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Travis Bass’ NYC Nightlife

Jul 26, 2019

Travis Bass’ NYC Nightlife


In New York, anyone who is anyone goes to Travis Bass‘ parties, which briefly exist — sometimes just for one night, other times for several months — all over lower Manhattan in unexpected spaces, like massive, three-story Bulgarian bars and tiny Italian restaurants and run-down lots, which had long lain vacant. Within these curious confines, one can find all kinds of curious characters — models, djs, musicians, artists, designers — each at ease as if they were in their own living rooms.

With famous spaces like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB and even Studio 54 constantly being reflected upon today, it can’t be helped but to think that in 20 or 30 years from now, people will look back on Travis’s parties with a similar glorified sentiment and esteem — especially now that he’s begun documenting them with a growing collection of point-and-shoots. We spoke with the nightlife designer about his process, getting into photography and his next big project, LOLA.

Tell me about the club you’re working on right now.
It used to be called Coney Island Baby and it’s being reimagined by me. I’m naming it LOLA.

How are you reimagining it?
When I did Happy Endings / Better Days it was more from the ground up, and for LOLA, it’s the same thing. It’s nice when you have to work with existing parameters of the space. We’re keeping the stage, but incorporating it more into a dance floor with beautiful herringbone wood floors, carpeting in the front, lots of palm. It’ll have a very art-fashion world collisions. It can be very fashionable, but janky and artsy and not so perfect. There’ll be a lot of layers to this space. Decorative fabrics, bathroom tiles. We can have shows sometimes early and then turn into a party. The stage could be closed or turned into a VIP room. The various rooms give us options for variety. I also have a few hidden rooms.

You love your hidden rooms!
I love it because when you go to a nightclub, it’s important that it’s an adventure. It shouldn’t be when you walk in and you see everything. You want it to be sexy and intimate with hidden pockets and places to go; you don’t know who’s there and who’s left. And you’re left to run around in circles then you go upstairs and it’s a whole other adventure. It makes it worth going to enjoy several experiences in one place instead of going to several places. Another advantage of having two rooms is that you can play techno in one room and rock ‘n’ roll in another. You don’t have to offend anyone when you have two rooms going rather than if you only have one. So having multiple rooms and different pockets allows for you to offend some people, but not enough that they leave; they just change rooms. And it gives you more artistic freedom.

It’s smart to be safe in some bars to keep it profitable, but it’s way more fun to get wild and have those memorable events.
Yeah, spaces don’t really have that option. I’ve done a lot of clubs where it’s only one room and it handcuffs the DJ. They have to meet a middle ground and can’t really experiment with the music. I’m going to incorporate my friends in the art world to do gallery events and stuff.

Like what?
I’m friends with a bunch of people in the art world and they’re always involved with doing projects with me so I’m reaching out to them to help and sort of curate the crowd. There’s going to be art elements to this place, like a giant photograph behind one of the rooms. There’s several art elements within the space that I think will resonate. It could even be just funny and weird and art crafty. It can be fun and it doesn’t have to be corny. But we also want some of the East Village rock ‘n’ roll crowd. It’s always about finding the balance.

Yeah there’s got to be a balance
Yeah, my peers are from the CBGB crowd and that demographic, which makes it much easier to work with.

So what’s with the door situation?
I’m still trying to figure it out; club scenes are always changing in New York. You’ve got to pay attention to that. People at the door — like with anything: promotions, djs, staff — you always have to think about how to make these things more fresh and different. Some places will let in horrible people and they won’t let you in. I always have this thing where my door people are the most connected and the coolest people in the world. I like to think of them as a concierge and like them to curate the crowd. But if they aren’t that “cool” then you can’t explain or train that on them.

So you’d say the door person is very important.
I think it’s everything. Creating the vibe and bringing the right people.

Do you think it’s possible to recreate timeless places like Max’s Kansas City, Mudd Club?
NYC has changed a lot because of economic and other reasons. It’s so hard to live here now for people who are focused on art or underground culture. The city has a huge turnover rate so which is different from when Max’s Kansas City was around, because back then, it was so rough to live here. It was a lot cheaper. More now than ever New York is much more affected by living finances. At the same time, the culture is not better or worse, but for some people who come to New York they are so blown away. Some clubs, I hate to say it, were too white or European. I’ll go out to an art show and I’m blown away, which is incredible because it reminds people of New York in the ’80s. It’s more diverse in more ways. Back then with Harlem and street culture and the growing art scene, bankers and wall street, everything was coming together. For the youth culture, it’s very inspiring. People are a lot more daring now. Even with how they dress.

How did you get started with throwing parties?
I grew up in LA and travelled a lot to Central America, Costa Rica, doing hippie-dippie free-spirited things. When came back to LA I moved into a loft up with my friends and photographers, artists and I started throwing these parties in this huge space. I’d throw these parties and then we’d go out. Later, these guys that threw this party called PRAGUE offered to pay me to bring more people which surprised me. Then I got into designing visuals and fun small things for these parties. I got into the art side of it. It’s amazing because you’re creating, creating the environment and then you’re trying to get the crowd together and making a community. It can be frustrating at times but there can be something so beautiful and raw about organizing these things.

How did the photography come about?
For a while I stopped throwing the parties and got into more of conceptualizing and messing around with 16mm projectors, film loops. From shooting event photos, I had friends also shooting on old film cameras. I was looking at photos from my website and I was so over all of these corporate photos I took. They were so mundane and stagnant. My friend in Paris shot a couple of Office Magazine parties that I threw and they were some of the best photos I had! I have this thing where all my photos were shot on a $20 Pentax but they turned out incredible. So from doing all my events and doing my short movies, I spent some time finding my voice in shooting all of these incredible people I’m surrounded by. So I did what my friends do and I explored my creative side to capture my moments and the events I hosted. And I got so immersed in it. It became my full-time passion. It’s been a year and a half of doing this and it’s been so fun to have this incredible outlet. Where I go with it or what I do with it, I’ll continue to document it until the day I die and I find it so satisfying to my life.