Backbeat: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Theophilus London, Mark Ronson Rock at 'Rocked,' Mick Rock's Photo Exhibit
Backbeat: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Theophilus London, Mark Ronson Rock at 'Rocked,' Mick Rock's Photo Exhibit

British music photgrapher Mick Rock

Musician Theophilus London, whose portrait was featured in the "ROCKED" exhibit

The watcher became the watched last night at the W Downtown. Legendary British music photographer Mick Rock, a star in his own right, was in jubilant spirits at the latest installment of the hotel's Symmetry Live event and opening of his ROCKED photo exhibit. Looking every bit the icon in his trademark scarf and Ray Ban spectacles, he darted about the festivities and mingled with friends and fans.

"It's the transience," mused Rock about the symbiotic relationship between rock 'n' roll and hotels. "You're transient, but you're also a little bit of a princess. You don't have to make the bed... and in my contract, it does say I have to be provided with a massage." He pulled a granola bar from his pocket. "Good for my blood sugar."

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Rock's deadpan humor and lighthearted vibe probably have something to do with his ability to create intimacy with his subjects. No wonder the soirée's invite-only, artsy crowd included the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arthur Baker, Betsey Johnson, Stephen Baldwin, Nick Kowalczyk, Ann Dexter Jones, Mia Moretti and Theophilus London (his portrait is featured in the show).

"They come in with a certain organic trust, because I have a pedigree," confided Rock about his all-important connection to the younger generation.

Hosted by W's global music director Michaelangelo l'Aqua and fueled by an open bar, the jam-packed party featured a performance by upstate New York synth-pop band Phantogram and DJ sets by Albert Hammond Jr., DJ Cash, and Mark Ronson. Yet the real main attraction was Rock and his work. On display were stunning photographs of "new generation" pop stars: Lady Gaga, Cee Lo Green, Janelle Monae, Theopilus London and more, alongside equally striking images of old guard heroes: David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Queen, Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna, Kate Moss, Joan Jett, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Bono, to name a few. One black-and-white shot of Freddie Mercury has never been seen before, anywhere.

"Mick is the man," said Arthur Baker. "Someone who has bridged five decades of rock. Couldn't have had a better name."

Trey Sarten of W global PR and Arthur Baker (right)

The evening began with an exhibit on the hotel's fifth floor, where Albert Hammond Jr. DJ'd as guests discussed Art Basel. Then, revelers were herded to the ground floor, where a tent housed the party's second and third acts. Champagne flowed as DJ Cash played a high-energy set. Smiling guests mingled as massive prints of Debbie Harry and David Bowie looked on. Phantogram's 50-minute set of synth-pop beats won over a full house who seemed initially unfamiliar with their repertoire. (Sequestered in a private booth, Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley and Chase Crawford seemed to dig it.)

By the time Mark Ronson hit the stage for an à-propos DJ set of old-meets-new tracks, a dance party was in full effect. Some fans climbed onstage for a better view. Why not? Despite the torrential rain and line-up at the door, the party's vibe was simply giddy.

Rock, meanwhile, gave pal Arthur Baker a bear hug before posing for paparazzi with Phantogram -- and getting a surprise kiss on the cheek from front woman Sarah Barthel. Long live rock 'n' roll!