The silicon set throws monthly bash

October 15, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

As a go-go dancer in white hot pants and a sheer top shimmied on a table, an impassive man gazed up at her, clenching an unlighted cigar in his teeth and wearing an empty television set on his head. A video cameraman photographed the pair, bouncing their images off the white walls of a SoHo loft in New York, where hundreds of people had gathered for a mix of live performance, digital art and the low thrills of computer shoot-'em-up games.

Welcome to what some consider the Warhol Factory of 1995.

The scene took place on a recent Saturday night in the heart of Silicon Alley, the rather dubious name recently given to a section of lower Broadway, where scores of businesses have been set up to create material for the World Wide Web, CD-ROMs and other forms of new media.

It is an industry that has embraced, and been embraced by, downtown painters, writers, filmmakers and musicians. In fact, all Silicon Alley has lacked to become a full-fledged arts scene is its own after-hours hangout, in the same way that the Abstract Expressionists of the '50s had the Cedar Tavern and the pop artists of the '60s had Max's Kansas City. Several "cyber cafes," complete with Internet hookups, have vied for the role, but the digital cognoscenti have tended to stay away.

Now, a contender has emerged in the regular monthly parties given by Josh Harris, a multimedia pioneer, in his loft at the intersection of Broadway and Houston Street.

"I think I run a theater sometimes," said Mr. Harris, who lives in two rooms in the back of the loft, which during the day is home to his business, Pseudo Programs Inc., which employs 18 people designing sites for on-line services.

"We've intertwined our work with our social life," he said. "It's almost a commune in New York City. Anyone in the East Village with any semblance of talent winds up here at some point."

More than one person at the most recent party Sept. 30 invoked the parallel to Andy Warhol's Factory, which also combined art and entertainment in a loft setting with a revolving cast of characters. The Factory was famous for being lined with aluminum foil; on a recent Saturday night, the walls of Mr. Harris' 10,000-square-foot space were draped in shiny white plastic.

"This place has a very powerful gravity," said Alfredo Martinez, an artist and Pseudo party regular who builds monsters that look like space aliens. "People come in here for three or four minutes and they're hooked."

But one thing is for sure: Andy Warhol would never recognize the latest twist on downtown hip, a crowd that improbably mixed performance artists, underground rockers, fashion people and techies in thick black glasses. In the mid-'90s, apparently, even nerds are getting the girls.

"You can see the nerd blossoming, unwinding in this scene," said Steve Raymond, the editor of a forthcoming electronic magazine on Prodigy, the commercial on-line service.

At past bashes, Ed Bennet, the president of Prodigy, has been spotted explaining cyberspace to a group of rapt models in shrunken T-shirts.

The line to get in the door was once so long that musician Peter Gabriel was left outside.

All night, a kaleidoscope of computer-generated images played on the walls: huge red lips, aerobics dancers, a Brazilian samba. On one wall, a violent scene from Abel Ferrara's movie "Dangerous Game" played endlessly.

Down a hallway, a side room held three computers running Doom, a gory search-and-destroy game. The room was transformed to resemble the no-exit corridors of the game, with the computers set into walls painted industrial gray. All three computers were networked so users could stalk one another in "death matches."

Carlos Portera, a medical student, despaired that he was stuck in a cul-de-sac. An onlooker with a shaved head and a nose ring told him: "Hear that? That's a door opening and closing. Somebody's coming to get you."

There was a shotgun blast, and Portera's screen said, "Health: 0 percent." Turning around, he saw that he had been toasted by a thin young woman in thick black glasses.

Mr. Harris, 34, finances all this through his business, which is currently working on designing so-called virtual worlds, three-dimensional environments, for Prodigy.

To get a day job with Mr. Harris, it helps to have skills that can cross over into the night-life business. Calder Martin, who studied robotics in college and was just hired as an animator, said he believed he got the job in part because Mr. Harris thought it would be cool to have robots at parties.

Mr. Harris, who does not lack modesty, said, "Maybe our goal is to beat Andy Warhol, to be bigger or better than him."

But he wisely rejected a parallel between himself and Warhol the artist. "The difference here is there's no real Andy. It's this thing called Pseudo, sort of its own entity."

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