Humans have always had a deep fascination with the past, and as technology and media have evolved and become increasingly elaborate, so has our obsession with it. It’s just a matter of time before a James Dean hologram swaggers into your living room or virtual reality transports you to a Beatles gig at the Cavern Club in 1961.
So when “I Feel Love” — a nightclub event “mingling immersive experiences and an intimate dance floor rapture,” taking place at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn on September 9 and 10 — was first announced, it was easy to think the event would basically recreate Studio 54. That sounds cool at first, but less so when you think about it: You already know how that story ends.
Instead, “I Feel Love” will aim to loosely recreate the vibe of several legendary ‘70s New York clubs — Paradise Garage and The Loft as well as Studio 54 — without being overly beholden to the specifics of any. The goal is to put the music, the visuals and the experiences of that era through a contemporary filter. That, says Casablanca Records EVP of A&R Rob Stevenson — who conceived and oversees the project — brings the all-important element of the unexpected.
“If you simply recreate something from the past you’ll be measured against it, and people will think they’ve figured it out before they even get there,” he tells Billboard. “Then, you’re fighting a losing battle because people have preconceived notions, and either you meet them or you don’t. The event needs to evoke the spirit of things that people know, but you can’t copy those things. It’s like when you make a record and people tell you they feel like they’ve heard it before, but they know they haven’t — then you know you’ve got something.”
Indeed, the element of surprise will be key throughout the event, which will sprawl from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. on both nights, and represents Casablanca parent company Republic Records’ first venture into the live-events space (in association with music management and “experience creation” company Discord). Both evenings will feature sets from legendary Donna Summer producer Giorgio Moroder (now signed to Casablanca) and Studio 54 house DJ Nicky Siano; Armand Van Helden, Jackmaster, Soul Clap, Oliver and Kungs will also perform. The sound will be by Funktion-One, the company that designed the sound systems for Cielo and Output, among others.
But while Casablanca is a perfect brand to associate with such an event — the revived label was home to ’70s icons Donna Summer, Parliament, the Village People and Kiss — nostalgia is just a jumping off point for the evening’s ambitious entertainment. “Thematically this is kind of 1977 — the music, the lighting elements, the bar, the costumes of that era,” says the event’s director, Toby Benson of Discord, who previously managed DJs including Tiesto, A-Trak, Duck Sauce and Bingo Players. Dressing the part “is certainly encouraged,” he adds, “but this isn’t a theme party with cheesy afro wigs and bell bottoms. It’s a nod to that era and the hedonism of those events and experiences.” The experiential element of the event is key, and the evening will unfold gradually, revealing more rooms and happenings each time revelers think they’ve seen it all.
“The room behind the room behind the room is such a core concept — all the best clubs have had that element,” Benson says. “And as the night goes on we’ll be gradually opening the amount of space in the venue. But the experience doesn’t start here, it doesn’t start when you’re waiting in line or at the subway — it starts when you get your ticket.”
And indeed, the embossed, scented tickets we received the week of the event are truly sexy. But the real question is: How does one get into those rooms behind the rooms? By participating in the various experiences throughout the evening — things like fortune-telling, scavenger hunts and more elaborate stunts staged by actors sprinkled throughout the crowd. “The more you put into it and the more of an adventurous spirit you have, the more you’ll get out of it,” Benson promises. “I want to turn guests from observers into active instigators.”
That spirit of instigation extends to the event’s sponsors. “We were looking to find people that wanted to be a part of it rather than just sticking a logo on something,” Stevenson says. “Absolut was a company we wanted involved from the start, because of their longtime connection to New York nightlife, and they’ll be providing the bar. Uber will be shuttling people back and forth, Makeup For Ever is providing makeup for the actors, and International Flavor and Fragrance is involved as well” in a capacity he declined to reveal (on the record, anyway).
“’I Feel Love’ and its mission to reimagine current nightlife trends, bringing back the feeling of disco culture, is an experience Absolut is excited to be a part of,” says Gaia Gilardini, the brand’s communications director. “Our current AbsolutNights campaign is about celebrating those nights that encourage you to open up to new experiences and people and create special memories. ‘I Feel Love’ embodies that.”
The inspiration for the entire event, ironically, lay in Stevenson’s disaffection for the current club scene. “I was lamenting about it and one day I finally said to myself, ‘Stop complaining and do something about it.’ [Republic chiefs] Monte and Avery [Lipman] wanted to start doing live events, but the traditional live arena is so crowded and competitive — so we’ve gotta do something different. I love immersive events like Sleep No More and Secret Cinema, and events these days just seem to be competing to be bigger — and as they do that the audience gets further away. So let’s do the opposite: let’s do something that’s not impressing people with its bigness but its everywhere-ness, like if those things are 2D we’re gonna be 3D.”
And while the team is more focused on pulling off this premiere event than in predicting what happens next, the obvious next move is to take the concept on the road — “People have asked me when we’re bringing this to Berlin, London, L.A.,” Benson says — and consider other clubs and eras to evoke. The objective, Stevenson says, isn’t to bring back an old era or live in the past, but to channel some of the spirit of those days. And he does something like that himself by quoting — and crediting — a line Casablanca A&R rep Kristina Grossman said a few weeks back: “We want people to have such a good time, that they’ll forget to take their phones out and take photos.”