Anyone who believes that a new Brooklyn DIY venue opens the minute an old one closes is missing the point, says Todd Patrick, 40, from his recently reopened Market Hotel.
Patrick has run spaces and organized all-ages shows around the borough for over 15 years, bringing us such special crusty havens as the original Silent Barn (now Trans Pecos), Llano Estacado (RIP), Monster Island Basement (RIP) and 285 Kent (RIP).
Market Hotel, a venue and rehearsal space occupying an old Dominican speakeasy that rumbles as the adjacent subway rolls by, hadn’t hosted shows for five years after the cops raided the space for not being up to code or having a liquor license. It’s one of the many instances where municipal entities come together to shutter a center of culture that means something to the community, Patrick says.
While not intentionally malevolent, the city does often spend more effort responding to the complaints of pissed-off neighbors than it puts into helping the small-business owners and music fans who run these spots, struggling with overheads, permits and various rolls of red tape.
Five years after it closed, Market Hotel has re-opened, and this Bushwick resident already feels the communal joy at having another space in the neighborhood where I can check out weird, smelly, avant-garde shit without any pretense. Down the block from me, the new Silent Barn hosts artists and creatives in addition to hosting shows, too. Hell, I may have even gotten a haircut there before.
But when another beloved underground neighborhood venue called Palisades was raided by the feds two weeks ago and when Williamsburg’s Grand Victory and Bushwick’s Acheron are closing, crying “gentrification” and remaining passive about the whole trend isn’t just laissez-faire—it’s bougie. To say that there will always be another space, Patrick tells me, negates the fact that there will never be another space like that one that’s closing. Infused with the identity of the owner and main promoter and the culture of kids who come through, some things are simply irreplaceable.
“To say that we have a dying community of music is not true. It’s such a fucking entitled, upper-middle-class bourgeois attitude to say there’s always gonna be a new space opening. There hasn’t been a venue for proper underground hip-hop in decades. You know why? Because the police would shut that shit down in two seconds!”
The Observer talked to Patrick recently about what he’s seen happen to live music in the city over the last decade, how grassroots DIY music culture has been monetized and the complicit role we media folks play in letting it happen.
Similar to how our outrage at gratuitous, cyclical reports of violence in the media quickly numbs, our short attention spans skim the surface of the over-abundance of music in New York and condition us toward apathy. But do we stop there? Do we submit to the muted racism of declaring low-income areas cultural wastelands? Or do we show up and stay present at the places bringing music to everyone?
Patrick has his opinions, and though his many bumps along the road of organizing shows have given him lots to be cynical or foreboding about, he doesn’t allow those feelings to dim his potent communal, cultural philosophy. Our conversation only confirmed the idea that in a city with more places than ever to see a show, the crusty all-ages spots remain those most integral to the survival of our creativity and our communal culture.
So we’re all numb to things changing because of the 24-hour news cycle, right? I mean, this dude Bruce Feiler has a whole theory (called the Feiler Faster thesis) about how quickly reported journalism is speeding up society and vice versa. So we’re so caught up in the echo chamber that as quickly as we’re digesting things, we’re forgetting things, and that’s why we’ve become so desensitized to mass shootings, for example. I think in the music community that may be why we’re becoming so desensitized to all these venues closing and all these spaces closing and all the memories attached to them. Do you think that press could be playing a better role in preventing this stuff from happening? Is there anything lacking that we can control to preserve these spaces?
I think there are definitely a lot of things at play, in terms of the people you’re speaking of in the media among whom there is maybe not a lot of reverence for small independent show spaces, and even less mutual understanding of the kind of insane manic lifestyle that running a venue space represents. The people working in internet music media are generally not the same kind of crazy people who open venues.
There are a couple of factors at play, one being the idea of a subculture and what it meant before the internet, in the sort of heyday of punk, hardcore, new-wave, indie et cetera. Subculture really meant something much more subversive then, it signified more of a “dropping out” sociopolitical move, of some actual consequence.
