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CHI CHI VALENTI - A NY NIGHTCLUB EMPRESS
20TH CENTURY BIOGRAPHY

The familiar blonde figure of Chi Chi Valenti (The Empress) greeted Tuesday (and later Saturday) visitors to a certain Meat Market nightspot in New York City for most of a decade. From her perch in one of the last outsider neighborhoods in New York at the door of a club called Jackie 60 and later MOTHER, she was less an innkeeper than the conduit to a tiny nocturnal world quite apart from the rest of the city. Celebrants on any given night might include a 68-year-old construction worker who had just begun to cross-dress, members of a local computer hacking club, the fetish-dressed designer Thierry Mugler, and a diminutive butcher known in the Meat Market simply as Shorty.

The club itself was "little, dark and different", a laboratory for producers, performers, nocturnal arrivistes and all of their Next Big Things. Here ideas were hatched (and sometimes snatched) years before even the sped-up media "discovered" them. The jewelbox-like proscenium stage boasted one of New York's richest performance rosters: birthing acts like the Duelling Bankheads (hilarious twin drag Tallulahs) and the dance series MARTHA @ MOTHER. It also gave big-stage veterans like Debbie Harry and Laurie Anderson a place to connect with an intimate audience again.

Valenti and her husband and collaborator Johnny Dynell have moved on now, as most of the artists have, from the over-gentrified neighborhood, but their work goes on, at their websites mothernyc.com, the drag performance site queenmother.tv and The Motherboards, free and active forums on all aspects of NYC nightclubbing and alternative life. Here, their devoted following world-wide checks in about upcoming events in a myriad of venues, including those staged by Valenti's production company, The Jackie Factory.

Twenty-three years ago, when Valenti's particular odyssey began at the door of the groundbreaking Mudd Club in lower Manhattan, the handmade nightclub was not such a rarity. It was on Mudd's gold-painted stairs that she met Dynell - the DJ, showman (in the manner of P.T. Barnum) and Jackie 60's gifted graphic designer. They began to create late-night performances at venues including the emigre art-theater enclave Squat Theater, Danceteria, The Kitchen, the short-lived Times Square pleasure palaces Peppermint Lounge and Bond's, the ballroom of the Jane-West Hotel, and many more.

As clubs grew increasingly commercial in the mid and late eighties, Valenti sought to propagandize among magazine-reading youth worldwide. Her nightlife features for publications including Annie Flander's Details, I.D, Interview and The Village Voice were aimed for the very public that a decade later would visit her clubs: "All who have grown up restless, in a thousand sleeping cities." She wrote what she knew - the emerging club cultures in New York. Her specialty was introducing new hybrids and insular sub-subcultures, most notably the Voguing Houses of Harlem (her cover feature "Nations" in Details in 1988 helped to push the culture to national attention) and the S/M fashion underground.

These heavily opinionated works began to leave the sphere of journalism entirely, often taking the form of essays, then becoming increasingly poetic. Valenti first moved into free verse in 1990 with her club manifesto Take Back The Night, and began to evolve a spoken-word performance style, moody and music-backed, that fit the romantic work. A year later, she decided to stop theorizing about the night and start reinventing it.

With husband Dynell, the London fetish designer Kitty Boots, and a young choreographer/dancer named Richard Move, Valenti began to shape the weekly party Jackie 60 in late 1990, at Nell Campbell's nightclub, Nell's. Four months later, the team moved the just-born Jackie to it's home in the Meat Market. With it's meticulously researched themes, female-dominant aesthetics, pansexual crowd and world-class performances, the weekly slowly and surely began to build audience, in it's riverfront, then-seedy corner of the world.

As the decade moved on, the creative explosion in and around Jackie mushroomed. Valenti's monthly Verbal Abuse reading series, a midnight poetry soiree that helped spark the early-nineties spoken word renaissance, gave birth to her literary zine of the same name. Two hit dance records bore the unmistakeable live Jackie sound (featuring the club's "Jackie MC's" and the late diva Donna Giles, discovered at the club by master mixer David Morales.) Jackie's Playhouse, the club's theatrical wing, consistently staged a half-dozen original plays and adaptations a year (including a half-dozen penned by Valenti and Michael Musto, like the seminal "Cokewhore" and "Presswhore.")

