Synth Geeks Call Williamsburg Home; Newbies Welcome

An ultimate synth musician Robert A. A. Lowe, is a friend of, and advisor about synth technology to Marihito “Mari” Ayabe, owner of MeMe Antenna. Check out Lowe’s latest work at lichensarealive.com.  Photo by Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Synth musician Robert A. A. Lowe, is a friend of, and advisor to Marihito “Mari” Ayabe, owner of MeMe Antenna, on the subject of synth technology. Check out Lowe’s latest work at lichensarealive.com. Photo by Rebecca Ann Rakstad

By Sarah Schmerler

Clayton, a tall, skinny guy in dark jeans in his early 30s, steps up to the glass display counter at MeMe Antenna, located in the Bedford Avenue Mini Mall. He’s talking in what appears to be another language—let’s call it “Synth Geek”—with Mari, the store owner, who listens patiently to his every question:

“I mean, I know what quantizing does, but…”

“Wait, does this play scales?…Of course it does! Totally, I see, it transposes octaves…”

[epiphany coming here]: “…so if you have a non-occilating signal, it will step it up a scale.”

The object of desire in question is an A156 Dual Quantizer by Doepfer. Even after a few more queries, Clayton isn’t ready to buy. He decides he ought to do some more research online, and Mari concurs. Instead, an Analog Delay by Pittsburgh Modular is produced from the case. Like all Euro Rack Synth modules, it looks to the naked eye like little more than an exposed green circuit board attached to a metal face-plate with jacks and knobs (knobs are key!) and some ribbon connector cable, all small enough for Clayton to hold in the palm of his hand. He regards it, however, like a piece of handmade jewelry. The two lock eyes, and now they’re speaking the language of pure desire. “It’s great,” says Mari, succinctly. “I’ll take it,” says Clayton.

MeMe Antenna, a gift shop and music store located in the Bedford Avenue mini-mall, is the epicenter of synth purchasing on the East Coast. Pictured here is an Euro Rack modular synthesizer. Photo by Benjamin Rosenzweig

Clayton is hooked on synthesis, and he’s not alone. There are probably thousands of users out there right now, and the appeal is growing fast. If you’re not one of them, but want to be, you should be happy to learn that Williamsburg is a mecca of synth. Until MeMe started carrying synth in October (it’s at the back of the store, behind the vintage bric-a-brac), there was no place on the East Coast you could go to physically hold, and road test, your new synth purchase in person. Lots of enthusiasts, wide eyed at the fact that synth-selling exists IRL (in real life, as opposed to online where it usually lives) came in long after Clayton left. An analog lover but decided synth newbie, I decided to ask a series of un-esoteric questions on the topic. (Online research, and some long chats with Mari and his advsor Robert Lowe, yielded the answers.)

What is “modular” synth and why’s it so great?

In the past synthesizers were at times monstrously large units, with all their capabilities hardwired into one mainframe (think keyboard with lots of knobs on a stand). Now, with modular synth, you customize your experience with a synthesizer, breaking it out into separate more controllable units (think of sections in a modular couch, or toy blocks in a tower) that allow you to get the sort of sound you want. You “rack” them—put them into a hollow metal frame—one at a time as you acquire them, and in the process gain an amazing sense of artistic control. The Euro Rack system of Modular Synthesis (the sort Mari specializes in) offers users all sorts of practical advantages: the systems are lightweight (you literally pack them into a “suitcase” and carry them off); they allow you to make sound right away (no omberchure required); you can master the basics by reading a book (yes, we’re leaving a lot out, but it’s true); and there’s tactile pleasure involved of the sort you don’t get with digital sampling. Levers need to be wiggled, and knobs need to be tweaked, imparting an ineffably satisfying slight-delay response as you twist their plasticene caps under thumb and forefinger. Like any old-school instrument, a modular synth system will reward any student who is well disposed to trial and error.

What kind of music—or just plain sounds—can I make?

Noise. Dance music. Ambient. Minimal techno. The tones and beats are infinitely tweakable, and the sound quality warm. Think b&w film developed in a dark room vs. a digital color image adjusted in Photoshop; think the “terrior” of a French red made from old-world vines vs. the fruit-bomb “nose” of a Pacific Coast pinot. Sure, there’s quite a bit of digital capability in the modular synth world, but basically synth is an analog-lover’s paradise.

Name some artists I might know who employ analog synth?

Gary Numan is a committed synth artist—and a great one. YES. Depeche Mode, Human League, OMD, Japan…electronic music like it was meant to be, back in the day (crafted before an item called the DX7 pushed analog to the margins around 1983). There’s a sweeping overall “lift’ to analog that you just don’t get with the more choppy digital. It carries you through all of music’s individual idiosyncrasies; you feel it in your solar plexus like a wave of cosmic love at a Rave that’s taking place only in your brain. You just know the vibe. The Normal, FAD, Yellow, the list goes on…

Where can I go to hear synth now?

There’s a big festival coming up this summer called the Control Voltage Faire (on June 28th) at the South Street Seaport, but New Yorkers can find synth everywhere if they just look. See it live in Williamsburg at a venue like Zebulon, for instance, once you learn some of the artist’s names. To give you one example, Robert A.A. Lowe (local synth enthusiast who’s advised MeMe on stock), plays there as “Lichen.” His sound is an ambient/trippy/alert mix of vocals and harmonic overtones. Paying attention to the way his compositions cycle through patterns is sort of like noticing the way one thought moves through your brain and gets replaced by another. You’ll have to get comfortable first to appreciate his transportive compositions. The fact that there will probably be brightly-colored psychedelic shapes projected on the wall behind him that move like billowing clouds, and prayer rugs stacked on the stage floor, won’t hurt. It helps set the mood.

