The Bunker, the sterling techno monthly brought to New Yorkers by Bryan Kasenic, has grown by keeping things small. The monthly party–it typically recurs first Fridays, though there are happy exceptions–turned eight in January. Tonight The Bunker tosses another electronic ode to the Berlin techno cathedral Berghain/Panorama Bar, with sets from esteemed residents Marcel Dettmann and Tamo Sumo, not to mention The Bunker’s own Eric Cloutier and Spinoza, Kasenic’s alias. (Advance tickets sold out; arrive early for $30 tickets.)
It all started in 2003 at subTonic, the liliputian basement of shuttered Lower East Side avant-garde music venue Tonic. The Bunker’s moved onto larger, though still intimate, digs at Williamsburg’s Public Assembly, where two rooms allow for maximal top-tier spinning action. Kasenic recently opted to keep the spirit of the bash’s salad days alive with The Bunker Limited, in which one underground darling (like Prosumer and Petre Inspirescu) plays an eight-hour set for 150 eager heads in the garret-like Public Assembly Loft. (Get tickets to the next Limited party, with Daniel Bell on September 10, here.) He’s also spread the European love beyond Berlin with a New York satellite of Krakow’s progressive Unsound Festival, whose second installment took place this spring.
Still, The Bunker is Kasenic’s baby. And rather than diluting its name, the party’s various off-shoots, quarterly Berghain residencies and mini-mes have strengthened it’s position as one of New York’s few essential dance parties and techno showcases.
How did you go about organizing the first The Bunker party and how did the night go?
In January 2003, The Bunker was formed by myself and Timeblind, who was one half of the previous Friday weekly at subTonic, Polar Bear Club. In the early days, it was a gathering of close friends, who basically took turns performing. It was a nice little community that has built up and evolved considerably over the years.
Aside from the change of venue and borough and the swell in crowd numbers, what’s the biggest difference between The Bunker now and eight years ago?
I think the production has improved dramatically. We are always trying to find new ways to make everything sound better and run more smoothly. We learn a few new small tricks each month, but after eight years, the cumulative effect of that is gigantic.
New York has a reputation as a city that no longer dances. The Bunker shoots that down. Do Berghain or other European D.J.s in town for a Berghain residency night compare European crowds and NYC crowds favorably?
I wasn’t aware that New York had that reputation. If anything, I’ve heard from artists that they love playing New York and the United States in general, as crowds are more enthusiastic and not nearly as jaded here as they are in Europe.
On the note of Berlin, former Bunker resident Derek Plaslaiko decamped for the city last year. Do you ever feel any resentment toward Berlin or think that in terms of music and guest D.J.s it’s enough of a two-way street between Berlin and NYC?
I definitely do not resent Berlin. I’ve seen many electronic musician friends move there over the years to be closer to the European cities where many of the more lucrative gigs are. People do what they gotta do, and I do not resent them for it, especially Derek. Personally, I think it’s important for me to stay in New York, but I have completely different goals than most of my friends who are electronic musicians.
Over the past year The Bunker has programmed a quarterly Berghain/Panorama Bar residency and, more recently, the intimate The Bunker Limited bashes. Do you see the party moving to more niche-oriented nights as it evolves?
The Ostgut residency was something that just made a lot of sense because I was frequently booking the residents from Berghain and Panorama Bar already and wanted to keep working with them. Branding it was just a way to help our audience connect the dots. Brand names aside, I have always tried to work with a small group of artists who I really believe in, and bring them in to perform at The Bunker as often as possible. I think this has really helped these artists connect with an audience in New York.
The Limited nights in particular contrast with the general move, of NYC promoters and promoters in general, to expand, whether that means larger venues or taking the party on the road to other cities. What are your thoughts on those two prospects and how would you execute them while keeping Bunker’s quality intact?
I personally do not think that bigger is always better. In fact, I’m inclined to believe the opposite is true when it comes to parties. The Bunker Limited is a way for us to throw an intimate party for our core audience, while maintaining the quality of artists and production The Bunker is known for. Many promoters will use big holiday nights like Halloween and New Years Eve to appeal to the masses and throw giant parties. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized what I really want, especially on nights like those, is a really well produced party with a small group of people who really know what’s up. Partying with a huge crowd of amateurs is not fun or interesting for me, regardless of how profitable it is.
Taking The Bunker to other cities has never been a primary goal of mine, but when the right situation arises, with a good friend in another city, I’m happy to do it. We’ve taken The Bunker to Krakow, Boulder, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in the past few years. At the end of the day, my focus is on keeping things interesting for my community here in New York. [The Feast]