With the Coming Closing of Death By Audio, Many NYC DIYs Are Going Legit
Hunters at Death By Audio
Photo by Travis Rix
There's confetti embedded in the stage at Death By Audio, the latest off-the-books venue and nightclub in Williamsburg to announce its closure, set for November 22. It's the last gasp of the "Do-It-Yourself" wave that helped bring much attention to the neighborhood's music and scene in the last 10 or 15 years. The confetti ground into the stage, by the feet of thousands of bands, is from a 2008 Monotonix and Dark Meat show that also featured garbage on fire.
That's according to Dorie Van Dercreek. She's worked the door at DBA for seven years, since the place opened, and probably has seen more shows there than anyone: bar mitzvah music video shoots, wedding receptions for people in noise bands, performance art based on the Jonestown massacre, and, once, her own art show (the 31-year-old has a degree in painting from the School of Visual Arts).
"The hardest thing I've done as the door person was trying to tell the entourage of Jim Jones, the rapper, that they couldn't stand in the street," she says. "That was before we had a curfew, though." She's referring to another 2008 show, where Dipset's Jones and Damon Dash crashed a Das Racist, Snakes Say Hisss, Lionshare, and Tough Knuckles bill.
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The curfew she's referring to was imposed by the venue following the construction of a condo across South 2nd Street (completed in 2011), and was perhaps the first sign that things at Death By Audio wouldn't last for much longer. It's just one of a number of new and prospective luxury buildings on the Williamsburg Waterfront, including the massive Two Trees development slated to replace the aging Domino Sugar Factory around the corner. Though the specifics of the venue's shutdown have yet to be disclosed, sources say it is related to the rising price of real estate.
"I feel like as the neighborhood has changed, the crowds have changed as well," Van Dercreek says.
"The fact is people with money are coming to these neighborhoods and we have to adapt," says Todd Patrick — a/k/a Todd P, a central apparatus of North Brooklyn DIY music productions of the last 13 years, including, sometimes, at Death By Audio. "That concept of flying under the radar just is no longer viable here. New York was uniquely lax in enforcement for a long time. What was possible in New York in 2005, or 1995, or 1975, just isn't possible anymore. We have to quit clinging to an arbitrary set of standards that ends with the romanticization of things being shitty."
DIY venues as we know them, Patrick says, are finished. And that's been obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the man's actions of late. He's going legit, and he's not alone.
Patrick's (very legal, above board) Market Hotel Project is slated to open very soon. He's opened his new Trans Pecos venue where the old Silent Barn once stood. And Silent Barn's new, totally legal location features rules no one would've followed at the old haunt, like not drinking in the yard.
Beyond that, onetime 285 Kent head honcho Ric Leichtung is now booking shows at the completely legit Webster Hall and Baby's All Right, which makes sense. The nature of running a DIY space, he told us earlier this year when 285 Kent closed, "is transient and frustrating. It's very trying."
"All-ages DIY music venues are almost by definition temporary, and we feel fortunate to have lasted in this space for this long," read the official statement released by Death By Audio on September 8. "We knew from the beginning that it couldn't last forever and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has performed or attended any of our shows."
Katy Goodman at Vivian Girls' last show ever at DBA
Photo by Alex Broadwell
At some point, any number of bands that became much larger later in their careers played DBA: TV on the Radio, Vivian Girls, High Places, Dirty Projectors, Ty Segall, Prince Rama, Jeff the Brotherhood, Priests, Thee Oh Sees, No Age, Hunters, and the So So Glos among them. The venue also played frequent host to benefits for the likes of community newspaper Showpaper and feminist arts events under the Permanent Wave banner. On a recent Wednesday, for a bill featuring Literature, Gingerlys, Expert Alterations, and Kissing Is a Crime, the place is near-to-packed with showgoers. The talk of the room, apart from the actual music, is the venue's closing, what it means for the neighborhood, and reminiscences about similar spaces in the area.
"This makes me wistful for Monster Island's dingy basement shows, when the toilet was in the middle of the room, with plastic sheets hung from the ceiling serving as the privacy barrier," says one "sad old hipster" who wishes to remain anonymous, referring to the venue that shuttered in 2011. Monster Island was followed by Secret Project Robot and 285 Kent, among others. These spaces were all of a certain caliber, known for hawking illegal booze, operating without permits, and often not adhering to fire, health, or sanitation codes. How bright the desire to continue flouting the law seems insignificant as more and more venues decide to "get their papers," as Patrick puts it.
"Following all the rules doesn't mean you get less attention from the police, it means you get more attention from the police," Patrick says — a sentiment echoed by "legit" operations like Palisades or Silent Barn or erstwhile DIY stalwart John Barclay's successful Bossa Nova Civic Club opening.
"Not only are we living in a city that's a lot more expensive and dealing with prime real estate, we're living in a city that's under more strict enforcement," Patrick says. "It's a lot more likely that you're going to get caught doing something like this. We're also living in a city, and not just a city but a culture, where the aesthetic novelty of running something not as polished is wearing off. I don't think that appeals to people in the same way that it once did.
"Is this the end of NYC? I'm sure there will be 1,000 articles that will say that's true," Patrick says. "So we can't sell beer illegally anymore. What, are we going to go cry about it? This just means we have to find a way and work harder. You can either curl up and die or find a way to follow your heart and do what you can."
"DIY will never die, because someone will have to do something if they don't have major backing," Leichtung told the Voice in January. Only time will tell if he's right.
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