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Rubulad, October 12
By A.E. Souzis

I went to a party recently that blew my mind. It was a Rubulad party, which hadn't meant much to me before and still really doesn't, since the organizer I emailed never responded. I did find out, via trusty Google, that Rubulad was a venue for these amazing parties on the south side of Williamsburg since the mid-90's, in a practice space for the bands Uncle Wiggly, Fly Ashtray, the Gamma Rays, and later Dymaxion and Smack Dab, and that its reputation of extreme coolness precedes it. As of last spring it seemed that they might shut down completely due to an untimely eviction, lingering only as a legend. But they've rebounded with their first party out of Williamsburg, premiering this fall at a large sound studio in Long Island City; which as they noted on the invite, remains interim until they finalize a long-term space. In the interests of keeping the party underground (to preserve its spontaneity, and the spirit of discovery - there's nothing worse than a reviewer spilling all the beans), I won't disclose any other details, other than that if you're genuinely interested in finding out more sign up for the NYHappenings or Laughing Squid mailing lists.

It's hard to define exactly what made the party so amazing. I bring in my old friend, Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, for some help, guessing that's there a connection to his idea of carnival in medieval culture, as described in his famous 1965 essay "Rabelais and His World":

It could be said (with certain reservations, of course) that a person of the Middle Ages lived, as it were, two lives: one that was the official life, monolithically serious and gloomy, subjugated to a strict hierarchical order, full of terror, dogmatism, reverence and piety; the other was the life of the carnival square, free and unrestricted, full of ambivalent laughter, blasphemy, the profanation of everything sacred, full of debasing and obscenities, familiar contact with everyone and everything. Both these lives were legitimate, but separated by strict temporal boundaries. (Rabelais and His World, 1984 Iswolsky translation, p.129-30)

Bakhtin speculates that the drudgery of medieval European life was broken up by the carnival, a festival or revel of feasting and merrymaking, held usually before Lent, that involves masquerade, traveling amusement shows, folk music and dancing. The power of the carnival is that it disrupts the normal routine of daily toil, time and space, and provides an outlet to escape the mundane life and the roles that all people are forced to play in society. He wrote 'It belongs to the borderline between art and life. In reality, it is life itself, but shaped according to a certain pattern of play.' (p.7)

Without too many nods to pretentious literary theory, Rubulad was the closest thing to Bakhtin's carnival that I've ever experienced. The party's theme was "Wild Kingdom", and we were bidden in the email to dress like our favorite 'inner critter.' (As someone whose normally cringes at any organized gaiety, it took a great effort to even wear my leopard print t-shirt. It saved me $3 off the $10 admission price, I'm happy to say.) Once I paid the cashier at the front door, and walked down the ramp into the first room, I felt like I had entered another universe.

The place was huge. There were easily a thousand people there, and it didn't feel too crowded. I wandered from endless room to room, wondering where it would end. Live music on the ground floor, a dark hallway leading into a small art gallery, small dance floor, and a cozy lounge. One floor up; the main room lined with couches, plants, a stage and a large bar. The main DJ's there synchronized the music with the pyrotechnics show and the swaying crowd. There was a woman with a flaming hula hoop, I heard. Someone in the crowd described her act to me poetically (and in not a very P.C way) as "a fire show by, like, a crazy gypsy." Up one more flight to the balcony floor, to the reading room, Cheap Art gallery, screening room, and a Victorian style parlor where, if so desired, one could relax on the velvet chaise lounge.

I listened to the Rodgers Sisters, a Pixies-esque rockabilly trio; and danced to the heavy drum n bass; I contemplated buying some cheap art; I watched Dorothy Dandridge dance the 'jungle jig' in a short film in the screening room, (and learned a lot about the history of race relations in America); I glanced through a book from the 1970's that offered helpful tips on how to break into show business; I rode on the homemade carousel obligingly spun by a man in a safari suit on the main floor; I watched the soap bubbles float through the air and the endless streams of people, mostly in costume, pass by.

The night blurred. I felt as if I was in an alternate universe, as if the normal laws of time and space were suspended. I forgot about work and all the shit I had to do the next day. My friends left around 4 a.m. - I was watching a Bruce Lee movie at that time and decided to stay. I wanted to wander around alone until the sun came up, absorbing every magical ounce of this event. That I kept getting distracted by a giant chipmunk dancing to dub , or a guy in the slinky snake-skin suit, or the friendly Hasid kept shaking my hand, proved what a friendly (and freak friendly) place it was. I stayed till the very end, until the DJ's started packing up and the lights came on. I was surprised when I finally stepped out into a gray, rainy morning to find that it was after 7 a.m. I hailed a passing cab - back to normal life. Sigh.

I have always disliked raves. I lived in San Francisco for four years and refused to go to Burning Man. The hype and the forced artifice has been, for me, distasteful - precisely what ruins any attempt at spontaneity and the thrill of the discovery. Somehow Rubulad managed to put on an efficiently organized party but retained the feeling of excitement and yes, honest to god, merrymaking. I know that even in attempting to describe it, I run the risk of destroying that precious sensation. The next Rubulad may never feel like this again. The hype that might now surround its new location may very well destroy it, carry it into the domain of the been-there, done-that. Maybe not. In writing this, I am reminded of a recent article that Arthur Danto, art critic in the Nation, wrote in describing the most recent Whitney Biennial, and the state of art today, "…[it] presents us with a picture not just of the art world but of American society today, in an ideal form in which identities are as fluid and boundaries are as permeable as lifestyles in general…The artists set themselves up as healers or comfort-givers, and the art aims at infusing an increment of human warmth into daily life" (The Nation, April 29,2002). Rubulad provided the warmth and fluidity that Danto speaks of. As intangible as it all was, as hard as it is to describe, Rubulad transformed into a distinct and loving Bacchanalia, in a way that I have never experienced before: providing, just for the night, a safe space to celebrate the arts, to explore different identities, and step out for a moment from the tedious routine of our lives. Back again to Bakhtin, who wrote:

Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its own laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. (p. 7)

I felt it.


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