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God is a DJ

Robbie Wootton has a vision for spiritual nightlife from NYC to Shanghai
by Maura R. O'Connor

Entering a narrow steel-reinforced door at 530 West 27th Street, my colleague and I were immediately confronted by a dozen construction workers feverishly pounding away at floors and walls. As the screeches and howls of their power tools filled our ears while we stepped around vats of wet cement, dodging electrical wires, it was difficult to envision the scene we were told would take place in six weeks. But by the time you are reading this, that ramshackle building site will have become transformed with the tangibly charged energy of artists, musicians, spiritual personalities, and thousands of entertainment-hungry club goers. As part of a larger plan to revolutionize the all-night dance party phenomenon known as raves, by upgrading them to the spiritual realm, the 85,000-square-foot building is destined to become the second of seven nightclubs that will be located at the “light centers of the earth.” This multimillion-dollar endeavor is fueled by an ambitious vision from what some might consider an unlikely source.

Two years ago, restaurant entrepreneur, music industry veteran, and general entertainment capitalist Robbie Wootton began a journey that would eventually land him in the African bush. There, he received what he describes as a “calling” to open up seven “Spirit” clubs around the world, whose mission it would be to “take a role in encouraging people to evolve to a new plane of consciousness.” When we went to see Robbie in New York, Spirit Dublin was already up and running; after the opening of Spirit New York in November, clubs in Cape Town, Athens, Sydney, Shanghai, and Rio de Janeiro are to follow. As if falling into a rabbit hole, we had stepped through that door right in the middle of a process of creation that was making Robbie's vision a literal, physical manifestation on the streets of New York.

Raves themselves are easier to define when one examines them in contrast to the previous inhabitants of the club circuit. In short: The eighties produced the narcissistic cocaine-snorting materialists who themselves were the offspring of the awfully phony, also cocaine-snorting, Disco generation. At least this is how a raver would put it to you. In truth, narcissism, drug-induced fun, and sexual overtones have never stopped defining the club circuit no matter which subculture eventually takes over. The real difference between raves and their close ancestors lies in the belief, on the ravers' part, that depth is an essential aspect of a rave experience. Words like spirituality, oneness, love, and community are part of the common vocabulary used to describe the experience of dancing till 8am with thousands of one's peers. These may not be inaccurate words to use but unfortunately they are often spoken by a person on E, not a spiritually awakened individual. Ecstasy and methamphetamines of every kind defined rave culture to such an extent during the nineties that law enforcement officials and the general public were forced to respond with disdain and force toward the entire subculture. In a twist of irony, the very spot where the new “drug-free” Spirit Club New York is located was previously the infamous Twilo nightclub. Twilo was shut down two years ago, at least in part as a result of the deaths of two of its patrons who overdosed. But it was also a result of Mayor Guiliani's crackdown on disreputable nightlife, often characterized by the presence of drugs. And where there were raves, there were drugs. Until, that is, Robbie Wootton entered the picture.

Upon meeting this Dublin native, what is immediately striking is the impressive span of his limbs, evident even in the length of his fingers. Robbie has a penchant for staring into the distance when attempting to articulate a particular personal experience or idea and then speaking concisely in a rapid manner about anything from Elvis (“Elvis was a prophet”) to the politics of working with architects. Speaking with him also made me realize that we live in a time when we don't have to go very far east to be exposed to the spiritual dimension of life or even to make an effort to attend a New Age spa or meditation retreat. Rather, in the twenty-first century spiritual revelation can happen at a rock concert. Robbie has been close to U2 since he was part of the creation of Windmill Studios in Dublin where many of U2's albums, including The Joshua Tree, were recorded. It was backstage on U2's Elevation tour in 2001 that Robbie was first introduced, through a conversation with a stranger, to what he describes as “this world that had been a complete mystery, but that I had always wanted to know about.” That encounter changed his perception irrevocably. Having taken a year off to travel around the world, he found that whether in Southeast Asia, South America, North America, or Africa, he continually met people whose understanding of the spiritual realm set him on fire. These travels ultimately confirmed for him that a fundamental Oneness underlies the human experience, a sense that grew more profound with every border, continent, and language that he encountered.

Considering Robbie's history in the entertainment industry, it may be no mystery that he received a calling to open a spiritual nightclub. What is remarkable about his story is that he describes his past as that of a playboy who not only founded many clubs but also participated in the drug culture that surrounded them. But after realizing how negative his lifestyle was, he didn't simply reject the entire world that it had all taken place in. Instead, he recognized that the positive elements of entertainment, such as music and togetherness, were potential tools to be used in the spiritual awakening of others, and ever since he has been attempting to upgrade that very same world. But this would only work as long as the negative elements, such as the consumption of drugs, were kept out of the picture. Then there is the equally remarkable fact that Robbie received a calling to open seven spiritual nightclubs, not just one. Nontoxic raves? Seven of them? Attempting to spiritually awaken people through entertainment on every continent of the world? The unique optimism of such ideas did not fail to catch our attention and is the reason why we found ourselves in this downtown warehouse district of Manhattan, stepping around vats of wet cement.

The physical dimensions of the space were already breathtaking. A state-of-the-art project, it would mainly consist of three tiers, called Body, Mind, and Soul. Robbie gave us a running narrative of what everything was and what it all meant. The third floor, he told us, would be open most of the week and house several studios for holistic healers, aromatherapists, and yoga instructors, and possibly a gallery space for artist Alex Grey's installation, Sacred Mirrors. He showed us the clinically clean tiled kitchen that would provide patrons of the restaurant with vegetarian/raw food on the second-floor mezzanine. Retractable glass doors were to enclose it so that diners could look down on the 2,000-person-capacity dance floor. This bottom floor was where the stage would be located, upon which choreographed performances created by contemporary performing artists like Gabrielle Roth would take place every Saturday night. “Our show starts at midnight, which is really Sunday, so it will become, I won't say a place of worship, but a place of community, a place of celebration.” The performances at Spirit are part of what distinguishes the venue from the “DJ-oriented darkness” that so often defines a club experience. “Everything about our space is about the light,” Robbie declared. “The journey here is about good; it's a triumph of light over darkness.”

In a literal sense, the light also illuminates the narrative that will be taking place on the stage and through various media, thereby orienting the club goers to a specific message. Robbie has been in control of every detail of the creation of Spirit, even down to the placement and role of the lights, and this kind of conscious intention is of utmost importance to him. Of course, there is no way to prevent people who just want to drink and have a good time from coming to Spirit (while the nontoxic nature of the environment is strongly emphasized, there will be a full bar on the second floor, albeit reinforced with fresh juices and energy boosters). But as Robbie explained, “Even if people come simply because they heard, 'Oh, that's a really hot club right now,'” the sense of premeditation evident in the details, the overall energy, and the structure of the venue will guarantee that people, “can only be affected positively by what's here . . .”

A crucial element of this positivity will be the music, but a little contextualization may be needed to understand why. House, techno, trance: whatever you want to call it, music is understood by ravers as far more than just entertainment—for them, it's literally a medium for transcendence. Some go so far as to cite scientific evidence for such beliefs, mainly that a drum machine, for example, can maintain a repetitive beat infinitely longer than a human can, bringing people together in a dance marathon that leads to a feeling that they are part of a collective organism. Robbie believes that because most dance music is created by kids in their bedroom, therefore bypassing the music industry, the music is coming directly from the divine, through the kid, and then into the dance hall. DJs who are spiritually aware or awake can create a flow with their music, a vibration that, Robbie is convinced, literally increases the consciousness of the people dancing to it. No raver would disagree. In light of this, music is undoubtedly one of Robbie's most powerful tools. He reinforced this when he told us, “For the last ten years a lot of ravers have been saying that God is a DJ because they've been having these religious experiences on the dance floor. What we are trying to say is: Yes, God can be a DJ; God is Music; God is Sound; God is Vibration; everything in the Universe is Vibration.”

There is no doubt that Spirit is part of a larger movement in the rave subculture toward nontoxic environments, in response to the destructive drug consumption that defined it for so long. Whether it is evidence of a larger movement in our culture to emphasize the positive, uplifting elements of art, music, and entertainment in the context of spirituality remains to be seen. If Robbie is right when he says that the youth of today are the first generation in decades not to have a “drug of choice,” this may well be the case. According to him, we will finally be able to choose community, wholeness, and true awakening over the illusory liberation of drugs that defined the sixties all the way up through the nineties in every subculture. This is no small thing, and Spirit may be just the place to go if we want to get the ball rolling.

For more information about Spirit performances, events, etc., go to or


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This article is from
Our Morality Issue


February–April 2004