Dirty Blonde: Introducing the NY Eye & Ear Festival

Homegrown bands and labels finally get the locals-only blowout they deserve

For some, musician Carlos Giffoni's No Fun Fest (the live noise-rock marathon celebrating its fifth year this spring) instills awe and admiration—both for the scene and for Giffoni's tireless dedication to it. For those who shrug at noise rock, of course, it elicits still more shrugs. But for Todd Brooks, the artist and curator behind Brooklyn's Pendu Organization, it inspired an idea four years in the making that finally will see the light of day this weekend: the NY Eye & Ear Festival.

The two-day record fair and all-ages music fete, dedicated entirely to New York's homegrown labels and bands, might just be the first of its kind. "There's never been a New York–centric festival before," says Brooks. "It seems like something that someone would have thought of: Let's get together a bunch of New York labels and bands, at least a No Wave festival in the '80s or something. But it's never been done." He spent some time the last few years booking shows and waiting to stumble on the right space; a few months ago, he finally did at Vanishing Point, a 4,700-square-foot industrial loft that recently opened in Bushwick. He pitched the idea to the venue's curators. They bit. And he hopes that's where he'll stay, since there's a larger aim at work here: to host Eye & Ear every six months, in the winter and again in the summer. Brooks hopes that, eventually, labels will prepare new albums, bands will celebrate record releases, and attendees will flock from far-flung locales for an in-person introduction to music they can't just download or read about online.

The inaugural Eye & Ear's list is exhaustive: at least 39 record labels, and some 36 bands, including Sightings, Excepter, and Muggabears. (The fair's title is inspired by both a 1964 Michael Snow experimental film titled New York Eye and Ear Control—soundtrack by Albert Ayler—and the NY Eye & Ear Infirmary signs seen daily by riders of the L train.) Of the lesser-known labels that should be getting more attention, Brooks advocates Abandon Ship, AnarchyMoon, Heat Retention, and Obsolete Units. Of the bands, he touts Hunters, Realax, and headliners Xeno and Oaklander. "I feel like they're maybe known to a pretty specific crowd, but they're beyond amazing, just mind-blowing," says Brooks. "Which is why, you know, they're headlining."

Xeno and Oaklander, developing
Courtesy Liz Wendelbo
Xeno and Oaklander, developing

And while Brooks has attached the term "DIY" to Eye & Ear, don't expect a roster solely made up of the (often-great) bands that readers of Showpaper will automatically recognize (although the always-great Showpaper itself is also heavily involved; in fact, proceeds from the festival will benefit the free bi-weekly). Brooks's big idea is to bring all of New York's split music scenes together: noise, post-punk, indie, etc. "The way that promotions work, it often happens that people just get turned on to genre-specific music," he says. "But I want to provide a snapshot of the whole city. Not its parts." To ratchet up just a little more advance credibility, Eye & Ear also boasts participation by Arthur Magazine and Cinders Gallery; Fingered Media will document the festival for a 2009 DVD compilation.

The term "DIY" itself is losing a little of its value, in my opinion—as nearly all labels eventually do. Brooks agrees to some point. "I mean, sure, any kid can put out a CD and attach the term 'DIY' to it," he says. "And with the label being thrown around so much lately, I think it's possible that it's lost some of its grip. But it's more specific than that. There's an element of quality that makes something DIY, a fully developed package. And for me, I've always thought of it as for people who are artistically minded—they're almost doing arts and crafts with music attached. They're putting in the time, the effort, and the quality so that their music doesn't get lost in the detritus."

(Speaking of arts and crafts, the poster for Eye & Ear—please seek it out, if you haven't done so already—was created by my new favorite, Tingle Fingers, whose recent work is pretty incredible, particularly the art for Less Artists, More Condos. They did one for a weekend of shows at LAMC by High Places, Aa, and Cutter, in which a tall building mutates into a hand bent around to slash its own wrist, while all the people below carry umbrellas—a tidal wave of literal anthropomorphism. And there's another for the Nat Baldwin show this Friday night—the space is sharing opening musical guests with the festival, as LAMC's Ariel Panero is also involved with Showpaper—with a silhouette of a boy who felled a unicorn. I hated the unicorn trend, and I still like the poster. But then, I love Nat Baldwin.)

Anyway, details: Doors open Friday at 2 p.m. at Vanishing Point (240 Meserole), and bands begin at 7 p.m. (As Panero explained it to me, there will be three stages set up for a round-robin atmosphere, so that while one band is playing, two others can be quietly setting up. Less waiting! Good news.) On Saturday, the live music starts at 2 p.m., and both nights end with dance parties from 1:30 to 4 a.m. (Chinatown DJs and Steve Lowenthal on Friday, Jane Tesco and Pieter Wierd on Saturday). The labels will be there all day both days; door prices are $8 for Friday, $10 for Saturday, or $15 for both. See myspace.com/nyeyeandear for more information.

 
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