The Bunker’s Bryan Kasenic On The Berliniamsburg Era, Throwing Parties For Electronic-Music Nerds, And “Amateur Night”


This week, the Voice profiled Bryan Kasenic, who throws the monthly Bunker party—the city’s premiere techno event—which celebrates its ninth year tonight at Public Assembly with a bash featuring Chicago house legend Derrick Carter and Dutch techno great Legowelt. Below are some outtakes from our interview, in which Kasenic discusses his entrée to New York, the records that made him a techno fan, avoiding “amateur night,” and not being the background to someone else’s K-hole.

Bryan Kasenic: I moved to New York when I was 19. Now I’m 34. I did DJ at a few events in Pittsburgh, but I was primarily doing radio stuff. When I moved to New York, when I was 19, I had a really heavy interest in DJing out and just experiencing what was happening out in clubs in New York. In Pittsburgh we didn’t really have much of any of that culture. I went to Rutgers for one year. Basically, that got me to within an hour [long] train ride to New York. I was in New York every weekend, [then] weekdays. I convinced my parents to let me transfer to NYU, which was more expensive than going to Rutgers. There was some hesitation, but after a while we all kind of agreed. I wanted to be in New York. We all wanted me to be in college. I was so excited about being around a big city that being in New Brunswick, was just… I thought it would be cool, but after a year I was like, this is not cool at all.

When I was younger I was more into indie rock and noise. When I started at the [Carnegie Mellon University] radio station there, WRCT, kind of opened me up. That slowly got me into the more abstract side of electronic music. The illbient thing was really big then, a lot of isolationist, drone music. I found all the old Nurse with Wound records and Coil records, and that opened up a whole new world to me. That was very exciting. I think that eventually led me to techno. The first year or two I was around New York, I was going to these Soundlab parties.

Is that where illbient began?

It wasn’t where it began. There were a lot of parties where it really began—more underground things, mostly right in this neighborhood, actually, when you could do those kinds of things in this neighborhood. Soundlab came around a little later, but they were the main thing happening at the peak of its mainstream popularity. When I came to New York, a lot of the stuff that DJ Olive and other people were doing that really got the movement started was kind of tapering off. “Oh, people put a name on it, it’s just not cool anymore.” They were tight with DJ Spooky. Really, they had everyone from that scene play at their events.

What were some of the records that got you into techno?

All of the Chain Reaction and Basic Channel stuff was really big for me. I think one of my first years in New York, I was working at Kim’s, and it was after the fact [of] those records first coming out. They’d all just been reissued on CD in those metal tins. I got my hands on some of those. Then Plastikman’s Consumed came out as a reaction to that. That was a really big deal. These Concept records Richie Hawtin put out before Consumed, with those red dots, were a really big deal. That’s the kind of stuff that, when I first went into Temple and had no idea where to start, it was like, “OK, Chain Reaction—I know those guys.” I think I just [went] out from there and discovered [Jeff] Mills and Detroit stuff.

Have you always lived in Williamsburg?

At the time I was in Greenpoint for a little while. I’ve been in this apartment for six years now, and another loft in south Williamsburg with the guys who run the Br0klyn Beats label four years before that. I’ve been here in this neighborhood for ten straight years, and there were a couple years before them. At one point there was a year or maybe two when I was in Jersey City. I got an apartment there with a girlfriend and stayed for a while, which was fun for a while when I had a girlfriend. It was one of the few points in my life when I had a super-legit day job where I had to be in an office every day at nine. Living in Jersey City, getting up early in the morning, eating dinner, going to bed.

[In the early ’00s], there was the whole Berliniamsburg thing. That was definitely what Williamsburg was known for. I think the Bunker moved in a little bit after that had died down. Larry Tee had moved on from Williamsburg. When I moved the Bunker over here—one large event that wasn’t mine that was a key event [in 2005] was when Lisa—who’s my door person now—did this huge [Kompakt vs. Warp] party. That was just such an amazing moment that also, in a way, kind of fucked me up for a year after that—every time I’d try to book somebody at the Bunker they’d be like, “Well, it’s a bar in the Lower East Side, and we heard there’s these huge warehouses where they do Kompakt parties in Williamsburg.” That was so awesome, but it happened once. It was the right venue at the right moment. It was the absolute peak of Kompakt’s popularity, the absolute peak of that venue, right when that venue was on everybody’s radar. It was a perfect storm. It made for an incredible party, a better and bigger thing than any techno party that had happened a few years before that and a few years after that. It was like, “What? How did that happen?”

More than just my friends, I want [the Bunker] to be for more intelligent people—people who are super into the music, nerdy about electronic music and actively engaging with it, but also really know how to party and have a good time and go crazy. But I don’t want it to be a bunch of people stroking their chins and trying to figure out what the DJ’s playing. With the kind of people we’re bringing in, we’re inevitably going to have some of that. But you want people to be having a good time. I don’t really want the kind of people who really don’t understand the difference between the DJs.

[Right now], I think the bigger issue than there being multiple parties on the same night—which obviously can hurt—is that you have to look at how many parties are happening in a month. They’re not going out every single night, or every single weekend. So if a bunch of Mr. Saturday Nights are happening, or Blackmarkets, or a few Resolutes, and then all these other little things, and everybody’s having house parties, it’s way easier to get lost in the shuffle of how much is happening that month and not standing out as something people have to go to. Especially for the kind of people [who], when they’re in the mood to go out, they go out to whatever is happening.

There is a lot of competition now, but it doesn’t seem particularly cutthroat.

