Lower East Side - by
may well be America's national past-time, but here in the home
of the Yankees and Mets, the game takes a decided back-seat to
another type of spectator sport: neighborhood-watch. For any New
York resident of more than several years, the rules of the game
are simple: find a recent NYC transplant, ask them where they
live, and exclaim in tones equal parts condescending and incredulous,
"You should have seen that place __ (insert one of the following:
5, 10, 30, 250) years ago!" The advanced player will follow
up with something along the lines of "When I moved here,
this neighborhood was nothing more than ______ (insert any three
of the following: junkies, drug-dealers, prostitutes, horse-thieves,
mujahedeen, pirates) and me." Yes, before we recent transplants
arrived, NYC was apparently an apocalyptic floating prison and
interlopers such as ourselves had the nerve to RUIN it!
nothing inspires the contempt of veteran neighborhood-watchers
more than the Lower East Side- a bustling, multiethnic immigrant
community for the last two centuries. The last decade has seen
the area transformed into the unlikely nexus of the local New
York rock scene, with many of the city's best and trendiest live
music venues springing up between century-old tenements and more
traditional merchant-shops. Once known for its importation of
foreign cultures and goods, the LES now serves as one of the main
centers of exportation for New York's finest brand of rock and
York has always produced its fair quota of exceptional rock bands,
the proximity of the newer Lower East Side venues to one another
has served to foster an insularity among music fans more often
found in smaller cities. Indeed, the area with the highest concentration
of venues is quite small. With the Bowery serving as a rough border
on its Western edge and rapidly expanding towards the East River,
the area housing almost all of the LES clubs falls within the
three blocks between Houston street to the North and Delancey
street to the South. As such, the Lower East Side has become a
live music destination, and the competition by bands and clubs
for the attention of an audience hungry for a musical and chemical
buzz has raised expectations, as well as rent.
venue most emblematic of the Lower East Side's transformation
into one of the city's hubs for youth culture is Arlene's Grocery.
Located only blocks from the prime meridian of LES trendiness
that is Ludlow Street, Arlene's derives its unique name from its
former incarnation as a bodega. Established in 1997, Arlene's
was one of the first venues to grace the LES, and it remains a
popular destination for original indie rock and punk seven nights
a week. Monday night heavy-metal karaoke also draws revelers with
varying levels of ironic (or scarily earnest) appreciation for
a bygone era of head banging, replete with a crack live backing
band (The original members of said band have recently been replaced-
not without controversy). Artists such as Jeff Buckley, Sahara
Hotnights, and Elefant have gone on to larger success (and audiences)
after starting out at Arlene's.
Like its neighbor
Arlene's, Piano's on Ludlow Street also owes its namesake to the
former use of its space - a piano store/warehouse (clubs re-using
the old signs of their former occupants does seem to lend a homey
touch to the venues and paint is expensive for new signs. Still,
this trend has reached its nadir - nobody wants to see a new rock
club called Katz' Deli or Sol Moscot Opticals). An homage to multitasking,
Piano's features a live music stage, a working kitchen/ bar, and
a second-floor dj booth/dance floor. Trendy and scene-ish, Piano's
recently celebrated its two year anniversary (enough time to qualify
as an institution in these ahistorical times). In its short run,
Piano's has had the distinction of serving as the locale for Franz
Ferdinand's first US performance and has also featured Stellastarr*,
PJ Harvey, and Beth Orton.
York bars and restaurants operate on dog years, the Luna Lounge
can be considered the granddaddy of LES side venues, opening in
1995 in the shadow of Katz's Deli. Due to its free admission policy
and relatively long life span on Ludlow Street, the Luna Lounge
has had its fair share of recent rock history. Many NYC bands
make their debuts playing free shows in the back-room of Luna,
and some have gone on to much greater acclaim. Both the Strokes
and Interpol played early shows at the Luna Lounge before embarking
on careers that would become emblematic of "New York Rock"
in places like Tokyo, Stockholm, and Des Moines.
If the LES
scene represents a niche market (indie rock), several local establishments
have raised this specialization to an art form. The Living Room
(shockingly located on Ludlow Street), features expansive seating
quarters and warm acoustics, setting the backdrop for gentle folk-rock
and intimate show cases. Artists literally pass the hat to get
paid, lending to the folkie ambience that sets the venue apart
from the trashy-glitz and blaring amplifiers of its neighbors.
Norfolk Street's Tonic also caters to the quieter and more avant
garde tastes of aspiring scenesters. Tonic also serves as the
only neighborhood outlet for live jazz.
