Portable Noise Pollution

Todd P—promoter, janitor, toilet builder—gives Brooklyn's avant-garde a home

"It's filthy work," says DIY promoter Todd Patrick—a/k/a Todd P—as he picks trash off the floor of a Williamsburg loft-gallery called the Glass House. It's hard to believe anyone actually lives here; the space looks like an apocalyptic war zone. The air is saturated with dust, only a few thin beams of light make it through the dirt-clotted windows, and the floor is carpeted with debris: broken glass, half-empty beer bottles, a smashed copy of Enter the Dragon on laser disc, an old Playboy centerfold. The gallery will close in a few days, and the artist in residence has piled all his earthly belongings into two massive heaps in the room's corners. Everything on the floor is just what's left over.

Within a few hours, though, Patrick has filled 10 enormous trash bags and dragged them to the back, swept the floor several times, changed the lightbulbs, and sprayed half a bottle of disinfectant on everything. "This almost looks like a place you might want to hang out," he says, throwing an old sheet over a soggy chair. Sure enough, later that evening, dozens of Brooklynites sit on a floor that until recently had been covered in rubble and look on as Daniel Higgs, the heavily tattooed and biblically bearded frontman for psychedelic Baltimore punk band Lungfish, thwacks out long improvisational pieces on an acoustic guitar.

In one afternoon, Patrick has turned a disaster area into what passes for a nightclub.

"I certainly hope that people will have a better time at my shows and see better music than they will at any of these clubs that have these high budgets and spend all this money," the pasty 30-year-old remarks from the roof of his Long Island City apartment building a week later. "There's nothing that came down from heaven and says that Irving Plaza is a legitimate venue. There's no such thing as a legitimate venue—there's places to do stuff at."

Since 2001, Patrick has booked avant-garde shows in the lofts, apartments, art galleries, parking lots, and neighborhood bars of north Brooklyn. Operating in a legal gray area, he usually works without a permit, and takes precautions to ensure his shows won't receive unwelcome attention. Nonetheless, his e-mail list has grown to nearly 10,000 addresses, and he'll often book two or three shows on the same night. But despite occasionally working with popular national acts like Death From Above 1979 and Animal Collective, Patrick often favors noisy, challenging bands like Japanther and USA Is a Monster, which by choice or necessity don't often resonate within New York's press-heavy, hype-driven club scene. In other cities, do-it-yourself loft-space shows are ingrained parts of the underground music scene, but in New York, Patrick is one of its only prominent promoters. "Todd has always been a real champion of the unpretentious underground," says USA Is a Monster guitarist Tom Hohmann. "He didn't get paid for the first five years he did it. I don't even know why he does it."

Patrick began booking shows in an empty room above a coffee shop while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1996, he moved to Portland with a girlfriend and opened an all-ages space called Seventeen Nautical Miles. "I rented a laundromat that had closed, and we just got in by the skin of our teeth before the restaurant next door could buy it up," he recalls. "I built a wheelchair-accessible toilet exclusively out of found wood, all stuff I found in the street."

The promoter soon learned other tricks he needed to keep an illegal space open. "The neighbors hated us, so I started going to neighborhood association meetings so they couldn't talk about me without me there," he says. "We'd go down to the police station to ask what we could possibly do to help out. We explained that we were there to help kids, to get them off the streets, that there was no alcohol served, and that we were very vigorous about confiscating alcohol that got brought in. And none of it was a lie; we just played up the points that they wanted to hear."

After a year and a half hosting shows every night, Patrick closed Seventeen Nautical Miles and opened another venue five times that size. "I opened a bigger place thinking I would get the same treatment at a much larger location," he says. "We tried to do it with the same punk-rock ethic and the same good intentions, and we were shut down after two weeks."

Afterward, he moved back to Texas to finish his degree and spent a few months doing tech-support work, before booking shows and playing piano for John Henry Memorial, a Portland friend's band. When the tour ended in New York, Patrick decided to stay here. Turned off by New York's monied club scene, Patrick didn't intend to book his own shows at first. But he soon discovered Sound and Fury Records, a Soho record store run by another ex-Portlander. "The whole rest of the country has this independent-rock circuit of people who do stuff, stuff that isn't necessarily written about in blogs or whatever, this circuit of people who play these DIY clubs through the country," Patrick explains. "And New York didn't have a connection with that. It just wasn't a stop on that underground railroad. But you could go see bands play at Sound and Fury, which was smaller than my bedroom. I started going there all the time and hanging out."

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