Greg Finch is the 20-year-old Pitchfork.tv intern who, along with Less Artists More Condos’ Ariel Panero, runs Under 100, the DIY show space located in former Roc-A-Fella kingpin Damon Dash’s basement. How did one of the more pivotal figures in hip-hop over the last 15 years or so come to be hosting Sleigh Bells shows in his cellar? The answer is complicated. Last week we called up Finch, who has been booking shows in NYC dating back to last year, when local concert maverick Todd P took the young aspiring promoter under his wing, to talk Dash, DIY, and what may be the most interesting and undercover venue currently operating in all of New York.
So Under 100. Is that the name of your promotion outfit, or is it literally the name that you guys have given to Dame Dash’s basement? For that matter, how did you end up in Dame’s basement at all?
That’s the name we’ve given to Dame’s basement. Dame reached out to Ariel Panero who used to run the [now defunct West Village apartment] venue Less Artists More Condos, and Ariel invited me onto the project.
Before we go forward–Do you have any idea what Dame is doing writing Ariel in the first place?
I think Dame just knew about the shows that were happening at Less Artists and he reached out because he wanted to film some of the later shows that were happening there. Less Artists stopped as a venue in mid- 2008; I think Dame was at the last two shows, and he’d brought a film crew because he wanted to help document what was going on in DIY in Manhattan–
Hold on a second.
It’s really surreal.
You just said that Dame Dash wanted to help document what was going on in DIY in Manhattan?
Yeah. Now that I’ve worked with him for about a month or two I have so much respect for him. I really admire how he runs a business, how he works. Since he broke away from Roc-A-Fella he has been his own independent entity. He’s really the closest thing in the hip-hop world to a Beggars Banquet. He has his own company, Dame Dash Music Entertainment Group, and what he’s trying to foster is just a progressive, non-contractual thing–artists collaborating with each other in a very open environment, where there is very little pressure. The entire Blakroc project that he did with the Black Keys happened with no contract, just inviting friends to come over to his studio, putting no borders or boundaries on what was going to happen during the session, just saying, “Just come hang out and we’ll see what happens.” And that’s incredibly different from how things are structured at Island Def Jam or how things were structured at Roc-A-Fella Records for the 10 years he was involved there.
Do you have a sense of how Dame came to be interested in indie rock? It’s not the most obvious post-Jay-Z step.
I think that one of the things that he was trying to do about two years ago was have some of his artists collaborate with indie rock–I hate that word–indie rock artists. Jim Jones did a track with MGMT about a year ago. What else? And then he reached out to the Black Keys around March or April of this year. That’s I think one of the angles he’s trying to do at his new label and the attitude, like I’ve said, is progressive–just open, free-thinking, trying to have artists he admires just come together and make new music.
When you started working at Pitchfork I assume it was because you were interested in the sort of music that they cover. I wonder when you started working with Dame were you aware of the stuff he had done before?
That’s a very good question. I prepped myself before I met him. I went through Roc-A-Fella’s greatest hits and I read up on the history. I’ve always been aware of him. I remember when I was in high school hearing that Roc-A-Fella was dissolving and a lot my friends feeling terrible about it. How did I know him before? I knew him as the guy in the “Big Pimpin'” video who’s pouring champagne on women in the pool. I think that’s the main way I knew him.
And now you hang out with him.
[Pitchfork Editor] Ryan [Schreiber] was excited to meet him. Dame also loves Pitchfork, which is very endearing to me. He was very excited to meet Ryan.
I think those are all some great answers to my questions.
How much can you curse in the article? Because if you can curse I have a very funny anecdote for you.
We’re the Village Voice. We’re built on swearing. Go ahead.
The one very delicate thing about working Damon is he uses the word “fuck” in ways that I haven’t heard before ever in my life and he uses them interchangeably. If he wants to work with you and he really likes you, he says, “All right, I wanna fuck with you.” And that means that he wants to work with you. But in the same sense, he’ll say that he’s, like, “not anyone to fuck with.” But that means not to mess with him. And sometimes he’ll use both phrases in the same sentence, so if you’re having a conversation or you’re in a meeting you have to stay on your toes and actively dissect the uses of the word and what they mean.
And how’s that coming for you?
So far I’ve just nodded and everything’s been okay. Just nodding and smiling and appreciating how surreal everything is. I feel very blessed to be a part of it.
Which is a story unto itself, it seems, how you came to part of it. Dame calls Ariel in summer of last year, and he’s like, “Let’s work together”?
