are u coming?

One Night in the Straightosphere

I think Cara Delevingne got me kicked off the stage.

Diplo and Delevingne at Nebula. Photo: Jarrett Birnbaum, Of The Art
Diplo and Delevingne at Nebula. Photo: Jarrett Birnbaum, Of The Art

Whether it’s for work or pleasure, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to party with a lot of girls and a lot of gays. This week, in the interest of heteronormative representation, I decided to go somewhere I figured would be bristling with breeder boys: a Sunday night Diplo show at the new outer-space-themed midtown megaclub Nebula, which opened late last winter in the same spot that once housed the Korean nightclub Circle. Just imagine Murray Hill meets Miami by way of bridge and tunnel in a Red Bull–sponsored UFO.

All night, while I was being pushed around the dance floor by bros and their often even pushier girlfriends, I felt annoyed and fascinated in turn by their curious ways. In Brooklyn nightlife, I feel like I know what the dancers aspire toward: a genderqueer safe space where the party flyers say woo-woo things like “Move with love, move with compassion.” I get the ethos at those cool-kids-only clubs downtown too; they’re in-person platforms for online clout-chasing, getting out ahead of the dreaded vibe shift that is always coming. But at Nebula, I couldn’t really put my finger on what was getting all these pretty normal-seeming people off. Maybe their deal is just working hard at boring jobs that pay well during the day and playing hard at night, preferably with Diplo.

On Sunday night, ahead of the Monday holiday, which meant most of the partygoers didn’t have to get on a Zoom in the morning, I headed to Nebula with a friend I thought would be a proper tour guide into the straightosphere: a Miami girl whose DJ ex-boyfriend our friends like to refer to as “drugstore Diplo” because he looks like Diplo except maybe cheaper. As soon as we arrived, she sniffed, “I’ve never seen this much Zara in one room.” No matter our upturned noses, we ended up having a blast because maybe the long-running good-time brand of Diplo is enough to guarantee a good time. As one DJ told me, “Tonight wasn’t just about Diplo.” Though, honestly, I think it was.

11:08 p.m. | Nebula exists behind a Gothic facade right off of Times Square and between a psychic and a WeWork on 41st Street. I’m told people have been waiting outside for over an hour in either a lengthy line of ticket holders (from $90.64) or a smaller, prouder gaggle of young women who were, I’m told, invited by a promoter. Thankfully, my connect, a clearly stressed out redheaded hot girl in charge of “artist relations” at Nebula, leads me past the crowd directly into the club; even better, she shows us to the private room downstairs where Diplo will get settled in later, which has been feathered with bejeweled Michael Kors throw pillows and bottles of liquor. She says he specifically requested toothpaste, toothbrushes, batteries, and “a 250-fucking-dollar bottle of something.”

11:15 p.m. | Upstairs, the main club area is a massive 5,500-square-foot dance floor plus four separate bar areas and a mezzanine. Spotlights of gold light waterfall onto the floor, and on the ceiling six motorized electronic screens move up and down and side to side, flashing lights and somehow making the whole place feel like the inside of a spaceship.

11:25 p.m. | The aliens on board all look the same — you can tell the males by their white tennis shoes and baseball caps and the females by their stilettos and tight, shiny, short dresses (“We’re wearing the same thing, but we didn’t even talk about it!” I hear one girl shriek at her friend). Everybody is already fist-pumping to the electronic music coming from the fembot DJ in a neon-yellow tank-top hoodie onstage.

Pyro Tiger plays before Diplo. Photo: Jarrett Birnbaum, Of The Art

11:41 p.m. | I spot what I think is a gay boy, but then he brazenly shoves his tongue into a girl’s mouth. I also notice the Red Bull advertising in the room, which reads, ever so appropriately, “Never miss a moment.” That’s one moment I guess I wish I had missed. My friend opens up Raya to see if any of her guy problems are here tonight, but there’s very little service at the interstellar club.

