COSMOPOLITAN, April 2017 - Daisy Clementine Smith Photographed by Zoey Grossman - Styled by James Demolet /
Piece Of My Heart ft. Walt Cassidy / Walt Cassidy Studio by Dusty St. Amand with music by Corey Ryan Matos /
Dusty St. Armand
Piece Of My Heart
ft. Walt Cassidy / Walt Cassidy Studio
Music by Corey Ryan Matos
Historic Fiction: Life Inside The Club Kids - by Walt Cassidy/Waltpaper for CANDY Magazine - Winter 2014. /
What does it mean to come to New York City
Illuminated by youth
Dreams untethered from conscience
Vibrant, hungry, invincible
The thrill of an urban landscape, throbbing with potential
Intersections, a kinetic maze of circuitry
Explosions of inspiration, burning one to another
Heat inside the flame
Bound together in anticipation of what could be
Courageous and high
The cityscapes dance
Weightlessness, suspended animation
Seeds burst onto the street and into the night
Colliding with dilemma and confrontation
Spawning vines of thought, expression, movement and sound
We opened ourselves, in glory
We burst from our cages
As blossoms would accost the sky
New York City in the 1990‘s was undeniably the center of the universe. Everything was everything, and everything felt new. The city felt free and renegade. From the subways to the police force, people basked in the notion that New York was a special place. None of the rules of the outside world applied here. We did things differently. Like any great city, New York was an idea. It was a vision of possibilities. Spontaneity and humor permeated. You could feel the radiance of the dream.
Every corner was laced with culture. The streets pulsed with cleverness, and we walked them, as pages of a great history book. There was an effervescent sense of responsibility, in that, if you were gonna contribute something to this fantastic story, you better make it good.
The story had raged from Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance to the howling Beats of the 1950’s. The Abstract Expressionists had been brawling at the Cedar Bar and Warhol’s Superstars sped through the Factory. Poet Punks slummed on the Bowery, while Disco basked in the heat of high gloss. Paradise Garage...No Wave...The Balls. There was a tradition of hanging out in New York City.
The nighttime sparked with embers of transgression. The city was gritty. The streets had edge. There was danger and risk, which demanded you be present, but also liberated you to test the boundaries. The Mob was around. There were whores, hustlers and drug dealers. People were selling it from the Meatpacking District to 42nd Street.
I remember walking home one morning from an after hours club that had been held inside an abandoned building across from Tunnel, directly on the Hudson River. The crack heads, who lived there, would be given a $100, so that we could use the space. There were candles lit in corners and on broken walls, a makeshift bar, a boom box and a narrow slab of concrete that stretched out onto the water, where we would gather to greet the sun rise.
During these moments, the whole world glistened and flickered with completeness. We would sit together as a family, marinated in the evening’s composite of drugs, and exhilarated from dancing all night long.
I always loved the mornings. The conversations you would have were always so tender and real. After having chewed down your psyche from hours of clubbing, there was often nothing left but vulnerability. The soul would reveal itself with purity and innocence. We shared so much connection in those moments, and everything was bound in a sparkling optimism.
We were the Club Kids.
There were many layers and factions to the Club Kids. The first wave was spawned in the late 80’s, and laid the foundation that we would come to occupy. Michael Alig, James St. James, Ernie Glam, Keoki, Julie Jewels, Amanda Lepore, The It Twins, Michael Tronn, Larry Tee, Kenny Kenny and so on. They were characters culled from the residue of the drug Ecstasy and House music.
When the second wave came along in the early 90’s, many of these personalities had taken up more administrative positions in the scene. Michael Alig was the head promotor and creative director for the budding nightlife empire of Peter Gatien. These were the “mega-clubs”, which began with Limelight, and would grow to include, Palladium, Tunnel and Club USA.
Michael, much like an old Hollywood studio head, sought to fill out the identity of this new empire with a series of young new stars. Christopher Comp, Desi Monster, Pebbles, Astro Erle, Sacred Boy, Sushi, Keda, DJ Whillyem, Jennytalia, Karliin, Kabuki Starshine, Little Keni, Richie Rich, Tobell Von Cartier, Sophia LeMar, and me, Waltpaper.
Enough time had passed, and the Club Kid format began to crystalize and was becoming quite professional, and fairly well recognized. There were events, television appearances, Style Summits, trading cards, tours to other cities, and a magazine, Project X.
As a young creative person, brought into this circle, everything seemed possible, with endless resources in place to push forward whatever idea you could imagine.
It all felt so cinematic.