You think it’s the genres specifically, and that the people talking about them and writing about them aren’t connected to the scenes at all?
Now, with the exception of a committed few, music doesn’t reflect a “scene” to a lot of people, and I think that’s partially because the tastemaker class has shifted. It used to be people who were the tastemaking class were participants—the people who put on shows, show junkies who went to every show that came through their town, people who were in bands, touring around the country. Basically, the way that music used to be disseminated was that talented musicians got “discovered” via their peers in the old “underground.” It was much more grassroots.
Imagine a scene in place like, let’s say, Des Moines. Pre-internet the way it would work is someone somehow would get turned on to the idea of underground music, by moving from somewhere else, or an older brother in college somewhere cooler, by seeing the right video on 120 Minutes, or whatever entry point…and that one kid would start putting on shows at the local arcade or pizza joint or public library or someone’s backyard.
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Bands would get begged to stop there between Dallas and Minneapolis on their tours and shows would start happening. Terrible local bands would get booked to open for good bands from out-of-town and some of those terrible bands would slowly get better. Over time a scene would grow and bands from other places would start stopping there of their own accord. Local bands would get great, and go on their own tours.
In those days, with cheaper gas and little scenes everywhere, and a lot less crushing student loan debt floating around…there would be a ton of bands out on the road, made up of young people, sort of having their On the Road 20-something existentialist experience. They’d record one tape with their friends and then jump in a van and travel town to town, booking shows by calling numbers they got from bands that came through their town or from Book Your Own Fucking Life. They’d play with bands around the country in places like Des Moines and it formed a community—a really palpable, physical nationwide subcultural community.
“At this point, there’s so many music professionals and there’s clamor to pick winners earlier and earlier in their trajectories, so members of the professional class in the music industry sink their claws into younger and younger bands. That kind of pressure and attention can cause musical talent to burn out too soon.”
In doing so they were hanging out with other people who were committed to the subculture like themselves, and they would play shows—in Des Moines and everywhere else—and meet people at the shows, get taken to the local bars after the show, and crash afterwards at some scene kids’ house. They would hang out with the band that opened for them or random scensters and they would play their favorite tapes and singles they collected on the road and pass on word to the people hosting them of all the good bands they’d seen. And the locals would share the bands that had come through the week before, and who was good and local.
As unlikely as it sounds, that was the main way in which new music got percolated through the system, back in the old indie days.
But that’s all monetized now, isn’t it? That whole process? Branded content, track premieres, I mean—
Yeah, in the beginning it’s about tracked hits and plays, on Soundcloud or Bandcamp or what have you. That’s O.K., at least it’s easy to get music out there. I think what happened that changed the old spirit is that an industry grew up around the old scene and matured, and then internet came in and mechanized the process…you can’t fault the fact that good people with good taste and the right ideas still get older and still want to have a comfortable lifestyle, a house and a yard and a car and kids, while not abandoning what they love…
So yeah a lot of people are looking to score that legit upper-middle-class career but working with music. They’re told that the best thing you can do is have your work be facilitating the thing you enjoy. This manifests all over in lots of different industries, but in music hence we have created this whole class of individuals who are booking agents, publicists, managers, etc., who have “professionalized” a scale of heretofore unknown musicians that used to just do it themselves.
It used to be unheard of to have professional help if you were playing small places. But these days there’s the promise of huge, quick notoriety via internet distribution, and a huge connected industry of people have developed all vying to make a living by being facilitators and connectors in a system that didn’t used to need all that business, at least not for people that were very much on the grow and not established yet.
At this point, there’s so many music professionals and there’s clamor to pick winners earlier and earlier in their trajectories, so members of the professional class in the music industry sink their claws into younger and younger bands. That kind of pressure and attention can cause musical talent to burn out too soon. It lends itself to a “one-hit-wonder” style system.
Just like in the ’60s agin. It’s like they’re all gonna be on a Nuggets comp in 20 years.
