michael alig, the most infamous club kid to have ever lived
As a selection of unseen images and videos go on display in Barcelona that document the club kids, we looked back with the Party Monster himself to discuss why it's good that there'll be no other movement like them ever again.
From Danceteria to The Palladium, The Limelight to The Tunnel, during the late 80s and early 90s, no one was bigger on the New York party scene than Michael Alig. One of the most outrageous of the club kids (whose whole raison d'etre was being outrageous), Alig, along with Gitsie, James St James, Richie Rich and Amanda Lepore, and their infamous Outlaw parties, defined an era of New York nightlife. But the scene wasn't as glamorous at it seems, drugs were everywhere and an ill-fated night in 1996 saw Michael kill fellow club kid Andre "Angel" Melendez after a disagreement about a long-standing drug debt.
Since being released from prison in 2014, Alig has dabbled in music and film and now him and his club kid comrades are the subject of a new exhibition in Barcelona, featuring unseen pictures by Michael Alig and several VHS videos by Nelson Sullivan of the era. We caught up with Michael Alig, the most infamous club kid of them all, on the eve of the exhibition…
What brought you to New York in the first?
I moved to NYC in 1984 to go to college. I was offered a scholarship to attend Fordham University, and I went there for one year. The minute I started going to nightclubs I stopped paying attention to school. I couldn't focus on books and learning once I was introduced to clubland.
What was clubland like when you arrived? What spurred the club kids into action?
The club kids came about after the death of Andy Warhol. I was especially affected by Warhol's passing, as to me it signified the end of an era, the death of the club scene. Then when the Village Voice columnist Michael Musto wrote his cover story, The Death of Downtown, chronicling the way the scene was negatively affected by the death of Andy Warhol, everything really seemed to be over. I felt like I had just missed the most exciting thing in the world and was desperate to try and start something new.
What were the parties like then?
The parties at that time were much more exclusive and underground. Even though the clubs were gigantic, big enough to hold six, seven thousand people, they were the seven thousand most fabulous, most intelligent, stylish and creative people in all of New York. You really had to be someone, or at the very least know someone, in order to get inside.
Many of those Club Kids are now celebrities , Rupaul, Larry Tee, Amanda Lepore... What do you think of that?
I am so proud of the club kids who have become famous! I love reading about RuPaul, Amanda Lepore, Larry Tee, and even the newer club kids like Sharon Needles. When you think about it, Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert are club kids too, if you think about it, or at least they were inspired by club kids. It has taken many years, but the whole thing has become almost mainstream now.
Were artists involved in the movement?
I think just about everyone who joins in the club kid movement is an artist. You have to be artistic to understand and be involved in something like this. I mean, you're not going to find a lot of garbage collectors and janitors calling themselves club kids! Well, unless maybe they're doing it in an ironic way and working those things into their looks... which is very possible!
So at the moment you're painting and designing clothes right?
Yes, but it's all pretty much the same concept. My paintings and clothing design are very much extensions of what I was doing originally as a club kid in the 80s and 90s. There is a pop sensibility to everything I do, you can see the Warhol influence, for sure. But there is also a little bit of Leigh Bowery, as well as some maybe not-so-obvious references like Bugs Bunny and Ronald McDonald. A sort of "aesthetic sampling," where I take bits and pieces of things I like or am drawn to, then rearrange them into something new.
In Barcelona they are screening some VHS tapes Nelson Sullivan recorded at that time, what do you think about it?
I am so glad that Nelson was around to document so much of the scene back then… his videos were many people's first glimpse into the wacky and colourful world of the club kids. Nelson himself would be so happy to know that his videos are being enjoyed by so many. Back then, none of us would have ever imagined there would be so much interest in what we were doing. We honestly believed no one would ever care enough to want to watch these videos. I'm sure that Nelson believed these videos would ever be seen by more than our tiny circle of friends… although I know that he would have loved to know how popular they would become in the future!
What do you think about Barcelona making a tribute to you and this movement that you created?
It's still difficult for me to believe there is so much interest in what we were doing in 90s clubland. I suppose in retrospect it's not so difficult to understand. It was perhaps the last truly "underground" movement to come out of NYC; now, because of the internet, it's impossible to keep anything a secret. If you can't keep anything a secret you can't create an Underground scene. Because of this, I predict there will be no more scenes comparable to the club kids in the near future. There will be other scenes, naturally… you can't stop culture from evolving. But there won't be another scene similar to the club kids which is as it should be. When a culture begins to repeat itself, that means there are no new ideas. And that's a pretty frightening thought!
Text Eduardo Gión and Raúl Hidalgo
Portrait Kiko Alcázar
Photography courtesy Michael Alig