Industry Insiders: Spencer Sweeney, Your New Santa
Spencer Sweeney, artist and one of the forces behind Santos’ Party House, talks community boards, sketchy after-hour clubs, and why he’s changing his name to Santa.
Point of Origin: I came to New York about ten years ago from Philadelphia where I was an art student. I started DJing when I moved here at a sketchy after-hours spot on Ridge Street. Looking back, it was a pretty significant place culturally. My first party there was with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello. The club was basically some guy’s apartment, and he got arrested every weekend. I think he had an incarceration fetish. There was this party at Standard Notions on Ludlow, which was a big hangout. Every week you’d have the guys from A.R.E. Weapons, Chloe Sevigny, Ben Cho. That’s where we all came together. At the time, DJing was very genre-driven. If you went into a record store, everyone would ask what you spun, and you’d have to be like “Organic Deep House,” you know?
Occupation: I co-own Santos’ Party House with Andrew WK, Larry Golden, and Ron Castellano. I had been DJing at the Hole, and the owner was basically raping me, paying me in pennies. And I thought how cool would it be if we could have our own space. It took us three years to build out Santos. Part of the impetus behind the club has to do with the Dadaists and the Futurists, which were artistic movements that had very strong social legs to them. We started with the stage and sound system, getting the best we could. And the idea of calling it Santa’s Party House was to try to make the most radical departure from nightclub naming as it currently exists. It was originally Santa’s, and then we were advised by our lawyer not to go with Santa, because if someone really wanted to fuck us, they could say it’s like Joe Camel trying to appeal to young children. So Andrew came up with the shift of Santa’s to Santos. But I found a way around it. I’m actually legally changing my name from Spencer to Santa. Really. I will be Santa Sweeney. It’s gotta be called Santa’s. It’s perfectly absurd.
Side Hustle: I’m an artist. I have solo show coming up at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco. I was in a performance art troupe called The Actress with Lizzi Bougastsos of Gang Gang Dance and some others. I wanted to move into visual art. I had just quit my job as an artist assistant — I was a terrible assistant — and I was walking down the street, I had heard about Gavin Brown and the bar Passerby and I thought that would be a good place to do parties and performance. We had a lot of good stuff — Fischerspooner and Andrew WK — it worked out great. Then I did a solo show for Gavin.
We’re going to be working with a lot of artists at Santa’s, have more live music and a theater group too, that Kembra Pfahler of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is going to direct. Our liquor license took a year. Our neighborhood didn’t have a community board, so we were thrown to Tribeca by default. We were like “we won’t even be in your neighborhood,” and they’re like “we don’t care!” It was a bunch of angry old ladies. We had all our friends at museums write letters on our behalf, saying it would be a place for artists and culture. The board was like “what kind of artist is gonna be up at two in the morning have a drink?”
Favorite Hangs: I liked Lit on Mondays and Wednesdays. And I like … uh … I guess that’s the only place I go. Erik Foss, the owner, is a nice guy. Of course there’s also Max Fish which has been a great place for 20 years now.
Industry Icons: I don’t want to emulate anyone else’s career. But there’s definitely inspiration. Mickey Ruskin at Max’s Kansas City. I mean everyone went there. And Steve Paul who owned a place called the Scene. And the biggest inspiration was Arthur Weinstein, who I was very good friends with, who just passed away a few months ago. He owned one of the first discos called Hurrah. They were really hot for a season, then Studio 54 opened up. I learned a lot of lessons from him.
Known Associates: I’m collaborating at Santos’ Party House with a great choreographer named Maria Hassbi. Who else do I want to give shout-outs to? Andrew WK. Gavin Brown. Elizabeth Peyton. Agathe Snow, Carol Lee at Paper magazine, Ben Cho, Chloe Sevigny, Meredith Monk — we hope to have her perform. Will Oldham — him too.
What are you doing tonight? Going to a reggae party. I’m excited.