Is Brooklyn Masonic Temple the Loudest Venue In New York?


Last night, Sunn O))) and Boris combined to blow out the power at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, consigning the rest of their set to utter darkness as the venue killed the lights to save electricity. It didn’t hurt the band’s volume levels, though: the show was so loud it drew the cops, who watched in amusement as the crowd staggered out at the show’s conclusion, punished by the combination of Sunn O))) dissonance and the venue’s ridiculous acoustics–an experience a publication no less authoritative than the New York Times described last year as working “like sonar drills on your guts.” The Brooklyn Masonic Temple has to be the loudest venue in all of NYC, right?

The consensus has certainly been growing. We recall a Mountain Goats show in the early days of shows at the Temple, which is located on an incongruously quiet street in Fort Greene; an open G-chord rang out like a gunshot. Lately, metal bands have been playing there, compounding the venue’s already lively acoustics. Here are some adjectives, pulled from our archives and elsewhere, in which writers attempt to describe just how fucking loud it is in there:

“A gentle seat-rumble–not unlike like sitting on a vibrator–which occasionally moves up to your cheekbones”

“A dull throb that starts in the armrest and penetrates your hands.”

“Some physical revulsion for especially icky guitar feedback.”

“A motorcycle-ride vibration that starts at the base of the spine and climbs toward to the head, where it slowly evolves into a headache. Some mildly enjoyable but ultimately unpleasant tickling. Annoying twitch in nose and ear canal, even with earplugs. Dull drone after returning home, even after using proper hearing protection.”

“Then about 30 minutes in, shit got Haunted Mansion in the Masonic Hall–the volume peaked, the entire room went completely black, the chairs started rumbling, drinks started flying off the balcony.”

“Sunn O)))’s performance last week at Brooklyn’s Masonic Temple may be the loudest show I’ve ever seen. I saw a Ramones show in the late eighties that might have come close, though that music mostly took place in an upper midrange that Sunn O))) doesn’t visit much. The median sound for Sunn O))) is a low chord, pitched below standard tuning, that blows through the crowd like a humid wind and stays in your body like that liquid they make you drink before you go through the CAT-scan machine. Standing in front of the stage on Tuesday night felt like a teen-age dare. How long could I stand to have my organs palpated? How could I tear myself away? Would the volume loosen up kinked muscles? Sterilize me?”

You get the idea. A flyer for that Sunn O))) show last year alleged the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was “the loudest room in New York”–and this is before the show happened, mind you:

So why is it so loud in there? In the New Yorker last year, Sasha Frere-Jones suggested that “The Masonic Temple isn’t subject to the same rules as commercial music venues”–hence, bands can turn up as loud as they like, with no restrictions. Later, in awarding the Masonic Temple “Best Venue for Massive Hearing Loss” in our 2009 Best Of issue, some wag at this paper suggested it had to do with the Masons’ secret magical powers. But it’s more than that: even conversations between bands there seem to ring out deceptively loudly. To find out what was going on, we asked Blackened Music’s Adam Shore, the man responsible for both Sunn O))) shows and most of the other metal performances that take place at the Temple.

“It’s loud because I hire my own sound system and work closely with the bands to make it sure it’s tailored to their exact specifications,” Shore explains. “I want it so they are in charge of not only their sound, but the house system too. I worked closely with Neurosis on this for the first shows I did at the Temple, and have brought in a similarly massive sound system for each show.”

So there you have it–a hulking sound system, bands in charge of the sound across the venue (something not true at dedicated music venues with soundmen, such as the Bowery Ballroom), and of course, bands that are prone to rumble your guts to begin with. We also asked Shore about Frere-Jones’s theory regarding the lax regulation of the venue. “I can’t answer that since I don’t know,” Shore says. But: “I do know my dBs are higher than at shows in other venues.” Anybody brave enough to argue with him?