The bands have to produce returns for these individuals. Now I’m not saying those folks didn’t get into it hoping to help facilitate great music, but it’s tough to also have to eek out an upper-middle-class income, so you have the booking agent, the manager, the publicity firm, the record label, the licensing company all trying to keep the accounts receivables coming in.
And since (as you say) we’re in that 24-hour news cycle society—what you’re really talking about is a lot of competition to break acts in a very short attention span environment. The big splash early, driven by some kind of publicity stunt, is the usual go-to methodology. This is miles away from the grassroots sincerity of the pre-internet scene.
Huge success early is enviable, but then you see those artists quickly stuck in a rut. I’ve seen so many buzz bands that did an amazing record or two—or even five great records that no one heard and then one breakthrough—and then everything they do for the next 10 years of their life, if they want to maintain their stature and their fame, they’ve got to sound like that record, or at least within the conversation and texture of that one they’re known for.
I think of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as the prototypical example.
A primordial internet-era example is Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel. He created a record that was essentially a Dark Side of the Moon for a generation—“millenials” I guess—but he got stuck in that and spooked by the pressure and it drove him to be a recluse. He didn’t want to produce anything anymore, and certainly didn’t want to put another record out. He disappeared for 15 years. That’s sort of the classic cautionary tale.
That’s what breakthrough music success comes down to now—blow-up on this massive scale via something viral, then color within the lines for years after to maintain that level of notoriety. And that really narrows your borders, you have to play to type. In those heydays before the internet, musicians growing to be legendary happened gradually, and in more of a vacuum.
Partially, this was due to just the way smaller scope of the scene when all the classic indie-rock shit was happening in the ’80s and ’90s like Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr and Pavement, Guided By Voices, etc…back in those days there were 1/20th of the number of people in the scene, paying attention. Those that knew were invested in the music Ave obsessed far beyond the norm today, and they followed the bands with the kind of commitment that gave the bands room to grow, and change.
“Despite the fact that all these venue closings happen to be clustered together and coming hard and fast right now, there’re still more venues in NYC offering thought provoking live music now—and run by smart people with progressive ideas—than in any other city in the world.”
When the pool of people was that much more intimate, and the fans were that much more committed, you had a larger part and influence made by those people really living the life, people dropping out and diving into the subculture. Those were the people putting on shows—people who were far more invested in what they were listening to, and the music was part and parcel to who they were as a people.
And that comes back to the real meat of what’s changed—music just doesn’t tie into fan’s identities anymore, beyond fashion at best. At its worst it’s just wallpaper people listen to on Spotify while they’re cleaning their houses or working out. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m not saying independent music is without meaning or resonance for anybody anymore, but a subcultural sociopolitical movement it is not.
By expanding the “market” for independent music so far beyond the small underground communities it grew out of, we’ve wound up with a system whereby the main people who matter to a band being successful or not are people who don’t actually give too much of a shit about music in the first place. The critical mass crowd is barely engaged.
It used to be a different situation where a musician who was doing something legendary meant something to people, had a resonance to their lives. That same kind of small community of louder-level fans are still important to the process, the level where it’s artists watching other artists still plays a role in tiny clubs and new trends—but by the time an act has had any real level of fame they’ve jettisoned, or been abandoned by, the artistic tastemakers. And so ultimately the audience that matters are these half-interested people who find out about music via commercial outlets, don’t seek obscurity, buy show tickets online after reading reviews online, and maybe forget to show up to the shows they buy tickets for.
That’s where we’re at now, and it’s a very different culture. So when you talk about the venues coming and going and people paying less attention, a part of it is just many, many more venues because there’s so much more audience, but the audience is largely less invested.
Well what about the piece that Noisey ran on the closing of 285 Kent?
Contrarianism will always be good for hits and shares. Truth be told, the coverage of that venue closing was way over the top, to the point of obnoxiousness. So when you have that kind if internet meme-level repetitive echo chamber press coverage it becomes a smart move for an editor to say, ‘You know what? Let’s do a piece shitting on this whole thing for all the guys in their cubicles getting annoyed that this story keeps popping up in their feed.’
