a visual history of nyc nightlife as told through flyer art
Before there was Facebook, there were flyers.
In the 80s: New York City's nightlife was heaving — whispers of new openings and underground happenings spread like wildfire by word of mouth and through flyers. Distributed on street corners, outside clubs and concert halls, in barbershops and retail shops, flyers were ephemeral objects never intended to last beyond their use. As printing technology improved through the 90s, flyers became increasingly more sophisticated. But then came the internet. Club promoters no longer needed to waste the world's trees with excessive printing, or spend top dollar on something that would inevitably be discarded. Through social media, these bookers and promoters now have the universe at their keyboards. And yet in our shiny, digital-obsessed world — where the future of print is being called into question — it's never been more important to preserve printed relics of yesteryear. Club flyers have become sought-after collectors items. As a tribute to these great objects, hip-hop blogger and archivist Evan Auberbach and renowned DJ Stretch Armstrong have come together to create No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999, a visual history of New York nightlife as told through a decade of flyer art. We caught up with the pair to talk clubbing, collecting, and what nightlife was like before the world wide web.
What made you decide to do a book now?
Stretch: The book is mostly comprised of flyer images arranged in a way that makes sense to me. The flyers are from various scenes, clubs, and parties that I had a personal connection to, that were on my radar, some that friends of mine were responsible for or, that I believed were important even in some way.
What did you want it to convey about that specific time in New York nightlife?
Stretch: Reminiscing is good, to a degree, as long as it doesn't turn you into a middle-aged grump who does nothing but complain. More important than just looking back and heralding a bygone era, I want people to consider why these parties and clubs were so special, to consider what has changed in socially and economically in New York, and why nightlife — despite being such a vital part of NYC's economy — gets stigmatized so often. I hope that people see the book and appreciate the freedom that was enjoyed in the city before so many forces conspired against it. It's a fight that still goes on, but sadly, the outcomes are consistently unfavorable to creativity, freedom of expression, and the ability for people to congregate in ways that have meaning for them.
What was the significance of flyers in those days?
Stretch: To understand the importance of the club flyer, you have to imagine a world without the internet and without mobile phones. Flyers were the primary way to find out about what was happening. They were also mementos, a tactile reminder of an experience.
Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted the book to be?
Stretch: I didn't want the book to be a hip-hop book. Hip-hop has always been a huge part of my life, but the beauty of NYC nightlife — particularly in the 80s and early 90s — was that so much of it was a blending of scenes, styles, and genres. I really wanted that to come across, even though dividing the book into chapters almost feels antithetical to that idea. To be clear, nightlife was culturally inclusive. That doesn't mean it was easy to get into clubs. Back then, it didn't matter how much money you had or even if you were famous. If you weren't down, you weren't getting in.
Did you learn anything new during the process?
Evan: I learned so much in making this book. When I was chasing collections very early on, I saw it as an all hip-hop book. Thankfully, Stretch being the true NYC OG that he is, sat me down with his hand on my shoulder (not-literally) and school me. He basically said, 'Ev, this wasn't all hip-hop back then — you have to remember that the special part of NYC was how all of these cultures intertwined together to make up the entire fabric of NYC nightlife.' So in expanding this from a backpack, boom bap, hip-hop type of book, I had to become a student of these other scenes. I started reading whatever I could — books, websites, old magazine articles — scouring YouTube for any news clips about that era.
Released this week, No Sleep by DJ Stretch Armstrong and Evan Auerbach is published by powerHouse Books.
Text Tish Weinstock