The creation of mood, tone and aesthetics in a social scene: Garett Grassi’s amorphous Aether, co-founded with R. C. Wheeler, is well-known for all the above. Aether is described as “a KLUB, undefined by one particular space, but notably an art commune…a gang of prolific local artists running in social circles thru the Hudson Valley.” Grassi and Wheeler specialize in the production of private events for up to a few hundred attendees. With a forte in creating spaces for music, art and socialization, they produce the atmospheric backdrop in which people can party in privacy and safety and style.
“The Hudson Valley is amazing,” says Grassi. “It’s exploding with creative types. R. C. and I work really well together because we are on the same page. It’s a unique thing to find someone you feel is so in sync with you.”
Aether got its start when Grassi moved to Europe in his 20s. “I was minding my business and got yanked into a bar, a club – much like the topless clubs I avoided like the plague at home – but this was a classier format of bar, with exotic dancers and interesting spaces in the building, lasers everywhere. It was an interesting atmosphere and one I thought was a bit different than what I might have seen here. The people were friendly. I was offered a job in this whole night-life scene, a structure I hadn’t been introduced to before.”
Grassi stuck around long enough to think that he’d be there forever, living in Germany and Prague, and visiting other eastern European countries and going to clubs in those locations. He liked the electronic dance music: trance, hip-hop, house. But as life often alters one’s plans, he came back to the States and got involved in art and family. A metal artist who worked at a foundry for awhile – Polich Tallix, the fine art foundry that was responsible for originally casting Jo Davidson’s the six-foot-tall, 1,050-pound bronze portrait bust of FDR, on exhibit at the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island – was inspired by his experience abroad, where clubs offered a carefully controlled and orchestrated environment for their clients.
Starting off by producing occasional private events back in New York, Grassi took his experience in promoting clubs to promoting parties in general. “I started to link up people with different art and music acts. Music is the backbone of these parties, but I had people making art, doing things, monitoring behavior in all the comings and goings. I did this in some shop areas, woodland settings, incorporating bonfires or other fire arts. The aim is to control the general atmosphere of the night to provide a fun escape, much in the way any other entertainment would have that goal. Certain circles would call people together, and one successful event led to the next event. It caught on.”
He and Wheeler attracted top local talent in the way of deejays and musicians, artists to invent the scenarios and other eager and capable people to set the pace. They often use a donation system to manage a bar space and keep people from getting too intoxicated or out-of-control. Their aim was and is to design “approachability to people from different walks of life – a place for people to wade into this experience.” Grassi says that it sprang from a need for him personally. “I liked and missed it – not just a bar or venue that was converted or had a transient moment of that feeling.”
Capitalizing on friends and acquaintances who have the ability to provide a better soundscape for these sorts of parties – ones with a serious deejay presence, louder, better music, a certain feeling or atmosphere – Grassi and Wheeler found their niche: that something that Grassi missed from having been in that world in his early 20s. “We decided to name the event with this archaic, scientific term for the atmosphere, Aether: what Tesla and others would refer to as ‘the space beyond our atmosphere,’ an airy term for space. I thought it represented what I was trying to do.”
When Aether produces an event, they attempt to design multiple spaces, large and small, where people can either dance or converse. It’s different than hanging out in a bar, in that the event is usually theme-based on the dance music and art installations in-house. “We’ve done these events fairly underground. We employ a door person, security, food, drinks and alcohol, and the whole thing is open for interpretation, usually lasting eight to ten hours.
“We’ve been thinking about getting a more permanent venue here, and have it double as a professional art studio and hold these functions a few times a month – to clear out the space and safely host the dance and entertainment. For now, it’s like a mobile venue. The best part is keeping it local. We’ve had invitations to be elsewhere,” he says, commenting on the entrepreneurial spirit evident in the region.
“It could grow into something bigger if we get a real commercial space, maybe in Midtown or somewhere in Kingston. A social club is one particular sort of venue – like the Freemasons or Odd Fellows, or the Yacht Club. And there are permits and licensing, the sale of alcohol all have to be considered, the fire code – none of which is up for interpretation. I’ve set up my private parties in a safe fashion, adhering to regulations, and I got good advice and help from people who have established venues.”
Operating on a private-party basis for a few years in hosting and promoting “loft parties” or “warehouse parties,” Grassi saw the potential in involving a larger group of talented artists to produce events. “We’re having our professions meet our passions. After-parties are becoming expected at events like New Year’s Eve, O+ and Chronogram’s Block Party. The Hudson Valley is waking up from the slump of the ’90s. My phone is ringing off the hook. It’s an interesting thing that it’s turned into: a good opportunity for people to get together. My goal is to reach them and provide a late-night venue.”
Acknowledging that he and Wheeler are underfunded to accomplish a permanent venue just yet, he notes phenomena like Burning Man, where the opening for art, music and creative self-expression attracts people from all over the world. “This is the local incarnation of what’s already budding. It’s an open canvas, and I happen to know how to do it fairly well. The possibility to move to the next level – it’s a testimony, not just to my ability to connect people or connect with people myself, but it’s something I’m proud of. It’s important to be sensitive to the social scene here. Kingston is a small town in a lot of ways, which is the awesome thing about it. It’s exciting, like a blessing, rich with potential and possibility. Aether has grown organically.”
To reach Grassi and Wheeler about producing an event, or just finding out what’s happening and where, check out Grassi’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/garett.grassi?fref=ts or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.