The block party. It’s an age-old happening that can be as riotous as it is unifying, the urban answer to community. Back East, block parties were usually unplanned events relying on a critical mass of bodies taking over a street and sharing food, drinks and stories, usually inspired by the first signs of spring. Even planned block parties often have a freestyle feel, mixing music, dance and tasty barbecue.
Admittedly, that kind of spontaneous urban event can be more difficult to pull off in the Vegas Valley, simply because of the city’s size and layout. So when KNYEW (pronounced “new”), an urban clothing shop in Chinatown, announced a block party to release its new Split K and Script collections, as well as spring designs by local brand Hippoe Esthetics, I had to check it out.
Walking up to the storefront, I immediately noticed that, though the sidewalk was crammed with people, cars had no trouble getting by. The only people spilling into the street were checking out two tents selling T-shirts with appropriated Strip casino logos—like one that read “fellatio,” Bellagio-style.
After elbowing my way past the crowd to KNYEW’s threshold, I was carded by a beefy bouncer, a perplexing experience since I spotted children inside. But what’s a block party without kids?
And these kids were not running wild. They were exhibiting actual self-control, standing near rows of complimentary sweets from Sin City Cupcakes and not touching a one. (The cupcakes were alcohol-infused, so it's a good thing.) Fukuburger was also setting out savory-smelling trays of burgers and fries, which no one seemed to be eating.
Lining the walls of the shop was artwork that cleverly distorted celebrity images, like one of Ice Cube looking meaner than he’s ever looked in real life. Brian De Leon, the artist behind these edgy images inspired by hip-hop, sat mostly undisturbed in the middle of the store, waiting to sign copies. But the crowd seemed even less interested in him than in the cupcakes or Fuku food. The only thing really turning heads was the DJ setup and, of course, the free swag.
The shop was giving away hats and T-shirts and raffling off fixed-gear bikes. DJs Franzen, Five and Melo D—from popular nightspots like Tao and clubs gone by like Jet—were spinning and splicing a good mix of hip-hop and soul. The mostly male 20-somethings looked as if they were ready to get down, even if there wasn’t much room for dancing.
As the evening progressed, folks loosened up, started chatting and made moves toward actual starting a dance party. So maybe this block party wasn’t quite what “block party” represents to me, but the atmosphere and spirit were festive enough. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.