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  • Writer's pictureHYSTERIA BY GIRLONFILM

WALT CASSIDY (A.K.A. WALTPAPER) INTERVIEW

Walt Cassidy on the Club Kid reign that ran from 1988 to 1996 and communicating the narrative about Club Kids correctly.


Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy) photographed by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.
Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy) photographed by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.

You may recognize Walt Cassidy from his contemporary art or his jewelry, but during the Club Kids era, he went by the moniker Waltpaper. The Club Kids were a group made up of young creatives, personalities, and promoters that reigned over the New York club scene throughout the 80s and 90s. While many of the personalities saw themselves as characters, Waltpaper used his identity as a representation of his essential self through creativity and self-expression. Club Kids were a definitive force in New York City’s club culture at the time and Cassidy was as well.


Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy), 1992 by by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.
Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy), 1992 by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.

Cassidy recently published a book, New York: Club Kids by Waltpaper. It is a visual diary and a love letter to New York City. His book beautifully captures the faces and the rawness of underground club culture.


The photos display maximalist and glorious fashions that were one of a kind and still to this day feel fresh and new. While viewing the photographs and rich, layered stories you experience the benevolence, creativity, and impact of the Club Kids. Through New York: Club Kids, Cassidy made sure that the stories and individuals will continue to live on while offering a sense of healing at the same time.


Many of the photographs included within the pages are rare and have never been seen before. Such as photos of Amanda Lepore and Björk. Throughout the book, you can appreciate the value of creativity, and you are left with a sense of inspiration. While the era of Club Kids may be a thing of the past, the cultural impact, community, fashion, and energy carry on.


Club Kids by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.
Club Kids by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.


Cassidy is now the head of his own eponymous studio and his allegorical works include mediums such as jewelry, photography, painting, and drawing. It is clear to see the continuity of Waltpaper throughout Cassidy’s current works as well as self-evolution. His pieces are living proof that art is capable of being a medium of truth as they create a harmonic balance between authenticity and vulnerability.


I had the honor of speaking to Walt Cassidy on everything from his book, the Club Kids era, outlaw parties, and communicating the narrative about Club Kids as a whole correctly.



GIRLONFILM IN CONVERSATION WITH WALT CASSIDY:



GIRLONFILM:


How would you describe the era that was Club Kids? How was it different from the scenes that had come prior?


WALT CASSIDY:


Creative — Decadent, Diverse, Deconstructed — Historical, Nuanced. The Club Kids were the last discernible subculture of the 20th century. Like the Beats, Punk, and Disco, The Club Kids were distinctly rooted in American street and club culture — heavily anchored in New York City. The Club Kids were underground personalities who embraced the notions of DIY and self-branding through references to capitalism and American television of the 1970s and 80s. The Club Kids created the template for the contemporary Influencer.



GIRLONFILM:


How did you fall into the Club Kids scene? What was it like to be a part of the nightlife machine? At the time, were you aware that what you were doing would have such a lasting impact?


WALT CASSIDY:


I moved to New York City as an art student at age 18. My first job was in a popular nightclub called BUILDING. I was hired to create large-scale interior graphics for the VIP lounge and given my own studio in the attic. I moved into go-go dancing, promoting, hosting, and creative direction. We were keenly aware that we were trying to make an impact on the cultural landscape and the historical trajectory of nightlife.

GIRLONFILM:


It is clear to see that identity was the brand. What was the creative process like when putting together outfits, makeup, etc.? Were there strong DIY elements to it? Do you have a favorite look?


WALT CASSIDY:


I like to say it was DIY with a budget. The star Club Kids operating under the umbrella of the Gatien clubs, were very much like the contracted stars of the early Hollywood studio system. So, we had the benefit of wealthy club owners funding and providing safe space for our wide-reaching projects and events, which included our own magazine, tours to other cities, performances, Style Summits, and Outlaw Parties, to name a few — all of which were built and staged from the ground up by ourselves. We maintained offices, studios and galleries inside the various mega clubs. There was machinery supporting our DIY visions. I became known as a bit of a shapeshifter with my looks.


They changed a lot, so I can’t pin down one as a favorite, but my breakthrough look with the insect antennae hair is close to my heart.



Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy). All photographs by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.
Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy). All photographs by Michael Fazakerley. All rights reserved.


GIRLONFILM:


Club Kids emerged in mainstream media on shows such as Geraldo and The Phil Donahue Show in middle America. As well as taking part in the iconic Project X Magazine. What was this experience like?


