In this new series, US expat and house authority Jim Poe will be looking back at some of history’s most iconic and scene-defining nightclubs, starting with New York’s Sound Factory. You can also read his features on touring with Aphex Twin and Moby across the US in the ‘90s.
I attended the Sound Factory half a dozen times in late 1994. These were the last months that Junior Vasquez’s legendary after-after-hours gathering existed, before it was shut down by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “quality of life” forces – a fate also shared by most other New York superclubs of the era, including Tunnel and Limelight.
I should tell you right now I’m probably not the best authority on the Sound Factory. Not only did I just witness the last flush of the club’s fabled six-year run, but I’m…well, straight. And the Sound Factory was, of course, an establishment run by and for gay men. I’m sure someone else could tell you more about the party’s glory years of the early ‘90s, and how monumental it was for gay culture in New York and around the world. Much like its direct forebear the Paradise Garage, it had an international cult following based mostly on word of mouth. Among the devotees were a who’s who of elite players in the underground on both sides of the Atlantic, along with Junior’s famous friends like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.
So I may not have an insider’s perspective, but my handful of excursions to the Sound Factory were life-changing experiences for me – as was the case for so many others who made the same pilgrimage. I hadn’t seen anything like its throbbing, stomping intensity before, I haven’t since, and I don’t think I ever will again.
The Sound Factory manifested itself to me at just the right moment. I’d been in New York for a year and was frustrated in my search for the heart of the city’s house-music scene, which seemed fragmented and directionless. The superclubs bored me to death, despite their carefully marketed reputations for wildness and debauchery. The dominant style of music was a bland breed of hard house that was sorely lacking in soul; the dancefloors were so crowded with preening club kids and poseurs you couldn’t actually dance.
The various rave parties that flourished after the NASA weeklies ended tended to have much better music (jungle, techno and progressive house), but the clientele were mostly glowstick-toting teenaged ravers with unfortunate facial piercings, absurdly ill-fitting jeans and awkward dance moves. I couldn’t really relate to them or even hold a conversation with most of them. Though I was only in my early twenties they made me feel old and cynical.
There were plenty of good times; but the vitality, diversity and inspiration of the first house explosion seemed to have departed the city. Or was I looking in the wrong places? In those years I was still pretty much on my own whether shopping for records or hunting for parties; I was an outsider, a small-town kid from very far away, and had a lot to learn about the music and its history. I felt like I was chasing a mythical beast without being sure what it looked like.