Eastern expansion of the LES venues is a trio of relative newcomers:
Sin-é, Rothko, and the Delancey. Nestled next to the auto-body
repair shops of Attorney Street, Sin-é can claim the mantle
of the most authentic "garage" rock location in the
city. Opening with an immediate buzz, Rothko has quickly distinguished
itself as a destination for local celebrities and national acts,
featuring performances by Sum 41, the Secret Machines, Ambulance
ltd, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Donnas, Ted Leo and the
Pharmacists, and Vincent Gallo in its first six months of operation
(unfortunately, recent fire-code problems have plagued the space).
The Delancey is notable for its large patio and summertime barbecues,
as well as its controversial opening-night, which featured several
dustups between bouncers and hipster patrons, with predictable
results (word to the wise: the smart money always favors hired
muscle over mojito-sipping waifs- behave accordingly).
of so many live music clubs has created a deep farm team for NYC's
big league clubs that feature national touring acts. Local bands
literally make laps around the LES circuit hoping to break into
the vertically integrated taste-making troika of the Mercury Lounge,
the Bowery Ballroom, and Webster Hall. The irony of this progression
is that the distinction between struggling and success is merely
a matter of several city blocks- the journey of a few thousand
feet can take several years. Nonetheless, the ability of local
bands to make the aforementioned leap underscores the value of
the smaller LES venues as places where bands can hone their sound
and find an audience.
The roots of the current LES scene are both political and cultural,
and the influx of new residents has generated its predictable
share of hand-wringing over both gentrification and commercialization.
Blame former Rudy Giuliani for making NYC palatable to the upper
and middle class people who had previously abandoned the city
at the expense of the civil rights of long time residents, minorities,
and the working class. Blame the Strokes, Interpol, and the Yeah
Yeah Yeah's for achieving mainstream success and throwing the
spotlight onto Gotham rock. Blame the hyperbolic English music
press for incessantly hyping New York "garage rock,"
a curious phenomenon in a city where most residents don't own
cars, much less garages.
Or blame me.
Blame me for setting up shop like so many others in the heart
of the Lower East Side and for patronizing the venues that contribute
to the scene's vitality and exposure. Blame me for being excited
about the prospect of homegrown bands successfully competing with
national acts for the hearts and minds of a fickle, jaded audience
on the biggest stage in the country. Blame anyone you like, but
please take a moment to look around and reflect. A few years from
now, the scene might be dead, or declining, or moving to a new
locale- and you can stand on a corner of Ludlow street and tell
the next batch of NYC newbies "you should have seen this
place 5 years ago."
Arlenes Grocery was one of the first
LES music venues, opening in 1997. Philosophy: To
showcase great new rock bands in a great sounding room.
Give the musicians a fair door deal, keep the drinks cheap
and live music 7 days a week. Type of music showcased:
Rock, Pop Punk, Rock Singer/Songwriters. Famous bands
helped through residencies or other means: The Bravery
/ Jeff Buckley / Sahara Hotnights / Elefant / Rich Robinson
/ David Johannsen Bands to watch: Have Her Home By
Ten/ The Gaskets / Daddy / Pop Star Kids
Booking Tips for new artist + what they are looking for
in a musical project: Originality, humility, talent,
professionalism. Current State of the NYC music scene:
Thriving! There's a sound coming out of NYC that is unique.
It sounds like the musicians have just started playing their
instruments......because they have! Its not about how good
a player you are, its about your idea and delivery. Cool.
Contact and address: Arlene's Grocery 95 Stanton
Street NYC 10002 Phone: 212 358 1633 Fax: 212 995 1719
The Bowery Ballroom:
didn't reply to our questions... too big to bother?
didn't reply to our questions... too trendy to bother?
The Living Room:
didn't reply to our questions... too acoustic to bother?
opened in August 1995.
Philosophy: Bring original alternative indie pop
rock to the world. Type of music showcased:
See above... Famous bands the venue helped through residencies
or other means: The Strokes, Eliott Smith and Interpol
Bands to watch: Orange Park, The Mugs, and Fooled by April
Booking Tips for new artist + what you are looking for
in a musical project: A CD and email address Current
State of the NYC music scene: Pretty good. Contact
and address: 171 Ludlow St. NY NY 10002
reply to our questions... too busy to bother?
piano showroom turned duplex club has a big following. Masses
of the fashionably bedraggled have packed the back room
for loud shows by indie-rock bands like the Thrills, A.R.E.
Weapons, the Witness, and Gina Gershon, with Girls Against
Boys. The club became so hot last year that it incited a
backlash among its hipster clientele. Anywhere But
Pianos T-shirts appeared across the river in Williamsburg
(the club countered by starting Anywhere But Pianos
events featuring Brooklyn bands. The club and its music
live on, and the performance schedule is slated to get more
diverse, with blues and world-music acts.
