Scott Osman: One Degree of Separation

Scott Osman, or “Scotto” as everyone knows him, is one of those eternally young club types. He’s been around for as long as I can remember. I think I fired him more than any other employee I ever had, which, of course, means that I also hired him more than anyone else. I interviewed Scotto because he has traveled beyond the club scene, and his work has taken him as far as getting within couple of feet of Barack Obama during the inauguration — with security clearance to boot. This begs the question: What’s wrong with the Secret Service, or what’s right with clubs?

You’ve been the lighting guy at a lot of great spots. What are some of the clubs you have worked at? Red Zone, Limelight, Tunnel, my club N.A.S.A., Webster Hall when it first opened, and Marquee was the most recent club residency, although it wasn’t much of a light show. After that, the last thing I just did was work at the Inaugural Ball.

You also did the Palace De Beaute and many others, but you were also an owner — you owned the club N.A.S.A., right? It stood for Nocturnal Audio and Sensory Awakening, and it was in the old Area space, which later became the old Shelter space. They didn’t have a liquor license, so they were only open on Saturday nights, and they were teetering on bankruptcy. That’s where I came in and did Friday nights and literally hand-promoted to high school kids in the tri-state area and essentially created my own scene out of thin air.

That was an extremely young scene … Really young — they were like 13 to 19 years old. The average age was 19, so we’d do them at the beginning of the night, and then we’d promote to the after-hours club kid market, and they would come in around 4 a.m., which would help us with the turnover and making ends meet to pay the DJs.

I remember you did a party at the old Coliseum also. You were the first person, as far as I can tell, to bring an ambulance and park it there in case anybody was in trouble. You recognized that some of the kids were doing drugs, so you guys brought in an ambulance, and it was a part of the budget. This was a precedent-setting thing because you said, “Kids are overdosing. Instead of calling one, lets have one ready.” Those five minutes would save somebody’s life.

But in the end, the clubs that did that ended up being penalized because it said that you recognized it was a drug culture. So it was actually considered a bad thing. You can’t win.

But, before that, you were booking great DJ talent at your club. Yeah, N.A.S.A. closed when the club closed, but then we ended up producing the first two US rave tours with Moby and the Prodigy, and the second one with Moby, Orbital, Aphex Twin, Vapor Space. We sold out 26 cities in the US and Canada.

So you started out as a tech person in the club and picked up information as you went along that eventually helped you to become an owner? Yeah, I was producing parties to help promote my light shows, and it was a symbiotic relationship. And then N.A.S.A. was obviously in the movie KidsChloe Sevigny was my coat-check door girl and Harmony Korine would come there and Harold Hunter, and all the other kids.

Harold Hunter was an actor in Kids and he passed away a couple years ago. I actually saw Leonardo DiCaprio at the Inaugural Ball, and I brought it up. I asked him if he went to Harold’s funeral because he knew Harold from that whole little circle, but he was really busy looking for his cufflinks that he had dropped, so he couldn’t really talk to me.

He’s always been pretty accessible though. Yeah, he is, but he was right in the middle of frantically looking for his cufflinks, and Obama was literally going on stage to do the first dance.

How close did you get to the President of the United States? I was as close as I am to you right now, which is about a foot and a half.

So you went from a club kid rave maniac to being a foot away from the President of the United States? With Secret Service clearance as he’s doing his first dance on one of the most historic days in our country’s history! It was an unbelievable experience. The energy in the room, it was like a rave with more security and better-dressed people.

So you’ve graduated from the nightclub business and you’ve taken this path, doing lighting for much bigger, more important events? I just finished working with a company at the Inauguration, and I chose to leave working for them full-time to pursue an opportunity that I’ve had in my head for a really long time, which is to produce a TV show. It would be nationally syndicated and it would tie in electronic music, music history, everything from the birth of hip-hop and Afrika Bambaataa, The Roxy, 1018, all the way through to the gay clubs, disco, raves everything. So it would be like a like a Club MTV but not so cheesy, and that’s what I’m pursuing, that’s why I’m in New York now. Despite the rough economy, I think I can pull it off.

What do you think of the club scene in New York City right now? I think it sucks. The whole bottle service thing ruined nightlife. After my experience at Marquee, I was dumbfounded. I’m sitting there running lights (and there’s no fog machine because of the new requirements for the fire protection system) and there are all these people who feel so entitled. We had 1,000 kids at N.A.S.A every week, and no one ever caused a fight — different people from different backgrounds getting together and nobody fought — and these people go out and they think they’re extra special because they’ve got a bottle. But aside from the bottle service problem, the other issue relating to why things are a little slower now is that you have these DJ agents, like Paul Morris from AM Only, and they literally would take these DJs out of our rave scene that were getting paid like $500 to $1,000, and they would add zeroes. Managers are obviously going to promote the artists as best as they can, but in doing so, they shot themselves in their own feet. It’s simple math. My friends, Scott Henry, all of them — they’re making a lot of money, they have nice houses, and that’s fine for them — but at the same time, they out price themselves out of the rave market. Plus, the raves are getting busted, and you have to move the DJs into the clubs, and the clubs could afford to pay the deposits, so the supply and the demand kept up, but it just changed the industry, and so it killed the rave scene in a way. If you’re a DJ, it all boils down to whether can you pull 100 people into a club, and then get paid. That’s just supply and demand … its like battle of the bands. You have to bring people.

You now have a website called Scotto.TV — what’s the concept behind the site? Well, in 2004 I did a N.A.S.A. reunion at The Space, which after Shelter became Vinyl then it became Ark, which was run by Mike Bindra from Twilo, when Danny Tenaglia was still doing Fridays there. They knew it was going to be closed forever and it would become luxury condos or whatever, so they booked a whole month of closing parties, and they paid homage to everybody, which was really respectful. So we did a night where I did 2,000 people in a 700-person venue, sold the place out, and bought a house. So I chilled out at my house for two years, and worked on this website. I have thousands of hours of video footage, thousands of flyers from 1988 to 2000-whatever, of raves, clubs, and everything. You can buy MP3s also. Because of my access, being a technical director at Limelight and such, I would occasionally record the DJs, whether it was David Morales, etc. or at my own club … I recorded everything all the time. So you can go to Scotto.tv and see all the videos and flyers for free, and if you want to hear some music and reminisce a little more, you can download the party to your house and play it whenever you feel like it.

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