Everyone but God
It's a lonely hour, one promoters dread. Billboardlive is empty save for bartenders wiping down bottles and tonight's first-up DJ prepping the sound system with not-ready-for-prime-time records. But Jeffrey Sanker, a promoter who draws up to 25,000 for his major DJ events, knows the club will soon be packed for his more intimate bimonthly tea dance. So right now the only thing the promoter/guru has on his mind is -- sushi.
At the restaurant Breez downstairs, a tan Sanker orders up trays of raw fish laden with California and tempura rolls. Nursing the remnants of a cold, he struggles to keep his voice. Even with tonight's party almost upon him, Sanker can't help thinking about New Year's Eve, when he'll host his second year-end bash at the Miami Arena: an eighteen-hour extravaganza complete with multiple DJs, aerial acrobatics, and indoor fireworks.
"People do put a lot of stock in New Year's Eve," he says, sipping from a tall glass of lemonade. "It's like I've been saying, Everyone waits for god to come down and blow them.' We all know that's not going to happen, so the key is to make the night less important and just have fun."
Anticipating a crowd of 5000 people, the promoter has enlisted crobar resident DJ Victor Calderone, former Salvation resident Abel, and L.A. circuit favorite Manny Lehman to drop everything from tribal-house during the peak set to early-morning disco classics. With the spacious Arena at his disposal, Sanker will have room to stage his Hollywood-inspired shows and play with pyrotechnics.
"If you're going to throw a party, you may as well throw the biggest you can," Sanker continues. "The arena is great because we have 80-foot ceilings that allow for a lot of creativity. Right now I'm really big on fireworks, so I like having that space to use."
"I was very nervous the first night, but we had fire marshals standing by," he admits. "Some are on wires, and obviously these don't go as high as the outdoor ones. It's my latest thing."
Having made a career out of "latest things," Sanker is sure to be at the epicenter of partying, be it in New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami. Raised in Washington, D.C., the budding host took to Manhattan in the late Seventies and had the good fortune to work the back door at Studio 54 during its halcyon heyday. From there he ascended to prominence on the New York scene as a gay-club promoter before moving in 1987 to L.A., where he launched his flagship Palm Springs White Party. With marketing savvy and a gift for event planning, Sanker has significantly shaped the gay-circuit scene, spicing his résumé with official parties at New York's Pride Day and Gay Days at Disney.
On New Year's 2001, the ubiquitous Sanker stopped in at both his parties in Miami and L.A. -- on the same night. Although he is staging seven parties simultaneously this December 31, he will skip the cross-country trip. Weary of the L.A. attitude, Sanker says he is staying in Miami.
"Of all the places I work, L.A. is definitely the hardest place to please people," he complains. "When I'm there doing things, no one is satisfied. Then when I leave they all say, Why don't you throw another party?'"
Since selling his home in la-la land and cutting back his New York diet to one event per year, the time seems right for the master of ceremonies to quit "wintering" down south and relocate permanently to the Beach, where he recently opened 6 Degrees, his third venture into the restaurant biz.
"Things happen," he says with a suggestive smile. "I definitely see Miami in my future."
Although still a snowbird, Sanker does admit that recent events have made the tropics an attractive locale. "The best thing to happen to me this summer was doing these tea dances," he reveals. "I got to meet a lot more of the locals. At this time in Miami, the key to being successful is drawing that clientele. I used to count on more tourists when I marketed events, but now the focus is on locals both in greater Miami and the State of Florida."
With tourists skeptical of the skies, promoters like Sanker have to adapt to the altered playing field by focusing on nearby cities.
"There's definitely been a big difference in my own event planning," he explains. "More people are looking toward driving destinations instead of flying now. I think the established, big events will always be around, like Sydney [Australia]'s Mardi Gras and Montreal's Black & Blue. It's the smaller ones that will suffer. People are looking for better, [higher-] quality events since they'll cut back on the number they attend. What I'm doing is strengthening the parties I already do."
But those privy to his predilections know Sanker has too much curiosity to rest on a single market. "You know, I visit Ibiza every summer, and I noticed how mixed the crowds are over there," he says. "I took Victor [Calderone] with me this past summer, and he played at Privelage. The response was great. I think New York and Miami definitely have that crossover potential in terms of the type of people who visit the clubs. That's a big credit to this city. I'm planning an event for [the 2002] Winter Music Conference, and I'm hoping that will open doors for other things."
People begin to slip through the ropes leading to the escalator that will take them to Billboard's now-thumping dance floor. Sanker watches the parade and picks at a piece of wrapped rice. "I think the hardest thing about my job is that I try to please everybody," he says. "I know that's not possible, but it is what I strive for. Everyone likes a different style. Everyone has his own opinion. But when people leave one of my parties, I want them to say, Wow' and then want to come back."
What does he have to say to his critics?
"Don't come," he warns. "Not to be rude, but if you don't like me or the style of party I throw, then don't come."
The fish swallowed, Sanker swigs the last of his lemonade. "It's just a party," he concludes. "Relax, have a good time. You're in Miami, the weather is beautiful, you're alive. Just have a good time."
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