A synth band to look out for: In the tradition of the DIY Minimal Wave and Synthpop bands of the 1980's, Xeno & Oaklander (Sean MacBride and Liz Wendelbo) make music with the use of analogue synthesizers, instruments and equipment to write and record. Their Bushwick studio is a well-equipped, synth-filled heaven of cables and knobs. They play locally, check out their website: xenoandoaklander.com. Photo by Benjamin Rosenzweig

Where can I go to do more research?

One word: online. Unless you’re buying in person at MeMe (or at the new store that’s about to open on Lorimer Street called Control), or with other people at a show, you’re going to be tapping keys, and in this subculture, the users are very open and it’s all there.

Muffwiggler.com is the main (and indispensible) chat room resource.Analogheaven.com and Schneidersbuero.de (in Berlin) are good merchandise sources, and of course, YouTube, where you’ll find video with titles like “fun with the rS110 filter” that actually kind of open your mind to new sounds.

The BBOX Boom: Pump up the volume on new radio station

Left to right: DJ ForPlay, Ray Love, and DJ Mr. Klean discuss classic hiphop from 1984-1994 on the BBOX Radio show Albee Square Mall.

Left to right: DJ ForPlay, Ray Love, and DJ Mr. Klean discuss classic hiphop from 1984-1994 on the BBOX Radio show Albee Square Mall.

By José Otto Campos

There’s a new radio station in Williamsburg: BBox Radio. They’ve declared they will be the voice of Brooklyn. Well, Brooklyn is known to be a bit schizophrenic, so one more voice doesn’t hurt.

BBox Radio, the online radio station, was created last year during an international competition. Urban Space Management hosted the competition at Dekalb Market in downtown Brooklyn. Dekalb Market closed for the winter, which forced the winners, BBox Radio, to look for a permanent venue.

The founders, Donna Zimmerman and Daniel Merideth, along with Katrina Cass and two other members that moved out of state, created the community-based station to represent everything that’s Brooklyn. Long time Brooklyn resident Donna said the purpose of the station is to harness “all the artists, ideas, and opinions that are happening in Brooklyn.”

Since Brooklyn is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., it explains why 46 percent of the station’s audience is from 96 countries. That’s why “Williamsburg is a great space for the radio station, because it’s a neighborhood full of people that are hungry for diverse music, culture, and ideas,” Donna said.

DJ ForPlay of the BBOX Radio show Albee Square Mall streams live every Monday night 7:30-9:30pm on BBOXRadio.com.

June 21, BBox Radio will host 10 musical performances on the sidewalks of Williamsburg as part of Make Music New York. The all-day event will start at 346 Metropolitan Avenue and continue in the evening at PIPs Ping Pong Art Space at 158 Roebling Street. The variety of live acts will be rock, bluegrass, electro funk, and hip-hop.

 

Spin Baby Spin—DJs Throw Down in WLSBRG

DJ Sammy Needlz

DJ Sammy Needlz

By José Otto Campos

The New York City nightlife scene is synonymous with music, booze, and friends that don’t go to sleep until the sunlight touches their feet. The music heard in Manhattan is mainstream club jams that are played on your everyday radio, but louder. It’s too dark to see the crowd, and the stage is too high to connect with the DJ. But who cares?! It’s the strong drinks and your sweaty body grinding to your favorite radio hit that brought you to the City.

DJ Maticulous

But then you grew up. Your appreciation for music evolved to less Pop and more Funk. More Rock and Punk. You want to hear more grooves of old school hip-hop, disco, and house. The MP3 is getting full of eclectic sounds of music that won’t be played out there in the island of Manhattan. They used to, but not as much anymore.

DJ Benny at Hotel Chantelle

Now you come to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the DJ has set the mood. Yeah, the décor is nice but the rhythm and blues feels nicer. You came with your friends, but now you’re leaving for a musical journey the DJ is taking you on.

That’s how real DJs perform. It’s not just about the vinyls, mixers, and turntables, and the software on their laptops. It’s not about the money or the fame. It’s about how the music connects to the audience and the audience connects to the DJ. It’s about the love of music, music they’ve invested time in studying, to take the crowd away from the everyday radio mixes. It’s about the beats, the breaks, grooves, rhythms, melody, and tempo. It’s about the history of sound created in different decades and cataloged in genres. These real DJs are known to perform in Williamsburg. They have performed in bars, lounges, and clubs to give our night a soundtrack.

DJ Locorious

The legendary DJ Rob Swift is mostly known for battling other turntablists at the DMC competitions for the right to be called “The Best DJ”. Now, he simply rocks the crowd. He continues to perform in venues all over the world and still returns to New York to play in smaller venues, especially in Williamsburg. “They let their DJ do their thing,” said DJ Rob Swift. “And they just enjoy the music. Also, they know their music. I love DJing in Williamsburg.” DJ Rob Swift also DJs for the online radio, Scion AV, and teaches at Scratch DJ Academy in New York. Yet, he makes time to promote the mix-tape CD, Roc-for-Raida. DJ Roc Raida was Rob’s partner in the DJ battle group the X-cutioners. Raida died two-and-a-half years ago from a freak martial arts accident that stopped his heart. “I wanted to do my part to carry on his legacy and also raise money for his family,” DJ Rob Swift said. “Proceeds of the CD sales go to his wife and three kids. People have supported and I’m really happy about that.”

