In New York’s chaotic do-it-yourself music ecosystem, nothing is a given. A venue might combust as suddenly as easily a new one might spring up, making this list obsolete—yet that volatility is part of the venues’ inherent uncivilized appeal. Who’s to say where the next bunch of longhairs might lay stakes? Which nearest faraway subway stop will next be colonized for bands to play in their natural habitats without VIPs, bottle service, pre-sales, comically overpriced booze, or grown-ups? You might wake up hungover from cheap beer and smelling like cigarettes after a night at one of these venues, but you probably won’t be wanting for loud music and warm feelings of New Yorkiness.
1. Death By Audio One-third of the underground triumvirate that remains sturdy on Williamsburg’s rapidly gentrifying gold coast, this reliable, no-fuss spot for touring and local acts alike is replete with swirling murals and cryptic homemade video games. The space remains home to an effects pedal manufacturer, a label, any number of bands, and a lo-fi aesthetic keeping at least part of Williamsburg weird. 49 S. 2nd Street, Brooklyn, no phone.
2. Shea Stadium On a quiet East Williamsburg sidestreet, the air scented by various chemical and spice warehouses, across the street from a furniture factory, and up narrow steep stairs is Shea Stadium. Opened by genuine Brooklynites (and Market Hotel founders) the So So Glos just around the time the wrecking ball hit the Mets’ Flushing home, Shea Stadium trades the Brooklyn underground’s psychedelic bent for dingy punk functionality that can’t mask the place’s homey vibes. 20 Meadow Street, Brooklyn, no phone.
3. Glasslands Gallery Those missing the intricately homemade hippie interior of the TriBeCa’s departed Wetlands Preserve might do well to check out Glasslands, a hand-cut spiritual descendant of Larry Bloch’s Deadhead/hardcore palace nestled on the Williamsburg waterfront. Once a bunking spot for artists (who slept in Japanese hotel-style bed-tubes), Glasslands has since gone slightly more legit, with a full bar (rare for a DIY space) and slightly more pro booking. But its inside looks no less like a massive trippy art installation. 289 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-599-1450
4. 285 Kent Despite the venue’s easy-to-remember address, it’s easy to walk by this pleasantly discreet spot. Inside, the bonkers wall paintings, Todd P. booking, and minimal bar might peg 285 Kent as a DIY venue. But its simple boxy layout, high stage, and decent capacity make it not only the biggest headlining room on the indie/noise circuit, but the one most likely to transmogrify into a frothing ecstatic mosh-pitty sweatbox given the correct conditions. 285 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, no phone
5. Secret Project Robot Departing the waterfront when Monster Island’s lease ran up, the long-running Williamsburg institution resettled in Bushwick, a brisk walk from the Morgan Avenue L stop, down a side street, and across from a Menonite revivalist mini-megachurch. With enormous blank walls and a giant new yard to play with, the installation-happy Secret Projectors redesign their indoor and outdoor spaces constantly, even shifting the stage around depending on the art/bands/films on display. 389 Melrose Street, Brooklyn, 917-860-8282
6. The Schoolhouse One of the most genuinely breathtaking spaces in north Brooklyn, the upper floors of a former school near the Flushing Avenue J stop were converted to a loft/venue a few years back, replete with dreamy catwalks, staircases, and mysterious nooks. Shows there are infrequent but special and worth the trip. 330 Ellery Street, Brooklyn, 617-417-3899
7. Big Snow Buffalo Lodge A hole-in-the-wall former storefront in the Graham Avenue village beyond the Hylan Projects, the Big Snow Buffalo Lodge is tiny, low-key, and profoundly local. The perfect place to spend no money to see a new band do something (perhaps) totally amazing and maybe even discover the next overused noun in indie bandnames once our Black/Wolf/Beach _____ resources have been depleted. 89 Varet Street, Brooklyn, no phone
8. ABC No Rio With Roulette relocated to gorgeous old community center near Atlantic Avenue, ABC No Rio, established in 1980, becomes one of the last remaining DIY spaces in NYC proper, and one of the last flickering lights on the bad old Lower East Side. Home to a zine library, a silkscreen studio, and a public computer lab, the one-time punk squat remains a stubborn beacon in lower Manhattan’s ongoing WTF? storm. 156 Rivington Street, 212-254-3697
9. MELA Foundation Dream House Less a performance space than a shoes-off/incense-burning/soft-carpeted venue for La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s life work, located just upstairs from their pad. The venue hosts seasonal concerts, but is a mostly a “sound and light environment” to experience transcendental multi-channel installations by minimalist instigator Young, pieces that morph as one pads around the Dream House or lies down amid the scattered pillows. 275 Church Street, 212-925-8270
10. Wherever Todd P and his Spawn Are At This Weekend Perhaps they’re at deli in Bushwick, a Chinese buffet in Ridgewood, a house show in Far Rockaway, or the currently closed Silent Barn or Market Hotel, both of which should reopen soon. Veteran Brooklyn promoter Todd Patrick and the dozens of underground impresarios he’s inspired continue to hunt for new spots between the cracks of New York’s grid. Watch the offline-only Showpaper (available at many record stores and the above-listed venues).