3:09 pm Jul. 9, 2012
A week and a half after the city's schools closed up for summer, one was hopping, and on a Saturday, no less.
The school, of course was MoMA PS1, and in its courtyard/playground in Long Island City, a crowd gathered for the first Warm Up event of the year. Schoolchildren have not wandered the buiding's halls since 1963, but grownups, attracted in part, anyway, by the hedonistic pleasure of dancing in a schoolyard, have been coming to school on Saturdays here for fifteen years.
Fifteen years of experience in running the show was apparent. For most of the day, the size of the crowd was controlled by virtue of a sizeable percentage of it standing in line for food and drinks, the fever pitch of dancing still hours away. Guests filtered from the entrance line to another one just by the main door to purchase beer tickets, and finally shuffled half a yard to the right through the dusty gravel to one of four beer lines. To compliment the selection of artisan beers from local and independent breweries such as Long Island’s Blue Point and Vermont's Magic Hat, the much-celebrated and much-missed culinary experimenters from M. Wells Dinette were on hand. In May of this year, MoMA PS1 opened a resuscitated version of the Queens’ diner, run by husband and wife Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis, which closed in 2011 after losing its license. For the most part, only a few munched on their corn dogs and maple cotton candy, opting instead to combat the sweltering heat through liquid hydration.
Wendy tried her best to cool down the crowd, Wendy being Matthias Hollwick and Marc Kushner’s huge courtyard installation and winning entry of the museum's annual Young Architect’s Program. The giant blue starburst structure, encased in a cube of scaffolding, dwarfed the whitewashed stone square at the front of the outdoor space. Every five minutes, from one of its top spikes, water dumped onto the crowd below, providing welcome relief to the 92-degree humidity. A brave few stood mid-stream and got completely drenched, while most looked on and laughed. The soup-thick air appeared to do little in the way of deterring proceedings, however, as droves of attendees trudged through the entrance from the moment the doors opened in a constant, steady stream. By 4 p.m. the entire space was heaving and didn’t wane as the day went on.
In a bubblegum-pink leather mini-skirt and with gold gems arrayed on his bare chest to suggest a crop-top, the young singer HBA opened the show with tribal howls as his D.J. Arca spun soulful trip-hop backing beats. Canadian band Trust (pictured below) followed with a blend of New Order-esque moody pop. Maya Postepski’s dark synth and Robert Alfons’ grungy vocals oozed through the sticky crowd like maple syrup. In his black tank top, harem pants, and Doc Martins, Alfons’ androgynous gait stood out against the glittering gold, silver, and teal stage set behind him, with its diamond-shape theme incorporating hand-hewn-looking 3D cutouts and glittering hanging pendants.
Those stage decorations came courtesy of local artists Confetti Systems. The duo, comprised of Julia Ho and Nicholas Anderson, previously created a glitter ‘T’ for the March cover of the New York Times style magazine of the same name. This is the third year MoMA PS1 has specifically commissioned stage decorations for Warm Up. Confetti Systems were among the four designers last year, and this year they will be joined by another five.
California D.J. duo Nguzunguza dropped the bass next to a knee-buckling wobble. They pulled on Trust’s synthy thread and wove it throughout their set; a testament to the curatorial skills of Warm Up's organizers. Since its inception Warm Up has been known for programming forward-thinking, boundary-pushing lineups—including performers from D.J. superstar Richie Hawtin to eccentric pop-duo Scissor Sister to downtown legend Arto Lindsay. But for the past three seasons, Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA PS1's director, has sought input from a select committee of New York music tastemakers (this years' committee includes Dean Bein, head of True Panther Sounds; Kris Chen, head of A & R at XL Recordings; Jonathan Galkin, cofounder of DFA Records, and several more) and, with the help of assistant curator Eliza Ryan, attempted to tell something more like a story through each Saturday's lineup.
As the food and beer lines reached their peak and the heat finally began to wilt the masses in the early evening, Light Asylum took the stage and drummed out the heady mix of hip-hop and goth-electro that's made them one of the more buzzed-about bands this year. The Brooklyn pair—Shannon Fuchess (a sometime collaborator with !!!) and Bruno Coviello—injected a much-needed burst of energy into the lethargic crowd. More clues to the nature of the day's narrative arc were appreciable: dark, '80s synths; off-kilter R&B; the meeting of rap and house music in the early '90s.
The shadow cast by Wendy provided a modicum of shade for those who couldn’t take the rays of the mid-afternoon sun. Inside MoMA PS1 itself, which as usual for these events was fully open and running all its exhibitions, finding a functioning water fountain was a challenge. It was marginally cooler inside, but the mass of people milling around –some taking earnest interest in the artwork, most seeking respite from the main event—raised the temperature. Outside, the red brick façade of the former boarding school loomed over the square, but there was little escape from the sun. Those who attempted to stick to the wall of the main building to the side of the dance floor were swiftly ushered away by security hell-bent on keeping the thoroughfare clear.
As the sun finally disappeared behind dense clouds, casting an Instagramable glow over the now-full dance floor at the foot of the steps, House music legend Todd Terry took to the decks to finish out the day of music. The Grammy-nominee's headlining set stayed true to the faint but palpable retro flavor of the previous acts. From his melding of hip-hop and house in the late '80s and early '90s to his harder, darker house tracks from more recent years, his influence was all over the day, and his set seemed to encapsulate it all. Beach balls were released into the crowd to mixes of The Bucketheads “The Bomb!” and Armand Van Helden’s version of “Professional Widow”.
Through a bathroom window on the second floor, a couple could be seen sneaking shots of smuggled whiskey. Below, a blond haired toddler—whose "MoMA PS1" stamp covered most of his forearm—plodded between the legs of a body-popping dancer. A girl in horizontal-stripped black-and-white leggings, a matching crop top, and Timberland boots laughed heartily with her friend.
Terry’s set reached its climax as the dance floor was packed. Waves of hands were in the air and the crowd bobbed in unison to his closing euphoric tracks, for there was little room to make much more movement. Six hours after the glass doors had been flung open to the eagerly anticipated crowd, the sound system was dialed down and the crowd began the slow exodus homeward.
The Warm Up series runs every Saturday until September 8. Full lineups can be seen here.
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