One of DJ Rob Swift’s protégés is Dr. Unos and Dubs. This DJ’s ability to operate like a

DJ Rob Swift

surgeon on the ones and twos with house grooves, hip-hop, and funk and soul sets him apart from anybody pretending to be a DJ. Dr. Unos and Dubs DJs at the popular online BBox Radio, stationed in Williamsburg. He also DJs in live shows with hip-hop artist Josh Baze, who recently opened up for a Ludacris concert.

DJ KStyle shotbyjake.com

Resident of Williamsburg is DJ Sammy Needlz. He has DJed all around the country since he was 19 years old and toured with rap artists 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, and many more. He said, “There is no high that could match” rocking a crowd of twenty to thirty thousand people in an arena or stadium. Needlz is also a co-host for “Show Off Radio” with Statik Selektah on the Emenem’s Shade 45 Sirius/XM. Producing music has become Needlz new passion. But that hasn’t stopped him from DJing and noticing, “In a place like Williamsburg, a lot of people are educated in music.” He started as a hip-hop DJ, but has developed an understanding of funk, disco, and soul. Needlz appreciates the Williamsburg crowds because “they understand where these records come from,” he said. “They’re music aficionados”.

DJ $mall Change

A crate-digger is also known as a “music aficionado.” DJ $mall Change has collected over 50,000 records. Yep, he is an official music aficionado. So if you’ve heard him DJ at the APT in the Meatpacking District before it closed down, or recently at the Commodore in Williamsburg, then you can testify to his eclectic taste in music. DJ $mall Change is a master of transitioning in and out of genres. He loves to rock parties that “within an hour or two you can go to different genres of junk blues to early soul, funk and disco to hip-hop, reggae to dubstep, and then back to reggae”. He said, “When you’re going from one genre to another it’s like you’re rattling the dance floor.” But don’t rattle DJ $mall Change and request a Rihanna song in the middle of his set, because he might lose his funk. He said, “I do not cater to crowds that want to hear pop music all night long.” Since he’s been a DJ for over fifteen years, his fan base strongly supports him.

Another DJ that does not like to play in pop-riddled venues is Maticulous. The up-and-coming producer that has grown a passion for making music, and not just playing it, still finds time to DJ in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “I like to play what I want,” he said. “If the crowd is feeling that, then there is no better feeling.” Maticulous was inspired to DJ at the age of ten when he first saw the movie Juice. He then bought himself a pair of turntables and started mixing and blending hip-hop records. Now, his catalog has developed to more genres. This DJ has created beats for many popular underground MCs and continues to work with more artists.

Dr. Unos and Dubs

Like many DJs, Benny B. started out as a hip-hop DJ. His music selection has grown immensely, and his soulful transitions of dance music play with the energy of the crowd. He lifts them up and keeps them there so their feet can keep moving. Benny B. said he only takes requests when “playing in Manhattan. But in Williamsburg I don’t have to. The crowd is open to what I’m playing.”

In amongst the hipster crowds are Williamsburg’s Latinos. They have their own style and taste in music. That’s where DJ Locorious walks in. The local product of the Southside has been rocking all the Latin clubs in the New York metro area, and is also popular in Boston and D.C. The Williamsburg native has mastered the mixing of typical Caribbean hits as well as Latin urban jams. He’s also the local celebrity recently nominated for a Latin Mixx Award 2012.

This DJ’s mother offered to pay for a cooking class when she was younger. Instead, she took the money and went to DJ school, Scratch DJ Academy. “I always had a crazy love for music since I was little,” said DJ K-Styles. Now the long and slender Brooklyn resident plays in the big venues in Atlantic City almost every weekend. She has her own online show on Beatminerz Radio and  is working with the “She So Fresh” brand to create a mix-tape.

DJ K-Styles is in a male-dominated industry but says it doesn’t affect her because the Atlantic City crowd wants to dance, and the Williamsburg crowd wants to groove, and that’s all that matters.

Ten Years of Music 2002-2012: A Williamsburg Oral History

MV4C7683_web

Musicians, promoters, and influencers in Brooklyn (left to right): A.P. Smith (Chief/Bodega), Joe Ahearn (Silent Barn/Showpaper/Clocktower Gallery), Conrad Carlson aka DJ Dirty Finger (Black Label Bicycle Club), Pat Noecker (RAFT/These Are Powers/Liars), Edan Wilber (Death By Audio), Carlos Valpeoz (Bikes In The Kitchen), Michelle Cable (Panache Booking). Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky


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To preface: this is an ongoing project. I hope to continue to meet with people who have stories to tell of Brooklyn in the 2000s, or before, and possibly beyond. And I hope to expand on the stories outlined here in this article. I consider this to be an oral history, an archiving of events paired with not only my own personal anecdotes but also those of anyone else who was there.

The initial concept for this project came out of a long conversation I had with the musician Pat Noecker (Liars, These Are Powers), just reminiscing about shows that still stuck out in our mind as memorable and perhaps important? And having spent the last two weeks meeting with people and friends and discussing our own personal histories, it seems that maybe it is worth exploring, and documenting, preserving and sharing.

Please contact me directly if you’re interested in participating in this archive.
APSmithNYC@gmail.com

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Ten Years of Music – A Williamsburg Oral History: 2002-2012
by A.P. Smith

Tod Seelie, 33, moved to Brooklyn in 1998 to go to Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill because it was the least expensive school that accepted him. And that says a lot considering the annual tuition was $30,000.

“People comment on that period of Pratt, the late 90s, early 2000s,” says Tod Seelie. “All these really motivated and impressive people came out of that time – Swoon, Japanther, Matt and Kim – and everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, there must have been something in the water,’ I think it was something in the financial aid office.” Tod smiles. “They brought in a lot of people who had a lot of potential and were able to realize that because they were able to go to a good art school and grow.”