11:45 p.m. | We head upstairs to the mezzanine because there’s nowhere to sit down unless you’re ready to drop thousands of dollars for a table and bottle service. We attempt to cozy up to one of said tables — “Fort Knox,” as my friend calls it — but are quickly elbowed out by a woman drinking Fiji water through a straw. Around the room we watch lit-up bottles of Skye vodka get delivered to groups of girls and their obliging older men, and for those who are celebrating their birthday tonight, the bottles come accompanied by sparklers. The sulfury fireworks smell mixes with all of the Juul vapor in the air, which, when added to the overwhelming amount of perfume and cologne, well, smells kind of nice?

11:55 p.m. | I take a shot of vodka to work up the courage to talk to someone. First up, a mousy blonde visiting from Pittsburgh who admits, “I actually hate EDM. It’s fucking brutal. It’s like somebody fell asleep on the DJ stand.” No matter, she’s decided to risk a headache tonight to party with her friends.

12:01 a.m. | Next I try chatting to a tall hunk who just posed for a picture with his bros, all looking over the balcony, all wearing baseball caps. His says “Western Union” on it, and when I ask why he came out tonight, he gushes, “I’ve got mad respect for Diplo. I’ve been on a bender for the past three days, so I thought I might as well keep it going.” His friend tells me he’s here for “great lights” and “a chill crowd,” but with over 1,000 people coming through the doors at a rapid pace, I’m not sure it’s going to be that “chill.”

The spaceship. Photo: Jarrett Birnbaum, Of The Art

12:15 a.m. | On the first floor, I meet a trio of women who tell me they’re “random as fuck,” by which they mean they’re all almost 40, two of them are married, and they feel really self-conscious about being here. They were invited to see Diplo (“Every song he has is a banger,” the single one praises) by a promoter they met last night, who unfortunately is not buying their drinks. He’s also gay. “I’m looking for a new gay best friend. Mine just moved to California,” one of the married women coos at me through her Botox. She says she’s been to Nebula before and warns me that the club is usually filled with “ugly guys and hot young girls.” In other words, not a great place for GBFF shopping.

12:17 a.m. | We try dancing to the beeps and the boops and the uncanny-valley robot voice on the EDM track that keeps repeating, “Sex with me is ecstasy. Sex with me is ecstasy. Sex with me is ecstasy. Sex with me ecstasy.” This might be the straightest dance floor I’ve ever been on, but I can’t help but staring at the bros around me who keep hugging each other, throwing their arms around each other, and grabbing each other gently by the shoulders. I suspect many of the older bald guys are here for their girlfriends, but the young bros seem to be here for each other. “Saturdays are the boys,” my friend jokes, giggling, never mind the fact that it’s Sunday.

12:29 a.m. | More shots, because good God. The single woman with the married friends is dancing on top of a couch. Yikes.

12:41 a.m. | My girlfriend and I (again) try to find a place to sit down, and while angling at an open couch she gets punched in the arm by a towering blonde bottle girl. For reasons I don’t think I have to explain, we end up talking about sexual trauma. I ask some of the burly Long Island guys next to us why they’re here tonight, and once again everyone says “Diplo.”

1:01 a.m. | Right on time, Diplo, in a muscle-bearing white tee, takes over the decks, while the screen behind him and the ceiling above us populates with pictures of his face and, of course, his name: “DIPLO DIPLO DIPLO DIPLO DIPLO.” He is strangely sexy, peacocking around the DJ stand, looking rather serious, and rarely glancing up. Not a single person around me isn’t smiling — even those with so much work it might be difficult to do so. When I ask the guy next to me how he’s not overheating in his fur coat, he, too, smiles and says, “I’m vibin’. I’m vibin’.” Diplo puts on white Willy Wonka goggles, and though I’m far too sober, it’s all actually kind of intoxicating with everyone seeming so happy.

The aliens. Photo: Jarrett Birnbaum, Of The Art

1:28 a.m. | I make my way outside for a cigarette. There I ask a guy (another white T-shirt, another baseball cap) what makes a good night out, and he answers, “a good DJ.” What makes a good DJ? “Good music.” Simple enough.

