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NYC Anti-Folk Scene
from lach to the bklyn tea party
by: Ben Krieger - February 10, 2009

[See also: Ben Krieger's recent feature on Lach here - Ben's feature on Olive Juice Music here.]

Roger Manning on Antifolk: "Antifolk's been dead for a couple years now, but it's just handy buzz word that we use to set ourselves apart from another variety of folkies that just don't get it. (, 1991)"

A rough beginning A long time ago, in a neighborhood that's changed a great deal. before a Moldy Peaches tune appeared on a vacation resort commercial. Before the Sidewalk Café. got stage curtains. Before Regina Spektor and the Strokes used to drink at the same barbecues. Before Olive Juice Music's Matt Roth first moved to New York in pursuit of a girl. Before the Chameleon, an early home to artists like Jason Trachtenburg and Beck, closed down. Back when the Brooklyn Tea Party’s Dan Costello was getting ready for kindergarten, There was a group of musicians in the East Village who called themselves "Antifolk." Lach, known to many as the scene's father, remembers when, "Antifolk used to be simple: whoever made it out past the crooked cops, gangs and junkies to the after hours club on Rivington, hung out to noon the next day and had to be scraped out the floor….that was Antifolk.”

There is a growing number of musicians reaching the ear of the general public—.Adam Green, Kimya Dawson, Langhorne Slim and Jaymay, to name a few—.who have sprung out of the Antifolk scene. The stylistic spread of this group has led to a bit of confusion regarding the term. The first Antifolk Festival was conceived nearly 25 years ago by Lach in reaction to the folk clubs who rejected his punk-derived style of acoustic music. Or, as Roger Manning explains in his video biography, "Antifolk is a reaction to folkies. Folk music is great….but folkies are boring, usually, and there's nothing that I hate more than a boring folkie." Everything about Antifolk stems from this: a sense of experimentation, reaction, community and belonging for anyone willing to take chances with their art. The most famous Antifolk MC and scene-maker is undoubtedly Lach. In a city filled with contests and competitions, he is one of the few organizers who can claim to have fostered a creative, competitive community organically, without the promise of fame or monetary compensation. Despite Lach's reputation for quick wit and sarcastic soundboard commentary, as long as artists were willing let their pretensions be mocked a bit—.and the host who has seen it all loves to poke jokingly at egos—.they were welcome. MCs who have followed in his footsteps, from Joie Blaney, to Costello, to the author, have taken something from his example. Today, whether it be at the Sidewalk Café., the OJ All Day Music Festival, or a loft party in Brooklyn, a key aspect of the scene remains its convivial atmosphere: veterans, upstarts and even some visiting, now-famous alumni step up to the microphone on the same night….and everyone has a good time.

Brook Pridemore on Antifolk: "Antifolk is the only scene I've found where I can hear the parts I like about punk and the parts I like about folk, and anything else in between, from disco to experimental noise...No one is out of place here, but no one is making the prevailing sound. No one has a firm foothold, but everyone has a foot in the door."

A change of scenario: The Brooklyn Tea Party

For an artistic scene, the change usually arrives in the form of gentrification. Initially, the artists and their friends are the only ones attending the shows. Then the hipsters start popping up and before anyone knows it, a flourishing scene develops. It's a temporary scenario, however, because the neighborhoods that artists settle down in have been on the realtor's maps for years. The artists bring a hip exclusivity to a working class neighborhood (the only kind they can afford to live in) and eventually—.just as planned—.the property becomes a bit more desirable. The artists start moving farther away from the venues they used to frequent, venues that start to fill up with a new crowd of young professionals who bring their party hats, but not necessarily their discerning ear. This may be the same audience that artists end up reaching through the web, commercial licensing, and other means of exposure, but to face such indifference from the stage is a cold slap in the face. At the end of the day, few artists like to be treated as a human jukebox. It's enough to make one want to pack up, find a loft somewhere far away from the hoopla and throw parties for the folks who care again.

"Sidewalk was home base for me from the fall of 2004 until last year," explains songwriter Dan Costello, "and I'm still around a little bit….but it's changed a lot, even in the last 9 months….there has been a diaspora of Sidewalkers—.of Antifolkers—.who are moving to other cities….who are embracing other organizations." As Costello observes, the history of the scene can be tracked from Rivington to where it eventually settled at the Sidewalk. "And then I hear about the old days," he explains, "when people started moving to Lorimer Street…it was all these Antifolkers moving out there because they could live for next to nothing….when you could afford to live on Rivington Street, having the club down the block made perfect sense….as it is much more expensive to live in the cultural centers of New York City, you have to look further out."