Type of music showcased: Provide a
home for musical acts who blur the line between Mercury
Lounge and Tonic a potent mix of indie rock and avant-garde
soul. And feed them well while were at it. Were
not afraid to take chances. Famous bands the venue helped
through residencies or other means: Morningwood, stellastarr*,
Franz Ferdinand (first ever US show), PJ Harvey, Beth Orton
Bands to watch: The Twenty-Twos, Clap Your
Hands and Say Yeah, Mudville, Bastion, The Coastal Drag,
Beetroot, Second2Last, Scary Mansion Booking Tips for
new artist + what you are looking for in a musical project:
Be seen in the scene support other bands / looking
for artists who are going for it from a different angle.
Current State of the NYC music scene: as rich and
robust as the late 70s
Contact and address: 158 ludlow st nyc, ny 10002
rothko opened in may 2004
and has hit the ground running with such prestigious acts
as sum 41, the secret machines, ambulance ltd, jon spencer
blues explosion, the donnas, ted leo and the pharmacists,
and vincent gallo
philosophy: present a diverse mix of music across
all genres with both established acts and up and coming
acts. create a place with no attitude where music can become
a scene to feel comfortable in again. type of music showcased:
everything from indie rock, electronica, dance, to hip-hop
famous bands helped: not applicable since the place
is so new bands to watch: the izzys, benzos, the
inmen booking tips: we except any submissions and
look for original music. best tips to unsolicited submissions
- give as much detail as possible current state of the
nyc music scene: lots of great bands/artists, not a
lot of great bills put together by the venues. too industry-oriented.
people are too interested in being seen at the right place
at the moment rather than seeing a kick ass show.
contact: 116 suffolk street between rivington &
shin-ay) has been an important music venue exposing many
New Yorkers to vital talent since the early 90's. Sin-é
gave wings to such performers as Katell Keineg, Jeff Buckley,
and David Gray.
Philosophy: To have a few scoops and dig a few tunes.
Type of music showcased: All Formats
Famous bands your venue helped through residencies or
other means: Inouk, On Air Library, Citizen Cope, Asobi
Seksu, The Prosaics, Blood on the Wall, The Double, Tarantula
Bands to watch: Other Passengers, A Place to Bury
Strangers, Soft, Heathers, Surefire, Ezra Reich, Bear in
Heaven, Clap your hands say yeah, the Harlem Shakes
Booking Tips for new artist + what you are looking for
in a musical project: Talent and Draw. Don' t play 225
capacity venues untill you can put some people in the room.
There are many great 75 capacity venues to build your audience
in. Music will impress the booking agent but numbers impress
Current State of the NYC music scene: Excellent.
Never Better. The most diverse and interesting its been
Bronson 212-388-0077 email@example.com
is housed in a former kosher winery called Kedem. In November
of 1997 the founders John and Melissa Caruso Scott discovered
the building and were inspired by the great acoustics and
remaining giant wine casks. John and Melissa used as much
of the old wine equipment they could while renovating the
space, converting large wine vats into booth seating, a
wine press into a DJ booth. Even the bar is made from the
wine soaked wood. Famous
artists helped: The club
opened in the spring with a weekly music series the couple
had been presenting at their cafe on Avenue A, alt.coffeee.
This first series was booked by accordion player Ted Reichman.
That summer John Zorn launched an incredible 40 night festival
that included some of New York's most creative musicians.
Dave Douglas, Ravi Coltrane, Vernon Reid, Medeski, Martin
and Wood, Marc Ribot, Joe Lovano, Ikue Mori, Arto Lindsay,
Derek Bailey were all part of our first New Music
series. A songwriter series was launched shortly after and
included Chris Knox, Stephen Merritt, Mark Eitzel, Chan
Marshall and Thurston Moore to name a few. Tonic quickly
became a place for established musicians to try something
new in an intimate setting and for many exciting first time
of music showcased Over the years, Tonic
has evolved to include more electronic, experimental, pop
and rock while continuing the jazz and adventurous music
of the original series. Booking
tips:: Our advice to newer bands
is just to keep playing and working on original music. We
rather hear a new sound than someone emulating another musician.
Current state of the NYC music scene: Over the past
year we have seen several really exceptional musicians develop
their unique style and gain large audiences. The performances
of Regina Spektor, Devendra Banhart, Roberto Rodriguez and
Sylvie Courvoisier brought the house down. Expect more great
things from them and bands like Calla, The Honorary Title
and Heather Greene. New
acts to watch: Keep an eye out for a duo
with Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori and the world premiere
of John Zorn's Masada Book Two in December.