The mega clubs resembled funhouse gladiator arenas. They were massive spaces with dynamic mazes of rooms, each serving different crowds and functions. Cages for go-go dancers were suspended high in the air above the heads of club goers, a massive slide would go from one floor to another. There were neon signs, orbitrons and galleries featuring the work of various artists.
Rooms were designed by H.R. Giger, Thierry Mugler, Michael Schmidt, Kenny Scharf and Jean Paul Gauthier. There was a never ending stream of shinning metal, fun fur and corseted chairs illuminated in light.
You could taste the decadence when you danced mid-air in the swinging go-go cages at Limelight and Palladium, which is where I got my start. The walls and the floors were lined with young sweating bodies, wide eyed and grinding, maneuvering, testing out a wide range of social codes.
Defiance met triumph. It radiated through the music and into the movements of these polymorphic bodies packed together on the dance floor and cramming to get past the velvet ropes into the hidden spaces of VIP lounges.
Every trip to the bathroom revealed a network of possibilities. Some of the most amazing connections could be made in the bathrooms of these mega clubs. Much like the kitchen in a house, the bathroom was very often the best spot in the club.
At Tunnel, it was not unusual to spend the whole evening in the upstairs bathroom, which came complete with it’s own full bar and dj. The deep labyrinth of urinals offered voyeuristic cruising and hookup points.
There were drag queens giving blow jobs to young actors, and assemblies of 3-5 people crammed into the stalls, sharing the evening’s available powders and potions. The walls and floors were covered in electric blue tiles, which made for a stunning backdrop to impromptu photo shoots and interviews.
Every inch of these club spaces were geared towards exploration. We were all participating in an ongoing process of chrysalis, bursting through the boundaries of our perceptions. You couldn’t help but be transformed after spending so much time amidst the cross current of expression that saturated these places.
You may have tried a drug for the first time, or had your first sexual encounter with a man, your best friend or someone from MTV’s The Real World. Maybe you scored a photo shoot, an agent, a part in a music video or tequila commercial. Perhaps you took all your clothes off in the Hot Body Contest while high on E, or opened up to another dimension while dancing to a particular song.
At Limelight, the stained glass windows sat tucked away, beyond the immediate distraction of the club’s wide range of interiors. It was always a little bit shocking to be reminded that this decadent arena was, in fact, a church. Sin and salvation were definitely palpable forces on that dance floor.
The nights often started with an Outlaw Party at some random location, like the abandoned rail track which is now The Highline, the Post Office, a donut shop or subway station. After a substantial crowd would gather, the police would come and we would all hustle over to the club for dinner and open bar.
Usually the dinners had an odd twist to them, featuring some washed up television celebrity from a show we had grown up watching, like Three’s Company or the Jeffersons. The main purpose of these dinners was to get all the working Club Kids, and their friends into the space, so that when the main crowds came through, they wouldn’t arrive to an empty club.
During this meet and greet time slot, someone would hand out muscle relaxers or sometimes there would be mushroom and ecstasy punches served. The punches were really fun, because it immediately locked a large group of people into a unified trip.
Additional drug dealers would be there to get people started if there were more specifics that they wanted to pursue. For street drugs, there was usually a runner who would volunteer to go buy supplies on the Lower East Side, since the street dealers didn’t perch until around 11pm, and by that time the main Club Kids were usually beginning work duty.
At around midnight the main dance floor would start to fill up, and everyone would fall into their perspective work stations. If you were a go-go dancer you’d be escorted by security guards to the cages and hoisted into the air, and if you were a host you would direct people to various parts of the club.
The spaces were so big, that part of the host’s job was to keep the focus and flow moving, this way people could stay engaged, and would not be tempted to leave for fear of missing the next big moment in the evening.
Maybe there was another open bar, an artist exhibition, a performance, or a celebrity that was on the premises. Through whatever means necessary, you had to make sure that the club you were working at seemed like the most exciting spot in the city, whether it was or not. Luckily, most nights, it was.
The music would progressively get deeper as the night rolled on. People would become more intoxicated, and inhibitions would loosen. Packs of friends would break off to go on their own individual journeys. Some beautiful young raver boy from New Jersey, who had been watching you dance all night long, would break the distance and approach. The playing field was in full swing, fluid and vibrating.
Just when the energy seemed to be reaching a peak, the DJ would stop the music, and drop into a pocket of complete silence.
Everything would go dark....
All you could hear was your own heart beat, and feel the sweat dripping down your back. Sometimes you couldn’t even stop moving, and would dance into the silence.
The smoke machines would begin to hiss, filling the cavernous space with billowing clouds of chilled smoke.
