Gettin' aroused at Afu-Ra

Alaina Stamatis

Kunal Gupta and friends at Sparkles in Richmond Hill

NUMBER 35 GALLERY

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On a cropped block on the Lower East Side, surrounded by closed delis and closed nail salons, thirty-five people networked on the sidwalk, bathed in the bright white light of the only thing that was open. Everyone wore Carhartt, Fjallraven, or black fur, and all were haloed by smoke.
The interior of Number 35 Gallery is completely white cement and steel, with slightly-low ceilings dressed with fluorescents. The reception was for “Subliminal Sunlight,” featuring the work of Brooklyn art stars Maya Hayuk, Hisham Bharoocha, and Morgan Blair, partnered with Nicaraguan-native Chris Mendoza and Ohioan Mark Warren Jacques. The group shares an aesthetic for expressive shards of swirly neons; without heavy consideration it's hard to say who-made-what.
There wasn't any music playing, and there didn't seem to be any more beer for sale. Cultural events without music often encourage people to incite long, intimate conversations with one another, possibly based in related work, or the state of things, or the relevance of text messages received after 10 pm. Without a wide river of alcohol, this social phenomenon can seem endless. This wouldn't matter if I was at a bris, but when I'm at a show that I like, I'd prefer the ability to quickly compliment these industrious people without interrupting something.
Hisham was selling irregular pillow pals that had some kind of big-ticket foam on the inside. They were piled around a thick, square column. I bumped into my neighbors Jesse Hlebo and Justin Sloane as they were headed home. Jesse had an armful of pillows in every color – except orange, so I dashed in to buy an orange pillow for my boyfriend and a navy one for me ($2) – so I could leave, too.
Rating: 2 pillow pals
BIG SNOW BUFFALO LODGE
Kunal organized a bill at Big Snow that was part going-away-party-for-himself (because he's temporarily moving to Denmark), and part variety show of everything that people like. The only act I missed was Kunal's Loud Objects because they played first and I was hosting a dumpling-based Showpaper potluck at my house.
Nine 11 Thesaurus started as soon as we got there. Sam Hillmer was on deck. There were three Ground Zero Generals (I think it was Shasty, P.Dot, and Hollywood, but correct me on this one), and they were basically better than ever. No longer simply the worshippers of Kurtis Blow or Furious Five, Nine 11 were their own graceful, frightening, excitable creation, still rooted in consciousness and positivity, but truly enjoying and indulging themselves with their dark rhymes and weird beats. The audience was throwing a fit. When they finished, they retired to Big Snow's concrete basement. There they were met by the venue's security guard, who told the boys that he was from the Bronx and that they should recognize that.
The Dreebs took to the platform stage, Jordan Bernstein in a beach blonde wig with bangs, Adam Markiewicz in baseball pants sans grass stains, and Shannon Sigley fashioned as a healthy member of society. The band droned for a moment, with Shannon using the cymbals and other brassy drum parts to create a long-held aurel tinsel, and Adam sang something muffled that sounds a little bit like Fiona Apple. Then everything crashed, they started screaming; the band was going at it so hard you could see their O-faces.
Pat Spadine set up a collection of 14-inch TVs and mirrors in the righthand corner – not elevated or protected – filmed his handmade, eternity-reaching video and light manipulations as the Dreebs played. People stepped on him and he shoved them back. The bar manager from Brooklyn Fireproof heckled the band by screaming their individual names between songs. It was heaven.
.
Initially when I saw the security guard badgering Nine 11, I thought for a moment that it might be Afu-Ra wearing a green-jumpsuit disguise. But then I remembered that no rapper ever shows up *before* his set time. And truly, when the Gang Starr star appeared I had never seen him before in my life. Kunal considered his billing to be “stunt-booking,” or maybe even “setting up a show for a friend,” but Afu-Ra was excellent. His beats were really fun, his hype man was unobtrusive, his hair was amazing, and he just spit constant pleasure rhymes, which I enjoyed tremendously until I decided to leave so I could make out on the J train platform.
Rating: 3 weed leaves
SPARKLES