When Rachel Devlin, Mike Campbell, Brook Pridemore and Costello made the decision to find an apartment together, they knew they would need a place to play. Upon viewing the now familiar loft space in a renovated building known as the Tea Factory, Costello had the same vision that his roommates did: "the stage can go over there." The idea to put on house shows was not part of the original plan, but in hindsight the Brooklyn Tea Party was inevitable. Devlin loves to host, Costello is a natural ringleader, Campbell has a great ear for quality music, and any photograph in which Pridemore appears happy usually involves him playing his ass off in someone's back yard. Since moving in, the BTP has been holding 2-3 weekend shows a month, bringing in distinguished Antifolk artists such as Jeffrey Lewis, Diane Cluck, and the Trachtenburg Family Players to play along side current stars like Creaky Boards, Ching Chong Song and Soft Black.

The Brooklyn Tea Party does it for fun. "We don't make any money doing this," explains Costello, "we don't even try….we like celebrating the fact that all of our talented friends make music and we like having a place where they can do that." The BTP's myspace disclaimer makes it very clear: "This is not a big fancy rock club for huge roving gangs of strangers to wreak havoc. We can't make you famous, but we can share our warmth with you." In fact, many of the artists who play the BTP shows have already gained a comfortable level of notoriety. If anything, the loft concerts allow them a chance to play in a low-key environment much like the one they probably started out in years ago. "[The artists] get a real comfort level," explains Costello, "very few people feel out of their element at the Tea Party….in fact, the only ones who feel uncomfortable are the ones who think they're above it." In their own way, like Lach's Antihoot and Olive Juice Music, the BTP has weeded out the blatant, self-serving careerist element, creating an environment where community-friendly individuals can find a home.

The artists are selected through invite only. you can't send a demo to the Brooklyn Tea Party. The housemates share curator duties, and the diverse, talent-rich bills usually start around 8pm and finish at midnight. The housemates all tour to various degrees, and in their travels sometime meet acts who get invited to play at the loft. The events can often expose touring artists to a small group of new—.but potentially connected—.admirers. It's an ideal environment to listen to music: no drink-pushing waiters (the parties are BYOB), free salsa and chips, a well-fed cat named Chuck Noblitt, and pin-drop attentiveness. Costello, who sat behind the board at the Sidewalk for several years (and even helmed the Antihoot when needed), keeps everyone sounding great. The only noise that cuts through the performances is the occasional buzzer as fans dial up from the street waiting to get inside. To attend a Brooklyn Tea Party show is to make the effort to attend, to contact the right people and show up ready to listen.

The roof access is the icing on the cake, and after a satisfying Brooklyn Tea Party event the guests usually head up to soak in the view. Gazing eastward after one particular show, a performer jokes about how all the artists will be priced out of this neighborhood in ten years. It may not take that long. With each mass migration of New York artists, the system seems to be getting more efficient. Plans to renovate the Myrtle/Wyckoff L Station anticipated the influx of new residents. Whereas the Sidewalk started out as—.to quote Matt Roth—."a shit hole," gradually building up to the venue it is now, hangouts like Goodbye Blue Monday seem to burst from the womb with their knick-knacks-on-the-wall environment already in place. The Tea Factory has been completely renovated with colorfully painted halls and a modern buzzer system out front. The earnest desire to nurture a creative environment is still there, and the observations above do not suggest that the current scene is any less vital or genuine than the previous ones. What it does suggest is that everyone's role in the process is better honed. Landlords who want to attract artists know how to market their property. venues that are just starting out know how to decorate. musicians who step into a restaurant or bar with an open space can spot the potential and act immediately. It is very possible that the neighborhood transformations and subsequent artist migration from Bushwick will happen in much less than ten years.

The house parties

Costello admits that there is no grand scheme for the Brooklyn Tea Party, but for now it feels like the right thing to do. Apparently the BTP is not alone. there are other house parties that occur in Bushwick, each with its own scene. Several of them have contacted the BTP in order to network. "I guess what we're doing is in response to the movement of people [in search of] affordable housing." It's a constant reminder that at the end of the day—.despite the wonderful Antifolk music that goes on at the Sidewalk, the OJ Festival and the Brooklyn Tea Party—.artists seem to operate within the patterns of a larger real estate market. For the time being, a large portion of the current Antifolk scene comes home to Bushwick at night. Reggaeton and bachata blares from car stereos that drive down the streets, prompting love-or-loathe reactions from the recent, artistic transplants. When the Trachtenburgs head out to gigs with their suitcases, curious neighbors ask if they're going on vacation. As one long-time Antifolker who moved from Manhattan observes, the feeling of isolation echoes the way she felt years ago in the pre-gentrified East Village. Whether it's a distain for the talkative yuppies on Avenue A, the commercial folk that still thrives at many venues, or the awkward interactions with longtime Bushwick residents, the irony remains. for all of the welcoming, community-like aspects within the Antifolk scene, there seems to be a disconnection with the greater communities that it operates in. There are certainly opportunities for association with the outer world, however. Huggabroomstik's summer festival in Maria Hernandez Park ("Huggabroomstock") seems like a step in the right direction, and the Sidewalk's Monday open mike still welcomes anyone to get up and play, regardless of their sound. For now, one can only wait to see how the next chapter in the Antifolk storybook will unfold.

