Critics say planned event was ‘racist’
By Adam Manno
A Brooklyn nightclub has scrubbed all evidence of an upcoming Chinese New Year-themed party after locals took issue with its orientalist overtones.
Avant Gardner, the sprawling complex in East Williamsburg that includes the Brooklyn Mirage, has removed all branding for a “Chinese Rowyear” party set to take place on July 22. A promotional video for the party, featuring white revelers dressed as a mish-mash of Asian caricatures, inspired swift backlash on Twitter and Reddit. In the ad, party-goers in costume as Fu Manchu and Japanese geishas pose for the camera amid a swirl of confetti and red paper dragons. In one scene, a woman takes a bite from a pair of chopsticks as thumping electronic music plays in the background.
A website for Elrow, the Barcelona-based entertainment company throwing the party, does little to ensure goodwill. The party is allegedly the brainchild of a promoter who went out to celebrate Chinese New Year in the Huan Province of China after a “serious dim-sum munchie session.” A crazy night ensued, and the anonymous promoter decided to organize his “own party” based on the holiday, the website states. Among the party’s performers are Fli-pao, described as “the most famous opium smoker in town and his sidekick, a chef with enough hot sauce on hand to keep the party burning forever.”
This is nothing new for Elrow. Its official Youtube is also home to an ad for a Bronx-themed event, where guests in comically large jewelry and afro wigs dance in front of backdrops mimicking graffiti-covered subway cars and basketball hoops. Inexplicably, fake unibrows and tooth gaps abound. Elrow did not respond to a request for comment about its themes or the upcoming party at Avant Gardner.
On February 2, Queens activist and WBAI radio host Rafael Shimunov took to Twitter with one simple question: “So what the colonizer hell is Elrow Chinese Rowyear?”
Shimunov found out about the Instagram ad for the party from a slew of Twitter messages. Outraged, he now plans to launch a website, including an online petition and a timeline of Elrow’s problematic past, in hopes of getting it shut down. “If New Yorkers knew about who they are and how they do this, we would never welcome them to this city,” he says.
On Avant Gardner’s website, the July event is now simply referred to as “Elrow.” No mention of a theme or specific DJs is available. The venue has also left the party out of its latest e-mail blasts. Avant Gardner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Sandie Cheng, however, seems to be one of the few people who got an answer from the popular EDM haven. The Brooklyn-based content producer says a friend sent her the ad. “When I came across it, I was like, ‘Is this a joke?’” She posted about the party on her Instagram story and tagged Avant Gardner.
The venue responded on February 12, telling Cheng that it was “aware” of the theme and assuring her it had “expressed its concerns” to Elrow. “Avant Gardner does not condone any form of cultural appropriation, discrimination, or racism, and we understand the promoter is working on a new theme,” the message read.
As an occasional party girl, Cheng feels especially disappointed in the venue for allowing what, in her words, amounts to a “blatant” display of racism. “I’ll admit I love going to Brooklyn Mirage,” she says. “But after this, I don’t feel like I want to go to Brooklyn Mirage anymore.”
For Kristian Chao, a Korean-American DJ based in Philadelphia, “there’s nothing you can say. It’s just so blatant.” Chao got ads for the party delivered straight to his social media feed. “I thought it was hilarious. It was very absurd to me that this exists,” he says. Though he’s set to play at Bossa Nova Civic Club on Saturday, the 24-year-old is just getting his start in the New York City party scene, so he’s not too familiar with the venue or its motivations for hosting the party. But he knows how expensive it is to put together an event of that scale. “It’s probably a large investment out front. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it for financial reasons,” he says.
Until then, Chao, Cheng, Shimunov and others in the scene will be waiting for word from Avant Gardner over how it chooses its events, especially those from abroad that don’t bend to American sensibilities.
“We have enough hate in New York to deal with,” Shimunov says. “We don’t need to import it.