But Vice knew 285 would be closing when they commissioned the piece, right?
Pretty fucking self-serving I guess, with that hindsight—makes ya think haha—but whatever. I don’t think the author was aware of all that, but certainly the people that signed off on the thing probably were. Who cares. They can write whatever they want. It was a smart look for them. The DIY thing has always bred resentment in some people, and 285 Kent was, at times, dirtier and crappier than even I’m comfortable with. There’s a whole lot of people who see a venue the size of 285 Kent, which was hosting kind of big deal acts—but that also had sometimes low quality of life—and say, “This is bullshit! Why would anyone like this?” [Laughs]
Is Showpaper still being published?
No, Showpaper folded about a year and a half ago.
That’s what I think the remedy to this is. If you really gave Brooklyn zine culture a shot in the arm, printed them out for Little Skips and all the local hangs, people still read that shit.
Yeah, I’m a firm believer in printed objects. Something to leave on toilets, or take with you on the train. The idea of Showpaper was to have just enough content that it wasn’t just the listings, there were horoscopes and missed connections—something you could read while you took a shit, or while you were on the train when your phone wasn’t working.
This is coming from the mind of a man who sees the benefit to a community, and how culture happens when a community is organized. Maybe that’s what happens when we talk about the vacuum, maybe that’s what’s missing. There’s no sense of value left in musical communities at the hyperlocal level anymore.
It’s all been shit upon. The culture of the internet lends itself to constantly taking everything down a notch, and debunking what you read about this morning until it’s yesterday’s news. It’s about light click-and-like entertainment, followed by a lightly entertaining backlash, and that is the model.
So that Noisey piece you were talking about, and all that kind of v Denning net piece kind of thing, it’s, “first we’re gonna hit you with this legit thing that’s going catch a bunch of people’s interest and get a lot of reposts, and then annoying people in your feed are going to post this piece and the Gawker thing and the Gothamist version and the one Stereogum did, and then people will say some dumb fucking hyperbole about it and it’s gonna get on your nerves…then we’ll hit you with the “fuck this shit” piece that calls the initial thing garbage.
“When people talk about why these places are important, why these places should be revered: that’s why. It actually makes an impression on people’s lives and changes who they are, empowers them to [see] what can be possible.”
It’s like this election, the way that the media played the whole optimism around the Bernie Sanders campaign, how they managed to convince a lot of people that the passionate supporters expressed wasn’t real, or even that it was offensive, and that the movement was something tasteless they didn’t want to get behind…it was accomplished by essentially painting Sanders’ support as a typically obnoxious internet-style thing.
The “Bernie Bros” slander was a shorthand reference for the kind of Reddit or Facebook-comment armchair activism that we’ve all been trained to dismiss as mere trolling and lazy click culture—as if sharing news and information online, or posting sincere opinions, is invariably meaningless posturing. Meanwhile, social media is the only means we have left to pass news around and disseminate information, and communicate with the community.
But yet it’s fashionable to dismiss online discussion as frivolous and disposable across the board. As underground music subcultures have moved out of the record stores and out of the zines and music publications and exclusively onto the internet, this feeling that what happens online is disposable and shallow has seeped into how we value the music we hear about there. That’s all the more reason intimate music venues are important now—they’re the last bastion of IRL music subculture we have left.
“You don’t get edgy music, or edgy art of any sort, from people who are trying to live out an upper-middle-class condo existence.”
But then the venues themselves are dismissed and discounted. It’s the old contrarianism that the internet naturally breeds, to say the “scene” and these little show spaces are worth revering gets overstated by the media—like the coverage 285 got, case in point—which exposes the bourgeois feel good clickbait entertainment appeal of the whole thing…which gets quickly answered by irritation at the over-saturation and preciousness.
