Hurricane Sandy has completely destroyed Brooklyn recording studio The South Sound. Located at the mouth of the Gowanus Canal, the 7000 square foot music and arts building which records bands like Beach Fossils, The Melvins, and Wild Arrows stood no chance against the flood waters that rushed in Monday night. The four co-owners — John Lamacchia, Mike Law, Andrew Schneider and Jeremy Scott — estimate the damage totals over a half a million dollars and over 50 people’s creative spaces are gone.
At the site itself the destruction is absolute. Apple computers and irreplaceable vintage recording equipment lay piled like refuse. Walls are caved in; soundboards gutted; practice rooms reduced to debris. A security door bent in half like a piece of foil. A foul chemical mildew smell permeates — the Gowanus Canal, known colloquially as Lavender Lake, is a heavily polluted waterway, declared a hazardous Superfund site by the EPA. If you run your finger along any surface in the studio it picks up dark silt. There are watermarks on the walls indicating that the flood was over six feet high. And of course there is still no power so a gloomy daytime darkness hangs over everything.
The South Sound is a collective space comprised of two recording studios, Translator Audio and The Civil Defense, and 13 practice spaces. The co-owners sit outside smoking cigarettes, venturing inside with flashlights sporadically because of the fumes. They are surprisingly upbeat, a mix of total shock and stubborn resilience. Their ordeal began Monday morning as they tried to secure the doors with over 210 sandbags, which now lay in heaps around the lot, many of them split open at the seams.
At around 5:30 that night they were forced to flee in cinematic fashion. They were up on the roof trying to sandbag a tarp when they saw water start to rise out of the canal. “Mike ran through the building yelling ‘everyone has to be out right now,” says Schneider. “We got in a van and drove away as the water was coming towards us.”
“The parking lot was a body of water,” Lamacchia adds, “It was like a movie.”
Schneider was the first one back at the scene the next morning; his first clue that the situation was serious was that a dumpster had broken through the building’s roll-gate. “The force of the water was so immense,” he says. “Walking through the space there were full solid wood doors snapped in half, whole walls taken down.”
Their metal security door was ripped in half. “It was like the Thing came running through just bashing walls,” says Lamacchia.
Scott was on his way back to the space when he received a text from Schneider. It simply read “everything is gone.”
Scott and Schneider have been collecting recording equipment for 20 years. “I lost a microphone from 1963,” laments Scott. Schneider nods and says, “I lost a few East German microphones from before the wall came down.”
Part of the reason the damage was so extensive was that the flood was a briny mixture of salt water and Gowanus sludge, a toxic cocktail for electrical equipment.
Perhaps they’re still in a state of profound shock, but the South Sound guys are already able to laugh at the absurdity of their situation, joking that it looks like the Incredible Hulk smashed up their place. They say they’re still completely numb, eschewing emotion (which is sure to descend later) in favor of dealing with logistics.
They plan to rebuild; they’re not quite sure how yet, but the response from fellow musicians has been encouraging.
“Last night I got a text message from one of our tenants in a rehearsal room saying ‘just so you know I’m going to get to you guys rent this month’,” says Lamacchia. “Through all of this he was still willing to pay us rent.”
But reconstructing the efforts of four collective lifetimes in music is going to take a lot of time and resources. “This makes me think about folk music, about If I had hammer I’d hammer it in the morning,” says Law. “All we need is somebody to help us buy a fucking hammer.”
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