Remembering Web 1.0’s Click + Drag Subculture

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A clubgoer at Mother in the '90s.
A clubgoer at Mother in the ‘90s. Photo: Rob Roth

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The ‘90s Meatpacking District club Mother was not for dilettantes. At its various nights, such as Jackie Hacker, there were strictly enforced dress codes, tightly mandated by door-person eminence Kitty Boots. One of its most infamous nights started in 1995: Click + Drag, a cyberfetish party that presaged today’s digital landscape in an era of beepers, when flip phones were still on the horizon.

It was populated by denizens in rubber and latex mixed with computer mice (perfect neckties or leashes!), microchips, and other hardware.

“Everyone was super sexed up, but had a sense of humor about it,” says Jack Caton, a weekly devotee. “If someone looked normal, it was, ‘This person is my slave and he’s a businessman from New Jersey.’ Anyone who was humiliated wanted to be. If anyone didn’t fit in, it’s because that was their shtick, to not fit in.” The music would start out New Wave and segue into industrial and hard techno.

Click + Drag was founded by Mother proprietress and club legend Chi Chi Valenti and the artist Rob Roth (along with Kitty Boots and Abby Ehmann). Roth — who is working on “Night Paving — The Aural History of Jackie 60 and Mother Night Club,” to be presented at the Museum of Art and Design later this year — spoke to us about the legendary party.

“We were super ahead of our time. Of course we didn’t make any money. It’s so funny to see what’s happened since.

“Chi Chi Valenti used to do nights at Jackie 60 called ‘Jackie Hacker.’ She was really early. That’s how we met. I had an email address in 1993. She was the only other person who did. Nobody else had an email address.

“I had been working for AT&T during the day, doing design and all these interactive things for the ‘You Will’ campaign. AT&T was investing a lot of money in what they thought the future was going to be so I was working on this interactive television trial, which was basically all fake. It wasn’t really real. It was sort of half real. ‘Imagine the day when you have a video phone.’ ‘Imagine a day when you’ll drive through the tollbooth without stopping.’ All of these things that have happened and their tagline was ‘You Will.’ Chi Chi and I would always laugh at that. When we were doing what we were doing in the nightlife, where the cybersluts were onstage, we would always be like, ‘You Will.’ Kitty Boots would make them costumes that were made of computer parts and metal pieces of machines and keyboards.

“When we did Click + Drag, we worked with this company and we started making actual light-up costumes where the LEDs would say, ‘Slut,’ ‘Bitch,’ or ‘Spank Me.’ You would push these little buttons on the tits.

“We would do these IRC chats, which were very early, like using phone lines and modems, in the middle of the club. We would bring these really heavy Macs, set it up, and we’d be chatting with people in Oslo. All the drag queens had no idea what we were doing. We were geeking out, really. One night was called ‘Gibson Girls’ and was based on William Gibson and the 18th-century illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. Nobody knew what the fuck we were talking about. We would make fliers and give them out. We were just interested in the future. That’s what Click + Drag was about, the idea of the future and sex and the idea of the future and community. It was a darker vibe, and a lot of it came true.

“To be honest, a lot of it was playing. It wasn’t real. If the theme was Tron, I’d just take hundreds of glow sticks and outline the whole room. It was real DIY. That’s what was sort of charming about it. Some people went all out and were just masters of it. They would take CDs and make dresses out of them. Someone came once with live ladybugs sewn in her dress nets.

“It was like doodling all these crazy people. I’ve never ever seen a crowd that diverse in one place. There were leather daddies, drag queens, goth kids, industrial kids, and none of the people ever used to hang out together, but they all liked to dress up, and they were the freaks within their scenes. They had their drag, so to speak, but they wanted to do something different. That’s why people gravitated toward it.

“The Mother experience was the end of the century — it literally was. It closed in ‘99 and then everything changed. Click + Drag continued monthly at a place called Fun in Chinatown, then of course, 9/11 happened and that really did kill it.

“We brought it back as a yearly event at Santos Party House for three years from 2008 to 2010. The reason I liked those so much was the idea changed about what the future was. We weren’t as interested in tech. We were interested in more where we were going philosophically because all of the technology already happened. Everyone had their phone so it didn’t really matter. We were more interested in going into the machine — what does that mean? Those themes were hallucinogenic, the second coming.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo: Rob Roth

An outtake from a 1997 video shoot with Debbie Harry for one of Roth’s video projections at Click + Drag. The theme was Gibson Girls — a mashup of William Gibson and Charles Dana Gibson.

Photo: Rob Roth

Outtake from a 2000 photo shoot of Katya Casio for one of the club fliers. This was the second incarnation of Click + Drag, held at the Chinatown club Fun.

Photo: Rob Roth

Flier for “Illegal Aliens” theme night with Marti Domination, 2000. The costume, designed by Kitty Boots, featured faux breasts with baby-bottle nipples attached.

Photo: Courtesy Rob Roth

Rob Roth with dancers at Click + Drag’s second incarnation in 2000. The theme was the Big Bang. Recalls Roth, “Everyone was basically naked except for mirrors glued on their bodies, and ray guns.”

Photo: Rob Roth

The very first flier for Click + Drag, from 1995. Cyberslut costume by Kitty Boots; photo by Rob Roth.

Photo: Rob Roth

The back of the first invite for the original Click + Drag in 1995. Note the floppy-disc motif and carefully spelled-out dress code.

Photo: Courtesy Rob Roth

Rob Roth and Chi Chi Valenti at the very first Click + Drag at Mother in 1995. “She used to call me Glamnerd,” Roth remembers. “She also coined the word cyberslut.”

Photo: Rob Roth

Katya Casio, who often served as a DJ at the club, shows her iMac Go-Go getup. Notes Roth, “I believe she made the costume herself.”

Photo: Rob Roth

Image from the very first “Interjackie” at Jackie 60 in 1994, a year prior to the first Click + Drag night. Costumes by Kitty Boots.

Photo: Rob Roth

Another flier from 1995, this one with a 20th-century vampire theme. Says Roth, “I would shoot the images for the fliers in the club with Kitty as the stylist. This was in the meatpacking elevator in the basement that you would take up to the street. There was still a lot of blood on the sidewalk in those days from the meat market.”

Remembering Web 1.0’s Click + Drag Subculture