And I think he’s right. I enrolled at Pratt in the fall of 2000. I had never been to New York, never visited Brooklyn and suddenly I was left to my own in this new place, this massive city. I remember that first night, after college orientation, a group of my newly found friends and I braved the subway into Manhattan to see a Pedro The Lion show at The Knitting Factory on Leonard Street.

Just a year later, not long after 9-11, living in Bed-Stuy and collaborating with all these incredible creative people at Pratt… it felt like something bigger than the “college experience” I had expected or learned about from the movies.

In the wake of 9-11 we were free to do whatever the hell we wanted. The paranoia and overreaching authority hadn’t settled in yet. Everyone sort of walked around like a celebrated survivor, like the little things didn’t really matter because at any moment a true and massive tragedy could occur. Those first years after 9-11 really felt like we could do anything.

Ian Vanek, and Matt Reilly, of the performance band Japanther, also attended Pratt Institute in the early 2000s. “We traded music with each other, “Vanek says. “Mix tapes we bought on the street from bootleggers. And we made our own tapes and traded those and just started making music. We were playing, like joking around, like how children play – that’s what we were doing, just staying in that mindset. Making a joke because we were supposed to be doing our homework. Going to college we were supposed to be making pictures but we were making songs because it wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing. “

Brooklyn was our stomping ground, at least that small section of Brooklyn, seeping slowly towards Bed-Stuy, Ft. Greene, and eventually Williamsburg. But even then, Williamsburg was much different than it is today. And certainly even more so earlier on.

Pat Noecker moved to New York in 1997. One of 12 children on a farm in Nebraska, Pat grew up to play in bands out of Omaha and eventually toured the USA before moving to New York. Seeking out collaborators, Pat answered a flyer’s call for a band mate and met Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill. And so they bought a van for $600 and started a band named Liars, playing their first show for a small circle of friends at a dive bar in Midtown Manhattan called Siberia.

Around the same time, other bands were beginning to play in Manhattan and parts of Williamsburg, bands like Lightning Bolt, !!!, Les Savy Fav, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

“We were at this gay bar on Grand Street called Luxx, now Trash Bar,” says Seva Granik, 37, co-founder of MyOpenBar.com. Born and raised in Bensonhearst, Brooklyn, Granik first started exploring Williamsburg in the late nineties, early 2000 after a friend from college moved to Greenpoint. “Suddenly Luxx gets completely packed – this was a weeknight I think,” Seva says. “And we get pushed to the back where there’s this scrawny guy on stage setting up all these pedals and he’s looking confident but he has a really complicated set-up with loops and pedals… then he starts playing and the drummer comes out and he starts playing – you could tell the drummer was amazing – and then this girl just blows onto the stage, naked with pieces of tape on her nipples, maybe a bikini or something and just goes wild: pouring beer on herself, breaking bottles, bleeding… The whole place is going insane, and she’s amazing…. And that was a band I’d never heard of, called Yeah Yeah Yeahs.”

Pat Noecker remembers this time very well. “By the summer of 2000,” Pat says, “everybody knew that shit was happening in New York City. And there weren’t a lot of alternative spaces in Manhattan so everyone started playing shows in Brooklyn for Fitz. This guy John ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, living in South Williamsburg, saw the potential of music in alternative spaces – taking it out of the bar and doing it for the music, for the art, getting musicians money and putting them in front of audiences that didn’t consider it entertainment, they saw it as art. And it started working.”

These events occurred during the advent and rise of the Internet. These early shows, shows in the early 2000s, were not covered in the media. These shows didn’t have photographers with digital cameras in the audience. To put it into a larger context, it was January 2001 when iTunes launched. And it would be another 10 months before we had iPods. This was not only the beginning of a new era of music, music out of Brooklyn, but also the beginning of the end of the music industry as it existed then.

That year, 2001, also brought us albums like “This Is It” and “White Blood Cells” by The Strokes and The White Stripes, respectively. Not to mention other breaking bands like Interpol, Radio 4, We Are Scientists… the list goes on and on.

As a 19-year-old art school student in 2001, discovering these great bands, experiencing new technologies, going to these raw concerts in loft spaces and house parties in Brooklyn, I was absolutely blown away. It was incredible. And while every corner seemed new and fresh to me, I certainly wasn’t first to the scene. And to be frank, I feel like I tuned in just around the same time that mainstream media had taken notice and began broadcasting these bands throughout the country.

Suddenly, this entire generation of “Brooklyn Bands”, which hadn’t existed before then, was thrust into the public eye, and the public ear, and, in more ways than one, put Brooklyn on the map.

There was a show in 2002 called The Junkyard Show, organized by a group of people called The Twisted Ones (Fitz and Arthur) across the street from the DIY venue Mighty Robot. Liars played. “It was jammed,” Pat Noecker says. “People all around, people in the loft, people on buildings, on rooftops, decks, fire escapes, 360-degrees, and the Williamsburg Bridge is right there and the catwalk is packed with people watching from the bridge. MTV was there. Everybody. It was the apex of that time.”

And then things really got cooking.

Enter Todd Patrick. Having moved to NYC from Austin and previously Portland, Oregon where he operated an all-ages venue, Todd P first began throwing shows in lofts and bars in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn in October 2001.

“Todd P took what the twisted ones did and expanded on that idea,” says Pat Noecker. “He got interns, paid cops to do security and built an infrastructure that allowed it to get bigger but keep its purity. And every band in the country that had any sense of a punk aesthetic, no matter what the music was, wanted to play a show with Todd because the idea was the most pure.”

