[Photo: Richie Charles of Watery Love, who play WFMU’s performance space grand opening Saturday.]
For many years now, the Jersey based freeform radio station WFMU has been a beacon of freakdom for our area. Besides broadcasting audio obscurities both day and night, you might also know them for their legendary yearly record fairs where you can spend anything from a dollar on a beat-to-shit copy of Frampton Comes Alive! to close to a grand on some one-in-a-million record made by some shut-in from Boise.
And now, you can chalk them up as a steady supplier of live music events as well.
In 1998, when the station cut ties with the bankrupt Upsala College and started broadcasting from a five story building they purchased in Jersey City, they took on a real estate agency as a tenant to occupy their ground floor. A few years ago when the real estate bubble burst, the agency started to hesitate on being tenants, eventually asking if they could rent only a half of the ground floor. Fearing having to sign a lengthy lease with another tenant, some light bulbs started to pop over the station’s higher ups heads to make this situation work to their advantage.
“I think the idea for a performance space was something that WFMU had in mind when the station first moved to Jersey City,” says the station’s assistant general manager Liz Berg. “But at the time, it probably seemed like a pipe dream for a young, struggling non-profit to take on right away on top of just managing to keep the lights on. Over a decade later when our tenant was starting to waver, we were far more stable and used to our independence, and that’s when the opportunity was too irresistible to pass up.”
After researching similar projects that other successful arts organizations in the area undertook such as Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room and Roulette, WFMU considered running a formal campaign to get corporate donations, city funding, and all that sort of grown up stuff, but the tux and tails situation didn’t really fit the station. “WFMU has always been pretty scrappy and DIY,” declares Berg. “The bulk of our funding comes from small donations from thousands of listeners, so we just felt that none of the traditional schmooze-based fundraising techniques would fit with the culture of the station.”
The station pitched the idea of the performance space with their usual yearly fundraiser and garnered a hell of a lot of interest. Pretty soon, some money was being put aside here and there for the construction. Then, a grant from the Knight Foundation provided the station with some video equipment. “We are planning to incorporate video into much of what we do in the space,” says Berg, “It’s so our audience members outside the area can play along.”
But what exactly is this performance space going to be? A live venue? A theatre? One of those joints where one goes to see someone in a black turtleneck read the Dewey decimal system to a bemused crowd? “We hope to host not only music events, but also films, comedy shows, many live broadcasts, listener meet-ups, and any other creative idea we may come up with in the future,” Berg says. “We don’t plan on turning the performance space into a bar with shows every night of the week. We just want it to be another tool in our belt for experimenting with new ways of making engaging programming, drawing in the public to experience WFMU in a new way. Ever since Hudson County lost Maxwell’s, the area has been hurting for music-centric cultural outlets.”
The grand opening of the space is this Saturday July 12th and features a stacked bill including former Guided by Voices member Doug Gillard, Brooklyn scuzz rockers Pampers, the Psychedelic zone jams of Spectre Folk, and thinking man idiots Watery Love of Philadelphia (that’s lead singer/guitarist Richie Charles up top with the bloody nose). Later in September, there will be a live performance by the multimedia collage artists, People Like Us.
When asked what her dream performance for the space would be, Berg responds “Bruce Springsteen fronting Les Rallizes Dénudés!”
Good luck with that one Ms. Berg. Good friggin’ luck.
The grand opening of the WFMU performance space with performances from Pampers, Watery Love, Spectre p.m. on July 12th.