Net media coverage of music subcultures can cheapen the importance that those subcultures have to people. Blunt, un-nuanced attention is suffocating. It turns the music into content. There’s more amazing, interesting music being made now than at any point in history—because we all have the entire library of recorded music in our pockets, plus the means to hear new music made anywhere in the world immediately There’s more variety and fusions of influences than was ever possible before…but does the music mean anything to anyone anymore?
Then also the cycle of how independent music breaks plays in the picture. There are the media outlets themselves but then the “buzz” thing has become dominated by industry gatekeepers who control distribution and attention, and have the relevant media outlets on speed dial. These players have undue influence and impose a rigid professional structure and attitude to small scale independent music that didn’t used to be prevalent.
In the indie cottage industry system, venues are treated as interchangeable vessels for bands’ mapped out growth trajectories. Management and hype have replaced the organic way that bands and small venues used to work together to put on great shows. The great shows themselves used to be how the bands grew. Now, publicity stunts break bands.
It wasn’t just Noisey, I think Impose or someone also did a piece about 285 Kent closing not “mattering.” Among some valid points they asked, “Why should we mourn this? Another one will just pop up!” That’s the attitude and the culture of the day, sadly. The show spaces aren’t always revered the way they once were, and their reliably being there as a resource is taken for granted—to bring it back to the meat of what we’re talking about here.
Well, you’re saying that the short attention span we have online has bled into our real lives and our DIY culture.
When we think about going to a music venue and seeing a show, we don’t think about how rare it is to encounter a person that has the kind of talent it takes to pull off what we’re seeing. It’s rare skill and gift to be able to make music of high enough caliber to even be tolerable, much less entertaining. Even more unusual to be able to create music that is novel and not cliché. And yet we are so spoiled for choice that we take the bottomless supply of mind-blowing shows, and places to see them, for granted. You get inundated with so much beautiful music of such quality that the talent just wanted over us. No other culture or place in the history of time had access to such a smorgasbord of excellent live music, any day of the week.
But the venues aren’t just placeholders—to find the right space, finance it, get it open, outfit it with the right accoutrements, staff it, and then keep it open for any amount of time—not to mention to do all that then choose to host music because it’s artistically what you believe in, and not just what’s safest bet financially—it’s worth appreciating. It’s painful to see places not mourned when they close. Sometimes they get scoffed at, or slandered, especially when they go down. That was someone’s hard work.
It’s downright crazy opening any small business, but music spaces are so liable to get harassed by the authorities, and prone to freaking out and annoying the fuck out of the neighbors. Music venues are really just crazily vulnerable operations. And the big, established venues have all the advantages—and resources to weather threats. Little spaces versus the big venues is a “haves vs. have-nots” struggle, for sure, and city regulations and enforcement hit little places hardest, and in ways they don’t have the resources to recover from. But it’s not necessarily that the city is deliberately trying to favor the “evil empires” so much as small venues are low hanging fruit and easy prey.
The authorities are largely motivated trying to satisfy the many vocal NIMBY voices in their collective ears—community boards, politicians, neighborhood activists—and loud late night places with booze and young people are unpopular with these groups. The authorities want to show action taken, and the littlest places are easiest to take down.
Not so much of a conscious sabotage so much as an infrastructural regressive policy.
Or rather, despite not necessarily evil intentions. Many people say that you can get a faster police response by calling in a noise complaint than by calling in an assault. I don’t know if that’s true, but certainly seems anecdotally plausible.
The police have put a lot of focus on those quality-of-life enforcement, and that focus puts venues in the crosshairs. It wasn’t very long ago that the City was more tolerant of nightlife. Twenty years ago it was a scandal that Giuliani was harassing clubs and enforcing the cabaret law. Now the Commissioner Bratton is calling a whole genre of artists “thugs” and club spaces are getting March Program shutdown regularly. Meanwhile a lot more young people die of drug overdoses at EDM parties than have ever been shot at hip-hop clubs, and even more get shot at private gatherings in people’s homes.