Todd Patrick aka Todd P, Brooklyn all ages promoter and recent father. Illustration by Mike Force


Todd P threw shows in the tiniest back rooms of dusty dive bars in Greenpoint. He threw shows in strange basements and cafes in Queens, places that some would remember by name, like Uncle Paulie’s, and other places that maybe never even had a name. Needless to say Todd P booked hundreds of shows with thousands of bands over the years, including bands that would grow and tour and reach larger and large audiences. Matt and Kim is probably the most popular of these bands.

“The first Todd P. show I was a part of was with the Amanda Noa dudes playing with Japanther at a space on Kent and Broadway?” recalls Matt Johnson of Matt and Kim. “Remember there was that space there, that was upstairs – the something café? – I can’t remember the name of that space, it didn’t last, but that was the first time I met Todd.”

Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino came from that generation of Pratt alumni in those early 2000s. “Kim wanted to learn how to play drums,” says Matt. “I was just trying to learn how to play this cool keyboard I found in my neighbor’s garage when I was younger and then… Ian from Japanther found out we were playing music and he said, ‘You have to do a show with me.’ And we said, “We’re not a real band. We don’t have a name, we don’t have any songs,’ and he said, ‘I don’t care you’re gonna play this show.’”

And this particular show, in a basement space in Long Island City, Queens, was indeed organized and promoted by Todd P. Listed on the flyer, along with Japanther, was “Matthew and Kimberly.”

“We shortened the name,” Matt says. “But we thought, ‘Yeah that works, that’s fine.’ So, in a way, Todd P did kind of name our band.”

That was in the fall of 2004.

Meanwhile, another community of young Brooklynites had formed in parallel with the performance bands from Pratt or bands booked by Todd P. One year earlier, 2003, brought us the first Bike Kill, a sanctioned block party on a dead-end street in Bedford-Stuyvesant organized by a tight-knit group of people who were calling themselves The Black Label Bicycle Club (BLBC).

The story of Black Label extends back beyond New York and this timeframe, all the way back to 1992 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2000 a Black Label member named Leo moved to New York and ultimately met enough like-minded people that he founded a Brooklyn chapter of Black Label.

“The Bike Club brought us together,” says BLBC member Conrad Carlson aka DJ Dirty Finger. “But that summer there were also other groups I was around that all came together… Toy Shop Collective, the Madagascar Institute, Black Label, and Critical Mass, which pre-RNC Critical Mass was insane.”
Many things changed in 2004.

In February 2004, at a Greenpoint, Brooklyn venue called The Warsaw, there was a passing of the torch moment during a gig the included Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, and relative newcomers TV On The Radio. And in many ways, this closed one chapter in the Williamsburg history books and opened yet another.

For me personally, I graduated from college that summer and traveled the USA interviewing leaders and inspirational figures for a documentary television show called Roadtrip Nation. Having had a very politically charged road trip that summer, traversing the USA while Bush and Kerry made their own campaign trips, I returned to Brooklyn just before the Republican National Convention.

The presence of the RNC and the actions taken by the authorities during the RNC very much permanently changed the atmosphere of New York City. Thousands were arrested that week. “The Critical Mass just before the RNC was the first time the police used kettling,” says Tod Seelie. “What’s kettling? Sealing off two ends of a block and just arresting everyone inside… Detaining people for three days on a greasy floor in a concrete warehouse throwing bologna sandwiches at them once in a while.”

It was a dark time for New York City and for our country. And yet somehow Williamsburg and areas of North Brooklyn seemed to be operating under a different paradigm.

Brooklyn DIY event promoters (left to right): A.P. Smith (Chief / Bodega), Todd Patrick aka Todd P (ToddPNYC), Seva Granik (My Open Bar/ABRACADABRA). Photo by Eddy Vallante

Not long after Seva Granik first saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Luxx in 2000, he moved to Williamsburg. Working as VP of Intranet at Morgan Stanley, Granik saved most of his large salary. And after 9-11 he quit his job to pursue music.

Cut to 2005: having spent five years living in Williamsburg, playing in bands (Like Yesterday) and spending the savings he earned working at Morgan Stanley, Seva was suddenly broke and bored.
His roommate at the time was running in this scene of open bars, “mostly promotional vehicles for beers and liquors, mostly in the Lower East Side,” says Seva. “And so we would just go get wasted for free.”

Seva maintained a blog about his misadventures in NYC and started including information about upcoming open bars. He then noticed an increase in traffic to his site. So he published more open bar information and saw more traffic. And so then he built a very rudimentary website, included an email list, called it MyOpenBar.com (his roommate’s idea) and overnight 1,000 people signed up.

“For some reason people just loved it,” says Seva. “The NY Times did an article, every major newspaper and magazine in town was calling to figure out what the fuck was going on.”

And the website continued to garner more and more traffic and collect more and more subscribers to their weekly newsletter listing open bar events all over New York City. Slowly at first, but eventually it became a go-to resource and guide for nightlife, particularly free events.

“Somehow it evolved into this business with a marketing component and an events arm that made a ton of money and managed to hold people’s attention for a little while, a couple of years. But Becky [Smeyne] and I fucked it up. We just wanted to do this “DIY thing” and we have a very DIY attitude and we wanted everything to be cool. But. Business and cool don’t really mix.”

Seva and Becky wanted to make “happenings,” something more than just a show. At the time, events and parties were reaching well beyond this idea of a “show” where bands play and everyone watches and listens.

