It’s happening now: mostly at DIY parties in the neighborhoods
surrounding Williamsburg – the maximum expression of a scene fostered
by some of the most inspired, dynamic and forward thinking young individuals
of our time. This group of people belongs to what Jean Twenge calls “Generation
Me”: born in the richest society of all time, extremely self centered
but not necessarily selfish, well educated, and rather confident (at least in
their early 20s). This generation has never experienced anything vaguely resembling
real poverty, which is probably why they are ready to trade financially secure
jobs for a more rewarding career in the arts.
The DIY generation of rockers may dream like the Flower Children,
but they are not nearly as idealistic. They might party like punks, but lack
their nihilistic approach to life. Above all, the DIY generation seems to reject
existential resignation, a trait underlining the stories of many alternative
icons of the Nineties such as Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith. Perhaps the salient
detail that best defines these musicians’ character is that, unlike their
predecessors, they don’t have an “official career path” to
follow anymore, simply because the music industry as we know it is terminal
- lucky them.
Often inspired by the experience of seminal post punk band
Fugazi, many artists write and record their music, organize shows, do their
own PR and book their own tours for an undetermined amount of time. If circumstances
improve, they may outsource operations to other non-DIY companies to further
their career. From this perspective, the anti-industry DIY movement is basically
just a newer music industry with different dynamics, rituals and channels. It’s
a necessity more than an alternative. It’s a new beginning.
To label this DIY phenomenon a “music industry”
is a misnomer, because the main product sold here isn’t the music. It’s
the party. If nobody is buying records anymore, if radio play requires to spending
thousands of dollars to hire a radio promotion agency, if the amount of bands
saturating the web confuses listeners, then putting together a rad, unforgettable
party becomes the only viable way to gather an audience and build a following.
Word of mouth, after all, is the best form of advertising. And parties are the
best way to present music.
All parties involving music and dancing are also – to
some extent - rituals: opportunities for meetings, love encounters, religious
or semi-religious drug induced experiences, extreme emotions (both positive
and negative). Rituals are bonding moments, so it’s not a surprise that
the most used and abused word we heard from the DIY-ers we interviewed for this
article was “community”. But... this is not exactly what you would
expect from a self-absorbed, self-serving DIY-er, is it?
I remember my priest used to tell me that a healthy couple
in love is made by people who have the confidence to stand on their own: “you
can only love others if you love yourself.” Which basically means that
confidence and self-esteem are the basic fundament of any good relationship.
Isn’t this true for functional rock bands as well? Or for an efficient
group of party organizers? Or for a whole community?
Maybe serving the community is really the best thing we can
do to foster our career in the art field of our choice, and all these self-loving
party people have just what’s needed to create a vibrant and exciting
The perfect location: an industrial neighborhood turns
The Bushwick neighborhood, located east of Brooklyn indie rock
mecca Williamsburg, carries the scars of a florid industrial past. Factories
that manufactured sugar, oil, beer, and chemicals were built in the 19th century,
and abandoned in the 70s, after an economic depression that transformed the
area into one of the poorest (and scariest) of the 5 boroughs.
Many of these empty industrial spaces, full of archeological charm, have been
“adopted” by the artistic local DIY scene to host all ages live
shows. At one time these areas were surrounded with warehouses that were then
converted into lofts, now home to many musicians – some of these also
host parties, helping the scene in a manner reminiscent of the movement in the
East Village in the s and s.
Todd P (ne Todd Patrick), an organizer and promoter who has
been in NYC since 2001, has helped set the bar for putting on original DIY events
and proving to others that it’s possible to have a show nearly anywhere.
Todd P has not only helped sprout multiple DIY venues, he’s also given
Brooklyn bands like Vivian Girls, High Places, and out-of-town bands like No
Age and Abe Vigoda much more attention in the current scene. Though his focus
is on the noise-rock and electronic spectrum, Todd P continues to provide a
sprawling outlet and give others the knowledge of how to produce their own shows.
Regarding his influence, Todd P says, “Three and a half to four years
ago, I decided I would only do shows in all ages venues…I can’t
claim responsibility in how the scene has evolved but I did help support it,
and now a lot of people are doing it.”
The importance of all-ages shows has become paramount these days in the Williamsburg/Bushwick
scene. It’s not just people going out to drink, it’s people making
connections and learning from one another.
Todd adds, “This is an art form people come together to make on their
own. It gives people a reason to leave the house, and turn off the TV…it’s
the only thing aside from AA meetings.”