But you get this very populist kind of cover-of-the-Daily-News uproar that comes out of a hip-hop shooting. The police respond to that.
“The police have put a lot of focus on those quality-of-life enforcement, and that focus puts venues in the crosshairs. It wasn’t very long ago that the city was more tolerant of nightlife. Meanwhile a lot more young people die of drug overdoses at EDM parties than have ever been shot at hip-hop clubs, and even more get shot at private gatherings in people’s homes.”
This city’s policing strategy, similar to a lot of places outside of the USA, has always been about campaign-based policing. ‘There’s a problem, we’re gonna go out there and police the living shit out of that thing we’ve identified, and nip that problem in that bud.’ That’s what you saw lead to the Eric Garner tragedy, those guys in the field were being told to police the shit out of people selling loosie cigarettes, to bring home some loosie-seller scalps. The same kind of directives target nightlife from time to time and from neighborhood to neighborhood.
So what can we do, aside from reading our news on the toilet? What’s the silver lining?
Despite the fact that all these venue closings happen to be clustered together and coming hard and fast right now, there’re still more venues in NYC offering thought provoking live music now—and run by smart people with progressive ideas—than in any other city in the world. And there are more great unique venues in the city right now than at any other point in New York City history. So to say that we have a dying music scene is not true.
At the same time, it’s such a fucking entitled, upper-middle-class bourgeois attitude to say there’s always gonna be a new space opening. Case in point, there hasn’t been a longterm venue for proper underground hip-hop in decades. You know why? Because the police would shut that shit down in two seconds! Meanwhile indie rock is spoiled for choice. And that’s privilege. People don’t understand the level of privilege they’re the beneficiaries of, to be lucky enough to have multiple underground, independent cultural spaces serving them — really even to have access to, and to sustain, that kind of niche subculture in the first place is rare privilege. You get outside the white upper middle class urban bubble and that opportunity is few and far between.
The spaces that I’ve opened and am operating now, Trans-Pecos, Market Hotel—we’re really committed to expanding who the rooms serve, outside of the traditional white, straight, male-dominated rock scene. This has been very much cooked into our mission statements at both organizations. We want to expand this idea of presenting music at a very underground, emerging level, and do that for music that’s not necessarily made by and for people that look like us. I’m a straight white man, you know?
Well, I remember the grand re-opening at Market Hotel, you had that non-binary [act] Dreamcrusher.
[They’re] awesome. And there’re more people I meet on the scene and playing shows coming out of his kind of background all the time. I’m very proud to get to be involved in that change for the better.
You know what, man? When I was putting on shows back in Portland and Austin twenty years ago; punk, hardcore, pop-punk, emo , ska…it was the ’90s, very white. And the audience for those genres were these teenagers coming in from the suburbs and the Portland neighborhoods who were very young, from high school, it was very enabling for them to come in and see someone perform on a stage that’s only knee-high, right in front of them, playing. It makes them realize they can do it themselves, they could be this hero they’re seeing. And even though their taste at that age may not have been what I think of as the best, because of the limitations of what they’ve been exposed to…those kids change.
When I was doing this stuff years ago in Portland, I know for a fact that it really turned on some of the young people who came out to that show space to discover interesting “out” ideas, and that’s something I’m very proud of. Case in point, a Portland guy who lives in New York now, who is now a very well respected minimal avant composer—gets booked at art events and museums and heady festivals around the world—Pete Swanson. Pete used to be a straight-edge hardcore kid when he was 13 years old, driving from Corvallis, Ore., to Portland to come to shows at my venue. Did I think the shows Pete was psyched on then were always the best? Was his taste great then? Some of it was cool, some, haha not so much. But there has to be an entry point to what people discover later.
But it was important that those places existed for him to come to, and I’d like to think out spot played a part in Pete was able to become.
But it was important that those places existed for him to come to.
Exactly, and people ask me why I do all-ages shows.
