PHOTOGRAPHY BY SANTIAGO FELIPE
R.I.P. The Spectrum
Check out the images from their final party
The Spectrum came from nowhere. Someone said, “Are you going?” and two hours later we were there, looking around a windowless room, trying to decide whether it was good. That was in 2012. I guess it could be called “underground” since if you were walking by it, you wouldn’t know it was there. The façade was plain. The steps were crumbling. The windows were covered in bars. It looked like every other building in East Williamsburg.
Founded by Gage of the Boone and Nicolas Gorham, Spectrum promoted itself as a community space for queer artists, musicians and performers. There were self-defense classes, disco yoga and queer pilates but nobody I knew went during the day. Everyone went at night, when lights went off, the cover went up and the DJs took over. There were music shows (Cloud Soundz), performances (Mama Said Sparkle!) and readings (Dick-tionary).
After midnight, you couldn’t move without stepping on someone’s platforms. The parties were wild and Dagger was king. It was the monthly “LEZ dance party” and it had the most punk pay scale. Entrance was $10 for queer ladies, $15 for queer guys and $50 for str8 cys dudes. Ova the Rainbow was good too. It was always themed something campy like “oil spill,” “snake skin” or “gold.” I once saw dueling Dolly Parton’s perform in the middle of the room. Everyone circled around them and clapped. It felt like we were watching the best Show & Tell ever.
The Spectrum was legitimately not legit because they didn’t check IDs. They didn’t even stamp. They just took your cash, stuffed it in a box and drew an “X” on your wrist. Behind the door guy, there was a door that looked like a closet. That’s what you opened to get to the party. If you didn’t shut it right away, someone would yell at you.
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The ceiling was black and the walls were lined with mirrors. The whole place looked like a seedy dance studio, the set of some porno version of Flashdance. There was stage, a stripper pole and a dozen lights that beamed lasers in your eyes. Instead of a bar, there was a table cordoned off by speakers with plastic cups and an ice bucket. The drinks were overpriced but people paid anyway. Spectrum after 1am was not a place for the sober. The back room had sunken couches, disembodied mannequin torsos and bashed-in disco balls hanging from the rafters.
Smoking was allowed inside so everyone did it. Even people who didn’t smoke, smoked. As soon as their cigarette was dwindling, they lit another. The only thing you couldn’t do was pee. The bathroom in the front was disgusting and it didn’t have a door. There was a bathroom in the back but the line took five hours. It was easier to hold it or piss outside, which most people did.
The Spectrum had no dress code but if you showed up in Banana Republic outfit, you would be shunned. Hair was arranged in buns, knots and braided coils. The more asymmetrical, the better. If makeup was worn, it had to make a statement. Nudity of any kind was embraced. No matter what, people danced. They bounced, jumped, swayed and tried not to repeat the same move too many times in a row. The music was loud and repetitive — as it should be. You didn’t have to be on drugs to appreciate whatever 4/4 beat was maiming your earbuds.
The drag queens were most beautiful people in the room. They hugged each other like a squad, conspired like schoolgirls and cleared a path wherever they went. I looked up at them, literally, because they stood two feet taller than everyone in in heels that were taller than wine bottles.
Everyone knows Brooklyn is changing. I’m not sure if the death of Spectrum is a symptom of that change but I know that it’s sad when things close. When it’s a place like Spectrum, it feels vaguely like “the end of an era.” The parties could be as loud and shallow as any other but they were special too. They let people who felt stifled or sad during the day move their body in such a way that made them feel better.
On any given night, you could see drag queens, dykey rappers and noise bands from Berlin. I once saw a queer person with tits and a dick swing around the stripper pole for 30 minutes straight. She wore a toga top and that was it. She slid up and down the pole and her dick kept rubbing up against it. It looked painful but it was glorious, too. If only she could have danced forever.