Multi-Tasking Spaces - a way to trick the dollar
Spawning from this communal idea came DIY spaces like Silent
Barn (915 Wyckoff Aveue), located in Ridgewood off the L Halsey stop or the
M Wyckoff stop, and Death by Audio (49 S. 2nd Street), a shop where effect pedals
are made that also hosts tons of shows.
One of the larger DIY venues, The Market Hotel (1142 Myrtle Ave), which is promoted
and supported by Todd P, was originally started by Brooklyn band The So So Glos,
who simply wanted a place to live and throw shows.
So So Glos drummer Zach Staggers recalls, “We were on tour, and we’d
had this idea for a while to have a space to be able to play and live in. We
got back to Brooklyn and walked around everywhere looking at signs on windows.
We finally saw that one, called, and two hours later the guy met us there. He
took us up and it was the creepiest place…Alex and I looked at each other,
we’d had this idea of naming something The Market Hotel from one of our
songs, and at the same time we were like: ‘THIS is The Market Hotel!’”
Creepy as it was, the space happened to sound extremely good
because of its triangular floor plan. The band, Todd P., Joe Ahearn from Showpaper/Sleep
When Dead NYC, and many others invested their time and efforts into making the
place a very successful “unofficial” venue. Supporting bands like
Aa, Pterodactyl, Crystal Stilts, Dan Deacon, and more Market Hotel has quickly
become a pivotal space in the Williamsburg/Bushwick music scene. While the So
So Glos don’t put on most of the shows there, their interest in the scene
and desire to create and maintain a community shows through their attitude and
Joe Ahearn, who lives and throws shows at Silent Barn, comments:
“The reason there is this scene going on right now is because real estate
is too expensive for you to have specialized spaces anymore, and it’s
true that when people come to Silent Barn it’s a venue... but during the
day we use the space for a million different things. I can’t afford to
have a studio, and a venue and a recording space and a house. So instead we
have a community supported space in which we can have the freedom to shift and
change and be more flexible.”
Going out to see shows/art/performances in non-conventional
places has become almost as common as experiencing them in bars or venues. Possibilities
have become endless as people take these places and accommodate them for their
own purposes. Pablo Douzoglou, member of Sigmund Droid, runs a space in Greenpoint
called 282 N. that provides a forum for performance, recording, and events.
Pablo adds, “We don’t have a business plan to what we’re doing.
We’re not really a business, we really are doing what we believe in and
it’s important to have a space where people come together. We have no
tentative schedule, it’s just however things come along.”
Backyards, Lofts, Stores
The members of Asa Ransom have lived in New York for six years,
playing wherever they can and thriving off the environment these DIY venues
create for them. Singer/guitarist Jacob Bills says, “Our first show in
New York as Asa Ransom was in someone’s back yard. There’s a great
freedom in this kind of events. Anyone can have a show and anyone can play.”
Other DIY venues that have been popping up all over: Vanishing
Point (240 Meserole) is a relatively new venue featuring 4700 sq. ft of space.
Monster Island Basement (128 River street at the L-Bedford, G-Metropolitan)
is another Todd P Venture that hosts music as well as art shows and film screenings.
Glasslands Gallery (289 Kent Avenue between South 1st & South 2nd) is an
art/shows space near Bedford. There’s then Alphabeta (70 Greenpoint Ave),
an alternative arts supply store that provides a space to rent for events. Also
Starr Space (108-110 Starr Street, near Jefferson L train), which is used for
music, art, screenings, drawing, yoga and more. Dead Herring (141 South 5th
st. #1E) is another venue in the area worth checking out. We can’t forget
legendary Asterisk* (a big apartment with stage and bar on 258 Johnson Ave),
which hosted the first Deli party ever in 2004 and the only Deli/Todd P party
to date the space was out of commission but came back December 31 with a rocking
New Year’s show.
In addition to these more organized DIY spaces there are also groups who throw
occasional shows in houses and apartments. ShowISMonster and STFO are just a
two of the many individuals that have given a name to their productions and
started throwing all ages gigs.
Here to support and promote all of these events is Showpaper,
a free, bi-weekly print publication that features listings of upcoming all ages
shows in the NYC and tri-state area. Todd P’s web site (toddpnyc.com)
and The Deli’s DIY listings section (www.thdelimagazine.com) – far
right column) also integrate this information, with a focus on NYC only.
Overall, the neighborhood is huge and never boring and music
is bursting up everywhere. Nothing can come down to one united community quite
yet . There are many small thriving pockets in a friendly competition with each
other in the effort to organize the “best party” - or to make the
best music. But isn’t this what creates a fertile ground for any artistic
scene? And isn’t this the precise reason why you may want to be part of
this right about now?