When I moved to Brooklyn 5 years ago, one of the biggest pulls for me was the music scene. I’d just spent way too much time living outside of Columbus Ohio, and all I knew was that every band I seemed to like was either from Brooklyn or was playing there every other night. In other words, I was missing it. All of it.
So when I started looking for apartments and got off the L train at Bedford Ave, I was elated. I could immediately tell that this whole scene was built around the pursuit of music. There were people selling records all up and down the street. There were mohawks and skinny jeans. Everybody had tattoos. I felt so uncool that I knew I needed to move there right away. So I did.
The place in which I’d emerged is a neighborhood called Williamsburg, and it was packed full of artists and musicians who not only couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan, but, truth be told, didn’t want to. It was a place where every night of the week there was some sort of artistic expression going on. I’m not talking about big name attractions. I’m talking a plywood stage, a lamp, and a mixing board that was abandoned from a make-your-own-robot kit. These were kids who weren’t just getting their start (because “start” implies some sort of journey.) These were kids who were playing to just play. Because every night marked another opportunity for something new and awesome, you’d be a jerk to miss out on it.
To support all this artistic amazingness was an arsenal of DIY (Do It Yourself) venues all over Williamsburg, out into Bushwick, and up into Greenpoint. My favorite of these was, and is, called Death By Audio. But before I could fall in love with it, I had to find it.
The first time I went to a show there, I ended up cruising around on my bike for 15 minutes before stopping and listening for the music. DBA had no signage. No marquee. I’m not even sure it had an address. But there just a block from the water, across the street from the not-quite-yet abandoned Domino Sugar Plant, I heard something. So I locked up my bike, and headed toward the sounds. I peeked in to see a girl sitting at a table smoking a cigarette. This was it. I paid my 7 bucks, got my wrist stamped (with the back of a medicine bottle cap), and walked in to see a bunch of sweaty twenty-somethings throwing their limbs around to the abrasive, but oddly comfortable music. I knew I’d found it. This was what I was looking for.
There was absolutely nothing special about the place, and I loved it. Blank white dirty walls. A ceiling that looked like a herd of elephants had trampled through a doctor’s office. A single table with an ice cooler where you could buy two dollar cold can beers. No frills. Just music.
Soon, DBA was joined by Glasslands Gallery, a venue/installation art gallery located just around the corner. When I first found the place it was covered in paint splatters. Open cans were strewn about for anyone to mine for a drop of wet paint and contribute to the work. But over the course of time Glasslands changed decor over and over again. For a while there was an underwater theme complete with giant merman above the stage. Then it was covered in wooden planks. Then there was a strange living-room thing with oversized stuffed bears mounted like trophy kills along the walls. And somewhere along the way, they installed a beautiful paper-tissue wall of angelic clouds backlit by white Christmas lights right above the stage. The clouds have actually become pretty iconic. I’ve seen bands from the Midwest use pictures from Glasslands as their main band photo because it’s so fucking cool. I’ve personally taken twenty billion photos with that thing in the background. Okay, maybe like 40 photos.
After another couple of years, this seemingly deserted corner by the water saw yet another venue. 285 Kent opened up literally next door to Glasslands. It was the new project of local concert promoter Todd P. He used to run an underground venue called Monster Island Basement that I’m convinced was harvesting sweat for profit on the side. Monster Island was a building by the water that housed artists, musicians, galleries, animals, and a surf shop. It closed about a year ago, so in anticipation for this Todd P. opened up 285 Kent. It’s still hot, but not Monster Island Basement hot. 285 Kent has a similar vibe to DBA. The only differences are the size, and mean bouncers they have. But other than that, it’s a super simple venue dedicated to music.
So why is any of this great design? Because this little corner, without trying, has become a mecca for indie bands all around the U.S. and around the globe. Because in buying some big speakers, and building a little stage, they’re all creating canvases for bands to create. Because when you pass this corner in the daylight, you don’t see anything you see at night. Because they’re making something incredible from nothing. And because here, it’s the music that matters most.