“O i! Where did you get that T-shirt?” chirps a girl dressed like a toucan’s beak, tapping me forcefully on the sternum. With her other hand, she’s holding a balloon filled with nitrous oxide, from which she inhales frantically between sentences.
“In New York,” I say.
“What were you doing there?” she asks, half-giggling, half-choking on the gas.
“I live there.”
“Wow,” she says. “That’s cool.”
“Why do you think that?” I ask, declining her offer of a “drag” on her balloon.
“I dunno,” she says. “It just is.”
“Do you wish you were there right now?”
“Fuck no!” She laughs. “It’s a Saturday night! Going out in New York is awful. No one fucking dances—look at this crowd. You don’t get this in bloody New York. Everyone’s so pretentious there. We’re here to dance!”
It’s still early in the evening, only about 10 p.m., but the dance floor at Bar Music Hall in Shoreditch, East London, is already heaving with people. Outside, black cab after black cab is pulling up, spilling a myriad of wonderfully attired people onto the drab street. Gathering up their various accoutrements—wigs, sunglasses, sparkly wands, stuffed animals—they take their place in a disorderly line that spreads down the block; a shimmering throng of fluorescent spandex, metallic makeup, precarious hairstyles, and the odd feather.
The occasion is Antisocial, a weekly party thrown every Saturday by Buster Bennett, a slightly rotund 23-year-old who, tonight, has gone for “the pajama look,” red-checkered ones, to be precise, which he’s rounded off with a glowing necklace shaped like a Highland terrier.
Bennett is also a D.J. and a major figure on the “new rave” scene that is currently dominating London’s nightlife. Here, in the same neighborhood where Shakespeare once lived, the most exciting fashion, music, and people can be experienced pretty much every night of the week.
“We pride ourselves on educating our crowd musically,” Bennett shouts in a dark corner, waving familiarly at a girl with a painted-on beard. “We play unsigned bands all the time—and they love it.” Chris Long, a gay 24-year-old music marketer who was born in Melbourne, Australia, and now lives in Shoreditch, agrees: “I went to New York,” he says, “and I looked for the discos. I went with Amanda Lepore and Kenny Kenny to Happy Valley and all of that. The music was boring, and no one could tell me one good after-party. At 4 a.m., the promoters just went to a bistro, then home to bed. Where are the fucking party people in New York?!”
The month of February saw Antisocial host four “I Love NY” parties in Shoreditch, featuring guest appearances from Cazwell and Absolutely Flawless, among others. Bennett, for his part, has D.J. sets booked in New York in the summer. But while many of the people I spoke to at Antisocial said they were looking forward to the upcoming sets from New York–based D.J.’s, not one said he would prefer to go out in New York. Even Greg Krelenstein, one-third of New York nightlife mavens the MisShapes, considers London’s nightlife to be superior. He says, “London has a better energy, it’s less self-conscious, and all the music I’m inspired by comes from there recently.”
Later, after a stop at a house party, we head for the storied Scala in Kings Cross, where Parisian D.J. Uffie is playing a much-anticipated headline set in the main room. Balloons of nitrous oxide, which can be bought from various stands in the club for £2 each, are everywhere. I ask one of the girls selling them how many balloons people go through in an evening. “Some will just do about five,” she says, sounding like she’s done a few herself, “but others can do 40 in a night.” It’s now about 1 a.m., and “Tape Deck” Alax has just finished his set. He’s played in New York before and is returning to the city in a few weeks. “The London crowd just know so much more about music,” he says. “I was dropping all kinds of shit on them just now, and they were fucking loving it!”
New York has nothing that compares. Deep Space, which François K hosts every Monday night at Cielo, and Danny Krivit’s 718 Sessions at Deep in Chelsea every Sunday night are legitimate parties full of people there to dance, but these are specialist nights that attract highly specific and generally older crowds. The kids, meanwhile, congregate at various parties (MisShapes, Sway, Popscene, Tiswas) and venues (Home Sweet Home, the Annex, Home, 205 Club, Mr. Black) that have become mere galleries of posturing, pretentious, and seemingly disenchanted hipsters. “New Yorkers are more concerned with arriving at a new cool spot,” says Christian Stavros, a 26-year-old who works in A&R who has just moved back to the East Village after a seven-month stint in London. “Londoners are simply concerned with finding a spot on the dance floor to freak out on.”