The Sound of Danceteria, The Legendary Club Where Madonna Got Her Start, Is Being Recreated Weekly on Twitch
It was 1982, and Rafe Gomez wasn’t supposed to be on the roof.
Then in his early 20s, Gomez had taken the elevator to the top of the building at 30 West 21st Street in Manhattan. When the doors slid open — “there were no guardrails or anything was so dangerous,” he recalls — he was in the mix at a private party Madonna was hosting for her debut single, “Everybody.”
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For her performance of the song, a trio of backup dancers point oversized flashlights at the future Material Girl, then a fixture of New York’s mega-dynamic club scene. Gomez had the sense he was witnessing history as he watched her sing and dance as the lights of the city twinkled beyond.
“That’s what the energy was like there,” Gomez recalls of Danceteria. “You never knew what you were going to experience that was going to eventually become the thing.”
Certainly Danceteria left big impressions on those who partied there. The January announcement of Madonna’s intensely anticipated Celebrations Tour revealed that the GA pit section will be called “Danceteria” in honor of the club. Meanwhile Gomez launched a Twitch channel, Danceteria Rewind, on which he plays songs and artists heard at the club each Thursday evening from 8-10 p.m. ET, from the comfort of his home in New Jersey.
Launched as a passion project during the pandemic, Danceteria Rewind has since amassed more than 27,000 subscribers who tune in each week to hear music by artists like dance-punk group Liquid Liquid, indie-funk trio ESG and hip-hop pioneer Kidd Creole. Debbie Harry was at Danceteria. And Basquiat. Actress and Madonna associate Debi Mazar worked the elevator, as did LL Cool J. Sade tended bar. The Beastie Boys and Keith Haring were busboys. Then-emerging acts like New Order, R.E.M., Run-DMC, Nick Cave and Depeche Mode all came through for performances. Resident DJs included Mark Kamins, who helped get Madonna signed to Sire Records in 1982, and also dated her during this period.
“It was where influencers went before there were influencers,” says Gomez. It was an especially significant refuge for Gomez, who grew up in northern New Jersey and at Danceteria found a world of art, music, hedonism, style and fun that had escaped him in his hometown.
“They referred to us as bridge-and-tunnel people because we’re from outside of Manhattan,” he says, “but we went into a place like this and saw what we’d been missing this and just embraced it. We paid full price at the door, we paid for all our drinks, and we were there all night long.”
Gomez’s goal with Danceteria Rewind is to recreate the club’s vibe for people who attended, and to give a sense of the place for streamers who were too young or too far away to ever dance there. “My goal was taking all of these superstars, taking the best of everything they did and combining them every week into a two-hour journey.”
Since launching the channel in 2021 after three months of research, Gomez — whose day job is sales consulting — spends hours each week researching Danceteria and the artists who played there, recreating sets as faithfully as possible, often by digitally converting vinyl tracks that don’t already exist as purchasable digital files and remastering eight-track recordings. Tim Lawrence’s 2016 book Life and Death on the New York Dancefloor has been particularly valuable, with Gomez poring over the text for clues about what to play. While Danceteria only existed for a few years, he says the music options for his program are endless.
The channel is resonating with listeners, with upwards of 20,000 people tuning in to the stream during its biggest broadcasts. During shows Gomez is both playing music and chatting with listeners, a mix of people who were there “and are like, ‘Oh my god, haven’t heard this for 30 years,'” to younger people hearing the origins of many recognizable samples for the first time.
This pandemic project, which Gomez says does not yet turn a profit, started as a way for him to escape his house, if only mentally, during the dark days of the pandemic. Through it, he returned to an especially dynamic period of New York City club history, when, he says, “You could come in as an a creative person from across the country and find an apartment with some friends for $50 a month.”
Venue operators also capitalized on the situation, opening thousands of clubs throughout the city in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with Mudd Club, Paradise Garage, Limelight, Tunnel and others all becoming thriving destinations. But amidst this scene, everyone knew Danceteria was different.
“Unlike Studio 54 and some of these other clubs uptown, which were all about money and cachet and the guest list,” Gomez says, “at Danceteria it was almost as if they were saying, ‘If you get what we’re doing here, come on in.’ It was a refuge for people.”
Danceteria was opened by the German-born Rudolf Piper, a wealthy former stockbroker who was embedded in the downtown club circuit. (“That place had an un-fucking-believable magic, and, as you were part of it, I need to explain no longer,” Piper said of Danceteria in 2010.) After his first Danceteria location closed because it didn’t have a liquor license, Piper moved it to West 21st Street, then, Gomez says, “a s–tty part of town.”
Piper rented the first several floors of the building, forging what he called a “supermarket of style.” For the next five years Danceteria became a destination for the artsy crowd, entertaining crowds with multiple rooms of music, art performances and other sundry creative fun, until the landlord raised the rent and Piper had to shut down. Danceteria later opened at a location in The Hamptons, but, Gomez attests “it wasn’t the same.”
Forty years later, the location at West 21st Street is now occupied by luxury condos, but you can still get close to the spirit of Danceteria through Gomez’s show, a recent episode of which featured Billy Squier‘s 1980 scorcher “The Big Beat” and UTFO’s 1984 classic “Roxanne, Roxanne” — seemingly disparate tracks that illustrate how eclectic the club actually was.
And given that Danceteria Rewind is not publicly archived due to licensing issues, each show has the same special and rare quality that Gomez felt in the brick and mortar venue 40 years ago.
“You’ve just got to be there each week,” he says.
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