M. Lama on Antifolk: "I remember the first time I played Sidewalk and I started singing the chorus to my song Nigga Spectacle. It of course goes ‘.nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga spectacle.' Well, the second time through Lach called on the crowd of left leaning, mostly white folks to sing along. This was so moving to me for so many reasons that are beyond words. Afterwards, I thought ‘.I was home'."

A Short Guide to Anti-Folk

Adam Green, Kimya Dawson, Langhorne Slim, Beck….where in the world to start? Considering the space limitations in the Deli Magazine, compiling a list of the best Antifolk musicians is impossible. there simply isn't enough room. Newcomers should know that for every name listed below, there are several equally talented artists who could be described. has a comprehensive database of Antifolk artist profiles to explore, from Jeffrey Lewis to Jaymay to Joe Bendik. The following list is a sampling of talented musicians who are currently active within the local community.

Toby Goodshank - The former Moldy Peaches bass player is a prolific songwriter who has taken Jeff Mangum's poetic use of semen staining mountain tops and run with it, creating his own brand of edgy meditations on life.

Shilpa Ray - Known to many as the front woman from the now-defunct Beat the Devil, Ray is a powerhouse. Sonically, she gets compared to Jim Morrison, but she also projects the raw danger of that 60s icon. A genuine talent, Ray's Happy Hookers read like an Antifolk super-group, with members of Creaky Boards and Soft Black supporting her slabs of dirge-pop.

Jon Berger - Listening to Berger deliver his beautifully hilarious, insecure poetry in bumbling, ADD fashion, one wouldn't picture him as a crucial social butterfly in the Antifolk scene who ran Urbanfolk with Dave Cuomo magazine and continues to work for Boog City. But he is.

Justin Remer - The songwriting force behind the Elastic No-No Band and a filmmaker who recently made a documentary about Antifolk troubadour Frank Hoier.

Somer - Antifolk's own Joan Jett, Somer rocks harder than pretty much anyone she shares a bill with.

The Wowz - Sweethearts of the Rodeo? Badasses is more like it. A harmonizing rock trio with attitude and a mastery of those sophisticated, Beatlesque chord changes.

Herb Scher - Often mistaken for a middle-aged banker, Scher is a charming songwriter with a penchant for sing-a-longs like "Tower Records [Is Gone]." When he isn't performing with the Key Lime Pie Revue, Scher is also a key player in the DIY machine, utilizing his skills as a promoter to spread the word about events such as OJ All Day.

Brook Pridemore - Harnessing the songwriting of Johnny Darnell and Paul Westerberg, Pridemore trims all the bullshit and plays at full-throttle.

Urban Barnyard - This super group writes fantastic songs about animals in the city and also gives us a chance to mention four killer songwriters: Phoebe Kreutz, Dibs (Cheese on Bread), Casey Holford (Outlines), and Daoud Tyler-Ameen (Art Sorority for Girls).

Phoebe Kreutz - We just name-dropped her above, but somehow it seems important to mention that Kreutz is a monster songwriter and one of the most versatile vocalists in the city.

Debe Dalton - The open mic queen, and one of the most powerful songwriters and performers in New York City. Her notorious fear of the recording studio prompted peers to bootleg a series of live performances at the Sidewalk and assemble a debut CD as a surprise. The awe-inspiring collection has sold like hotcakes.

Rav Shmuel - You would think that being a tall, ukulele-toting, orthodox rabbi would be enough to make this artist stand out. As Shmuel might point out, what makes him "significant" are the songs: thoughtful, spiritual musings on life. Shmuel crafts songs that stick with you long after the set is over.

Domino - Her rudimentary guitar playing, less than perfect pitch and unassuming appearance are deceiving. The Sidewalk Café.'s own Daniel Johnston, Domino has inspired laughter, cover songs, and even an enthusiastic article from one of Antifolk's toughest critics, Brook Pridemore.

Rick Shapiro - The biting comic still has more balls than anyone else.

Many, many more artists can be found at:

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“I remember the first time I played Sidewalk and I started singing the chorus to my song Nigga Spectacle. It of course goes ‘nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga spectacle.’ Well, the second time through Lach called on the crowd of left leaning, mostly white folks to sing along. This was so moving to me for so many reasons that are beyond words. Afterwards, I thought ‘I was home’.” - M. Lama

NYC Anti-Folk Scene
"Antifolk Vol. 1"

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“Antifolk used to be simple: whoever made it out past the crooked cops, gangs and junkies to the after hours club on Rivington, hung out to noon the next day and had to be scraped out the floor…that w