WALT CASSIDY:


At the time LGBTQIA+ was deeply ghettoized by the AIDS crisis. ACT-UP was bravely fighting the mainstream on the front lines, and it felt very much like warfare — US vs. THEM. The Club Kids came through as a sort of comic relief to the seriousness of the 1980s. Things started softening and cross-pollinating in the 1990s — The Club Kids effortlessly blended with Ravers, It Girls, Skaters, Voguers, Hip Hop Street Artists, and the Super Models. Alternative culture and music became mainstream and the categorical rigidity of the 1980s seemed to melt into one colorful poly-culture of sorts.


Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy) on Geraldo.
Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy) on Geraldo.


GIRLONFILM:


How would you compare the club kid reign of the nightlife scene to today’s nightlife scene? Do you believe that nightlife was rawer in comparison to today?


WALT CASSIDY:


I rarely find myself in nightclubs these days, but I catch hints that there are fun things going on in large-scale nightclubs, which have largely relocated to the Bushwick area of Brooklyn as opposed to Manhattan. New personalities have emerged over the past 10 years from nightlife, like Julianna Huxtable, Telfar, and Jazzelle, all of whom I look to for inspiration and the new vision.



GIRLONFILM:


Please discuss parties at famed clubs such as the Limelight and Danceteria and Michael Alig’s Outlaw parties. What was your favorite/most memorable experience?


WALT CASSIDY:


The Outlaw Parties were originally created by a promoter named Vito Bruno, and were very different from the later, more well-known iterations. Michael Alig and Steven Lewis appropriated the idea and shaped it into a new form that was distinct to The Club Kids.


My favorite Outlaw Party was when we cut the fence and scaled the, at the time, abandoned Highline. It was one of the few Outlaw Parties that the cops did not arrive to break it up, which was always the explosive highlight of these parties. The physical obstacle of breaking into and climbing up the Highline added a heighten sense of adventure, as well as, a stunning view of the city.

GIRLONFILM:


You came out with a book called New York Club Kids; please discuss this a bit. What was the creative process like for creating the visual documentation of the Club Kids?


WALT CASSIDY:


The book was a tremendous amount of work. It felt like I was performing an exorcism to clear away all the bad energy from the death-centric revenge narrative created by James St James and World of Wonder’s Party Monster brand. That was never my story, nor the story of the The Club Kids at large, in my not-so-humble opinion. It sought to bury the creative and artistic accomplishments of our group, in lieu of misleading shock value and tabloid sensationalism. Everyone certainly has a right to their own voice and interpretation, but after the initial reporting on the Alig/Melendez tragedy, I began to feel that the provenance of that specific narrative belongs to the victim’s family, exclusively. They are the only ones that, I feel, have the right to tell that story, however they see fit…or not tell that story. I can imagine that having that brutality constantly rehashed in the media, must be incredibly painful for them. Over the years, it’s seemed to me that James St. James and World of Wonder were merely interested in continuing to profit off of the Party Monster death brand, with little regard for the pain the victim’s family must carry every day.


For NEW YORK: CLUB KIDS, I wanted to offer up some healing and authenticity. The book is focused on my personal journey as a young artist and the wide range of personalities who mentored me through my experience, as well as, the technical and creative accomplishments of the photographers and graphic artists who documented and collaborated with the Club Kids. I was committed to not white washing the dark moments, but instead of trying to shock, I attempted to humanize our challenges and eventual demise, in search of an allegory that might be of helpful service the young creatives coming up and just beginning journeys of their own. There was a tremendous amount of unpacking needed to bring the narrative forward into a contemporary perspective.


I wrote, curated, and designed the book myself with the help of an extraordinary editorial and graphic design team. The positive response to the book, especially from young people, has been deeply inspiring. I am very grateful that I was afforded the chance to tell my story, the way I felt it need to be told. A number of contributors have passed away since its publishing, so the experience has become even more poignant than I anticipated.



A TRIBUTE TO THE LATE MICHAEL FAZAKERLEY AND A CELEBRATION OF HIS LEGACY:


Photographer Michael Fazakerley was there to photograph much of the underground club scene and personalities within New York City in the 80s and 90s. Fazakerley passed away on September 28, 2022, but left behind a remarkable body of work that beautifully captures the personalities of the late 80s and early 90s.


Walt Cassidy provided the mesmerizing portraits shot by Michael Fazakerley shown below.




Special thanks to Walt for taking part in this interview.


You can find all things Walt Cassidy in the links below.




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