36-Hour Party People
A full weekend with New York City's most fervent techno fans and underground party collectives
Shortly after my friend told me she had witnessed a threesome in one of the bathroom stalls at Market Hotel, a DIY venue in Bushwick, I went in to pee. After I had finished, I picked up a half-full bottle of Hennessy I spotted behind the toilet, picturing my friends’ faces lighting up when I’d bring it to the dance floor. Then someone started pounding hard on the iron stall door. “Open the door,” she demanded. “Open the door!” Security, I thought, frantically crumpling in my hands the tiny plastic bags full of various powders that I had set on the porcelain. I did as she said and a very tanned middle-aged woman with prominent breasts and lips lurched in. “I forgot my bottle,” she rasped, grinning. I recognized her from a few hours earlier, when she sashayed up the stairs to the venue in front of me, complaining to the bouncer about her mouth being dry from the molly someone gave her.
“You want a shot, baby?” she asked, leaning in to give me a sloppy smooch on the cheek before passing me the amber liquid. After I took a swig, she said, “I had to hide this from security so I put it in my pussy,” gesturing to the front of her low-cut jeans as I almost choked. “Are you having a good time, baby?” I nodded. It was hour 18 of a 36-hour rave, of course I was having the best time of my life. She leaned in for another kiss, grabbed me roughly by the head, and slurred, “Remember to keep this on the down-low.”
Very few people seemed to remember that — or anything, really — at this unprecedented weekend event hosted by New York’s longstanding techno stalwart the Bunker, a record label and events collective, and UNTER, another party series that’s about a year old. From Friday night at 10 p.m. through Sunday morning at 10 a.m., a host of DJs spun to a rotating cast of ravers in varying degrees of undress, fatigue, euphoria, and inebriation. For the equivalent of one and a half days, Brooklyn technoheads were able to experience the kind of marathon sets that are a regular occurrence at Berlin’s Berghain, the legendary den of iniquity and musical transcendence that regularly hosts 72-hour shows. (Like Berghain, Market Hotel doesn’t have mirrors, so attendees are spared seeing their zombie eyes and smeared makeup in the early hours of the morning.) Still, even Bunker founder Bryan Kasenic thought staying from dusk till the final dawn “is not the best idea,” he told me over the phone in the week leading up to UNTER x the Bunker. “I don’t see that working out for anybody.”
Kasenic, who also established the DJ booking agency Beyond, actually broke his own record this past weekend: The second-longest techno party ever held New York City was the inaugural edition of his New Year’s Eve Blood & Thunder series in 2006, which ran for 18 hours at the now-defunct Lower East Side bar subTonic; it was followed by an 12-hour shindig with label and production company Wolf + Lamb (Kasenic used to book DJs for Wolf + Lamb’s after-hours parties before starting the Bunker). UNTER x the Bunker was the result of a similar confluence of events: Discovering each had a hold on the venue the same weekend, Kasenic and Seva Granik, a friend and one of UNTER’s co-founders, decided to join forces.
Such a deal was sweetened by Konstantin, one of the Bunker DJs and co-founder of German label Giegling, who really wanted to play a set from late morning into the afternoon. Kasenic initially thought New York City’s bewildering liquor laws — which prohibit selling alcohol from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, and again from 4 a.m. to noon on Sunday morning — might give potential attendees pause, but no: Advance tickets sold out so fast that Kasenic had to take them offline to leave room for people to buy them at the door. “In my 15 years of throwing parties, that’s the fastest I have ever seen tickets sell for an event,” he said. No sleep till Brooklyn has never felt so real.
I arrived at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning to catch Berlin-based DJ Benjamin Damage’s hourlong live set of ethereal rumblings from his 2015 LP, Obsidian. By then everyone was just getting into it: Shirtless, muscled men strode the floor in leather harnesses (for them, this was just the pregame for that evening’s Black Party, the city’s biggest gay Bacchanal); one guy in a Packers hat was slam-dancing by himself next to the bar; a couple was making out against the now-infamous Market Hotel pole. “Is yours in powder or crystal form?” a woman asked her friend in the bathroom, before washing whatever she took down with yerba mate. Berlin DJ Subjected spun a serviceable (if monotonous) set from 4 a.m. until the more dynamic UNTER resident Volvox went on from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., which at any other event would be the closing set.