Kunal and his girlfriend Alison relish the opportunity to drive into neighborhoods in rural Queens in hopes of adventure. They've chanced upon the Holi festival of Colors, with wild drumming and free chicken, where people threw red, turquoise, yellow, and magenta powder at each other until the streets were a thick fog populated by Lisa Frank's adult fans. (Dave Cadden of Invisible Circle apparently emerged from the magical dust bowl and greeted them.) Another night they circled the block-radius of Perfection strip club, praying for the strength to enter (it never came to them and they drove home.)
For Kunal's last night in town, he drove Alison, Joe, Ginny, and me to Richmond Hill for “Jamaican dancing” on a Friday night. A huge Loud Objects lighting rig occupied the length of the backseat's legroom, so we were folded in strange contortions. We encountered a few clubs, but each had intimidating lines of stilletos and other styles that conote “dress code” and “cover charge after midnight.” We eventually drove past a bar called Sparkles and then promptly pulled over.
Sparkles is your average insane reggaeton bar where everyone who couldn't have cut it in the club goes to drink Robitussin-cap-sized shots of liquor ($8) and ginger beer (1.4% alcohol by volume). The music was defeaning, the bartenders had funny cleavage, the laser light rainbow machines were on their fastest settings, and eventually a man in a white sweater reached out to warn us that white women are a rarity in Richmond Hill so we should “be very careful”; but they were playing Music And Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant on one TV and an episode of My Name Is Earl on another so I really couldn't conjure a feeling of alienation.
Rating: 1 Robitussin cap
THE STONE
If you've never been there before it's pretty easy to briskly walk past it and cross the street toward the wrong side, gawk at some police officers as they debate whether to pull someone over and then almost get hit by a cab because it's the most incognito venue in New York: just a building with high-end aluminum siding and a black glass door facing the corner, bearing small silver letters reading “The Stone.” The best way to overcome your internal embarrassment and retain your noise-poise is to have a ten dollar bill ready for the doorman because, hey, you know it costs ten dollars, you're not some kind of avant noob.
There are two “rules” floating around about Ganjatronics: that they're not allowed to smoke weed and that they're not “dancey”; they make drone, the story goes, their name is deceiving, and if you watch old YouTubes you can tell. The rows of fold-out chairs in the Stone are set up on an excellent angle that cascades in triangular formation around both sides of the performance flooring. Within the triangle were lush setups facing each other, a two-tiered synth layed out with knobby acoutrements visible from my angle, all of which was adorned with many tiny tea candles. From the front row of the entrance side, one could easily see that there was a tattered sandwich baggie furled up on fold-out chair on the opposite side. And anyone who lives in a stoner commune would know immediately that a baggie in such a state was definitely not used for lunches, so there by the grace of the black glass door went rule #1.
Justin Craun and Doron Sadja stumbled up the stairs from the venue's basement, smiling shyly. Justin walked over to his synthesizers and began pressing the tea candles, automatically lighting them up. Then the room went pitch-black. The lights of the machinery were as dazzling as SkyView. Doron picked up his microphone which had two of Saturn's LED rings cradling the microphone's ball, with a white gleam that he held to his face. He announced that he'd recently bought a small robot that makes sounds for soothed babies. One was called something dumb like “heartbeats”; it was played, then looped, then pulled under by a riptide of melodic synth riffs and rhythms made from ever part of the keyboard. All the ideas of the “hypnagogic” scene were present, but sped up, so that instead of daydreaming about how bad it would be to get a chest tattoo, I WAS THERE IN THAT MOMENT, bobbing my leg, grinding into my chair, and cringing from cyborg guns being cocked; robot birds mimiced real birds so closely that I truly had nothing to worry about.
They played these Stone-trempling beats on a delay and laced them with insane pleasure tones and my eyelids sank because I was falling in love with Ganjatronics. It is the best dance music of my life.
Rating: 5 weed leaves

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