DJ Stretch Armstrong takes us back to the Building club days…
THE STANDARD: How old were you when Building opened and what was your life like at that time?
STRETCH ARMSTRONG: I was 19, 20 years old. At that time, I was going to clubs every night. If I wasn’t working in them, I was hanging out at them. I was club-rich. I could go and drink for free. Anytime a new club opened that was the place to be, it was completely normal for me to go there three, four nights of the week. For a lot of us who were not just in the scene, but kind of connected to the scene, a club just became like everyone’s living room. When Building opened, it was the place to be and I was just kind of connected to that network of people.
Was the music the primary attraction for you?
That was a big part of it. Part of my reason for being in clubs every night was to be noticed, and to be a recognized face, so that it would make my chances of getting on easier. I totally wanted to play at Building. It was a great room to play in—massive, super high ceilings, big sound system, dark space. The dark space allowed people who might be self-conscious to lose their inhibitions and dance.
What was the most memorable thing you saw there, musically?
Building was where Kid Capri really made a splash. If you were into hip hop, you might know him, but if you were just more of a downtown club person who liked hip hop, you may not have known Kid Capri. He came to Building and utterly destroyed the place on a weekly basis. And, you know, that was before the internet, but the word of mouth was so strong, and what Kid was doing in that room, it just elevated him to a whole other plateau as a celebrity.
What was so unique about his style?
The DJs that I idolized coming up, like Clark Kent, they didn’t really talk. They were just nasty with their hands and their music. Kid Capri was the first deejay I ever saw who would regularly turn the music off, just like oozing with confidence, and with this super loud voice just command the crowd to do stuff. He would have them in the palm of his hand and the music would come back on at exactly the right time, just as he was getting the crowd into a frenzy. There was this give-and-take that was incredibly dynamic and powerful. He didn’t use the mic because he was making up for any deficiency as a deejay. It took his deejaying to another level because he was always nasty on the turntable, but the added dynamics of that crowd control, that was just something that people downtown hadn’t really seen.
Do you recall the people you’d see there?
De La Soul had a party there, Black Sheep did a party, A Tribe Called Quest. It was one of those clubs where the hip hop industry—whether people from labels, managers, or the artists themselves—were commingling with the club scene, the club clientele.
My favorite invite was for a short-lived night that Jessica [Rosenblum] started on Saturdays called Jessica’s Nickel Bag Lounge. The area was really, really high up, like four stories up, and it was closed off from the main floor. You took these industrial stairs. The flyer was a green piece of paper with a little Ziploc bag, the kind that you would cop marijuana in at Washington Square Park, with a chunk of oregano in the Ziploc, like a dime bag.
What made you keep the flyers from the club?
I think at some point I realized that these were ephemeral items that were a part of a really exciting time of my life. And I was right. Because as time goes on, you realize that that era from ’88, to maybe like ’92, was a really, really special time—in clubs, in music, and everything.
Are there specific tracks you associate with that time and the club?
Oh yeah sure. For house music: Lil Louis “I Called U”, Lidell Townsell “Nu-Nu”, Crystal Waters “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)”, Underground Solution “Luv Dancin”, Frankie Knuckles feat. Robert Owens “I’ll Be Your Friend”, Jay Williams “Sweat”, Bobby Konders “The Poem”. For hip hop: Nice and Smooth “Hip-hop Junkies”, Jungle Brothers “J Beez Comin Thru”, Black Sheep “Choice Is Yours”, A Tribe Called Quest “Can I Kick It”.
What you’ve got to remember is that back then New York was still the center of the world when it came to clubs and music and particularly hip hop. I mean all these records were breaking out of New York on the weekend mix shows and in clubs like Building. Back then, people went to clubs to hear their favorite song, which they heard on the radio. You would go to a club, to hear records that were hot, but you’re also going to hear new music. And that wasn’t something that would frustrate people—that was something that people looked forward to.
How was Building different from other clubs that were around at the time?
Building was a short-lived club. People were genuinely heartbroken when it closed down. It never went through the normal lifecycle of a club where, when it opens it’s hot, and then it gets less popular, and then, sadly, it becomes a hip hop spot. Building was very pro hip hop. I mean they had a lot of different things going on, but the hip hop nights weren’t just an afterthought or a footnote to a club’s previous glory days. From the jump, they were doing hip hop nights.
Do you have any Building stories?
Actually, I do have a Building story…it’s kind of a sad story. Kid Capri and I eventually became friends, I would say this was probably like ‘93, ’94. And we were hanging out and he tells me that he wants to buy Building and reopen it as his own club. I said, “Oh that’d be so cool, a deejay opening a club.” And then later that day, I happened to be in that neighborhood and I drove by where the Building was and it had just been torn down. It was a pile of rubble.