Anyone who’s ever been out and about in New York can attest that underground club culture is an influential (albeit institutionally overlooked) breed of performance art. With this in mind, the folks from the Museum of Arts and Design on Manhattan’s Upper West Side started The FUN Fellowship to provide nightlife personalities and social mobilizers with recognition as artists in their own rights. Annually, the FUN Fellowship awards four artists or art collectives whose parties best exemplify the dynamic convergence of art and social experience with grants to set up Museum events. The first happening, the Gag! Free Store, was a hyper-colorful, hyper-pop pop-up outpost of the weekly Metropolitan Bar cult party Gag! (run in part by OAK’s very own multi-talented Cameron Cooper.) Together with Zach Cole, Cameron curated a weekend-long Gag! free store chock-full of curios, oddities, and designer fashions that visitors could take either free of charge or in exchange for an object of equal value. Walking through, I was still thrilled to find a VHS copy of cult 70s kiddie show H.R Pufnstuf, a postcard of 80s beauty queens, an obscure Spizzoil Cold City record from 1979, and a pair of AOK jeans. One lucky girl with a size 6 shoe even walked away with a pair of black Senso platforms. With its fantastically curated mix of the kitschy, arty, and  zany, the Gag! Free Store was proof of just why you should be heading out at night if you’re ever down in the creative dumps. Below we talk with Cameron a bit about Gag!, the 90s,

What is your name and what do you do?

Cameron Cooper/ Styling, DJ, OAK (floor whore-ambassador), hosting, chaos.

Where are you from originally and why did you come to New York?

Atlanta, Georgia. I needed a change, and Atlanta had become quite boring.

When and why did you start Gag! ?

We started in December 2003. Electroclash had just ended. We were going to parties at Lit on Fridays and the Cock on Saturday. At the time we were really into the post-punk, new wave, and dance sounds, and all of those parties were playing similar things. There were no parties in Williamsburg, and  Zach and I had been DJing a few parties around town.  Metropolitan had just opened as the first full time gay bar in Williamsburg. We knew the owner, and he told me that he had just acquired turntables and a mixer. I said: you should let Zach and I try a party here, we have lots of records. I followed with, “But we want to do it every other Saturday just in case we’re not into it.” He said, “Ok, what’s your party called?” I said “GAG” To Zach and I, the name was “I can’t believe they’re playing this song, I’m gagging!” That’s how it started and that’s how we got the name.

What gap does the Gag! party fill in New York nightlife?

(This is answered by Zach Cole the other half of GAG!) Gay bars, even in New York, are very pop-heavy.  If you bar hop on a Saturday night it almost feels like you’re listening to the same DJ being blasted into a 50 different gay bars playing the same 10 or 20 hits of the moment. At Gag! we love our dance music and pop, but our music definitely leans toward darker and more obscure sounds. Instead of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Madonna, we’re giving you Grace Jones, Gina X Performance, Cold Cave,and Siouxsie and The Banshees.

Describe a typical Gag! night.

It starts off with us usually playing minimal synth, new wave, disco(ish), dance goth. If we have a guest DJ we put them on, then we play our video mash ups that videomixx makes for us that ranges from horror to vintage porn to whatever visually weird stuff fits the party. It gets a little more crowded, maybe a drag queen or two show up and by the end people are dancing a little more and it’s over


Explain the concept of the Gag! Free Store and what sorts of treasures you will be hawking.

When I moved to Williamsburg in 2001 there was a free store on Grand St. with artist studios in the back. I just loved the concept of no money to leave with goods. It’s very hippie, very power to the people. We will have clothes, books, housewares, records, knick knacks, this and that.

How did you come to partner with the Museum of Art and Design for this project?

I heard about the FUN Fellowship which focused on New York night life in a cultural context. I pitched the idea to them and they loved it and said yes.

How are nightlife and art/design intertwined for you?

They’re all in bed together. Art, fashion, nightlife. It’s always been that way and hopefully always will be.

What sort of work has gone into making this Free Store a reality. Who has helped out?

Talking on the phone with Zach  about 17 times a day. Asking every one I know to donate anything they no longer want. Lots of friends of ours are designers or artists and they are donating things they’ve made. OAK has kindly donated some merchandise, and  lots of our friends are DJing such as Michael Magnan who DJs our party quite often. Abraham Lopez has worked with me on several different projects, and I trust his creative eye when it comes to putting together the free store. Jake Yuzna at the museum as been our go-to problem solver and answers all of our questions day or night.

What’s your favorite item available at the free store? What personal item will you replace it with?

Priestess necklace, records, and all the bendy toys.  Many items from the store are from my personal collection.

Five song 90s mix tape.

The Prodigy – Charly

Lords of Acid – I sit on Acid

Dee Lite – Good Beat

Revolting Cocks – Beers, Steers and Queers

My Life with The Thrill Kill Kult – “A Girl Doesn’t Get Killed by a Make-Believe Lover…’Cuz it’s Hot”

Zach–Eon “Spice Must Flow” and -that Party Girl song

What’s next for you and Gag! ?

A reality show based on a non real reality show. And a clothing line.