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Todd Patrick lives in a tree-lined section of Ridgewood that's homier than the areas surrounding most L stops. You'll only reach it if you make the right turns. During a September visit, three older folks sit on his stoop and debate Andy Garcia films. They don't live there, it turns out, but then, Patrick has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to finding New York hangs in secret spots. His other gatherings are usually a bit louder.
Patrick is the concert promoter credited with establishing most of the venues in Brooklyn's underground music scene. Unlike the glossier bars and clubs that rule much of New York's live circuit, Patrick's spaces (which have included the currently inactive Silent Barn, Market Hotel, and Monster Island basement) have low costs and are welcoming to bands more unpolished or "out there." The low-key spaces break the barrier between fan and band, allowing artists to work out their ideas on stage and harness new sounds. Members of Patrick's worker-bee crew, of which I have occasionally been a part, have gone on to stake their own territory in New York's DIY scene: Todd P alums include Joe Ahearn (Silent Barn, Showpaper), Ric Leichtung (Market Hotel, 285 Kent), Edan Wilber (Death by Audio), John Jacobson (285 Kent), and Fiona Campbell (Vivian Girls, Dead Herring).
"Todd's shown an almost prophetic knack for pinpointing what will be relevant in the scene," Liechtung says. "Everyone in the scene has worked alongside him. Everything goes back to Todd."
October 25 marks the 10th anniversary of his first organized New York show. It took place at a friend's Greenpoint apartment; the bill included Japanther and a California band called The Lowdown (later Comets on Fire). Through the windows and across the river, smoke clouds hovered over the former World Trade Center site.
This year has, undoubtedly, marked the end of an era for New York's DIY scene. Silent Barn's 915 Wyckoff space closed over the summer and is currently casting about for a new home, and the last proper show at Monster Island was flat-out canceled by the building's landlord. In its place was Patrick's annual unamplified barbecue, a successful but bittersweet 36-band celebration of the scene that took place outside on an appropriately gray afternoon.
"It's a really tough moment for this community," Patrick says, sitting at the sole table of a German bakery near his apartment. He cites the city's 311 non-emergency hotline, which launched in 2003 and makes it easier for disgruntled neighbors to file anonymous complaints about nearby venues. "There are more people calling to say, 'Someone's pissing on my petunias,' or whatever."
But despite the travails of the scene and setbacks experienced by Patrick himself—in June, Community Board 3 denied him and his partners a liquor license for a restaurant/avant-garde performance space on Avenue A—the summer also ushered a new era for him. He became a father in August. (He took a few months off.) Weeks later, he received a $100,000 grant to renovate Market Hotel, the Bushwick loft that was his flagship space until 2010. The space, which was founded in 2008 when he built it out with Ahearn and local punk outfit The So So Glos, has been largely inactive since the cops raided it during a Smith Westerns gig in early 2010, though a rotating cast of artists-in-residence has remained.
The anonymous grant was funneled through the Solo Foundation, a New York–based nonprofit that supports arts initiatives with social agendas. It will allow Market to make improvements and obtain a certificate of occupancy, a place of assembly permit, and a liquor license. Market Hotel will then be a licensed not-for-profit venue. "We won't have to hide in the shadows," Patrick says. The hope is that we can be open seven days a week."
"If you'd approached me a few years ago, I would have said, 'We can do this with no money at all,'" he continues. "But we went as far as you can go with no money." With the reopening of Market Hotel, Patrick plans to continue programming similar acts—"indie rock that is mostly listened to by upper-middle-class, college-educated folk," he says—but also broaden the programming to genres like hip-hop and reggaeton.
Patrick sounds more like a community organizer than a show promoter as he describes his reasons for expanding his purview. "In the Brooklyn scene, over the last 10 years, I've seen the positive effect of providing stages where there's a lot of freedom," he says. "I think you can take that sense of enabling kids to think for themselves, and expand it to demographics outside of the privileged space. That's really important. And I think it's the next step in this conversation."
Next year, Patrick will curate a stage at Mexico City's Festival NRML, and he is also currently making improvements to 285 Kent in hopes of transforming it into a for-profit, long-term venue. "I'm not 25 years old anymore, and I want to create enduring spaces," he says. "I want to do something that helps people who are more connected to what's going on musically than I am capable of being anymore."