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The new club is set to open its doors

The new club is set to open its doors

Time Out New York 9/16/2010

By Bruce Tantum

Even for a seasoned nightlife veteran, walking into a club—hearing the thumping beat, seeing the crowd, anticipating the hangover that awaits tomorrow—can bring on a rush of adrenaline, the feeling that something big is about to happen. It’s perhaps not such a common experience when entering a nightspot that hasn’t even opened yet—but I was getting a bit of that old clubland tingle upon entering District 36, the almost-ready boîte set to open within weeks in a former garment warehouse on West 36th Street between Fifth and Sixth Aves. The reason for those tingles wasn’t simply because District 36 is new. Instead, it’s because this is the first new, good-size venue in years—at least since Santos opened—that’s making any kind of effort to cater to the underground.

Or, more specifically, it will, in theory, cater to the underground house and techno scene. “It’s all about 4/4, at least to start,” admits Taimur Agha, who runs the Blkmarket Membership parties with partner Fahad Haider. Agha is the spot’s musical director—both he and Haider will be Friday-night residents as well—and much like Blkmarket, many of District 36’s throwdowns will be oriented toward the less radio-friendly end of house and techno, and will host artists and DJs ranging from Konrad Black and Adultnapper to Damian Lazarus and Dennis Ferrer. (Okay, after that massive “Hey Hey” track, Ferrer is radio-friendly, but you get the idea.) “The Fridays are basically going to be the artists that I really like,” Agha continues, “who are perhaps not known to the general population. And if all goes well, we’d love to start getting some other sounds—like dubstep—in there at some point.”

Agha’s no fool, and Saturday night is geared toward those who follow the bigger-name jocks; Sasha is lined up to play in October, and Victor Calderone will soon be moving his Evolve party to the 14,000-square-foot nitery. But after four years, why relocate that long-running bash from its safe-bet home of Pacha to what’s essentially an unknown locale? “I’ve had that question presented to me more than a few times in my past,” Calderone says with a laugh. “I’ve gone through quite a few incarnations over the span of my deejaying career. I kind of always try to stay ahead of the curve and be at the top of my game, and also trying to not outstay my welcome anywhere. Besides, it’s always good to reinvent and reinvigorate. And, of course, I cannot wait to play over that sound system.”

The system he’s referring to may be District 36’s secret weapon. When you walk into the main room, those speaker stacks—at least 12 feet high in each corner, with bass bins as big as the average Manhattan bathroom—are the first thing you see. (It should be noted that the large mezzanine, high ceiling, great sight lines and airy vibe are nice touches as well.) The set-up is from Gary Stewart Audio, the same house that designed systems for such clubs as London’s Ministry of Sound, Singapore’s Zouk and NYC’s own Love. It’s a major investment, but it’s a move that Damien Distasio, one of the venue’s principal investors (previously involved with Miami’s Twilo) feels will be worth it. “For a proper dance club, sound is of the utmost importance,” he says with conviction. “If you’re a musically driven venue and you’re going after the world’s top talent, you have to offer a great product. In my mind, the only way to do a proper dance club is to build it around the sound system, thinking from the sound out. With District 36, the focus wasn’t on the eye candy—the design—but on the technology. I mean, we’re not curing cancer here; we’re a club. We just want people to come here and dance to good music. Lots of the clubs that are out there right now aren’t about the music. There’s not really that vibe around the music that clubs used to have, and I think there’s a lot of people yearning for this.”

For Distasio, the less-then-glam neighborhood, on the eastern fringes of the Garment District, is a plus. “There’s a certain stigma that comes with clubs, of course; a lot of the attention they get is negative,” he admits. “And you have to understand that shit does happen. But we selected this area so that we won’t be affecting a local community’s quality of life; we picked an area that has probably the least amount of residential that you can possibly find on the isle of Manhattan.”

Of course there will be cynics and there will be doubters. All this talk of dedication to the underground is just lip service, some will claim; others will say that the realities of running a club in Manhattan will necessarily force compromises. Who knows? Those naysayers could be right. But still, there’s always hope—New York nightlifers are nothing if not dreamers—and District 36 is the best prospect the scene has had in quite some time. As Agha says, “I’ve gone to plenty of clubs in New York since places like Twilo and Arc closed—and I love Cielo, of course—but most of them have never really had that same impact. Especially Twilo: I used to go there and be blown away, and I haven’t felt that for a long time. But this has the potential to become a real mecca.” We hope he’s right. And, if nothing else, there’s still that sound system.…