Days before the Williamsburg DIY venue Death by Audio closed, in November 2014, the electronic composer Dan Deacon announced from its stage that “they’re gonna turn [this place] into a really progressive orphanage.” This was, of course, a bitter joke: DBA was about to go the way of so many Brooklyn venues, displaced from its crumbling, mural-covered home by new tenants with deeper pockets.
Deacon’s performance is immortalized, alongside valedictory sets by Deerhoof, Future Islands, and other bands that usually play bigger rooms, in Matt Conboy’s Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio, which premiered in March at South by Southwest. The documentary isn’t the only DBA memorial to emerge this year. August brings Start Your Own Fucking Show Space, Famous Class Records’ compilation of tracks recorded there, and photographer Ebru Yildiz’s book We’ve Come So Far: The Last Days of Death by Audio, a collection of dreamy black-and-white snapshots she captured over its final 75 days.
The film is uniquely personal, though. Conboy co-founded and ran DBA with Oliver Ackermann (guitarist-vocalist of the eardrum-busters A Place to Bury Strangers) during the seven years they spent living in its South 2nd Street building. Beyond preserving the venue’s last performances, Goodnight Brooklyn traces its origins (a classic case of artists hustling to make rent in the warehouse they’d just moved into) and doesn’t shy away from capturing occupants’ tension with their successor — Vice Media, ironically enough. At one point, the famously friendly sound guy Edan Wilber gets choked up, chiding himself: “I can’t be upset, because I’m so rich with memories.”
Watching this burly, bearded man break down, I cried too, even though I thought I’d gotten over Death by Audio’s demise. As a decade-plus New Yorker, I’ve become inured to the endless news of similar spaces closing: Monster Island in 2011, Dead Herring in 2013, DBA’s more spacious neighbor 285 Kent earlier in 2014. The constant upheaval felt too inevitable to mourn heavily for any one venue. But I still found myself, along with so many others, bewailing this latest loss, because DBA fostered a scene so welcoming, so apathetic to trends and antithetical to insularity, that it challenged the very idea of “scenes.”
It’s tempting to proclaim that New York will never see DBA’s equal, but as Conboy notes in the film, talking about your own heyday like it was the last golden age is obnoxious. It’s also myopic. Yes, DIY spaces are still getting displaced; Secret Project Robot is searching for a new home, and Palisades is on pause indefinitely after a police raid. But Aviv, a dusty warehouse in Greenpoint, and Alphaville, owned and staffed by 285 Kent veterans, opened just as DBA was closing. Silent Barn and Market Hotel made comebacks years after they were shut down. Shea Stadium has been hanging on since 2009, which makes it a stalwart by Brooklyn’s standards. Each of these places is someone’s Death by Audio.
Which means that fans of these new spaces should prepare themselves to one day say goodbye. The story is almost always the same: Proprietors pour their whole selves into a space, then get evicted and burn out. Wilber moved to Florida when DBA shuttered, and in a subsequent interview with Bedford + Bowery, expressed understandable reservations about founding a new venue deeper in Bed-Stuy or Ridgewood. He didn’t want to become “the gentrifying force” there, as some suggested DBA was in Williamsburg.
If there’s an upside to this cycle of venues turning into offices and condos, it’s that New York’s musical underground can’t ossify. Start Your Own Fucking Show Space takes its title from a homemade T-shirt Wilber wore at one of DBA’s final shows, and surely some kids will do just that. There’s always a fresh crop of young musicians in need of practice space and rent money, forcing the old guard to either adapt or stay home. Over the years, that’s brought more diverse performers, bookers, and venue staff into local punk and indie circles, where they’ve driven positive changes like Silent Barn’s “safer spaces” policy.
That doesn’t mean we don’t lose something when a singular atmosphere disappears, though, and that’s why, two years later, we apparently aren’t done talking about DBA. It’s why we paused to mourn the defiantly eclectic Bushwick venue Goodbye Blue Monday, whose owner, Steve Trimboli, went bankrupt and ended up in Detroit in 2014 after three decades of operating bars in New York. These were not run-of-the-mill places, and what they offered will never quite be offered again. “Nothing in this world lasts forever, especially weird punk warehouses,” Conboy says in Goodnight Brooklyn, and although he’s right, that doesn’t make losing them sting any less.