You knew something major was going to happen. A DJ’s silence always signaled a pinnacle moment, an opportunity to cross over into a deeper exploration of the soul.
And then the silence would open up with bass...
“I am excited...” (in a preacher’s voice)
White strobes exploded, pulsating onto the thick grey smoke, bouncing from one corner to the next, above and below you. Disoriented, you lost track of the walls, your friends and even your own body.
“The House of God...
The House of God....
The House of God...”
“Isn’t that powerful?”
I witnessed a beautiful ritual one night on the main dance floor to this song. A young woman, who was part of our group of friends, had recently lost her boyfriend to a gun shooting. DJ Keoki played House of God by DHS, and she began to dance. With an etherial and shamanic style of vogueing, she narrated the tragedy she was amidst, illustrating her course from sorrow to healing.
We built a protective circle around her, to watch and support as she moved through the sequences of pain and sacrament. In conclusion, the song carried her down onto the floor, where she offered herself in complete surrender.
It was breathtaking. Not just because she was a beautiful girl, doing an incredibly poignant dance, but because additionally we, as a group of friends, collectively and intuitively fell into place to support her in making peace with her struggle.
I came to understand, in this moment, the value of transcendence and the power and possibility of the dance floor in spiritual terms. There was so much generosity and sensitivity.
We all had a telepathic connection to each other through these experiences. To someone on the outside of this world of nightclubs, they only saw decadence and debauchery. From the inside, the womb, there were so many tender points of illumination.
We were a group of children growing up, discovering our voices, our bodies and identities, finding our balance and purpose. New York City was our mother and we honored her with sound, costume, movement, and ritual. There was purity of intent, and a tremendous faith in what we were doing.
We each had our unique role within the core group of the Club Kids, and our own personal aspirations, but at that age, our desires were pretty simple. We wanted to be creative, find meaning in what we were doing, and have our voices heard.
We also wanted to be fabulous, and to have our picture taken.
So one of the primary goals, aside from building our personas and having these existential experiences in the clubs, was getting everything filmed, photographed and published. We wanted to make history, and history doesn’t exist, unless it is documented.
Luckily there were a number of photographers dedicated to capturing our journey. They were in the trenches with us, night after night. Time proves that any flash of inspiration, can be easily erased, unless it is recorded, and I am so glad they contributed their energy to capture and participate, with us, in all of the magic.
I have worked in collaboration with the five photographers featured here, to uncover a focused glimpse into what the lifestyle was like inside of the Club Kids.
What moves me most, when I reflect on my relationship with these photographers, is the effortlessness with which we all collaborated back in the day. I don’t remember anyone ever hesitating at the proposal of a creative project.
No one nickel and dime’d over money or time. An idea would present itself, and we just made it happen. We valued each other’s talents, knew that our creativity served us, and dove into any opportunity that was thrown on the table.
In the photographs that we have selected here, there is a fantastic joie de vivre. When people are doing something they love, it caresses the photographic image in a particularly stunning way. The photographer is in love with their subject, the subject loves what they are doing, and it perfumes the image with an undeniable sweetness. It is a magic that can not be faked, a purely intuitive gift from the universe.
At the time, I took it for granted that the city would always offer up these gifts of connection, that we would always be together, all this color and light. The energy and identity of the city and our community, seemed indestructible. There was no warning of the cultural bleakness that lie ahead.
There were some rough times to follow. One tragedy led to another, and the city went into a period of creative hibernation. Wounded and confused, we each retreated to our own prospective caves to recover and begin charting our courses as individuals.
So here we are. With some luck and perseverance, we’ve made it through.
It’s a new time. There are new agendas and opportunities to attend to as creatives. The formats in which we communicate and express ourselves have shifted. Many of the institutions we came to know and love in New York City, have been erased. Our roles and relationship to the city have changed, along with it’s identity.
As easy as it is to mourn the past, I am much more excited by imagining the future. There is a wonderful energy pumping through the airwaves, and it’s exciting to be on fertile ground again.
The Club Kids were never afraid to dive blindly into the next unforeseen adventure, despite whatever disaster may have ensued as a result. The knowledge I gained from being a part of that scene, was that in order to evolve, we must take risks. We must learn to fall, and we must learn to pick ourselves back up. It is this energy that I carry with me, every day.
But for now, just in this moment, I wanted to share some of my reflections with you along with the work of these great photographers.
This is my love story to New York City and it’s inspired children, the deviant blossoms, who occupy the space “...tween pavement and stars.”
