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


Housing The Struggle

It’s impossible to discuss the New York City music scene

without addressing the “900 dollars a month excluding

utilities” elephant in the room: rent. At the crux of any environment

in which young, broke musicians will thrive is

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

problem that NYC is notorious for, given the ever-increasing

cost of living expenses for anybody who call the city

home. Tangentially, when examining the city’s “It” neighborhoods

throughout the years — the areas endowed

with the ephemeral “cool factor” brought by the presence

of artists — a pattern of eastward migration emerges, one

coherent with the direction of NYC’s gentrification over

the last fifty years.

As the city’s scene expands eastwards, as creative types

settle into cramped three-bedroom Bushwick apartments

en masse, the last bastion in Brooklyn appears on the

precipice of full “artist-ification.” It makes sense why

musicians, venue owners, and scenesters have begun

looking eastwards, towards the inevitable jump to the

Borough of Queens.

Looking at the context of New York’s alternative scene

since the 1960s helps illuminate why Queens is the heir

apparent. The genesis of counterculture in Greenwich Village,

its folksy cafe society of guitar-strapped drifters, the

ilks of which included Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel,

provided a workable modus operandi that informs underground

and DIY music in the city today; all that was necessary

to host performances by up and coming musicians

was a few microphones and a space that’s willing to open

its doors to their admirers.

Over time, such soundscapes inevitably became electric

and the venues changed, moving towards the East River

and into dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, both of

which played host to bands like The Velvet Underground,

Ramones, and Talking Heads, purveyors of a distinct New

York soundscape that was increasingly becoming darker,

“weirder,” and more electronic. The next big transformation

in alternative locale, however, wouldn’t occur until

the early aughts, when the Lower East Side became the

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

rise of then-young indie groups like The Strokes, Yeah

Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and Interpol, would anoint

now-established performance spaces like the Bowery

Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery and Pianos.

As the LES thrived, concurrent development in the

now-gentrifying Brooklyn would eventually push artists,

bookers, and venue owners over the river, forming the

basis of the two-borough New York scene we see today.

A Tougher Enviromnent

for DIY

New York scenesters have developed some kind of refrain

that’s reiterated when discussing (read: lamenting) a venue

that’s on its way out: that when one space shuts down,

another will inevitably pop up. We have come to accept

that this reincarnation cycle will take shape in converted

warehouses, multi-purpose spaces, and shabby bar/venue

hybrids. But Brooklyn’s nightlife scene has faced heavy

blows in the last few years. A combination of rising rents,

creative leadership differences, and stringent building

code restrictions have spurred a(nother) wave of closures.

Within the last few years, Brooklyn’s had to say goodbye

to DIY heavyweights like The Silent Barn, Shea Stadium,

Palisades, and Aviv, among others that filled the

void left behind by 285 Kent, Glasslands and Death By

Audio’s closure. Most recently, the underground Brooklyn

club and anchor of Brooklyn’s techno scene, Output,

announced that they would shut its doors come the new

year. This comes just weeks after The Dreamhouse and

The Gateway announced similar outcomes.

These setbacks may stem from serious concerns surrounding

illegal DIY spaces, especially in the wake of the

2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, a tragic occurrence that

claimed the lives of 36 people attending a house show

at the artist collective space. While concerns surrounding

fire safety and building codes are legitimate, many venues

have faced disproportionate scrutiny from legislation

surrounding nightlife (like the cabaret laws, which until

recently banned dancing in venues) and city taskforces,

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

community hotspots (as outlined by Liz Pelly in her piece

in the Baffler, “Cut The Music”).

the deli Winter 2019 15

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