When you look at a warehouse, what do you see? Dilapidated rafters and scaffolding, decrepit walls collapsing in on themselves, and dank, smelly floorboards covered in crud? What about a basement? Or some tacky nightclub on the corner? These places may not have anyone to care for them or appreciate them, but they are rich with the greatest asset any art project can have.
These places are just dripping with potential.
This is precisely the focus that the Philadelphia-based, Space Pirate crew has been using for over three years to re-shape the underground dance party scene. While their moniker accurately depicts the flare and rough-shod, scrap-metal and glo-fur aesthetic they have cultivated; this coalition of forward-thinking artists has their sights and sails set on one thing: Pirating Space. By transforming the vacant lot, the warehouse, the commercial night club into an art driven depot of experience, you provide more than just something to do on a hot weekend evening. By actually creating and molding an atmosphere of free expression and radical artistic values, those participating in the event are given an opportunity to relax in a safe place while getting to explore their wilder and weirder sides. These costumes-heavily-encouraged events certainly weren’t invented by these raucous rascals, but with over a hundred years of combined burning, raving and crafting experience, the Space Pirate crew presented their 3rd Annual fundraiser, 22,000 Beats Under the Sea, to a room of old heads and newbies with one clear cut message: “We know what we’re doing, and what we are doing is having fun.”
Philadelphia’s Shampoo Nightclub, home of the now defunct weekly Goth night party Nocturne, was thoroughly mutated into a sultry, undersea spectacle. The pirate motif rang as clearly as ever, with the full gamut of aliens and monsters and whatever else people felt like behaving like, happy to fill in the space between gilded cloaks and ruffled shirts. Guests were immediately transported to the intergalactic get-together through an interplanetary portal as they descended into Shampoo’s murky depths and then, just a light year later, they are wading into the raw, unfettered good times provided. The plush cadmium red of the downstairs bar areas were off set by a plethora of blinking LEDs and blacklights, giving the bar a heavy but accessible energy. Not so dark you couldn’t see people’s faces, but dark enough that you could curl up in a corner and just let the bass carry you away (although it bears mentioning that the sound system downstairs was an absolute travesty compared to either upstairs system, especially when coupled with the aggressive bass lines of Mjollnir’s dubstep and Mighty Mike Saga’s radical drum’n’bass, who both delivered strong sets in spite of weak sound).
Climbing upstairs leads to the sprawling main dance area with four open bars over two levels. This antechamber was flush with black lights and neon florescence, providing the aquatic ambience of bioluminescent plant and sea life. With the DJ loft elevated over the dance floor proper, the upper decks of the main room were ceaselessly broiling with the wet and sweaty bodies of partygoers from all over the country.Mesh netting and rigging hung from the ceiling and walls coupled with curtains of seaweed to provide texture to the bare spots in between the huge art installations that serve as the centerpieces to most Space Pirate events. A triple-sailed ghost ship the size of a bicycle haunted one small chamber in the basement while a monstrous momma angler fish stood sentinel outside the bathrooms, watching, ironically, for creepers. While a glowing ring of black lights flooded across the main dance floor onto the new array of pirate flags custom made for the event, the cake was taken for me by the gargantuan jelly fish hanging from the center of the outdoor dance tent. This giant space held some cool outdoor vibes for people who needed a break from the intensity indoors, plenty of room to relax, have a smoke and a drink, and then get back in the game. There were certainly plenty of people parked out there all night, thanks to the heady yet smooth beats flowing like water out of the decks, care of Deep C, Nate Dark and Lee Mayjahs? to name a few. An all-star cavalcade of Space Pirate and Disorient DJ’s keep the main room pumping and heavy all night long, yet the massive venue never felt crowded, even at peak hours. The blocky and bland squat series of hallways that Shampoo normally was had been transformed so completely that it managed to enclose the population while never actually feeling claustrophobic or cramped. In light of an upset on the end of the club owners, the event had no choice but to feature a mandatory open bar. While a select few criticized that this mandatory buy-in flew in the face of decommodifacation, the truth is that it made the night a lot easier on most people’s wallets, with drinks and water flowing freely all night long. As the evening came to a close (realistically more at the mid-point for many) guests belabored going back to Earth as long as they could before succumbing to the gravity of the situation.
Although the Space Pirates art collective came into the scene on the shoulders of giants, drawing numerous resources and inspiration from the Philadelphia Experiment and New York/California based Disorient, they have made clear their intentions with a cannonball roar. The Space Pirates ethos encapsulates the idea of exploring that great, dark abyss and finding within its hollow core the party at the bottom of the ocean or the after-party at the edge of the universe. The collective traces its roots back to the Chemical Cove art studio where they assembled with the lofty aspiration of invigorating what had become stale for so many, without sacrificing the art that inspired them in the first place. Equal parts rowdy-raucous rager and art gallery opening, these events have given purpose to a community of artists and dancers. They come on ships of steel, bearing giant insects and cephalopods, keeping a steady pace with the endless stream of penetrating bass lines. What you are hearing are the sounds of art, of expression and of change. As the Space Pirates are so very fond of saying “The Beats Will Continue Until Morale Improves”.