The Deli #56 - Altopalo, NAMM 2019, Queens takes over Brooklyn

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Housing <strong>The</strong> Struggle<br />

It’s impossible to discuss the New York City music scene<br />

without addressing the “900 dollars a month excluding<br />

utilities” elephant in the room: rent. At the crux of any environment<br />

in which young, broke musicians will thrive is<br />

the question of how they will afford to live there, and it’s a<br />

problem that NYC is notorious for, given the ever-increasing<br />

cost of living expenses for anybody who call the city<br />

home. Tangentially, when examining the city’s “It” neighborhoods<br />

throughout the years — the areas endowed<br />

with the ephemeral “cool factor” brought by the presence<br />

of artists — a pattern of eastward migration emerges, one<br />

coherent with the direction of NYC’s gentrification <strong>over</strong><br />

the last fifty years.<br />

As the city’s scene expands eastwards, as creative types<br />

settle into cramped three-bedroom Bushwick apartments<br />

en masse, the last bastion in <strong>Brooklyn</strong> appears on the<br />

precipice of full “artist-ification.” It makes sense why<br />

musicians, venue owners, and scenesters have begun<br />

looking eastwards, towards the inevitable jump to the<br />

Borough of <strong>Queens</strong>.<br />

Looking at the context of New York’s alternative scene<br />

since the 1960s helps illuminate why <strong>Queens</strong> is the heir<br />

apparent. <strong>The</strong> genesis of counterculture in Greenwich Village,<br />

its folksy cafe society of guitar-strapped drifters, the<br />

ilks of which included Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel,<br />

provided a workable modus operandi that informs underground<br />

and DIY music in the city today; all that was necessary<br />

to host performances by up and coming musicians<br />

was a few microphones and a space that’s willing to open<br />

its doors to their admirers.<br />

Over time, such soundscapes inevitably became electric<br />

and the venues changed, moving towards the East River<br />

and into dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, both of<br />

which played host to bands like <strong>The</strong> Velvet Underground,<br />

Ramones, and Talking Heads, purveyors of a distinct New<br />

York soundscape that was increasingly becoming darker,<br />

“weirder,” and more electronic. <strong>The</strong> next big transformation<br />

in alternative locale, however, wouldn’t occur until<br />

the early aughts, when the Lower East Side became the<br />

scene’s new “hot spot.” That, in tandem with the meteoric<br />

rise of then-young indie groups like <strong>The</strong> Strokes, Yeah<br />

Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and Interpol, would anoint<br />

now-established performance spaces like the Bowery<br />

Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery and Pianos.<br />

As the LES thrived, concurrent development in the<br />

now-gentrifying <strong>Brooklyn</strong> would eventually push artists,<br />

bookers, and venue owners <strong>over</strong> the river, forming the<br />

basis of the two-borough New York scene we see today.<br />

A Tougher Enviromnent<br />

for DIY<br />

New York scenesters have developed some kind of refrain<br />

that’s reiterated when discussing (read: lamenting) a venue<br />

that’s on its way out: that when one space shuts down,<br />

another will inevitably pop up. We have come to accept<br />

that this reincarnation cycle will take shape in converted<br />

warehouses, multi-purpose spaces, and shabby bar/venue<br />

hybrids. But <strong>Brooklyn</strong>’s nightlife scene has faced heavy<br />

blows in the last few years. A combination of rising rents,<br />

creative leadership differences, and stringent building<br />

code restrictions have spurred a(nother) wave of closures.<br />

Within the last few years, <strong>Brooklyn</strong>’s had to say goodbye<br />

to DIY heavyweights like <strong>The</strong> Silent Barn, Shea Stadium,<br />

Palisades, and Aviv, among others that filled the<br />

void left behind by 285 Kent, Glasslands and Death By<br />

Audio’s closure. Most recently, the underground <strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />

club and anchor of <strong>Brooklyn</strong>’s techno scene, Output,<br />

announced that they would shut its doors come the new<br />

year. This comes just weeks after <strong>The</strong> Dreamhouse and<br />

<strong>The</strong> Gateway announced similar outcomes.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se setbacks may stem from serious concerns surrounding<br />

illegal DIY spaces, especially in the wake of the<br />

2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, a tragic occurrence that<br />

claimed the lives of 36 people attending a house show<br />

at the artist collective space. While concerns surrounding<br />

fire safety and building codes are legitimate, many venues<br />

have faced disproportionate scrutiny from legislation<br />

surrounding nightlife (like the cabaret laws, which until<br />

recently banned dancing in venues) and city taskforces,<br />

such as the NYPD’s M.A.R.C.H. Taskforce, which targets<br />

community hotspots (as outlined by Liz Pelly in her piece<br />

in the Baffler, “Cut <strong>The</strong> Music”).<br />

the deli Winter <strong>2019</strong> 15

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