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Photograph: Courtesy Elrow/Chris LavadoElrow at Avant Gardner

Is NYC nightlife Instagram-friendly now?

The days of “no phones allowed” in New York clubdom may be winding down thanks to massive, visually stunning parties like Elrow

Written by
Miles Raymer

It was a bitterly cold February night on an industrial corner of Bushwick, but inside the megaclub Avant Gardner, a sweaty forest was in full bloom. The complex’s cavernous Great Hall was decorated in gargantuan tropical flowers, Tarzan-worthy vines, and a stage set covered in ten foot tall mushrooms. Somewhere in the thick of it a DJ was spinning house tracks for thousands of revelers packed shoulder to shoulder while stilt-walkers and acrobats dressed as jungle flora and fauna wandered among them. Sprouting up between them was a field of smartphones blossomed to share with Instagram the outrageousness of the Enchanted Forest, a local installment of the super-sized world-touring bash Elrow. (The dance party returns to NYC on July 27, taking over all of Avant Gardner including its outdoor space Brooklyn Mirage.) 

Elrow’s roots in club culture run deep. It began in 2010 as an event on the outskirts of Barcelona thrown by the scion of a Spanish family that’s been in the entertainment business since the 19th century. And the New York face of the brand (which now has a presence on every inhabited continent) is promoter Michael Julian, who started throwing parties in New York in the ’90s. But although the idea of a rave packaged as a multimedia experience dates back to Julian’s early days, the sensory-overloading approach attracts a very current client: the social-media addict.

Ever since camera phones hit the market, nightlife purists have been trying to keep them away from dance floors. “The moment someone takes out their phone, they remove themselves from their own experience,” says Tasha Blank, a DJ and co-founder of roving party the Get Down. Since its launch in 2013, the biweekly early-evening event has prohibited phones on the dance floor. “When party-goers take themselves out of the party by making themselves photographers, we lose the party.” Recently, the Get Down expanded its phone exclusion zone from the dance floor to the entire venue.

But the camera-free ideal is starting to seem increasingly at odds with the fact that the young, plugged-in demographic that clubs want to attract generally doesn’t see much wrong with experiencing the world through Instagram’s lens. To them, keeping the camera away probably seems weird arbitrary, and outdated.


Parties at clubs, in fact, make for high quality social-media content. That’s been especially true since LED screens and lasers have gotten better and more affordable, so that even small spots can deliver a mind-bending visual component. When people see a light show these days, the first thing they do is go for their phones.

It’s not only the B&T-heavy crowds at Meatpacking District clubs and mega-sized events like Elrow that do this. New York’s underground club scene used to be strictly phone-free to avoid attracting attention from mainstream crowds and the NYPD. But the same weekend of Elrow’s Enchanted Forest, I went to an under-the-radar space in Bed-Stuy to see a DJ set by tweaky avant-electronic producer Gobby and a performance by the Japanese duo Nonotak, who combine a synthwave-techno sonic hybrid with intensely geometric visuals. When Nonotak kicked off their super-trippy light show, the phones out came out.

The more over-the-top video screens, laser arrays and other nonmusical extras clubs throw at their clientele, the more likely they are to want to 'Gram them, but to Michael Julian from Elrow, throwing enough sensory stimulation at them can actually keep a crowd more present. “The best way to really feel it is to be on the dance floor in the middle of it,” he explains. “We want to create an immersive experience for the fans. The only way to do it is to put them in the center of it.” 

He might be right. Unlike crowds at EDM shows who, according to Julian, tend to show up for a headliner’s 90 minute set and leave right after, Elrow was crowded from when it opened 7:30pm until it closed at 4am. And while there were a lot of people there who seemed distracted by their phones, I also saw people dancing, throwing down old-school moves in the corner of the floor.

“People leave happy,” Julian explains. “Then they go to their phones and they can relive the moment a little bit. It doesn't hurt. It reminds them that they had a great time.”

Elrow: Rowllywood takes place on July 27 at Brooklyn Mirage and Avant Gardner

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