Sydney Instagram stars: Dramatic late-night world of 24-hour party people

Living for the weekend is over. Now, it’s all about living for the midweek.

“I just don’t sleep sometimes,” Instagram identity @TomGayUSA says at the Bar Lulu launch in Sydney.

It’s a Wednesday night and he’s out enjoying another evening of free cocktails along with hundreds of other social media personalities on the top floor of the hip Luna Lu restaurant as the Harbour Bridge swoops overhead in The Rocks. “It never stops.”

“I’ve been to three events today,” says Suzan Mutesi, a socialite-influencer and reality contestant.

Her day started with a breakfast launch and segued into a boat party for Ecoya candles. Then the influencers were returned to shore and Suze hightailed it to Bar Lulu for a night of partying and posting. Tomorrow is a launch celebrating a well-known alcohol brand.

“Sometimes, you could do eight events a week,” she says, escaping the rain and finding warmth under an outdoor heater.

Welcome to the after-dark reality show that’s playing out in the real-ish world of Sydney’s weeknight event circuit. The cast? TV contestants of yore and social media influencers, all documenting their antics at invite-only PR functions.

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Their iPhone calendars are filled with openings for bars and restaurants. Launches for booze companies, fashion labels and make-up brands. And parties for the sake of partying. After two years of lockdowns, the city’s clubs are replenishing and so are our Instagram feeds.

For some, partying is a full-time job. For others, they’re working towards it.

“I’m a fashionista,” @LookLikeLuka says, proudly displaying his Alexander McQueen ensemble and blue purse while tapping away on the screen of an iPhone to find his Instagram profile, which has gathered more than 34,000 followers. He attends three or four events a week, around his day job as a visual merchandiser for a department store.

Getting on the scene as an influencer at events had long been a dream of Luka’s but he wasn’t having much success. Then fellow Instagram identity Tati Baumjohann stepped in to help.

“She has 150,000 followers,” Luka says in awe.

Tati – a 39-year-old Brazilian mum of two and soccer WAG – now acts as his mentor, paying it forward in the Instagram community. She says Luka’s big problem was he was trying too hard with his feed. She encouraged him to forget about perfection and to just post every day. She also revamped his handle, consulting a brains trust of social media experts.

“Before, it was ‘@LookAtMe’,” Luka says of his original profile name. “And they said you should do ‘@LookLikeLuka’.”

Armed with his new handle, he went to his first event – a party for an Australian wine brand in the posh Sydney suburb of Rose Bay. The rest is history, comprehensively documented and archived in a neat social media grid.

“Make way for Sydney’s biggest celebrity!” a man yells as former Married At First Sight contestant and regular event attendee Nasser Sultan waltzes through the bar and into the unisex bathrooms.

A contestant from one of the iterations of The Bachelor mingles while the white tiled sails from the Opera House sweep across the sky outside. Trays of truffled mushroom spring roll canapes circulate. @LookLikeLuka gets tasked with filming videos and taking photos for Tati, who strikes a series of poses.

“Glamorous! Something different, girls! Sexy! Beautiful faces,” Luka screams as he whirls around her with his iPhone.

Fellow partygoer Isaias Vego joins the improv paparazzi. He has a yen for bold suits and wearing sunglasses indoors.

“I’m into modelling. I’m tall and love my hair,” he later explains.

He can regularly be found at the same events as everyone else who’s hanging out at Bar Lulu. Their diaries are all marked with two big parties tomorrow: one for the launch of a new lingerie line from Nia & Rose, and a party for liqueur brand Tia Maria.

“Tomorrow night and Friday night, they’re back-to-back events, so sometimes they do clash and sometimes you have to leave one and go to another one,” @TomGayUSA, 30, explains of the overlapping festivities. “It’s a place to be seen. And as long as you’re seen, you get your face out there – and people start recognising you.”

This week, he has five parties to attend. The scene is still only new to the Ohio native. Covid interrupted his stint in Australia but ultimately led to him ramping up his presence on Instagram and the party circuit.

There was an appearance in ads for a phone company (“I was the face of Telstra”) and he has explored several side hustles. One business endeavour focuses on customers printing their Instagram handles on the arms of their sunglasses – a product he proudly wears himself. Another has something to do with silent disco headphones. He’s also the founder of “the world’s largest inflatable theme park”.

Somewhere amid all this, he’s also an actor. He lists the latest Thor instalment in the bio of his Instagram, which has 10,600 followers.

“There’s a scene where Natalie Portman is just getting ready to steal Thor’s hammer and I am the main focus in the very centre of the scene, probably for a good 20 seconds,” he says.

Parties like this are the workplace of the digital age and influencers are punching the clock. An open cocktail bar is the water cooler at which office drama is gossiped about.

