Mr. Hipster wears a full-on Brooklyn beard, black-rimmed glasses, ironic sweater and clear twisty secret service earpiece. He guards the VIP entrance, sending people away with glee and yelling into his shirt cuff mic. He’s the most important person in the world to the crowd of almost 3,000, many of whom waited hours in the pouring rain to get into VICE’s massive warehouse birthday party in a Brooklyn Naval yard. Inside the warehouse are more lines. Lines to the coat check, lines to the bar, lines to the food, lines to the smoking section. The floor is soaked and the place is starting to smell.
But that’s just the regular party, Mr. Hipster’s the gatekeeper to the real party — the inner sanctum. A backstage full of celebrities and blow. A wonderland of coolness. Or so it would seem.
That coolness, or more importantly the illusion of it, is what’s made VICE the cultural juggernaut it is. Founded in 1994 in Montreal, it used to say what no one else would say. Where many culture magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin were grasping to stay abreast of what was cool, VICE shrugged their collective shoulders and did more drugs. But many are saying that in just two short decades, the tattoo on VICE’s middle finger has been covered by diamond rings. VICE Media is now a nearly billion dollar corporation, taking Rupert Murdoch’s money to sell kids on an illusions of hipness. VICE was literally the annoying skater kid who did really banal things on acid. But now he’s in his 40s, trying to convince you he’s still gets it and, hey, you might like these Converse I’m wearing. Has VICE really lost its edge or are they savvy businessmen changing the media game?
Ghostface Killa pulls up to the VIP entrance in a black SUV.
“Big fan,” Mr. Hipster says. “Get this man anything he wants.”
It’s unclear who Mr. Hipster is talking to and Ghostface doesn’t acknowledge him as he walks inside.
I’m waiting for a woman named Liz to come to the door.
“I don’t know who the fuck Liz is,” says Mr. Hipster.
“Okay but I have this email telling me to —”
“Look man. You’re not going to get in without a wristband. I would go watch the bands like everyone else, if I were you.”
“I’ll wait,” I say.
A guy with spiky hair in an expensive suit bums a cigarette from me.
“Isn’t this amazing,” says Spiky Hair. “I mean. This is an invite-only party. The most important people in New York are here. Nicki Minaj is coming.”
“It’s all awfully big now,” I say. “Don’t you think VICE has lost a bit of what made it fun?”
He looks at me confused.
“Do you work for VICE?” I ask.
“I created an app,” he says. “It’s for bands to…”
Liz appears and gives me a wristband.
“Good luck with that,” I say and I walk to the door.
“I already told you,” says Mr. Hipster but he begrudgingly lets me in when he sees the wristband.
Backstage is decidedly unglamorous. The celebrity guests mill around, but it’s mostly people in suits. It has the feel of a corporate Christmas party. Fancy hors d’oeuvres and Johnnie Walker. People pass around blunts in the artists lounge and there’s a coke line to the private bathroom. The room feels like a lame LA velvet rope club. The VIP section overlooks the stage where a metal band is wailing power chords. They stop mid-song to make rambling statement about Ferguson to the mostly white crowd.
“That’s right,” says a fat white guy with a soul patch beside me. “You tell ’em!”
As each performance finishes, Andrew WK introduces the next one. Pussy Riot. The Black Lips. Karen O. He seems like the only one backstage actually listening to the music. He nods along.
Scarlett Johansson elicits the most phone pictures and does a surprisingly great New Order cover. Jonah Hill posts up at the bar after his strange ode to Drake on stage. Most of the night he talks with Michael Cera and other friends. A guy in a suit stands at the edge of their circle nodding and laughing but they didn’t seem to notice him.
A girl in a hoodie with the same secret service earpiece as Mr. Hipster is smoking a cigarette at a table full of empty glasses.
“Can I smoke cigarettes inside?” I ask.
“I’ve been here since 10 this morning. Worst day of my life,” she says. “Do whatever you want.”
There’s a commotion coming from the side of the room. Mr. Hipster is clearing a path. Lil Wayne comes running out of a door surrounded by his entourage, straight to the stage. Everyone raises their phones to take a picture. The girl in the hoodie doesn’t look up. She’s about 19. Younger than the magazine itself maybe.
“Are you an intern at VICE?” I asked.
“No,” she says. “I’m a producer.”
The night dragged on. I was getting tired. Where was Nicki? I picked up a copy of the latest issue of the magazine from a table and flipped through. I hadn’t read VICE in awhile. The articles looked great, from news to culture to art and music. Even great fiction. I recognized bylines from big newspapers and famous photographers. It was the same magazine it once was but with a bigger budget and even more ads. Everyone in media has a love/hate relationship with VICE. The open secret is they nickel and dime their employees but pay markee writers well. Like it or not, they’re the biggest game in town and every other media outlet is mimicking their model.
As Lil Wayne comes off the stage, I noticed he’s wearing a Nicki Minaj shirt. He’s the last act. I’m not sure if the Nicki rumor was a joke or she’s a no show.
SUVs are lining up in front of the VIP door as I leave. There’s a line of people getting in. Mr. Hipster tries to get in one but a model cuts him off.
“I’ll get the next one,” he says as the door slams in his face.
He turns around and the VIP door’s locked. He calls frantically into his shirt sleeve mic but no one’s answering. He gives up.
Then picks his nose when he thinks nobody’s looking.