These photos are from the last 3 Morrissey nights at Sway, the last 3 Sunday nights of 2015, starting from Dec. 13 when the news of Sway’s closing went public. These final nights were like jumping 10 years into the past to the party’s heyday, dancing with countless strangers, singing along to our favorite songs.
I’d been going every Sunday night since 2006, from about 12:30 a.m. until 4 a.m. It was such a beautiful place, and aside from being a wild party, it was a cultural, transformative, and often therapeutic experience. I remember the first few times being blown away how many people were out that late on a Sunday night, and it really made me appreciate New York City and its alternatives to the norm. Eventually I would plan my life around Morrissey night – keeping it mellow and working on Sundays, when to eat dinner, when to do laundry… I used to book my flights out of town based on missing the least number of Sunday nights in town. A lot of people I’d only see there, and never even knew their full names or had any contact info for each other. We didn’t need it, we’d see each other there. I guess it’s comparable to a church, or a religious practice, or other stories about communal subculture establishments, like DIY music venues or certain rollerskating rinks. This was our version, mostly based around seminal 1980s post-punk and related music. A few years ago the party calmed down quite a bit compared to what it used to be. A lot of friends stopped going, and then it was every few Sundays for me.
This is a pretty personal account, and I’m sure others had some pretty different experiences. These photos are about the people, the characters of Sway. There were a lot of old regulars that were also there every Sunday, that I might never see again, but didn’t get to catch a photo of while dancing and hanging in the dark. We didn’t all know each other, or each others stories. Some would say hi, some wouldn’t even make eye contact, but we all shared our love for the place.
This is Q, it’s been so many years, I forget what his original role was at Sway, he used to work there, then got banned I think, but it didn’t last since he’s part of the crew.
Dima Dubson. As far as I remember Dima started DJing regularly when Brian DeGraw came less often. He was already a regular, and a great addition to the lineup of DJs, playing a bit more LCD Soundsystem, Le Tigre, Belle & Sebastian, The Strokes, and some eastern european 80s dance jams.
Fernando Lions and Timothy Gorbett. Fernando was one of the oldest regulars I personally remember recognizing, he eventually DJ’d at the occasional Mexican Morrissey night at Lit. Tim has been the bar-back for forever, I think we didn’t really talk until we saw each other at a Pulp show, and when the party had mellowed out and there was time to talk.
These guys were always there, getting in their dance zone. We didn’t really talk, but we always gave each other space. I used to think some of the guys were pretty weird, maybe they are, but I realized what’s so great about them. The one on the right is one of the few that I have run into outside of a party scenario, when he was protesting fracking at Union Square. Then we’d run into each other at Organic Avenue “dumpstering”, which was just opening up clean garbage bags to get to sealed organic juices and smoothies that had “expired” that day.
The guy on the right almost always wore a suit of some sort, and usually ended up dancing with a girl I wanted to dance with.
I’ve known Danny Weiss since we were around 19, through skateboarding, and he’s since become an excellent photographer. He was already a regular when I started going to Sway, he’d be dancing with a hardcover book under one arm, and a manual Nikon SLR around his shoulder. He’s been thrown out of Sway a few times but they always let him back in since he’s an old regular.
Greg K from the Misshapes. I didn’t used to party back in the heydey of the Misshapes parties, but they sounded fun.
Ryan McGinley and friend. I’d never run into McGinley at Sway before, but I imagine he used to go when it first started, before I started going.
I met Candy at Sway a few years ago. She bought me a Morrissey holiday sweater, and brought me to see Morrissey at Radio City Music Hall. Thanks Candy!
I never got this guy’s name, actually we never spoke until the last Sway, acknowledging that it was coming to an end. He’s another one of the interesting guys that get in their dance zone. It was funny not talking with so many of these guys for so long, especially when the party died down and only a few of us were still going.
Dave Mason used to bartend at Lit. I hadn’t seen him in years, he’s looking very sharp lately.
Kristine Valmonte is an old friend, old regular, great dancer, and music encyclopedia, especially in the post-punk genre.
Brian DeGraw is a musician from the group Gang Gang Dance, and one of the original DJs who started the party with Ben Cho. He would often play stuff like Hot Chip and some other funky electronic music, that I’m not sure anyone there was familiar with. A lot of people there for 80s music were not into it, but a lot were, or, like me, realized later on how great it juxtaposed and blended with the 80s jams. He stopped DJing there around when the party started dying down, and I really missed his music selection.
Some of my fondest Sway memories were dancing and singing along to Morrissey with these guys, Ricardo Napoli and John Hoyos, touching girls’ hair to catch their attention and trying to serenade them with lyrics. This might sound funny but that’s what happened.
Ben Cho was a god to some of us. Anyone can put on songs by The Smiths or Morrissey, and at the height of the popularity of Sway, a lot of other clubs started to, but Ben Cho really knew how to play them, and it always sounded better at Sway. They had their sound and speakers dialed – just a little bit too loud so you couldn’t think, and you could just feel it, and dance.
Aside from more popular 80s post-punk bands like The Cure, Pulp, Joy Division, New Order, or The Stone Roses, Ben and the other DJs would throw in Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor, Devo, Diana Ross, The Supremes, The Violent Femmes, Yaz, the Primitives, T. Rex, Modern English, Saint Etienne, Erasure, Dead or Alive, When in Rome, the Undertones, Gang of Four, Grimes, or Fugazi, a lot of which i hadn’t listened to before.
Flutura Bardhi and Ansku Heiskanen. I met Flute in Barcelona, and Ansku is from Finland. In the mid to late 2000s, it felt pretty normal to meet someone halfway around the world who knew about or had been to Sway, these days a lot of people in New York haven’t heard of it.
In the dance zone with pretty unique moves.
I’d seen these two at Sway for years and haven’t talked to them.
One of the long time bartenders. I didn’t hang at the bar much so I didn’t really get to know the bartenders.
Our heroes, Brian DeGraw and Ben Cho.
There hasn’t been a line for Sway in years. In the mid 2000s, if there was a long line, it didn’t really matter if you were actually there for the music.
Fernando’s holding a shirt that says “last sway ever 12-27-15”, made by old regular Jorge Valenzuela.
The bartender in the back room, wearing a Pixies shirt. There was another guy back there for so long before her who was super awesome too.
One of the old regulars. We always wondered about him, he seemed to be friends with some of the OG Sway crew, someone said his name was Sparks, and that’s about all we knew.
I spy Derballa.
Bryan Derballa and Lily Koppel.
Nicolette Santos, an old regular.
Bar-back Timothy Gorbett.
The crowd is cleared out for the last time.
An old regular.
A bartender and Pebbles, tearing up at the end of the last night, it was very sad for a lot of us.
Another longtime bartender, also tearing up.
I spoke to Ben Cho at the end of the last night. He reminisced that when they first started the party 14 years ago, it would be so dead they would have to egg their friends on to see who would be the first person to dance in the empty dance floor. They would put on songs they thought would be sick to skateboard to, and stack the benches for their friends to ollie over.
Ben would also invite people he met through his work, which sometimes were somewhat famous actors. Some would come and just didn’t really understand it, something like The Stone Roses would come on and everyone would go crazy, and the dude was just so confused and just couldn’t wrap his head around what was going on. He remembers it getting weird after one time in particular, an actress he barely knew wrote about how much fun she had in a “page 6” somewhere, and the next Sunday the crowd got super weird and lame, like a bunch of finance people.
If you’re looking for a photo of yourself, or a 2nd or 3rd photo of yourself, I put some extra photos here: