By Ariana Hwang
At House of Yes, 2018 no longer feels like 2018. Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” is playing. And men and women are coated in glitter circling a crowded room in four-wheeled roller skates. Everyone’s boogieing to the old school music spinning from a DJ and the vibrant atmosphere is exactly as how you’d imagine a roller disco would be like from the 70s— splits and tricks inside of a time machine.
And who’s the man behind this dance spectacle, you ask? He’s a 30 year old father from Crown Heights; his name is Harry Martin.
Harry Martin’s unexpectant and committed love affair with roller skating began after skating at a company party held in LeFrak Center at Lakeside Prospect Park. This had him yearning for a place with music he could really jive to along with a youthful crowd of people who treasured classic roller skate culture just as much as he did. Martin’s commitment to finding his ideal sweet spot took him to a Salvation Army gym turned part time makeshift rink, and when that didn’t exactly meet his vision, he decided to turn to other venues and throw his own skating events, which became known as The Roller Wave.
“I know this might sound crazy, but we want to turn your space into a pop up Roller Disco.” These were the words that flew out of Martin’s mouth and landed at the feet of New York City venue owners. And luckily, with the support of his fiancé, the travelling Roller Disco was able to spread into Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens at numerous venues including House of Yes, Gantry Loft, The Ludlow House, Williamsburg Hotel, Public Hotels, Alpha Space, Soho House, and even the restaurant Tao for Alicia Keys’ Birthday.
With The Roller Wave, Harry Martin’s mission is to make Roller Disco culture timeless for everyone. So in here you’ll find a story of the inspiration and motivation it took for this entrepreneur’s dreams to happen on his own terms.
What does your day to day look like?
I am usually at home with my daughter, while my wife is auditioning or on set working. When I have a meeting, sometimes she tags along.
Who or what keeps you motivated?
First and foremost, my family keeps me motivated! Second, my love for Roller Disco culture. I love the music associated with skating and also the feeling I receive when I am gliding on the skate floor. I am also very much motivated to revive skate culture. Roller Disco still exists, but is very underground. I want more people to be aware of this phenomenon!
Take me back to when you put on roller skates for the first time. What about roller disco drew you in and then made you love it so much?
The first time I put on roller skates I was a child, maybe 9 years old. We went to the local rink in my neighborhood, Empire Skating Rink. I remember going with my summer camp. I had the time of my life, I spent all day trying to learn how to backwards skate and do 180 jumps haha.
Before diving in and doing your own thing, did you think about any initial setbacks or problems you might face later on?
I knew coming into this project that it would spread like wildfire, which would create copycats. Roller disco especially in New York, is an untapped market and after watching or coming to my events I figured it would spark ideas in certain minds.
Do you have a side-hustle to finance your dream?
I’m actually a Taekwondo instructor for children by day. I stuck with it over these last few years because it helps me pay my Roller Wave staff. Some employees like to get paid the night of. They don’t realize I can be paid any time between a week to a month after an event, so I like to keep a separate stream of money to help with that.
Were there any other personal experiences, apart from discovering your love of skating at Lakeside Prospect Park, that have shaped you into the person you are today?
Yes, at age 25 I felt like life was throwing all types of lemons at me. After college I began doing tour management with Ninjasonik, a music group from Brooklyn. I had a long, fun, and crazy run with the guys, but at the end of it all I realized I had just partied my life away for all of those years. I really didn’t have much to show for myself so I fell into a really dark and depressed slumber. I felt like I had no direction in life. I began spending all of my savings, and I was living in a tiny room in Brooklyn. I started running to cope with this depression. I ran at least 80 miles a week, until that day at the company party, when I discovered something that was just as beneficial as running but way more fun. I started going to the rink every day that summer, most nights skating for three whole hours.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is transporting the skates. Because The Roller Wave is a traveling roller disco, I have to load hundreds of skates into my van, unload them at the venue, load them back into the van after the event, and unload once more when I get back to storage. The process can take up to 4 hours.
Not many entrepreneurs like to talk about failure which is absurd to me. What was one of the biggest failures you had to overcome with your business?
It’s kind of difficult to use the word fail, I believe it’s a learning experience. What I have learned is you can’t please everybody. I’ve had complaints about venue size, music, mandatory costume, location, and also, the day of event. I am learning in this business you can’t please everyone.
Can you recall the best memory you’ve had while running The Roller Wave?
Best memory happened over this past weekend— 10/28. I did a collaboration event with Everyday People. We had over a thousand people in attendance for a Studio 54 themed roller disco. The crowd was dressed beautifully and the music was amazing. I realized during the event this was what I dreamed the Roller Wave would look like since the beginning.
Favorite songs to play at the roller rink?
A mix of classic roller jams like “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” by Vaughan Mason & Crew with new school music fit for a roller disco like Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” or Chance The Rapper’s “All Night”.
What impact does The Roller Wave have on people and venues for their first time? Was there anything specific that has stuck in your mind?
A lot of times I hear “I haven’t roller skated since my birthday party as a child” and “That was the most fun I’ve had all year”. Living in New York City is stressful for all of us so if I can offer someone a short getaway and a good time then all the effort is worth it. The venues just can’t believe we pull it off. They see their spaces in a whole new light.
What do you look for in a venue besides the demographic?
I always test the floors first. I don’t think people realize that either. I’ve turned down several offers to use spaces when I felt the floors wouldn’t be safe or effective. The size of a space usually isn’t an issue. It’s all about the floors.
How were you able to bring roller disco to Alicia Keys’ attention?
It was around the holidays last year, her husband Swizz Beatz was posting videos on Instagram skating in his loft and everyone kept tagging me in them. I wrote under one of his posts inviting him to come out to an event and he DM’d me that he might be interested in throwing a party for his wife in my venue. I explained that I didn’t have a venue but I did have skates so maybe we could find a venue and turn it into a pop up roller disco for her. He ended up selecting Tao which turned out to be one of the best parties of the year. They were definitely two of my favorite clients.
What’s the best piece of advice to give to other aspiring event planners and people trying to restore certain parts of culture or art?
Nobody sees your vision except for you so a lot of people won’t believe it can happen until it’s done. Try to be a jack of all trades in whatever industry you choose because it helps in the event of a crisis. At my events you might see me DJ, fix a speaker, jump on the mic to MC, or in the back distributing the skates. People might let you down but the show must go on.