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[whitespace] Breakdown 98 & Party Monster

Breakdown 98 and 'Party Monster': a debauched double feature

By Michelle Goldberg

It seemed like a sick and happy coincidence. First, Party Monster, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbatos' lurid, jaw-droppingly fascinating documentary about Manhattan "Club Kid" murderer Michael Alig, screened at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. In the movie, we learn how Alig essentially created the now famous Superstar DJ Keoki, giving him his name and a residency at the legendary Disco 2000.

Then, that night, Keoki was to play at Breakdown 98, a massive rave and hip-hop party in Oakland that also featured such old-school luminaries as Grandmaster Flash, the Jungle Brothers and the Rock Steady Crew breakdancers. Alas, Keoki took his $4,500 advance for the party and flaked, according to Breakdown 98 producer Alex Aquino, and the bookers are still trying to get their money back.

Even without the Keoki connection, though, the movie and the party made a great double feature. Only an hour long, Party Monster tells the sordid story of how Alig combined a Machiavellian lust for power with glittery kiddie-porn outrageousness to become the Caligula of clubland, and then how he disintegrated into a smack- and crack-addicted murderer. Alig ruled the New York nightclubs and outlaw parties of the late '80s and early '90s, creating what Michael Musto called "the perverted sex-clown aesthetic" that dominated nightspots like the Limelight, Club USA and the Tunnel. As the drugs got harder, though, Alig's sensibility got nastier. Former friends recount how his idea of a joke was pissing in someone's drink or spreading his hepatitis. Then, two years ago, Alig had a fight with his roommate and drug dealer, Angel Melendez. Apparently, one of Alig's friends, Freeze, walked in on the scuffle and hit Melendez with a hammer. After Melendez was unconscious, Alig poured drain cleaner down his throat and wrapped packing tape around his mouth. A week later, he dismembered Melendez and threw him in the ocean. Most disturbing of all, Alig told all his friends about the murder, and because of either denial or desperation for Alig's approval, no one went to the police. There's even a videotape made months before Alig's arrest of him saying, "He was one of those copycats that we hate, so I killed him. I killed Angel Melendez."

Alig's now serving 10-20 years in prison, but the pedophilia chic he created lives on in the high schools of Northern California. Thousands of teenagers turned out for Breakdown 98, many of them dolled up with kinderwhore accouterments I had no idea people still wore: pacifiers, cartoon backpacks, stuffed animals. Of course, not everyone was doing the regression thing--there were also plenty of girls in Band-Aid-sized tank tops and feather boas and hip-hop headz in big pants and expensive sneakers.

Breakdown 98 & Party Monster

Actually, the event was almost groundbreaking in its uniting of hip-hop and rave culture. Held in an enormous auto parts factory near the Oakland Coliseum, Breakdown 98 featured a hip-hop room the size of an airplane hanger, two hard-house rooms that were just as big, two smaller jungle rooms (one jazzy, one hardcore), a long corridor with inviting white walls for graffiti artists and an enormous outdoor yard with yet another house DJ, a tented dance floor and endless space to lie back and watch the stars.

That is, once you got in. Unfortunately, that took upward of two hours for some people. Ironically, it was the guest-list line that was slowest--at one point, several hundred people on the comp list had to move across the parking lot for an ambulance to get through and pick up a kid who had OD'd. When everyone took their positions again, they were told the guest list had been closed down. It seemed like a melee waiting to happen--cops in full riot gear lined up by the entrance--but in the end, there was nothing but some pushing and screaming. As the partiers waited, several girls chatted on cell phones to friends already inside, finding out which DJs they'd missed (luckily, the headliners didn't go on until after 2am). "I hope we don't miss Rock Steady Crew!" said one girl in a squeaky, mall-raised voice. "I hella wanna see them bust!"

Despite the hassles and the no-shows, though, the promoters were satisfied. "Kids that are that young, 12, 13, 14 years old, never have the opportunity to see a real hip-hop show," said Aquino, whose company, Ace Beat Entertainment, booked the hip-hop room. "Hip-hop shows are usually 21-and-over, and usually those are just rap shows, not hip-hop shows all the cultures involved--b-boys and the graffiti scene." Indeed, the breakdancing kids in the audience were often more interesting than the acts on stage. While Jurassic Five tore the place up with their infectious energy, synchronized rapping and cheeky pop-culture references, the Jungle Brothers seemed to be phoning their set in. "That can't be them," said my Brooklyn-raised boyfriend. "They must just be warming up for the Jungle Brothers." "And singing all their songs?" I said. "I don't think so." Sometimes, I guess, old-school just means old.

But Aquino said, "I feel good that I helped start some kid on old-school hip-hop. When he's 20 years old, he's going to say, 'When I was 12, I went to Breakdown '98, and I saw Grandmaster Flash and the Rock Steady Crew live.' They're going to say, 'Man, I was there.' "

Aquino runs the International Turntablist Federation, which has chapters throughout the world that compete for global titles. This year, the international battles will be held in Amsterdam, but the U.S. finals are in San Francisco on Aug. 2.

For location and information on the finals, call 650/991-0135.

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From the July 13-26, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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