Seva and Becky hosted some of the craziest events I’ve ever experienced, namely a Halloween party in 2007 at a warehouse on Wythe Avenue with DJs from the Black Label Bicycle Club including DJ Dirty Finger.
And of course, the Bike Kill events in Bed-Stuy, hosted by Black Label will be forever burned into my mind as the most chaotic community celebrations I’ve ever witnessed neigh participated in. Those events, those happenings were inspirational and resonate with me now still because of the pure freedom those events granted me and everyone there.

“You pay to be everywhere you go in New York,” says Conrad aka DJ Dirty Finger. “Because it’s expensive, you spend your whole life in New York trying to pay for life. Anytime you can go somewhere and not feel that… There’s a freedom. The best are house parties.”

And if you’ve been to parties at The Chicken Hut in Bed-Stuy, you know that those were absolutely the best house parties. In many ways that’s what it seems to be about, looking back on it now: this group of people, these groups of people throwing some of the biggest, craziest “house parties” in Brooklyn. Often times, these parties weren’t even at houses but rather multiple story warehouses, vacant lots, dead-end streets, rooftops, subways, Chinese buffets, and twice even on the middle of the bike path on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Front row, left to right: Conrad Carlson aka DJ Dirty Finger (Black Label Bicycle Club), Carlos Valpeoz (Bikes In The Kitchen), A.P. Smith (Chief/Bodega); Back row, left to right: Joe Ahearn (Silent Barn/Showpaper/Clocktower Gallery), Edan Wilber (Death By Audio), Pat Noecker (RAFT/These Are Powers/Liars), Michelle Cable (Panache Booking). Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

In January, 2006 there was a show at warehouse on Ingraham Street in Bushwick. It was a Todd P show called Brooklyn Vs. Baltimore, which featured musicians “battling” against each other. That night Dan Deacon, USA IS A MONSTER, Future Islands, Double Dagger and These Are Powers (Pat Noecker’s band after Liars) played in front of 2,000 people in what almost everyone remembers as a highlight and a turning point for this community.

“At this point, the music industry really starts to sink its teeth into it,” says Pat Noecker. “And with any scene that gets bum rushed or commodified… shit starts to get weird.”

Things did get weird. In 2006, Japanther participated in The Whitney Biennial. A feature-length docu-drama about The Black Label Bicycle Club was released. Creative center 3rd Ward opens on Morgan Avenue. And Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion.

Gentrification continues throughout Brooklyn while rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront promises to change the neighborhood forever.

In July, 2007, Matt and Kim play the first ever show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg. “It was supposed to be Patti Smith,” says Matt Johnson. “And we were supposed to be the second show. But they were still assembling things on the night of the Patti Smith show so they had to move venues. And I remember going in for sound check, that official first show, and there were still guys welding in the railing as we were sound checking, getting everything done last minute.”

Also that summer the DIY venue Death By Audio opens on S.2nd in Williamsburg. Similarly, Silent Barn opens in Ridgewood, Queens. And the first issue of Showpaper, a free all ages events listing newspaper, is published through the efforts of a small team of people including Todd P and Joe Ahearn.

Joe Ahearn grew up in New York City, not far from where the former all ages venue Wetlands was in TriBeCa. Having left New York after high school to travel the USA, Joe returned to the city in 2006 and got a job bartending in DUMBO. Soon he began booking shows there for friends and bands he met while traveling who were now touring through New York City. But it wasn’t quite a good fit. Because of management and neighbor’s complaints, Joe was often forced to be the bad guy and ask bands to lower their volume or shorten their sets.

Right around then Joe went to a Todd P show at Uncle Paulie’s in Greenpoint in the midst of a tumultuous downpour. “I get there and the venue is literally flooded,” says Joe. “No one was there and one band was setting up and Todd was there with a broom trying to sweep the water out of the venue. And I was totally in love with the whole situation; I thought it was the coolest most mysterious thing. So I interviewed Todd and wrote this article for my school newspaper about the experience and I started helping him out. I stopped working at the bar and I started helping Todd with shows, and I started helping Todd answer emails, and I sort of just did that and nothing else for about a year.”

Ultimately, Joe believes this may be why going back to college didn’t work out.

“I just thought this guy can do anything he wants, so I’m gonna do whatever it is he needs so that I can figure out how to do whatever it is I want.”

And Joe was not alone in this thinking. Other young kids were eager to help Todd P and hungry to learn the tricks of the trade, including Edan Wilbur, an NYU graduate.

Edan Wilber, manager and booker at Death By Audio. Illustration by Mike Force


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I had loved music forever,” says Edan, “But through school I got into film and I was doing that for a while but I just hated that world because it was such an ass-kissing world and it was such a world where you don’t get anything done unless you have a shit load of money. And I think I just clung to shows because you start with zero dollars. And people just get there and were like, ‘Alright we’ll see what we can do,’ and everybody involved was down for that. We’re not going to make any guarantees but we’ll ask everyone to donate some money and then you’re gonna make some money and you’re gonna get to your next spot. And I just thought that was so pure, and such a better world.”

After having gone to Todd P’s 2007 showcase at Ms.Bea’s in Austin during the SXSW Music Festival, Edan, a shy guy, found the courage to approach Todd at a show and complimented him on his Austin showcase. That night, Todd P invited Edan to return to Austin with him to help with the 2008 showcase.

“This was right at the point when you could tell something was about to happen,” says Carlos Valpeoz, a Pratt graduate who has been organizing shows under the moniker Bikes In The Kitchen since 2006. “This was about to be a part of popular culture.”