1:35 a.m. | While I’m finishing my cigarette, a nasally partygoer with winged eyeliner approaches me: “Do you have a lighter by chance? I totes lost mine.” She proceeds to tell me she’s a journalist, a writer behind “a new Netflix series” about plastic surgery (“It’s fiction”), and also a doctor — “actually, a veterinarian.” I ask how her night’s going. “It’s fun. Duhhhh! Duh! Duh! It’s not like I’m going to a library. My fucking sister dragged me out of my fucking bed to do this. Yeah! Duh! Cool beans.” On my way back through the door, a leather-clad party girl tells me she just got in by doing “Rockette kicks” for the bouncer.

1:51 a.m. | On the mezzanine, I notice a silver fox who appears to be the normal, nuclear-family kind of daddy. He directs me to his daughter, Morgan, a lithe, shiny blonde, who tells me in a speedy southern accent that she’s here with her parents and her aunt, visiting from Texas to celebrate her birthday and belated-by-COVID graduation. Her aunt zips by us holding a receipt for $2,263.61 (one bottle of Stoli Elit, one bottle of Casamigos Blanco, seven Red Bulls, and eight bottles of water), screaming, “This is the fucking bullshitest shit I’ve ever seen. Are you fucking kidding me? Fuck this. What the actual fuck?” Through the protests, she pays for the tab and tells me she’s a financial adviser. “I help people save money, not spend money.” Apparently, they heard about Nebula last night while eating at a touristy steakhouse in midtown. While the aunt kindly pours me a drink, Morgan explains that her parents are “drunk out of their fucking minds” and left her younger brother in their hotel room. “We live in Texas, bro,” she says, rolling her eyes.

2:01 a.m. | Morgan tells me that she’d love to get away from her parents and closer to Diplo, so my friend and I agree to accompany her onto the floor. Squishing through the crowd, she admits: “I don’t have a fucking ID. I literally showed my vaccine card and my dad pushed me and I just went in.” She offers us her weed vape. “You can hit my vape. It’s between my tits. Austin vapes are so much better, y’all.” I can vouch for that.

2:04 a.m. | I will never, ever be able to forgive myself for this, but when the redhead who let us inside texts me “come to the front i’ll meet you” and my friend and I squeeze through the jostling boobs and pogoing EDM dudes and make it to the stage and the redhead holds up two fingers, we immediately abandon Morgan, never looking back and never saying good-bye, high off her weed. [If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. We are bad city people, mercenary and shameless. We simply had to and I got so close to Diplo that I could see his chin scruff.]

The DJ Daddy. Photo: Brock Colyar

2:17 a.m. | Diplo throws his sweaty shoulder towel into the crowd, and it’s the only time I wish was back down there. From the stage, everyone looks less cheery and vaguely more blotto, including one young woman holding up a sign on her iPhone that reads “RUIN ME” in pink-and-white font.

2:31 a.m. | Diplo takes no breaks, spinning and spinning while the crowd continues to swell below and his resident pretty people dance behind him. The groupies are the best-looking partygoers here tonight — congregating around Diplo’s booze table, smoking cigs, sucking on lollipops, dancing toward the crowd (so the peons can see their faces), and still managing to look really basic, some of them in matching white goggles. In front of Diplo’s DJ stand, I notice there’s a special, raised platform with eight straight-haired girls standing on top of it. They don’t seem to know each other, and they’re all dancing toward Diplo, while the lasers from the ceiling fall into the crowd behind them. I’m not quite sure what their purpose is or who they are, but it seems as though they’ve been purposefully placed there to look good for Daddy DJ.

2:55 a.m. | Then we get the boot. If I had to guess a reason why, it’s probably because none other than a masked-up Cara Delevingne was spotted getting onstage right about the same time, unnoticeable because somehow she looked like everyone else at Nebula. “I noticed her because of her eyebrows,” Pyro Tiger, who took over for Diplo to finish out the night, told me.

3:11 a.m. | My friend and I decide to fetch our coats and get out. When we head to the door, I notice, for the second time tonight, that the entryway is filled with crying girls, and we stand aside while one guy gets thrown out, his head bashed against the metal door en route. Waiting on a car outside, a guy in a Knicks cap offers us coke. We’re fine, we say. We got what we wanted. We danced with Diplo.

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