In the beginning there was The Saint, an insanely popular nightclub where 80s debaucheries reigned supreme. Then it died. But resurrections are always possiblesort of. From the ashes of the near-spiritual venue arose the Saint at Large, arguably one of the original organizers of circuit parties. Now the party organizationmost well known for organizing the annual Black Party held near the Spring Equinoxis attempting to spread the partying gospel to a new generation.
Circuit parties were once the main event, purporting to foster a tribal brotherhood among gay men. And while under-25 homos may not be able to define it, they still hear stories of the weekend-long bacchanals that sprung up in the 1980s after The Saints popular Black and White parties. Current incarnations of these dance festivals spot the globe: Montreal has an annual Black and Blue Festival, Sydneys Mardi Gras attracts millions and various independent White Parties take place in Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Miami, attracting hedonistic hordes of participants from all over.
But the original party boys are aging, and despite their efforts, promoters have had a difficult task of attracting a newer, younger crowd. One reason: The cost of entry for one night can reach over $100, and the targeted youth have no association with the original big-club experience, preferring house parties and indie party nights in small venues. The disinterest in reviving the gay-exclusive, big-club experience may be a sign of New Yorks nightlife evolution. The diffusion of the party scene into smaller venues and more mixed gender and sexuality has taken hold. And then theres the Internet: Many guys and gals see no need to cruise a bar when they can stay at home and cruise thousands of profiles with ease. But a dedicated few continue to try to educate others as to why the club experience is something that cant be replaced by keyboard clicks and Cam2Cam connections.
Theres a theatrical side to this; its a whole production, explains a Saint at Large representative, referring to their over-the-top performances and high-production light and sound experience. Its not just about lowering the lights and putting on music. Supposedly, the richness of a night with the Saint at Large (SAL) is like attending a massive interactive performancedepending on the audienceto create atmosphere like any theatrical event. At SALs recent Christmas party, a black man was dressed as Santa, go-go boys resembled dirty elves and drag queens molested people while riding tricycles.
To translate and transmit this idea SAL has begun hosting concert events. In 2007, then up-and-coming Jennifer Hudson had an explosively popular set organized by SAL that received rave reviews from Billboard. Hailed as a massive success, the performance evolved seamlessly into a dance party featuring legendary DJ, Junior Vasquez. A subsequent concert brought Irish singer Róisín Murphy in late October 2008. That was followed up with the SALs first Halloween gathering in 13 years, named Salem. Ever the dramatic types, invited guests were hand-delivered packages of witches brew, consisting of weird occult materials like fingernails and actual sheeps eyeballs. This past June, SAL organizers also brought back their Gay Pride bash, Champions, and all of the New York queens wouldnt shut up about it. These people are not fucking around; theyre looking to win the gay nightlife crown in 2009, and they have good reason to covet such an ambiguous title.
The original The Saint was in the East Village at 105 Second Ave. and 6th St., created by gay businessman Bruce Mailman and attracted celebrity performers like Grace Jones, Tina Turner and Madonna. He took the old Fillmore East, a 1926 theater and later rock n roll venue, and created an architectural masterpiece with a 5,000 square foot dance floor, covered by a 76-foot diameter planetarium dome lit by 1,500 light fixtures and a retractable disco ball. Setting a new worldwide standard for clubs, it closed officially in 1988 (brief relapses notwithstanding), partially due to loss of membership resulting from the AIDS crisis.
Great music, sound and light shows would have been enough to prove the clubs staying power, but acts were not limited to singers. Explicit and often bizarre public sex performances were an infamous pull for many devoted attendees. The Saints Black Party still exists as a notorious, no-photographs raunchy sex fest (complete with dark room), but its nothing like the original totally unprotected sex shows, one of which included a live boa constrictor that was used in an, um, explicit act.
The current SAL parties attempt to recapture the perfectly engineered atmosphere of the original club, hence the high-production values, including excellently designed lighting, state-of-the-art sound systems, quality live music, impressive DJ talent and other live performances. The Black Party celebrates its 30th anniversary in March 2009, and the organizers are constantly trying to one-up themselves by shocking the attendees (the 2006 party, subtitled Schwarzwald, featured sex shows by female-to-male transsexual porn star Buck Angel). This coming March, the Black Partys anniversary will be celebrated at the Roseland Ballroom, and is being described as an homage to ancient Druidic pagan rituals.
While the Saint at Large wont divulge who the latest slew of concert/dance parties will feature, we are ensured that it would be at the same level as Hudson or Murphy, and someone we should all know about. Overall, weve been promised an amazing series of events, with sensational lighting, music and shows that may be a total mindfuck. Now we just wait to see if the newbies get the party spirit and join the rollicking and raunchy festivities.