Of all experiences in New York City that can make a newcomer feel like an instant New Yorker, spending an evening in one of the city’s famed nightclubs has to be among the top five. In the ’80s and the ’90s, clubs like Studio 54, Roxy, Limelight, Palladium and Webster Hall gained a cult status among the uninitiated in New York. That was a time when you could walk into a club after paying a cover charge and not have to wait in long lines behind velvet ropes, hoping to talk the bouncer into letting you in. Each club had a distinct identity with different music. Today, it seems New York has more clubs than ever, yet it’s hard to distinguish them from one other, with the music and ambience almost replicating each other. Instead of unique destinations, the clubs have just become white-label-type venues, which are visited by nightlife party crowds that simply look to follow trends when choosing their clubs rather than selecting them based on a distinct appeal. In this competitive culture, club owners must find a way to keep a loyal customer base while offering the most edgy, trendy and memorable experiences.
Alex Mitchell, designer and partner of the new club Rokk City, identified a niche that needed to be filled in the club culture of New York. Mitchell realized that the new crop of clubgoers is ready for experiences that aren’t simply about dancing all night. He wanted to create a gallery setting and throw nightlife energy into it. Tired of the "same old music" being mixed in some form or another at various clubs around the city, Mitchell created Rokk City a unique club in which people can dance to the rhythms of rock and roll or come in and hear live music on certain nights throughout the week. Eager to create an experience for his visitors that was not only aural but also visual, Mitchell knew that creating a rock-and-roll club doesn’t start and stop at just the music. Immersing his audiences fully into the spirit and form of rock and roll throughout the experience of the club was very important. It was in photographer Steven Lyon’s work that Mitchell found the perfect marriage of ambience and imagery as the club’s raison d’être and created entertainment in a space defined by art.
Mitchell discovered Lyon’s images at Duggal when he came to look for ideas on how we would design the club. He knew he wanted visuals to create a unique experience for the place, but didn’t know what those images would look like. He wanted sensuality and edginess. We had the perfect photographer for him in Lyon, a fashion and fine-art photographer who has just relocated from Paris and whose images had the sex appeal of club pictures Mitchell was looking for. He was immediately sold on Lyon, who’s known for taking cinematic photographs on film. He might just be the last photographer standing who’s working in the field of fashion and still doing film. For a Soup magazine shoot, Lyon captures a model in Cuba in character. The role she plays is of a heroine caught behind the scenes of a movie set. The sultry layered imagery of his shots evokes the cinematography of Federico Fellini.
While almost everyone switches to digital, Lyon firmly believes that there’s a realism lost in the digital technology of the imagery. A lover of the old-school cinematic style, Lyon says, "When I edit my work, I choose imagery that one may tear out of a magazine and put it on their fridge. The way it used to be." He takes his medium- and large-format cameras on location to selectively capture each moment painstakingly, unlike the rapid fire of a 10 fps digital camera followed by editing. However, even a film photographer like Lyon is willing to give in to the technical superiority of the digital printing process for the final output. Mitchell chose a specific series of eight pictures Lyon had in his archives that he agreed to loan out for the exhibit around the boutique rock club. Each one of the images was then printed at Duggal as Digital C prints—adhered behind plexiglass and sandwiched with black Sintra.
"The venue’s inspiration is a culmination of my personal love of rock and roll and my love of sexy, high-end fashion photography. Raw, sexy, tasteful and artistic fashion shots—Steven Lyon’s lighting, angles and model selection are truly incredible, to say the least," says Mitchell, adding that through these images he wanted to create a "shock value. The images evoke a certain sensuality for the clientele that I want infused into their entire experience of the night." And, indeed, since the launch of the club less than a month ago, it’s already being called the bright new spot for nightlife in the city.
For more than 20 years, the Duggal headquarters was located within a stone’s throw of Limelight, the famous New York nightclub. Now converted into a retail boutique, the exquisite architecture of the club drew thousands in a single evening. Before the owners got rid of the building, they had approached us to partner with them. I remember walking around the beautiful structure during the day and wishing I could make it into a tremendous art gallery. I’m glad to see finally that a nightclub owner like Mitchell realizes the enormous potential of photography to enhance the sensory experiences of clubgoers. Only by creating completely immersive experiences will club owners be able to return the club culture to its glory days and transcend the average experience of a clubgoers’ evening into an artistic one. As we move toward a more rarified world of curated experiences, the launch of boutique clubs like Rokk City as hybrid gallery/club destinations is a trend I’m excited to see photography become a part of.