Balding and slightly pudgy, Terry Donovan, the 28-year-old COO of the multi-million-dollar video-game company Rockstar Games, might seem an unlikely candidate for clubland impresario. But in an age when software executives and rock stars are celebrities of equal stature – think Alanis Morissette’s lucrative stock deal with MP3.com or Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen’s recent appearance on a Miller Lite television commercial – he fits the bill just fine. For that matter, Donovan isn’t exactly a typical software executive: Long before licensing music by hipster icons like Lee “Scratch” Perry for slam-bang PlayStation games such as “Grand Theft Auto” (which sold an astonishing 2.5 million copies), he was D.J.’ing at Berlin’s Tresor and other techno clubs and working as a boundary-pushing A&R man for Arista in the U.K.
But don’t expect Rockstar Loft, the monthly Saturday-night party he and company partner Sam Houser are hosting with “Body & Soul” promoter John Davis in a 6,000-square-foot West Chelsea space, to be a multimedia amusement park.
“It would be easy to hire popular techno D.J. Carl Cox, hand out a lot of flyers for our company, and install some video games,” Donovan sniffs in an upper-crust English accent. “But that’s not us.” Instead, Donovan promises that “Rockstar,” which launches October 30 with popular French house D.J.’s Dimitri From Paris and Bob Sinclar (subsequent dates are set for November 27 and December 18), will present big names in house, techno, and drum ‘n’ bass without the overpriced atmosphere of megaclubs like Twilo and the Tunnel. “I wouldn’t want to go to a club and get bulldozed by security, and I wouldn’t want to be charged $8 for a drink that costs 75 cents,” Donovan says. “I’m not concerned about fleecing people for money because our company already makes a huge amount of money.”
It’s tempting to dismiss Donovan’s venture into clubland as merely the hipster version of Richard Branson’s penchant for ballooning, but his passion comes through when he talks about “the many clubs that changed my life” and his desire to help awaken New York nightlife from its Giuliani-induced slumber.
“When I arrived in New York last November, I found the scene here so disappointing,” he says. “I thought, Hold on, this is supposed to be one of the most vibrant cities on earth. What’s going on here?” A chance visit to Davis’s “Body & Soul” at Vinyl a few weeks later revived his spirits, not to mention his faith in the scene. “It is the complete club – elite in both its musical taste and audience.”
To live up to that standard, “we’ll check with the dancing public to see if we’re on the right track,” says Donovan, who adds that he’ll bow out if the first three nights don’t go well. If they do, a permanent space for “Rockstar” could be next.
“We’re starting with a small, healthy kernel, and if we’re able to create an intimate, comfortable vibe, we’ll move on to something bigger,” Donovan says. “This is an exercise in fun, not vanity.”