It must have seemed such a good idea at the time.
1) Downtown New York is hurting financially. The South Street Seaport, a traditional tourist destination, has been particularly hard-hit: even those tourists flocking to Ground Zero to pay respects have not been spending money in the vicinity.
2) We have a new mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who by his very lack of statements about clubs-as-drug-havens, seems to be taking a positive step back from Giuliani’s clampdown on nightlife. Maybe we can get back to hosting parties in interesting outdoor venues.
3) It’s been the mildest winter in years, to the extent New York had a drought warning in February.
4) Carl Cox is touring behind his first US major label album and looking for unusual locations.

Put these factors together and what do you get? Destination-NYC, held in a 3,000 capacity tent alongside the South Street Seaport on Saturday March 2, with an additional dance floor hosted on the top floor of the Seaport building, all food stands and bars open for the duration. Plenty opportunity to hang outdoors, admire the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge, remind yourself what a great city New York is. A stellar line-up - the inimitable Carl Cox, the incomparable Richie Hawtin, and the equally unique Erick Morillo - means that even a $40 ticket price does not look out of order, especially given that it’s a ten-hour event.

And then what happens?

Saturday March 2, the drought breaks with a torrential twelve-hour storm. The result: a tent awash in up to an inch of rain on the floor - with electric cables running through the puddles spreading a genuine fear of electrocution. The Fire Department show up of course, but curiously, seem to find everything in order. Presumably there are some messages being sent down from above that New York needs this kind of event if its to pull itself out of recession and reclaim its position as a youth capital.

The rain is not too much of a dampener on the tent floor, where Carl Cox conducts a typically exuberant set of crowd-pleasing yet underground-supporting techno and hard house; its effects are felt far greater in the Seaport itself. Such is the rain that few people brave the charge up three flights of outdoor, wind-swept stairs to make it to the second dancefloor on the Seaport’s top floor. The concession stands are sparsely attended. I find two be-suited barmen in front of a floor-to-ceiling supply of water and red bull: they have no customers. The rain is such that you’d have to be crazy to hang on the outdoor balconies. It’s hard to admire any view in such circumstances.

I suppose you can’t legislate for weather, as anyone who’s attended Glastonbury or Reading in the supposed English summer will be all too aware. (Though of course your risks are bound to be amplified in winter.) But you can legislate for crowd control. The scene outside the venue made a mockery of the promoters’ claims to grandeur, with a consistently thousand-strong crowd forced to wait up to two hours to gain entry. Most of these people paid very good money for their tickets; there is no excuse, none whatsoever, for promoters not to supply sufficient security to get these people in the venue as fast as possible - especially given the appalling weather. (Fortunately, the crowd was funneled under a loading bay, and at least stayed somewhat dry.)

Just as inexcusable, this crowd was not encouraged to line up in any organized manner: it was a scrum, such as you would see outside of a football match back in the seventies. I’ve been attending so-called ‘raves’ in New York for ten years or more, and it baffles me that this problem arises every single time promoters book an ‘unusual’ venue. What amazes me even more is that I’ve never seen this crowd explode in anger (though it got close at the Seaport): the vast majority of those on the dance scene are genuinely peaceful people who don’t want trouble and are willing to endure a certain amount of frustration to take part in an one-off event. But some day, someone’s going to ‘throw a party’ like this and the crowd, having paid its $40 and expecting entertainment, not aggravation, is going to get seriously riled. People are going to get hurt. Don’t say we didn’t see the warning signs.

I may not like attending rave-style events at official venues like Hammerstein Ballroom or Roseland, but the fact is that the promoters there know what they’re doing and keep the line moving. You’re rarely waiting more than ten minutes to get in. Even night-clubs like Centro-Fly (and Twilo, before Giuliani shut it down) are sufficiently organized to get you inside with a minimum of disruption - and if the crowd gets too big, or the security checks too slow, to keep that queue in good spirits and aware of the situation. The chaos outside Destination-NYC was not temporary: it was there at 11pm, it was there at 1am, it was there at 2.30am when I left. It shouldn’t happen. End of story.

Tony Fletcher, March 4 2002
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