Electric Circus (nightclub)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Electric Circus was a famous American nightclub open between 1967 and September 1971 in downtown Manhattan's East Village at 19-25 St. Marks Place between Second and Third Avenues. With its invitation (from one of its press releases) to "play games, dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on," and its mix of light shows, music, circus performers and experimental theater, the Electric Circus embodied the wild and creative side of 1960s club culture.

Flame throwing jugglers and trapeze artists performed between musical sets, strobe lights flashed over a huge dance floor, and multiple projectors flashed images and footage from home movies. The Electric Circus became according to Joel Lobenthal, author of Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties "New York's ultimate mixed-media pleasure dome, and its hallucinogenic light baths enthralled every sector of New York society." Its hedonistic atmosphere also influenced the later rise of disco culture and discotheques.

Experimental bands such as The Velvet Underground, jam bands such as The Grateful Dead and early composers of electronic music (Terry Riley and Morton Subotnick), played at the Electric Circus. As well, bands played there before they were famous, such as Raven (U.S. band) and "Soft White Underbelly" before it became known as "Blue Öyster Cult."



Early history of venue

The cavernous ballroom space with a balcony originally consisted of four buildings built in 1833. Three of them (19, 21, and 23 St. Marks Place) were bought between 1887-1888 and merged into a ballroom and community hall called Arlington Hall. During the 1920s, the buildings were bought by the Polish National Home, which combined them with 25 St. Marks Place for use by Polish organizations and a Polish restaurant.

1960s: Warhol and The Velvet Underground

By the 1960's, the bohemianism and nightlife previously associated with New York's Greenwich Village (an area roughly on the same latitude, but on the west side of Manhattan) was growing in the East Village. Before the Electric Circus was established, Stanley Tolkin ran "Stanley's Bar" downstairs (slightly below street level) at the building at 19-25 St. Marks Place. Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern began leasing the ballroom on the floor above Stanley's Bar for their "Theater of Light" show.

Then in 1966 artist Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey (who directed many of Warhol's films, and who became a sometime manager of the Velvet Underground) sublet the ballroom from Jackie and Rudi, and created a club called the "Dom" (derived from "Polski Dom Narodowy," or in English, "Polish National Home"). The Velvet Underground was the house band, and their performances under Andy Warhol's influence were accompanied by many light effects with the added touches of projected movies and projected photographs, all going on at the same time. The experience was called the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable."

New management and closing of club

Later in 1966 the club under different management was briefly called the Balloon Farm, and in 1967 the lease was transferred to Jerry Brandt who created the Electric Circus. Brandt was a William Morris agent turned impresario. While he took some multimedia cues from the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, his Electric Circus club was a far more commercialized and formally designed place. Brandt used even more lights and technology to create a "sensory overload" experience for the dancers.

However, by 1970 the "tune in, turn on" hippie culture was in decline. When a small bomb exploded on the dance floor in March 1970, injuring seventeen people, the negative publicity accelerated the decline of the club, and it closed a year and a half later. After the Electric Circus closed, the building no longer functioned as a club or space for regular public performances, but the building was not significantly physically altered until 2003 when a major renovation eliminated the ballroom and converted the building into upscale apartments and retail space.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Electric Circus (nightclub)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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