The Club Kids were a group of young New York City club personalities mostly led by Michael Alig and James St. James in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The group was notable for their elaborate and outrageous costumes. In 1988, writer Michael Musto wrote about the Club Kids' "cult of crazy fashion and petulance": "They . . . are terminally superficial, have dubious aesthetic values, and are master manipulators, exploiters, and, thank God, partiers." The group, which at various moments included James St. James, Jenny Talia (Jenny Dembrow), Amanda Lepore, Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy), Goldy Loxxx, the It Twins, Richie Rich, Keoki, Desi Monster (Desi Santiago), Larry Tee, Lahoma van Zant (Jon Witherspoon), Astro Erle, Tobell von Cartier, Sophia Lamar, RuPaul, Gitsie, Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny, became both local celebrities and national sensations.
The beginning, though, was relatively humble. Alig moved to NYC from his native Indiana in 1984 and began holding low-key events in side rooms of minor clubs that had been put into the shadow by the true king of New York nightlife, Andy Warhol. All would change in 1987 upon Warhol's death when Alig took the party crown and changed everything - the aesthetics, the rules and the venues. Alig would later tell Interview Magazine: "We were all going to become Warhol Superstars and move into The Factory. The funny thing was that everybody had the same idea: not to dress up but to make fun of people who dressed up. We changed our names like they did, and we dressed up in outrageously crazy outfits in order to be a satire of them--only we ended up becoming what we were satirizing." The Club Kid's now iconic aesthetic was all about outrageousness, fabulousness and sex. Gender was fluid and everything was DIY. The goal was to make an impact. " In Musto's words: "It was a statement of individuality and sexuality which ran the gamut and it was a form of tapping into an inner fabulousness within themselves and bringing it out."
As the group's influence grew, they spread from the back rooms of lesser-known clubs to venues such as Area, The Palladium and Rudolf Piper's iconic Danceteria. From there, Alig and his gang went on to virtually run Peter Gatien's club network, including the notorious Club USA and The Limelight, a large Chelsea club in a desacrated church. To draw crowds into these venues, Alig and the Club Kids began holding guerilla-style "outlaw parties," where, fully costumed and ready to party, they would hijack locations like Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, ATM vestibules, the old High Line tracks before their conversion to a park, and the New York City Subway blasting music from a boombox and dancing until the police cleared them out. They ensured that such events always happened in the vicinity of an actual club that they could decamp to in order to continue the revelry. At the height of their cultural popularity, the Club Kids toured the United States and appeared on several talk shows, such as Geraldo, The Joan Rivers Show, and the Phil Donahue Show.
The movement's end was marked in March 1996 when Alig and his roommate Robert "Freeze" Riggs killed former Limelight employee and reputed drug dealer Andre "Angel" Melendez after an argument which different sources claim was about either clothes or money. It took another 9 months before Ailig and Riggs were arrested. The end of the Club Kids finally came in the mid-1990s in the shape of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's crack-down on Manhattan's night clubs.
The 1998 documentary film Party Monster: The Shockumentary and the 2003 feature film Party Monster – both directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato – were based upon the memoir Disco Bloodbath by Club Kid James St. James, an autobiographical recount of his life. The films focused on the murder of Angel Melendez by Alig and Riggs.
- St. James, James. (1999) Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland. New York, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85764-2.
- Bailey, Fenton and Barbato, Randy (dirs.) Party Monster: The Shockumentary (documentary film, 1998) Picture This! Entertainment.
- Michael Alig and the Club Kids website
- Village Voice columnist Michael Musto's reminiscences of the Club Kids