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Better than: The real estate market
“We are witnessing the end of Williamsburg right here, right now.” Estonian experimental singer and producer Maria Minerva didn’t mince words as she gave a eulogy to 285 Kent at the venue’s closing party last night, comparing the people who move to Williamsburg to kids that get away with everything, and the real estate developers building the apartment complexes they move into to their parents. “I personally don’t have any other reason to come here except this venue.” She wasn’t alone: while other New Yorkers were seeing the Breeders at Bowery Ballroom, Beyoncé at Barclays, or Philip Glass’ benefit concert for victims of Typhoon Yolanda at LPR, a relative handful of fans and friends gathered in the warehouse space at 285 Kent Avenue to say goodbye to one of Brooklyn–and New York’s–most iconic, and most beloved, DIY venues.
Since it opened in 2010, 285 has hosted a wide variety of acts that might have seemed incongruous on paper but in fact brought unprecedented diversity and accessibility to the venue and the scene it began to inform as much as represent. “We basically do whatever we think is culturally relevant right now,” said curator and Ad Hoc co-founder Ric Leichtung in an interview this November. “We do a lot of buzz-y, hype-y shows, but we also do a lot of hardcore shows and progressive dance and experimental music nights.” To name just a few: 285 hosted Titus Andronicus for New Year’s Eve 2011 when the Ridgewood Masonic Temple had liquor-license troubles, Frank Ocean and Odd Future joined infernal noiseniks Trash Talk in July of 2012 (a night I will forever kick myself for missing), rapper Mykki Blanco performed with Autre Ne Veut later that same year (my first show at 285), and just a few weeks ago, London electronic duo Factory Floor played two very sold-out shows that effectively ended 285’s tenure with a bang, not with a whimper.
That was not so much the case at last night’s less-than-packed house. After a period of speculation that 285 Kent would be closing–police raided a show back in September and rumors about a shut-down started circulating in the following months–Leichtung confirmed via Twitter yesterday evening that no other shows were scheduled after last night, not even for New Year’s Eve; though, he added, there may be some in the future. The mood was decidedly downcast, especially after doors opened two hours later than scheduled. It was colder and darker inside than usual, the bar was donation-only, and a health inspector lingered near the merch table for the first portion of the night (God knows what she thought of the bathrooms, which barely locked, were frequently out of toilet paper, and bore such memorable graffiti as “If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport!”). It didn’t take long, however, before people were lighting up cigarettes indoors as they always had, regardless of whether or not she was still there. By midnight, most of the people didn’t seem to know anymore, or care.
Sitting cross-legged on stage in front of his modular synthesizer, wearing a fur hat and wool coat, DJ Jan Woo opened the night with industrial, acid-laced techno. After a while, his pummeling noise levels, so abrasive at first it was difficult to be in the same room with them (the story of 285 Kent), transmogrified into an entrancing, even danceable throb that sounded just like the kind of music the venue would request at its own funeral.
He was followed by Co La, a/k/a Baltimore-based musician Matthew Papich, who makes dreamy, loop-based tracks informed by his compulsive chronicling of old records. For this show, he really got into the spirit of things, contorting his upper torso to the music behind his MacBook Air. The piece de resistance, however, was when he brought out a box of tissues and tenderly ripped the top off, pulling out tissues and tossing them about to the tune of a deeply slowed-down, underwater version of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” that then turned into just enough of “Jingle Bell Rock” to get the point across. It should be noted that the only two people who really danced at this show danced to Co La, and then they could be found making out next to the stage in front of a tag on the wall that read literalporn.com.
Then there was Silk Rhodes, whose idea of mood lighting is no lighting and who does not appear to exist online anywhere. The frontman wore a fur shawl and his hair in an Alex Ebert-style unwashed pompadour in the front and little dreadlocks in the back. When he hopped offstage into the audience, DFA label manager Kris Petersen turned to me and asked, “Is that Riff Raff?” This mystery singer also seemed to lift some of his lyrics directly out of the Next playbook (“You know what I wanna do/ I wanna get through to you”), a comparison made all the more apt by his vibrating falsetto and slinky bedroom beats. After Jan Woo and Co La, and in anticipation of Maria Minerva’s psycho-sexy ramblings, Silk Rhodes was a bit of a letdown.
Minerva was not. There are a lot of people that could give a fitting farewell to 285 Kent, but in this case she was the perfect person to be the last on that stage. After her opening salvo, she requested Fireball whiskey, which was later passed to her hidden in a Santa hat just in case the health inspector was still there. Her voice falls somewhere between Donna Summer and the Blow’s Khaela Maricich, by turns breathy, teasing, and challenging. Minerva is a forceful performer, bending and stepping across the stage, stopping only to yell mellifluously into the microphone and loop her voice so much it seemed to swirl like high-speed, biting winds around her. Perhaps her best-known song, “Symbol” combines her harder and softer sides in the clanging cowbell and the purring at the end of “pleasure,” billowing with delay like the inspiration behind her boutique Los Angeles-based label, 100% Silk.
During her brief set, Minerva announced that we should stick around to see the act performing after her and then keep dancing after that; at the end of her last song, she was informed that there was, in fact, no one going on after her. It seemed for a minute like perhaps she was cut off prematurely, or maybe she hadn’t planned on playing for very long–either way, the short scene was kind of a sad metaphor for 285 Kent. Fortified with Fireball and undeterred nonetheless, Minerva said we should all stay and dance anyway. We can only hope that Leichtung and the rest of the 285 family can do the same at a different venue.
Random Notebook Dump: Jan Woo is a terrific dancer.
Critical Bias: I did not know this was 285 Kent’s last night before I arrived.