At 8:30 a.m., I decided to go home to nap, bathe, and eat, partly because my loose cohort of eight to ten friends took their break then, and because I had not followed Kasenic’s advice to pace myself. “Americans in Europe are pounding drinks, pounding drugs, and then they’re some of the first people to leave since they overdo it and burn out,” he had said. “If there was more slow, steady burn, you can stay in the right party mood without overdoing it.”
After lying in bed with my eyes wide open for a few hours, I headed back at 4:30 p.m. to catch the tail-end of Konstantin’s blitzkrieg, which had rumbled unabated in my absence. One of his recent showings in Leipzig was billed as Freundshtamel, which translates to “friendship delirium” in German, and that certainly seemed to be the case at the Bunker. “He’s gonna get laid when he’s finished,” a friend remarked as Konstantin sculpted a gothic soundscape of guttural noise blasts and melodic dirges. Kasenic filled in from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. before Bunker stalwart and master selector Mike Servito took over right as night fell.
He lit right into pitch-black rollers like Alan Fitzpatrick’s 2014 remix of Trus’me’s “I Want You,” re-igniting the substances in everyone’s systems, pulling exhausted partiers off of the benches by the sides of the room, and otherwise dismantling (rather than setting) the stage for the eclectic ten-hour set by Detroit-born luminary Patrick Russell. “There seems to be a lot of energy and momentum behind this kind of music,” Volvox, a.k.a. Ariana Paoletti, told me over the phone a couple of days before the event. “New York does have a history of darker electronic music, and techno in general. It’s great to see people getting into it.”
“We’re as underground as you can be in New York while still having events that hundreds of people come to,” she added. “I think we speak to the least-commercialized version of the sound right now. For us, it’s all about the music, the quality of the event, and how people feel about being there. There’s always gonna be someone who’s harder, and rawer — and what’s next, or whatever. I’m just excited that right now, we’re it.”
As Russell settled in for the long haul, it became clear that venues like these — where you can feel the J/M/Z trains rattling in tandem with the ceaseless pounding from the speakers — are the only places where such invigorating music is best appreciated. With his signature science-fictive aplomb, the brand-new Bunker resident threaded together acidic bass lines, shivery theremin wails, and the titular gruff bleat of 1986’s unstoppable “Move Your Body” by house icon Marshall Jefferson. Time was suddenly measured by how quickly the people around me were deteriorating: A gentleman in front of me kept looking around with red, unfocused eyes, while another next to me swung his arms as he bobbed up and down — otherwise known as the ketamine dance. My friend and I looked at each other, thinking, Do we look like that? At around 6:30 a.m. she went home to sleep for 24 hours while I went home to nap again before the final hour, feeling both relieved and sad it was about to be over.
Two hours later, I was acutely aware of my smeared eyeliner and dilated pupils as I sat on a cold, hard subway seat on my way back to Market Hotel, opposite employees on their way to early-morning shifts, or families with grocery bags. When I got there, the sidewalk space outside the venue had been cleared of smokers; as I climbed the stairs for the last time, I noticed that even the bouncers had gone home. Though the dreaded sunlight flooded the bathroom’s murky windows and the mess of bottles and cans on the floor had been swept into a few piles, a handful of people were still standing and swaying to the synth-pop and coldwave cuts Russell was using to cool things down. At 9:56 a.m., he turned the music off to mutter into the microphone: “This is a bonus track.” Cue Mark Bolan’s delicate, quavering “I was dancing when I was 12” intro to T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer.” The small group of those still standing applauded wildly, and the day we couldn’t escape any longer finally streamed through the windows in the back. As my friend had said mere hours and simultaneously a whole day earlier: “It feels like we’re home.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Blood & Thunder party ran for 12 hours, while the Wolf + Lamb party ran for 18 hours. The former actually ran for 18 hours and the latter for 12.