Remembering Web 1.0’s Click + Drag Subculture

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.

Remembering Web 1.0’s Click + Drag Subculture