With its mix of New Wave–inspired fashion, DIY aesthetics, and synthesizer music, their parties' vision has obviously drawn a lot of comparisons to the eighties, but Product rejects that theory himself. "Comparing this stuff to the eighties devalues the level of creativity that's going on right now -- this hybrid of fashion and music and art stars."
On this particular Saturday night at Luxx, a sea of revelers -- almost all of whom are wearing outfits that would've been suitable for any scene in 1982's cult sci-fi film Liquid Sky -- are not so much drifting about as being pushed by the centripetal force of the crowd. Dressed in a long cape and panties, Prance -- Spencer Product's stage persona -- arrives onstage looking like the love child of Prince and a Philip K. Dick android. Slicing the air with his hands, he launches into "When Love Dies," one of his creations, which owes more than a little to "When Doves Cry."
"The sweat of my body covers me," he growls. "Candy Darling, can you picture this . . . ?"
Near the front of the stage, a boy named Scott Hug is taking Polaroids of the show for his self-published journal, K48, which began as his thesis at Pratt Institute and has since become the unofficial chronicle of the Williamsburg arts-and-music scene. He says that he dumps nearly his entire salary from freelance graphic design into the project. "A lot of New York kids have their own projects that they start up because they have a trust fund or a connection," he says, "but their projects usually suffer because they have so much money and so little talent.
"My magazine is based in chaos theory and the irrational," Hug explains. "I don't want it to be pretentious -- my first issue bordered on that; it was a little too arty. But I want to inspire and influence the young kids coming up -- I want them to know that now that we all have computers in our bedrooms, they can be used as really powerful tools for change."
Scott gives away a handful of buttons and bumper stickers to a coterie of mohawked boys. The bumper stickers have slogans like K48 WANTS YOU TO BATTLE ME and ATTENTION CONSUMER!!! K48.
"I made this propaganda to be assertive," Hug says. "I'm not a corporation, you know, so I have to be aggressive. The media is controlled by Condé Nast and all these larger corporations. The stickers and buttons are my way of saying that even though you have all that money and advertising, I think it's just a bunch of shit."
Hug likes to covertly plant these stickers inside newsstand editions of magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. "I don't want K48 to ever become commercial or mass-produced," he says. "If I could, I would sell it for free. It should be bartered, be my currency . . . "
He points out a tall, dark-haired man in a business suit who's taking photographs of the crowd. "He's working on a book called Punk Revisited or something like that," Hug says. "He's just trying to cash in on the whole thing. You know, it's all the interest the media's created about Williamsburg that's causing the rents to rise. All this media coverage is definitely going to kill the scene."
A crowd carries plastic cups of mint juleps back and forth from Andy Salzer and Thomas Meus's Williamsburg apartment and into the loft space directly across the hall, where the designers are throwing a party to celebrate the fall line of Yoko Devereaux, their avant-garde fashion label. Lit only by industrial clamp lights, young models plucked from the streets of Williamsburg swagger across a makeshift catwalk created with black masking tape, each of them heavily made up to look mutilated, slashed, or otherwise decomposed: There goes Kenan, of the electro band Soviet, wearing a black T-shirt depicting a suicide note that reads GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD. There's Spencer Product again, in a T-shirt graced by the images of dead celebrities: JonBenet Ramsey, James Dean, and Grace Kelly. Meanwhile, on a small stage entirely constructed out of cinder blocks, Hungry Wives perform the soundtrack to the show, their faces obscured by Yoko Devereaux "body bag" hoodies that zip up over their faces. At the end of the show, Salzer takes the stage and launches into a song titled "It's Over."
"The scene is dead, honey," he sings. "The Palladium is a dorm. Twilo was sold on eBay . . ." Salzer, aside from being a fashion designer, is also a member of Hungry Wives (as, it must be mentioned, am I).
After the show, Salzer pushes through the throng and says, "Shit, I told the landlord that only 50 people were coming." Back in his apartment, he starts flipping through a rack of clothing. "Our spring line is based on celebrity fanaticism," he explains. "Celebrities don't reach a point of martyrdom until they die prematurely. So, for this line, the catch-phrase is 'You're not legendary until you're dead.' "
Salzer originally moved to New York from Seattle to launch UV115.com, a site selling club accessories that was almost instantly bought out by the doomed Urban Box Office. "UV115 was a B2C prototype," he says, laughing. "You know -- a business-to-consumer prototype. That's the kind of ridiculous thing I'd have to hear every day. For example: 'taking conversations offline' and 'your path to profitability'! What the hell does that mean?" He fires up a Camel Light and says, "Really, all I was selling was an idea. It felt like a scam, actually. Everything and everybody was overvalued."
After UV115 folded, Salzer took six months to figure out what to do next, living off the sizable amount of money he'd made. "I always wanted to be involved in fashion, but I found it to be such a calculated business -- all about the marketing. And after the dot-com, I wanted to work on something that actually had meaning."
"The possibility of an unknown finding success right now is much greater," says Thomas, "because the media is so hungry for something different."
The idea of creating a fashion designer -- Yoko Devereaux, of course, does not actually exist -- was clearly inspired by Salzer's less-than-inspiring experience with the Internet. "The desire to move into the clothing line was truly about bucking all the bogus nonsense surrounding the dot-com sensation," he says. "My involvement with the line is more about tongue-in-cheek commentary on the structure of industries." Indeed: He and Meus recently created a pair of jeans with "$900" stenciled in gold on the ass. Two pairs were sold from Soho's Selvedge store -- for $900 apiece.
"The people in Williamsburg take themselves less seriously than in Manhattan," Salzer says. "It's fostered collaboration between tons and tons of amazing people. If you look at what I'm doing, I'm working on fashion and music, and it's all at your fingertips because these people live down the street from you. There's none of that 'What am I going to get out of this?' attitude." He pauses to take a long drag from his cigarette. "The press and attention will eventually ruin it -- the challenge for now is to see whether any of the talent in Williamsburg will be taken seriously enough to be invited into actual New York City culture."
"We are not bohemians!" Matt Moran shouts from behind the turntables of his Williamsburg apartment, where he's scouring through a stack of recently purchased industrial records, sieving out all but the most assaulting. "We're bohemics!"
"Yes, bohemics," Alex Chesler says, laughing. He's leaning in the doorway, drinking a bottle of beer. "Help -- ! We take drugs instead of eat food. We're bohemic!"
"I just found a large mushroom growing in our bathroom and almost ate it," Moran says, pouring a healthy amount of Jagermeister into a tumbler. "I don't know -- does that count as bohemian?"