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Susanne Bartsch Is Back On Top (Virtually)


Susanne Bartsch

Is Back On Top (Virtually)

A notorious NYC party producer has taken to the internet to keep the rhythm going despite the coronavirus pandemic

It has been roughly two months now since the unthinkable happened: the city that never sleeps found itself in a veritable coma amid mass shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As people fled New York City and countless lives that once thrived on the crowded rituals of urban life were upended by the pandemic, America’s most populous and vibrant metropolis was drastically and perhaps permanently altered. The MTA emptied out, the bright lights of Times Square danced for no one, and the throngs of nocturnal creatures that propelled the working hours of the city around the clock were robbed of their sanctuaries.

It was almost inconceivable in January that the virus that had thrown China into a state of utter panic would ever overwhelm New York City. For many, the alarming early coverage of COVID-19 was simply another online spectacle depicting a catastrophe an ocean away. Six months ago, New York was alive as ever on New Year’s Eve with its usual flurry of raucous parties packed with people hopeful for a new year and a new decade. No one could have known what was coming.

One hundred years ago, America and the rest of the world were gripped by a different pandemic, the Spanish Flu, a virulent influenza virus estimated to have infected approximately 500 million people, a third of the world’s population at the time. From April of 1918 until December of 1920, the virus killed as many as 100 million people, with more people dead in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years. The virus came in three waves and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, created the most severe pandemic in history. After the postwar economic boom delivered Americans into a more prosperous era, the virus became a distant memory – until now.

Aquaria, April 23

Top health officials have predicted that COVID-19, much like the Spanish Flu, will come in waves, leaving Americans mired in perpetual uncertainty. For industries such as nightlife that thrive on crowds of people, the ultimatum is clear: adapt or die out. With the virus spreading rapidly worldwide, the internet is the last redoubt. Enter Susanne Bartsch. As downtown queer nightlife’s perennial maven and one of New York City’s most notorious party producers, Bartsch has taken to the internet to keep the rhythm going. This year’s season of On Top, Bartsch’s much-anticipated summer/fall party that usually takes place at the Standard Hotel in Chelsea, was relocated to Zoom, an online video conference platform where club kids and drag artists from all over the world have begun to use their aesthetic tastes to create an extradimensional cyber party under the auspices of Bartschland.

“People at The Standard don’t even know when they’re opening, and it’s already about to be June,”

Bartsch said.

“It’s devastating. It’s very uncertain, very, very uncertain.”

But party producers aren’t the only ones hurting in nightlife. By keeping the party online, DJs, hosts, and entertainers are given another opportunity to make money. Bartsch said her 2020 calendar has been completely wiped clean, an indicator of what so many others in the industry are probably facing as well.

“From Las Vegas to Vienna, I’ve lost every job there is,”

she said.

“Other than bringing together the community and supporting this nightlife community, it’s also to help and pay people so they’re able to buy food for the week.”

This week marks the online party’s seventh Thursday installment after its launch on April 16, and each week brings with it a different set of competitive look themes and a rotating cast of hosts, guest hosts, and entertainers. In addition to the usual staples such as glamour superstar Amanda Lepore, makeup mastermind Ryan Burke, downtown it girl Linux, performance art genius Thee Suburbia, burlesque bombshell Lola Von Rox, and a cast of other provocative personalities (Gottmik, CT Hedden, Jeffrey Scott, Kiss, Candy Warhol, Muffy, Chlamydia, Mateo Palacio, Adventure Dave, and Bob Bottle to name a few), Bartsch also books special guest talent that has already included RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Aquaria, Crystal Methyd, Detox, Nicky Doll née Karlize, Brooke Lynn Hytes, and LA trans idols Gigi Gorgeous and Love Bailey, among others. DJs have included crowd favorites such as Vito Fun, Mazurbate, Tom Peters, Ty Sunderland, Aquaria, Amber Valentine, Tommie Sunshine, and London party impresario Jodie Harsh. This week, Bartsch is adding Trinity the Tuck to the roster, which promises to make for an interesting evening.

Fashion photographer Steven Klein celebrating his Birthday, April 30

Though we are separated by distance together, the remote platform has given artists the opportunity to customize their virtual surroundings in a way that augments their sartorial and cosmetic looks. Bartsch’s parties have always served as a gallery space for artists to showcase work on their bodies, and now that space extends to their virtual presentation as well. Whether it be libertine displays of communal nudity or watching renowned fashion photographer Steven Klein blow out the candles on his birthday cake, each week has brought something fresh in what is quickly becoming a new global age of New York nightlife. There are still online after-parties. People still get high. DJ sets still guide the sonic tempo of the night. The events bring all the trappings of a regular party with none of the crowded congestion one might experience in the Le Bain bathroom (God bless it) during mid-May.

