In conversation with Voluminous Arts’ latest release, Pain Slut “Bloodshock EP”, LA based artist and dancer Sandy Heyaime shares perspectives and experience from her time launching and working at Brooklyn's Bossa Nova Civic Club. The music on "Bloodshock" was produced during the time that Gavilan Rayna Russom had a monthly residency with Lauren Flax at Bossa called City Club which highly influenced these tracks' sound. Sandy was a fixture and a vibrant presence behind the bar at every single City Club party there.
PUMPING BASS, a laser moves above your head and a strobe light pulsates to the beat. The fog machine is blasting, filling the dark room to a haze, everyone disappears in the abyss and now you find it's just you in a room with the sounds. You transcend. Your body moves freely in a way you had not known before. You open your eyes and realize you are not alone. Everyone is bobbing their heads, bodies are swaying side-to-side. Some are jumping, some with raving arms, some are gothy side stepping. Everyone is different but everyone is together. Collective bodies connecting through the steamy dance floor. Sweating. Breathing. An electrifying energy buzzes, infused by sounds and movement. No words need to be said. Just you and the music.
After a long, hard dance you hydrate with a glass of cucumber and mint infused ice water from a jug that's sitting on the bar. It’s 2013 and it’s a packed Friday night at Brooklyn's Bossa Nova Civic Club. It is Rayna’s monthly residency night, “City Club” which she promotes and DJs, alongside Lauren Flax. For over a year, their party overflowed the dance floor and made lines out the door. It was one of the first residencies to put Bossa on NYC’s map, and it quickly became one of several notable residencies to put the venue on a world wide dance scene map as well.
There are moments, phases, and experiences that are so special and important for their times, but you never realize the value or influence until years later. How crucial and significant are those places to your life? This is the case with Bossa Nova Civic Club, a space I helped launch in 2012 and where I worked every weekend for its first 3 years. Bossa Nova became Bushwick’s first liquor-licensed, somewhat legal venue dedicated exclusively to dance music; a staple of NYC’s underground music scene. It was my home. The first years were what I like to call the golden years. When it was raw, the neighborhood was foreign to yuppies, and the expectation of techno, fog and a spiked Yerba Mate was brand new. An abandoned banquet hall formerly used for gambling and/or quinceañeras, depending on the neighborhood historian, became the first techno club in Brooklyn in perhaps a decade. Bossa Nova was tucked away in deep Bushwick, a $30 cab fare away from the bottle service clubs of the Meatpacking District. The founding team had previously launched 285 Kent in Williamsburg’s Southside, a venue that Rayna had attended years before, and that NYPD would eventually shut down. The sensation of that space and time in Brooklyn stayed with all those involved in the space. There were not many options at the time, only local dive bars, an occasional illegal warehouse in an undisclosed location or a mega club with painfully high door and drink prices.
Bossa Nova evolved to become an influential place that happened by accident. Run by an eclectic group of young people, all walks of life were welcomed. Inclusivity was at the core before it was trendy. It was your Cheers, where everyone knew your name– and your music project too. The magic behind Bossa was due to the support it gave, naturally incorporating more people of color and LGBTQ folx than its contemporaries. Lost souls would find a home and family here. New friendships would evolve, and collaborations too. Music was the glue. On any given night, you could walk in and see a local act standing at a fold-out table full of drum machines and modular synths set up in the middle of the dancefloor. Bossa was weird and artists were free to express themselves. In my time there, I saw producers and DJ’s careers blossom into world tours, huge music festivals and major record releases. Rayna felt a connection to this place, as it reminded her of her time in Berlin. After playing a few parties together in the city, Rayna and Lauren Flax decided that City Club belonged at Bossa Nova.
DJs’ producers and ravers loved it but the NYPD did not. Police raids and task force shutdowns became a constant occurrence, using inadequate excuses and fining the bar with any violation they could come up with. Bureaucratic BS. Dancing without a Cabaret License, an antiquated no-dancing law with racist roots, was one of them. On a slammed and thriving City Club night, I was bartending while Rayna was DJing, the bar was swarmed by a Swat Team of officers, the lights came up, the music stopped and we were shut down. It was horrific and intense. We felt afraid because we were under constant surveillance, and as a result our packed floors had to be moderated, and a very low maximum capacity put in place. We had to tell ravers not to dance. The club closed its doors for a few months to accommodate the City’s demands. Expenses were incurred to remodel the entire front space and the beloved outdoor patio was closed forever. Rayna’s residency had to be put on hold and many parties were cancelled. The aftermath of the constant harassment and shutdown sparked a new movement for the Bossa team and some of our patrons, who organized a campaign against the 91-year-old Cabaret Law. After a persistent press and activism campaign the City Council repealed the law originally intended to oppress the city’s most marginalized. History was made, but the effect of the momentary closing made everyone aware of its absence, and we realized how vital that venue had become to our community, lifestyle and creative freedom.
Fast forward to our newly-found quarantine COVID-19 chaos, where many of our beloved establishments have closed permanently. We can no longer be together in large crowds and music venues. Concerts and parties are prohibited. Memes circulating, like one of a sad boy crying that says ‘Thinking about all the times I left the club early’ are the type of sentiment that those who have found the power of sharing music in clubs feel right now; not just the artists, but also the patrons who felt a sense of identity and self when occupying these spaces. Our joy has again been stripped from us. Our ability to socialize and dance and feel each other's energy is something that we won't be able to experience again for some time. This new phase in our lives has forced our perspective towards how imperative the venues, the parties, the artists, the workers, the neighborhood and the community are– a connected life force. Expressing the right to dance is crucial. And so is saving our dance floors, our venues, our culture, our community.
As I sit in my quarantined bedroom and close my eyes to listen to Rayna’s “Bloodshock”, I am transported to the dark dance floor of Bossa Nova. I can feel the pulsating room. I can see the lasers and the fog. Looking up at Rayna and dancing to her banging set, as she lights up the floor. She shared with me that “Bloodshock” was made on one of those City Club nights. She would play it in an early set, go home, a few blocks away, work on the track and play it again later on in the night. I can feel that energy right through the beat.
I transcend to a time when I was surrounded by my family on that dance floor.
Archival City Club photos by Zachery Allan Starkey, who joined the team in the party's second year.