthropomorphic metamorphism. I had staked a claim on a small plot of grassy land just outside the main dance arena, but still enclosed under the tent and close enough to feel the heat and hear the thumping base. I found myself surrounded by multiple likeminded partiers who also defiantly stomped down the historic, presumably problematic Governor’s Island turf like they owned the damn place. Though this particular phenomenon, a sort of yearly right of passage for us mortals, could have taken place anywhere with the requisite drugs, electronic music and costumes, at that personally peaking moment, I was genuinely happy to be there, dangerously parched, but nevertheless temporarily defying death, while celebrating the sweet, fleeting fruits of life.
As things began shifting more firmly into an anxiety-inducing hot mess, as mountains of single use plastic cups and Goth black lipstick-stained cigarette butts littered the historically protected landscape, as the sleepy yawns and general future-withdrawal shudders began to set in, we returned to one of the officer houses where Shelby had stuffed and stashed her grey, body-length bubble coat and modest Victorian mask in one of the empty, rickety kitchen drawers. They were both still there.
While headed towards the only exit, down a long, picturesque road slicing through a row of towering, bottom-lit, cathedral like trees, three young, giggling Italian guests (one man in a tuxedo and two women) were running in the opposite direction, seeking shelter from the wind and rain. One lithe, gorgeous woman in this threesome wore a white lace dress lined with cascading rainbow LED lights, which reflected in colorful psychedelic streams off the wet concrete. It was a unique, romantic, cinematic moment that Shelby and I were very pleased to witness.
We forged onward, making our way, tightly and briskly towards the ferry. Guests cramped together hoping to not be left behind, which would mean waiting in the cold for another 20 minutes at least. European lads tried mustering up their group football chants to maintain morale before everyone clamored towards the little boat like frightened extras in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Once inside the brightly lit cabin, everyone took each other in, happy to be safe and headed back toward civilization. Though mascara was running wildly and men and women alike were shaking off a lingering chill, the various, privileged, glowing citizens of the first world looked raw, vulnerable, immensely beautiful and generally happy to be dry, warm and alive.
Back on Manhattan, people jockeyed for yellow cabs. Ubers and Lyfts were summoned en masse. Shelby and I walked a few blocks away from the mob as security shouted, “Keep it moving!” We sought temporary shelter from the elements underneath a large FiDi residential building’s external lobby awning. After a few quiet minutes, while desperately trying to use our phones (perplexing digital light portals) we said our goodbyes. We hugged lightly, quickly and unceremoniously. I watched Shelby get in her car and close the door. A few minutes later, I did the same.
I shared an Uber pool with Zoe, a beautiful stranger and one of the performers from Cirque Du Nuit. She explained the details of her short-lived performance, which many others and I didn’t get to experience. She was a bit down, a little disappointed, but happy to be paid. She would have to give it another go the next night. I was happy to be done with it. We both decided that throwing big events like these are admirable for their ambition alone-boats moving 10,000 people from one island to the next in crazy weather over the course of a New York weekend. With so many moving parts, things are bound to break down. Ultimately, the whole thing is a valiant celebration of doing and living, of getting up off the couch and throwing caution to the wind. One would just hope, after a decade of organizing parties like this, that it wouldn’t turn into such an unmitigated shit show, where concerns about security, liability, safety, false promises, class warfare and general douchebag financial manipulation would at times overshadow something more eternal, contemporary, necessary and magical.
Kurt McVey began his journalism career as a prolific contributor to Interview Magazine where he covered emerging and established names in the art, music, fashion and entertainment worlds. He has since contributed to The New York Times, T Magazine, Vanity Fair, Paper Magazine, ArtNet News, Forbes, Whitehot Magazine, and many more. A Long Island native, McVey is also a successful artist, model, performer, entrepreneur, and screenwriter working out of NYC.