Waltpaper / Walt Cassidy
Walt Cassidy is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the 1990s, as Waltpaper, he was at the center of the New York City Club Kids, and founded the conceptual hardcore band BOOB (1995-1998). His artwork has been exhibited at MASS MOCA; Paul Kasmin Gallery; Deitch Projects; 303 Gallery; Torrance Art Museum; Watermill Center; Vox Populi; and Galerie Melilli Mancinetti.
Tina Paul began documenting nightlife culture during her teens in Miami Beach. Her subjects include Keith Haring, Larry Levan, The House of Field and Grace Jones, as well as, the Club Kids. She became the in house photographer for a wide range of venues in New York, such as Paradise Garage, Jackie 60, Squeezebox and Limelight. Her documentary style of photography is raw, real, and spontaneous. Her quiet and non invasive technique allowed her an insider’s perspective to events and moments that otherwise, might not have been captured. There is no distance between subject and photographer in her work. You can feel the heat and energy from inside the crowd, the immediacy of the front row, the sweat of performance on the edge of the stage, and the dashing excitement of first arriving through the velvet ropes.
Michael Fazakerley is a studio photographer, originally from Philadelphia. He is responsible for shooting some of the most recognizable media portraits of the Club Kids. For many of us, our first formal photo shoots were done by him. Before going out to work in the clubs, we would often file into Michael’s studio to be shot against the clean white background, creating images for invitations, advertisements, trading cards and Project X, among other publications. His extensive archive is full of images that are iconic representations of that time period. It would not be possible to have a discussion about Club Kids, without referencing his work.
SKID is a collaborative photography partnership between Harvey Ferdschneider and Bill Carney, which started in 1992. They spent nine months documenting the Club Kids, as part of “The Nightlife Series”. Their aesthetic goal was to illustrate the dark, rich, non-conformist spirit and atmosphere, achieving a near dreamlike quality in the photographs, yet readily offering the viewer a great deal of factual information. They captured the renegade spirit of the Outlaw Parties, and events such as the exhibition, Nocturnal Oddities at the Willow Gallery, which featured the Club Kids as live art objects.
Misa Martin photographed NYC nightlife from 1992-2008. Her style is marked by a close collaboration with her subjects. Big saturated colors, trailing lights and a sensitivity to theatrical makeup earned her much respect and adoration from the people she documented, which included not only the Club Kids, but also burlesque performers, drag queens, actors, and many notable figures from the fetish community. Misa had a wonderful mobility, and was always side by side with us, whether it be on the street, in taxis, or on the dance floor. In pursuing her subjects, she also captured the dynamic backdrop of the city itself. The thrill of movement and pulse is ever-present in her images.
Bella Thorne wearing In Honor Of The Coming Sun necklace on the cover of Seventeen Magazine's December/January 2015 Issue. Photography by Eric Ray Davidson. Styling by James Demolet.
Bella Thorne wearing The Seagull Necklace by Walt Cassidy Studio.
Walt Cassidy in his studio in Prospect Park
Wearing worn-out blue jeans and a white t-shirt, Walt Cassidy greets me at the door of his Prospect Park studio for our photo shoot. A hallway leads us to a living room filled with photographs by Kenneth Anger. His own artworks, including a large brass sculpture, hang across the room to the right. To the left stands a small meditation altar. The room is filled with the earthy scent of sage, the herb Cassidy uses to cleanse his apartment before daily meditations.
Standing at 6’3” and 220 lbs., Cassidy’s physique is impressive - arms covered with tattoos, bicep muscles bulging under his tee. With a closer look, his tattoos reveal to be not just ink on the skin, but rather like words in a diary - story-telling imagery intrinsically weaving together life and art in an expression of “chrysalis”, of evolution and transcendence. But unlike his toughness of flesh, Cassidy possesses a gentle disposition, and jokes that he feels like the "Rocky Balboa of the art world". He is streetwise and seasoned, as evident by his biography, but is thoughtful and soft-spoken as we engage in conversation about his latest projects.
Cassidy’s transformation as person and artist is extraordinary, as a simple Google search will show. During the ‘90s, he reigned as Waltpaper in New York City’s underground scene, an androgynous Club Kid who became known for complex style creations and over-the-top antics. Cassidy refers to the ‘90s as an exploratory period in his life, a time when self-expression was encouraged and creativity made it all possible. Although Cassidy is proud of that time in his life, he doesn’t dwell in the heyday of the Club Kids. Much like his art, he’s in constant evolution, transforming experiences into sought-after objects that communicate universal themes of violence, love, and healing.
In this Portrait Q+A, the artist talks about his Missouri upbringing, his life as Club Kid Waltpaper, and his recent collaboration with Derek Lam.