A long-time computer enthusiast and enthusuastic virtual communitarian (especially on The Well,) Valenti found a way to marry dual worlds with "Jackie Hackers", a series of live club interpretations of computer-inspired themes, begun in 1992 with "Cybersluts", a collaboration with Boots and The House of Domination. The spoken word "son et lumiere "The Cyberslut Is Tireless", set over Giorgio Morodor and "O Fortuna", is still one of her most performed works and the word "cyberslut", coined by Valenti for the piece, is now a wildly familiar phrase, for better or for worse, online.

It was a utopian time for online computing, which had all of the excitement of the early, underground club scene and the same sense of like-minded spirits connecting. As a self-described "glam nerd", equally comfortable installing false eyelashes or RAM, Valenti was a minority within a minority. She met another of her breed, the young media maestro Rob Roth in 1993. They began to collaborate on a body of work called Interjackie, which included primitive online chat from a freight elevator at the club (1993-6), the interactive "Mistress-Master" and "Jackie Videophone" interfaces in 1994, participation in the 1995-6 "First Night In Cyberspace" online New Year's Eve events, and the original design of the "Interjackie" website in 1995 (which became mothernyc.com in 1997.) Their partnership continued for five years at the seminal cyber/fetish party Click + Drag, where they pushed the lines between live and virtual club experience.

In 1996, Valenti, Dynell and their merry band of collaborators had outgrown the once-a-week time slot and their limited production facilities. Backed with little but good wishes, stubborn will, and the extraordinary generosity of club friends, the couple bought the run-down premises on West 14th Street where Jackie "lived", and tackled their greatest challenge to date: to apply what Village Voice writer Lyn Yeager has dubbed "Jackie Family Values" to a full-time nightclub. MOTHER opened in fall, 1996 after only a month of renovation, with a special edition of Jackie 60 dedicated to their fellow obsessed showman Busby Berkeley.

For four years till its closing in June 2000 MOTHER was a full-time venue where others learned the rarified art of creating untried and imaginative club nights, while The Jackie Factory team (now joined by Pyramid Club co-founder Hattie Hathaway) continued to create their international night life landmark anew every Tuesday. The venue also housed several Jackie 60 offshoots (born of a single theme or series at Jackie) - Click + Drag, Martha @ MOTHER and Heroes, an early Eighties monthly. It also housed New York's only Vampyre/Gothic Weekly, Long Black Veil.

In 1999, Valenti announced -in a formal abdication speech - that the weekly party would close at century's end -December 28, 1999 - a fitting ending to a club experience that spanned (and helped to define) a decade. The last year of Jackie 60 Tuesdays was filmed by director Jack Gulick for THE JACKIE MOVIE, a documentary focusing on the club's performers and regular audience. Valenti and Dynell continued to run the Meat Market venue for an appreciative crowd, but their heart was clearly in more experimental work than the increasingly gentrified Meat Market could support. The pair closed the beloved clubhouse on June 29, 2000 with a massive all-night bacchanal called MOTHER'S END.

A 21st Century bio is coming soon to this site. For Chi Chi's projects and writings online, visit the links at right. For more on her upcoming NYC events, visit mothernyc.com

2007 PROJECTS

NIGHT OF 1000 STEVIES
CURRENT NYC NIGHTCLUBS
VERBAL ABUSE MAGAZINE
THE MOTHERBOARDS NYC
MOTHERNYC.COM

WRITINGS

WRITINGS ONLINE

NYC NIGHTCLUB LINKS

NIGHTCLUB GALLERIES
NYC EVENTS GUIDE
JACKIE 60

Page Credits: Designed and maintained by THE JACKIE FACTORY. Last updated 2/12/07
Top photo by Michael James O'Brien, 1996, center left photo by Jamie Casertano, 1999, center photo with Johnny Dynell by Ramon Wells, 2006, center right confetti design by Adam Alexander and Leslie Sternberg for Mother's End, 2000. All images used by permission, all rights belong to their creators.