One thing that’s interesting to me now, is seeing how this has worked in 16 years if organizing exclusively all ages shows in NYC. When I started putting on all-ages shows in New York, it seemed no one under 18 ever came. Usually no one under 21 really came. It was mildly disenchanting, a little bit. Now, 15 to 16 years later, this whole generation of kids who clearly grew up in New York City, who are not white, not necessarily straight, not necessarily male…are organizing their own shows, noise projects, live electronics projects, bands—and all the time those folks tell me they got immersed by virtue of seeing all-ages shows!
I don’t even remember there being high school kids at these shows years ago, but apparently enough of them trickled through and for a few it really made an impression. These kids are telling me about going to The Silent Barn in 2007 or something, or Monster Island Basement. These are kids from far out Brooklyn or the the Bronx or from immigrant families who you never would have seen at shows 15 or 16 years ago, and now they’re out in large numbers, and some of them are making really interesting music, it opening their own venues.
“Music venues are really just crazily vulnerable operations. And the big, established venues have all the advantages—and resources to weather threats. Little spaces versus the big venues is a ‘haves vs. have-nots’ struggle…”
When people talk about why these places are important, why these places should be revered: that’s why. It actually makes an impression on people’s lives and changes who they are, empowers them to [see] what can be possible. That changes the cultural landscape of the city.
It’s an expression of white-privileged racism to think those communities are never gonna be interested in independent shit, that they just want Hot 97 or some bullshit. No, man! The reality is that any community has a potent sliver of people among it who are intellectual, creative, who are interested in artistically complex ideas and aesthetics; taste that’s against the norm of whatever community they come out of. And to say , ‘Oh, it’s so sad but the Latino community in New York will never be interested in pink ideas’ or ‘black kids don’t want to go to underground spaces’—it’s so fucking racist. But worse, it’s just incorrect.
People are bemoaning how New York is going to survive when all of the young “artists” are leaving and everything is so expensive, but that sentiment totally discounts the city’s community of lower-middle-class (and lower) kids who grew up here, who aren’t these transplants from Indianapolis. It’s as if they think kids who grew up in NYC can’t be socially or artistically challenging and can’t contribute to relevant culture.
But if you go back and look at the most interesting eras in New York City’s culture, the late-’70s when hip-hop was exploding in the Bronx for instance, it wasn’t upper-middle-class white college kids. It was fucking kids who grew up in NYC neighborhoods and went to public high schools. That spirit is still here, though oftentimes neglected and untapped.
Well that’s why these spaces are so important.
Cultivating a space for that to happen. So when we get back to this question of if it matters that these spaces come and go, should we worry about it or are they going to regenerate, no: they don’t just automatically pop up again somewhere further out on the L like whack-a-mole.
And no, because every one of those spaces is different, and opening and operating them is really not easy. Each one of these venues that comes and goes are expressions of some organizer’s (or crew of organizers’) blood, sweat, and toil, some person’s personality and taste—as well as of all the people who responded to it and made it their place. When these places close you really snuff out a bright spot amplifying a particular creative movement.
What’s really interesting is how these spaces appeal to people who don’t have many options for what they can go out and see, but who happen upon them and then come back again and again, and how the spaces inspire those random affected to people to change who they are. Those inspired people make the scene that follows.
You don’t get edgy music, or edgy art of any sort, from people who are trying to live out an upper-middle-class condo existence. That’s what’s happening a lot with music now: professionals are pushing a staid, predictable scene to cement their support positions in the cottage industry of music; make work to justify their overpriced, bullshit liberal arts education. That’s one reason why you see so much commodification of artistic expression.
It’s really hard to maintain that middle-class status these days, especially doing work you enjoy, and people crave work serving the music they love—but the struggle can make you lose sight of why you wanted to be in music the first place. But the stratification of our society is getting more tough by the minute and it’s hard work to keep employed and afloat in the middle class. Really fucking hard.
This interview has been condensed for space, and edited for clarity/accuracy with Todd P. Follow Justin on Twitter @Joffaloff