It was that 2008 SXSW showcase that Carlos partnered with Todd P to host a slue of Brooklyn bands once again at Ms.Bea’s. The lineup that year included Matt and Kim, Ninjasonik, Team Robespierre, The Death Set, Best Fwends, Juiceboxxx, The So So Glos and The Vivian Girls.

“It just seemed like Brooklyn owned Austin for that one night, at least in my eyes,” says Carlos. “And it felt pretty special.”

For me, looking back on that weekend in Austin, Texas…. It was the validation that we needed. To take all of this talent out of NYC and showcase it before a new audience in a completely alien environment gave us all the validation and approval that I think we’d been seeking. It gave us the confidence to return to Brooklyn and continue to wholeheartedly pursue our passions for music and events.

It was that summer, the summer of 2008, that myself and my then business partner, Ed Zipco, leased an old grocery store on Broadway in Bushwick and opened the DIY venue Bodega.

“Bodega was completely renegade,” says Tod Seelie. “Market Hotel was kind of like that too.”

The summer of 2008 really opened the floodgates for a lot of DIY venues. At it’s height: Market Hotel, Bodega, Silent Barn, Death By Audio, Glasslands, and more.

And people loved it, going out almost every night because there were suddenly shows happening at easily accessible locations where you could truly, freely enjoy yourself.

“They’re not legit,” says Tod Seelie. “They don’t have all the restrictions and concerns and the bullshit. It’s a double-edged sword but you can’t go to the Bowery Ballroom and have those experiences because the Bowery Ballroom has security and insurance and bartenders who don’t give a fuck and have a bottom line to meet.”

Running a music venue and/or a bar is a massive undertaking that requires a team of hardworking individuals. For me, running Bodega, ostensibly an illegal music venue with an illegal bar, came with the both the demands of legal establishments as well as the innumerable obstacles and problems of an illegal establishment: remaining under the radar, maintaining community relations, even something as simple as disposing of trash because a clandestine activity.

It was dangerous and exciting. Looking back on it today, I cannot see it as anything more or less than exactly that: dangerous and exciting.

“I just remember thinking this was such a cool, big space with so much potential,” says Matt Johnson about Bodega. “It had multiple floors and high ceilings, but it came to this point with that sort of no rules atmosphere where someone wants to be, but where it clashes with it actually being sustainable, while I’m watching people piss in the corner on the floor and fights were breaking out and it sort of felt like this great no rules situation but it felt like nothing that could continue. It couldn’t be sustained; you can’t just have a place where it’s ok to piss on the floor anywhere… I remember beer just getting poured on the PA and it keep getting unplugged and I was just a show-goer and I ended up being the one trying to keep it plugged in, trying to keep the beer whipped off it, just trying to keep it going. It was great in its chaos but it won’t be able to last.”

2009 brought with it the demise of many of these ideas as well as the physical venues. Studio B closed after numerous battles with the community and the community board. Additionally, Ed and I decided to close Bodega, the result of nearly equal parts fatigue, creative differences and police enforcement. We aimed to continue to work towards legalizing the space and, remembering it now, that didn’t seem like the end. It felt like we were taking a moment to regroup and that we would come back bigger and better. But ultimately, it was over.

“We were all the beneficiaries of a more lax enforcement structure that previously existed,” says Todd P. “Clearly Bloomberg has pushed the whole city towards a more compliant, more orderly, more law-driven system. A system very arbitrarily enforced, in my opinion. The idea is that it’s across the board enforcement. In practice it’s completely arbitrary, spotty enforcement based on tattletales calling 311.”

It was not long after Bodega closed that the NYPD shut down a show at Market Hotel and so Todd P and crew decided to close the venue. The eviction of the events space Rubulad followed soon after.

In 2011, Cinders Gallery, a staple of art and creativity in Williamsburg is forced to leave its home on Grand Street where it’d been for over six years due to rent increases. Manhattan promoter and show organizer Ariel Panero passes away and a concert in memoriam is organized at Death By Audio where These Are Powers performs the last show of their 6-year legacy.

And it seemed to only get worse: the four residents of Silent Barn are evicted by the New York City Department of Buildings and then immediately robbed of all their possessions and equipment. Not even a month later the venue Glasslands is also robbed of thousands of dollars in equipment. Nearby, Monster Island closes, denied the opportunity to renew their lease.

Todd P, having stepped back from the scene, moves to Ridgewood, Queens and has a baby boy named Alyosha Kai.

“Whether or not you can say that Williamsburg 1995-2005 was a historical art movement,” says Todd, “It certainly had that sprit and that potential that you think about for SoHo in the late 70s, or the Lower East Side in the 80s, or Greenwich Village in the 60s. That spirit is what has made New York City an attractive place to live for a lot of folks who have talent. It’s an exciting place to live because exciting things happen here.”

Ultimately, we all want to be a part of something important. We all want to inspire others and leave our mark in someway. And perhaps it hasn’t been long enough to be able to fully understand our influence. Only time can confirm or deny that.

Today, some of these figures are still working towards the freedom of alternative spaces, DIY venues, all ages shows and loft parties. Edan Wilber books shows at Death By Audio as much as seven nights a week. Joe Ahearn, after years of managing rehearsal spaces at Secret Project Robot and living at and booking shows in Silent Barn, now works at The Clocktower Gallery in lower Manhattan as the Curator of Performance and Installation. Pat Noecker currently plays gigs under the moniker RAFT. Seva Granik works as a event coordinator under the moniker ABRACADABRA. And Michelle Cable of Panache Booking works steadily to provide gigs for local and touring bands in venues that appreciate the experience, often Death By Audio. It’s these people that younger musicians and emerging bands can truly rely on today and hopefully for days and years to come.