Yeah. He said that he really respected what was happening at the venue and the artists that were playing there, and he reached out and said he’d like to help or be involved. He’s been incredibly nice. Like this venue that’s in his basement right now, he’s not asking for any of the proceeds and we’re not working for him or anything. He just basically gave us the resources to make shows happen with artists that we want. I was really nervous going in cause his reputation precedes him but it was really remarkable the way it came out. He’s been incredibly hands-off and he fully understands the risks of doing an operation like our business. Brooklyn is a much safer place to pull it off because of the many risks involved and just trying to keep what we do safe. Dame was privy to all that and said the bottom line is just the art that comes out of it and not to worry about it, basically.
Is it literally somebody’s basement, or have you guys set it up a little more as a stage, a bar, that kind of thing?
I’ll walk you through it, it’s kind of funny. You know when you pass by a grocery store and there’s this grate that goes into the floor and then there’s this narrow metal staircase that goes down into the basement where they have storage and stuff? It’s like that. First thing we had to do was fit the staircase with these wooden 2 x 4s so people wouldn’t completely die when they went down. So we fixed the staircase, and we built a soundproofing wall in between the space and the street, which was totally remarkable. You couldn’t hear anything from the street–we had a subwoofer going off, and Knyfe Hyts and Sleigh Bells were super loud. I was so happy. It totally dampened the sound and that’s like two layers of 2 x 4’s with insulation in the middle. We cleared everything out of his basement. There’s no stage. In the back we put soundproofing blankets on the door and the door to the bar area. In the back there’s a bar. We built a bathroom in the back so everything’s contained to one floor. We can fit about 125 people comfortably.
And does Dame come to the shows?
Oh, absolutely. The last show that we did on Tuesday [with London Souls and the Cool Kids], after the show was over, he told everyone to stay and he MC’d like a freestyle-off, with Curren$y, Jay Electronica, Amanda Diva, Swizz Beatz, just everyone that was there.
Swizz Beatz was there?
Yeah, he was the DJ. There was a rotating set of people who were throwing beats on a laptop. Mos [Def] got there five minutes too late [to perform]. He was coming back from Letterman. But that’s what I like, the spirit. The spirit of what Dame has going on there is just getting people together and making things happen. After the first at Under 100 [with Javelin, Knyfe Hyts, and Sleigh Bells] was over Mos was like, “I want to jam with Javelin.” And Damon was like, “Let’s do it right now.” 15 minutes later everyone’s in the basement again at three in the morning. They set up and Knyfe Hyts asked me if they could jam with Javelin and I was like, “Of course, let me just run up to Javelin.” And Javelin was like, “Of course.” And now we have two of my favorite bands jamming, and then Mos did like twenty verses over it. It was very special. I’m very happy that we got photos and video of it because there were about 10 people there at the time. That was a very promising first show. If any of the shows are half as good as that was and how special that was to me I’m very happy to continue working and doing things at Under 100.
So you’ve done that and then you did the Cool Kids show you did last Tuesday. Are those the only two things so far?
Those are the only two events that we’ve had at Under 100 so far. [Until last Thursday, anyway, when the venue hosted These Are Powers, Dan Friel, and Darlings.]
Are there plans for more?
We’re booking at Under 100 through April right now. We’re figuring out the next two months. We’re trying to set some ground rules for how often we do shows and just to keep everything safe and secure. I’m actually in talks with a few venues in Brooklyn to do booking for them. Like I said I’m doing a show with Todd P at Market Hotel. I deeply admire what Todd has done for the DIY community over the last nine years and I love to work with him when I can. I’m doing I think one or two shows at the Market Hotel and Todd’s doing a couple of exciting things in New York and Texas before and after SXSW this year.
But it sounds like nothings going to happen at Under 100 for a while.
I think we’re not going to have an event for two or three weeks. The things with the Cool Kids show is that it happened on four days notice. I think that, going forward, we’re going to try to be more planned and organized so that the events can be more tightly run and more meaningful and special. We’re talking to a couple of big artists that are interested and we’re going to try to keep the space open.
And when you want to do a show there, you just call him up, basically?
With Dame? He has two amazing assistants that Ariel and I work with. We basically have free license. We obviously let them know when we do events, but it’s our call how often it is. Damon and his family of artists and assistants are in the office every day, so for them it’s just going downstairs whenever there’s a party.
Do you know if he does anything else with this space when you’re not around?
Probably not. I remember he was like, “Do whatever you want with the basement. I don’t even come down in it.”
Finch’s next non Under 100 show is at the Market Hotel with Tanlines, Pictureplane, Future Islands, and Reading Rainbow on December 18th.