I don’t think so, no. Sometimes it feels like that when people try to book certain artists, or book things on certain nights. I certainly would never try to engage in anything like that. I’ve got enough problems trying to get people out to parties without having somebody with some vendetta throw shit against me or call the cops.

Have you ever had trouble with the cops?

Never. The final night at Subtonic was shut down by the cops. Matthew Dear was playing and they shut they place down. They wrote a bunch of tickets. As far as I can understand it, they were basically like, “This place is totally unlicensed.” Tonic was a legal venue, but Subtonic—there were a bunch of licenses they just never had. When the cops finally [busted it], the vice squad didn’t target us because we were a techno party or anything. They were just out [checking out] a couple blocks that week and went, “What are you doing here? This is completely illegal on so many levels.” That was the last party at Subtonic. I think for a month or two we took over Tonic, upstairs. I think we just did midnight to four after they did their jazz shows. But we never got to Subtonic after that night.

After that, knock on wood, a big part of the reason I like doing the Bunker at legal venues is that I have enough stress and things to worry about at the events without having to worry about paying off cops or having staff go to jail. I always wonder what these warehouse parties that everybody’s doing—are they taking out some kind of insurance on the space? I hate to say it but I think that one of these days something’s going to happen at one of these spaces. Someone’s going to fall down and break their neck. Something bad’s going to happen, and everybody’s going to do, “This is really stupid. We shouldn’t have been doing this. We’re viable for hundreds of people.” That’s not something I want on my head.

When did the Bunker Limited begin?

Before Derek Plaslaiko did the afterhours [at the Public Assembly Loft during the Bunker’s eighth anniversary], I think I’d done one party up there. One of the Horizontal Ground people and Jacek Sienkiewicz, the Polish guy, were in town to play at District 36, and the whole thing kind of imploded. BlkMarket was trying to throw extra parties to make up for it, in warehouses. This particular week, they were worn out. I knew both artists coming to town. One was a friend of Eric Cloutier, my resident DJ, and one was a good friend of mine. Their flights were still booked, they came to town, so we threw a last-minute party up in the loft. We were like, “This is really fun. It’s just a really fun space, really intimate and nice.”

After we did that one, we did the Derek afterhours party, and in April of this year I did the first edition of the Bunker Limited, which is limited to 150 people. The concept was one DJ all night, but we turned the Halloween party and the New Year’s Eve party into Limiteds with more than one DJ playing.

In the bar world Halloween and New Years are called “amateur night.” You went the opposite way.

I’d put my foot in my mouth saying I’d never do another [big] Halloween or New Year’s Eve party. But for right now, I just felt like… Last year we didn’t do a New Year’s Eve party, and my friends threw a party in their loft. Eric and myself and Mike Servito—kind of similar to what we’re doing, but we didn’t hire anybody to do sound. I just thought, this year I can do something without being stressed out. Just making the loft parties where you have to buy your tickets in advance seems to change everything. It seems to guarantee that everyone who’s there is there for the right reasons.

Fewer ambulances called.

Yeah. It’s hard to describe the feeling when it’s you and your friends controlling the vibe. Random people from the street aren’t coming in, who weren’t coming to the party but just decided to go out that night. We need all those people, and I’m glad they come to the Bunker. But doing something a little different is nice. On Halloween, maybe I should have tried to make a ton of money. That money would be nice to have right now [laughs], but at the same time I thought it’d be more interesting not to go the opposite route this year and see how that goes. We have the anniversary party the next week, and I have other big parties coming up. There’s just a certain part of me, too, that doesn’t want to compete with everybody. I don’t like the kind of competition that seems to occur on Halloween and New Year, where people get the biggest, craziest lineup they can get. I’d rather throw a party on a night when hopefully there’s not a lot of other stuff going on, and people can focus on what we do, and it will shine without it having to be the hyped, craziest thing.

You’ve said before that when you travel to festivals, people know the Bunker through its DJ-mix and live-set podcast.

The podcast made it really big. It’s really given it a lot of international and national recognition. I don’t know if I should say more so—but between Facebook and RA and friends I have and Twitter. Whereas a few years ago, people might have said, “The Bunker was a really cool thing in Brooklyn.” But now everybody’s part of our Facebook group. I post a lineup and there’s this international awareness of what we’re doing.

A strange example would be that last party we did, No Way Back, with all the synth guys in the front room. The guy who books Labyrinth was like, “I can’t figure it out, but I want to fly to New York for this party.” Marposa said the same thing. There was almost more excitement for people not in New York than for people in New York for that party. I [should have] made it part of a festival that was announced three months in advance. I hadn’t really thought about it, but those were noise dudes whose records I enjoyed, some of whom I knew already.

The guys from Boston rented a car. John from Cleveland took a bus. Container took a bus from Nashville. V-Mask took a train from Philly. Everybody got to New York for under $50. Europeans and people in Japan were like, “These are all the artists that we listen to. It would cost us tens of thousands of dollars to fly them all here and see them.” There’s all this interesting stuff happening around New York. That event, artistically, was a huge success. Everybody thought it was great.

But the turnout for that night was not close to our usual standards. Really, with all my heart, I wanted that night to be a phenomenal success on that level too so I could book crazy experimental music for the front room and keep the experimental dance music aspect of the Bunker, but also spin it in this new direction, and find a new audience. I will do more events like that, but I wanted it to be like, “We’ve found our people, and forget about all this…” I don’t know, people going to these other parties who just want… a lot of what we do is 4/4, but it’s not this random, chugging tech-house background music to your K-hole.

The Bunker’s ninth-anniversary party, featuring Derrick Carter, Legowelt, Derek Plaslaiko, Serge, Steve Summers, Ron Morelli, and Xosar, takes place tonight at Public Assembly.