“There’s no Human Resource department to stop anything,” @TomGayUSA says.

And because of this, office politics can explode at any second.

“There’s a lot of jealous people,” Suzan says.

“Mean. There’s a lot of meanness where people will sabotage you, talk trash about you. Nasser (the former Married At First Sight contestant) always writes bad stuff about you.

“I get messages from people saying so-and-so was saying this about you. And that’s how I find out that person isn’t a friend.

“Someone says to me Nasser told them, ‘Ugh, look at that bitch,’ when I got here tonight.”

Later on, Nasser will send around a DM warning that Suzan has bought her one million Instagram followers and shows up to events uninvited.

A venue that doesn’t require an invite is Frankie’s Pizza – a late-night rock ‘n’ roll bar in the middle of Sydney, serving up hair metal and hot slices until the early hours. Girls who look like they just walked off the set of a Kiss video clip stand alongside white middle-aged guys in bad business suits.

This is where Suzan, her Plus One Dylan Mahoney (an actor-model) and @TomGayUSA have kicked on after Bar Lulu. It’s past midnight and the boys don’t have anywhere to be in the morning. Suze has a 10am consult at a cosmetics clinic that wants to offer free procedures in exchange for Instagram endorsements.

Even in the dark booth of the basement bar, @TomGayUSA — sipping the establishment’s signature brew of whisky and apple juice — is being recognised.

“Oh my god! You’re @TomGayUSA!” a girl yells over the band’s cover of the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop.

She’s more than familiar with him. He enthusiastically bluffs recognition.

“Sometimes you’ve just gotta pretend that you know them,” he says later while talking about the same-same faces that approach him at events and in the outside world. “No one wants to be forgotten. No one wants to be unseen. That’s the respect from an influencer.”

Then one of the hair metal groupies stumbles past the table and knocks several glasses of whisky and apple juice over the pizzas.

The next night, as everyone else is picking the perfect Plus One and choosing an even more perfect outfit to fit the green and black theme for the Tia Maria party, Suzan is laid up at home. The consult at the cosmetics clinic ended up being an actual procedure worth $5000 and now her chin is swollen.

But her absence from the social scene is just a blip. By Sunday, she’ll be back on the red carpet at the premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at the Royal Theatre before jetting out to Byron Bay on Monday with a small group of influencers to promote cosmetics brand Holme Beauty. On Wednesday, she’ll be back in Sydney at an InStyle magazine event followed by a party for Hermes.

“Love me, love me, say that you love me,” begs The Cardigans singer Nina Persson as the band’s 1996 hit Love Fool plays over the speakers between DJ sets from Client Liaison.

Influencers, abiding by the green and black dress code, are packed into Noir nightclub and forming a mosh pit around the bar to get their hands on the free martinis and negronis, spiked with Tia Maria.

There’s @LookLikeLuka. And there’s Isaias, with his sunglasses on. Nearby, fellow influencer Merisa Chandra dances with Tati while her Plus One – a professional photographer she has brought with her to document the evening like a one-woman reality TV crew – films them.

They’ve just come from the Nia & Rose lingerie launch at Solera Bar. Mel Lucarelli is running late between both events. She has also lost her voice from the previous night at Bar Lulu.

“It was a pretty big night,” she confesses when she arrives.

“It gets exhausting.”

There’s no office job for Mel to show up to in the morning. During the pandemic, her Instagram took off. She says she now pays the bills with content creation on social media.

“After MAFS, I did so much publicity – you’ve just gotta be available,” she said of the event schedule. “I was loving life, just going to so many parties and it was fun.”

She says she couldn’t go back to working a normal day job.

“I’m not a nine-to-five office person.”

After back-to-back weeknights on the events circuit, what happens when the weekend comes? The high is followed by the crash.

“All the time,” Mel says of the lull that kicks in on a quiet night in. “When you’re at an event, you’re just, ‘woo-woo-woo!’ – having so much fun. But because there’s so many (parties) on right now, there hasn’t been that much down time because you’ve gotta start getting ready for the next one. And it is a lot of work.”

@TomGayUSA has entered the bar. He’s also running late and the party’s almost over. He strolls through the club, slapping hands with random people, and makes his way to the almost-empty dance floor, which he bursts onto as if the room has been waiting just for him. He has to be up at 9am to do work for the world’s largest inflatable theme park, but that’s not tonight’s problem.

“When you’re an influencer, how do you make it up to people when you’re late?” he muses later, while walking down Oxford Street to find the next bar when the party ends after midnight. “You’ve gotta come in twice as hard. You’ve gotta save face.”

Twitter, Facebook: @hellojamesweir

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