Sheba Lane, Former D.J. and East Villager, Revists 1980s Clubland

A former D.J. is working on a documentary that she hopes will give voice to the “trailblazers and self-proclaimed misfits” that made up 1980s nightlife culture.

Sheba Lane came of age between her mother’s apartment in the South Bronx and her father’s place on East Third Street. She left the East Village in 2009 after her family had been in the neighborhood for 70 years, but she’s now producing a film that she hopes will harken back to an era when Tompkins Square Park “looked like war-torn Beirut” and when at Pyramid Club nearby “every square inch was packed with power.”

In a video promoting the “Fifteen Minutes Project” on fundraising site Indie GoGo, Walter Cessna, a writer, stylist, and photographer, recalls how “in 1981 you couldn’t walk past First Avenue without being in a posse of ten people.” Belinda Becker, an activist and dancer, remembers a time when “the East Village was filled with all these strange, crazy characters that were completely inspiring.”

During that time, Ms. Lane spun music at clubs like Area (where she started as a dishwasher) and Palladium on East 14th Street. She said that at the funeral of an aspiring actor who worked security at Area, she regretted not knowing more about the lives of the personalities who had been part of the scene.

To remedy that, she has talked to around 35 people on camera, including Dianne Brill (the “Queen of the Night,” per Andy Warhol), former DJ Anita Sarko (the “queen of the discotheque deejays,” per The Times), and Billy Beyond, the photographer and “master craftsman,” per Ms. Lane. Some of her subjects – like Serge Becker, who designed Area and went on to create hotspots like La Esquina – are legends in the nightlife industry. Others, not as much so.

“The people that I wanted to talk to didn’t achieve the status that Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Haring had achieved,” said Ms. Lane. “Although we were all from the same circle of creativity, I believe the onslaught of the AIDS virus wiped out the process of the rest of the artists in that circle to come into their own notoriety.”

Ms. Lane said of her documentary, “It’s not so much about, “Oh, who’ve you got?’ For me, it’s, “Have I gotten everyone?””

Hear more from the filmmaker by watching The Local’s video.