This may be the first online party of its kind – one that took an existing weekly party that became impossible in the face of the pandemic and preserved it in cyberspace, where for the first time anyone with an internet connection can attend from anywhere in the world. Queer nightlife is something special that needs to be preserved during these times of blinding uncertainty. In New York City, which became the pandemic’s epicenter in a meteoric contamination, nightlife will probably be facing a depression for some time to come, especially if the virus moves in unpredictable waves and makes event planning and coordination impossible.

Still we press on. Even though the NYC Pride Parade was cancelled this year, along with the gauntlet of regular Pride events, mark your calendars for June 28. Bartsch is planning an international online Pride party on Zoom titled “On Top of the World: Pride,” featuring a bevy of headliners such as Allie X and talent from cities all over the world, including New York, LA, London, Tokyo, Paris, and Berlin.

“I never even did a FaceTime call before all this,”

Bartsch said.

“I’m going all the way.”

These times are historic, and so the ways that we choose to party and continue to celebrate life will take on a historic significance as well. The relationship between party and partygoer will be more symbiotic than ever. The parties offer respite to those taking quarantine seriously and give glamorous people everywhere a continuing opportunity to show up and show out. In exchange, we have to keep logging in and supporting these endeavors. As we now know well, nothing is promised. But we can still fight for the right to party. 

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Nightlife Timeline

Retro Factory On Uplifting Queer Marginalized Communities


Retro Factory’s Journey On Uplifting Queer Marginalized Communities With A Series Of Throwback-Themed Parties

Carlos Armesto and Zach Job are the team behind Retro Factory – the retro-inspired immersive parties that are held roughly twice in a year. Retro Factory is fairly new to the party-throwing game, but Zach and Carlos believe they have a niche to fill.

With the first event launched right before Pride, during summer 2018, Carlos – who is Producing Artistic Director of Theater C – was looking to bring his form of hybrid theater to nightlife, while Zach – who may be better known to some as his drag queen alter ego Glow Job – was looking to make his mark as a party host/producer, as well as introduce his drag persona to more people. 

As a drag queen, Glow Job felt that she had to use her platform to start conversations about bigger issues than herself. “Here I saw an opportunity to create something that isn’t addressed in nightlife: intersectionality in our queer spaces and real support for the marginalized communities within our LGBTQIA+ family,” Glow Job says.

The very first party was called “1983.” Glow Job goes on, “It was a pre-Pride party and an homage to the Pyramid Club. Our first event set out to create something missing in New York City nightlife: a space for queer people of every demographic that could be celebrated and who could witness their story reinterpreted through dance and a party with a throwback twist. In this one we had pop-up performances that reinterpreted music videos from the ‘80s with queer leads instead of the heterosexual story lines we were given at the time.”

Since then, Retro Factory has had three more editions: another “1984”-themed party, a Moulin Rouge-themed “Voulez Vous?,” and the most recent ode to Studio 54, “Le Freak.”

We like going back in time and using some key moments in history and allow a queer voice to be heard,” Glow Job expands on why the fascination with the past. “It’s powerful seeing and feeling a story we know but now through a queer lens. What if we had witnessed that kind of a history? What if these stories were told back then? The thing is, the stories were there, they just weren’t shared and uplifted. Now is our chance to celebrate our community and bring to the forefront OUR story. And not just the white cis-gendered kind of story. That is why it is super important that we involve our queer and marginalized family in the production, the crew, the talent, and our audience. This is powerful to witness as an art form, but also it creates a space where we own that world, and we can feel safe and supported truly. The honesty and openness that I see at our parties is truly breathtaking. Watching our guests dress up, express themselves, and twirl with total abandon is the beauty we strive to create.”

Zach cites Riis Beach as one of the spaces that inspires the mood and energy for his events:

“People there are free. That love, that feeling of safety and freedom to be your authentic self, that radiant energy – to me, this is what we are striving to create in nightlife.”

And that showed during “Le Freak.” The party was thrown at 3 Dollar Bill, on an off-kilter Thursday night, managing to bring out a colorful lot of people. The first thing that greeted you once you walked inside the venue was a wall covered in a reflective material and a flattering ring light, allowing guests to take photos without having to use Facetune. There was a stripper pole and a mini lifting crane doubling as a platform for go-go dancers.

From 9 pm until 12 am, drag numbers were alternating with flash-mob dances that would interact with the crowd every half hour on the dot. At some point Glow Job walked around with a huge bowl of sour candy, giving it out to anyone who needed half a carb to keep drinking.

The organizers pulled no punches on the entertainment level, and they spared no expense in creating the ambiance. It was almost like your extravagant friends throwing an over-the-top, well-produced, lavish birthday party in their dad’s shipping container warehouse. It’s rare to see a party where most of the people are throwing it down on the dance floor and almost no one is standing around feeling left out.

Thee Suburbia, Iman Le Claire & Glow Job post performance


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