Ian Vanek, artist, member of the band Japanther. Illustration by Mike Force


For most of my life, I’ve been able to rely on the music I was listening to in order to place moments and happenings in my life. But for most of the last decade, it all blends together. I imagine it’s like what most 30-somethings experience: a blurred remembrance, the highest of the highs leave no room for anything else and you find yourself softly packing it all together into something like a time capsule, something not for you but for future strangers. You compartmentalize the decade, as the media has done for all the decades before… but yours is not easily pronounced, not agreeably defined: the aughts? The 00’s?

Today, as I write this now, today is my 30th birthday. And I welcome the self-reflection and nostalgia that I’ve encountered as a result of reaching this milestone. I’m not as wild and rambunctious as I used to be. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with changing, though I can’t help but feel old.

“To me,” says Ian Vanek of Japanther, “Being 30 years old is really young for an artist. Maybe it’s old for a rock n roller or old for our Internet social media life that we have going on now, but for me it’s a very young time for an artist.”

And I think Ian is right. It’s all about perspective.

What is the current state of DIY? Is it now worse or less important than it was in 2008 or 2006 or 2002? Has another era of Brooklyn DIY come and gone and with it, my twenties?

“Nightlife in America is still as interesting,” says Ian. “There’s a lot of speakeasy restaurants and speakeasy bars going on in NYC all the time. It’s the responsibility of the viewer to find these places and enjoy them. I think you have to stay dancing, ya know? Stay on your toes.”

Yes indeed, Ian. I still love going to see Japanther; I’l be at your next gig, like I was at the one before that and the one before that. May your next show be someplace I’ve never been before, someplace in a strange neighborhood, far from the subway, on the third floor of a rotten warehouse where a new community of artists and musicians are beginning a new wave of shows and parties… may your next show be part of the most glorious house party of a new decade, a new decade for all of us.

I can only hope the great Robert Earl Keen was right when he sang, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” In Brooklyn, and beyond.

 

APSmithNYC@gmail.com

A.P. Smith is the author of a collection of essays and interviews titled Welcome to the Land of Cannibalistic Horses.  His writing has been published in The Village Voice, Vice, and Colors Magazine.  He has a BFA in Writing from Pratt Institute and a MS in Publishing from New York University.  He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  http://apsmith.net/

Kids in the ‘Hood: Things to do and places to go for families with babies

Williamsburg and Greenpoint’s populations are getting younger—even the skinny 20-somethings look weathered compared to the growing population of 2- and 3-year-olds. So it’s no surprise that the neighborhood has begun to accommodate the diaper-clad and their families.

If you’re new to the area or new to the life-with-little-ones, or just desperately need some family-friendly activities, support or a used Ergo Carrier, here are some of your best, and newest, local resources.

FAMILY FOOD

Farm to Baby makes baby food from organic ingredients sourced from local farms, and delivers them to your Brooklyn door. You can choose how much or little but they decide what to make based on what’s in season—Kobocha squash last month, for example. Check out their blog to sign up or learn about the week’s veggies and fruits. http://farmtobabynyc.com

Isa, the “unpredictable, singularly interesting new Williamsburg restaurant” according to New York Magazine just launched Craftbrunch where parents can brunch on creative tapas-like dishes (menu changes daily) from 11am-3:30pm while their kids do crafts in the loft upstairs. http://isa.gg/isa/

Owned by husband and wife team Jeff Lutonsky and Meghan Love who recently had a baby of their own, Mable’s Smokehouse and Banquet Hall is gritty enough for the restless ones to get rowdy. Plus mac and cheese is legitimately on the menu, along with Texas-style brisket and incredible pork ribs. Oh and there’s often a band for kids on Sundays afternoons—call ahead to find out if it’s happening. http://www.mablessmokehouse.com

A new addition to Smorgasburg (which launched its second season on April 7 and occurs every Saturday on Kent and N 7th) is That Tot Spot starring, yes, tater tots. Though tailored to meet adult needs with a choice of spice and sauce (think bacon tots with bourbon spiked ketchup) there’s plenty for young palates too (salt & peppered tots with regular ketchup, for example.) http://thattotspot.com/

By supplying each table with donuts and crayons, Egg makes it possible to actually eat during brunch with your little ones. And the farm to table menu is excellent—especially the Eggs Rothko with Amy’s brioche and Grafton cheddar. http://www.pigandegg.com/

PLACES TO PLAY

The biggest and best outdoor playgrounds are McCarren Park (the playground is on the other side of Lorimer and the pool opens this summer) and Grand Street Playground, adjacent to PS 81 on Berry and Grand. There are also several excellent indoor spaces where, for a fee, your kids can play and/or take classes.

Not only does Play’s modern toys and hip vibe make it a welcome meeting spot for parents too, but it’s also an early education center – with classes, managed by Rug Bug educational programming, in art, dance and tumbling for toddlers and more advanced subjects, like earth sciences, for older kids. The original space (named best playspace 2011 by New York Magazine) was conceived by uber-cool local parents Wade Groom and Katja Douedari (who are now focusing on their popular line of kids clothes Phoenix & Nola). http://playspacenyc.com/

The 2,800 square-ft. colorful padded Gym Park—mats, bars, trampolines, etc-hosts phys-ed classes (all levels of gymnastics, cheerleading and mommy and me infant/toddler groups) as well as mini camps for those weeks when school is out. http://www.thegympark.com

With 80s music playing over the squeals of delight, Klub4Kidz’ four-tier indoor playground, including a zip line, crawl tubes, mazes, and slides, as well as an 18 ft rock-climbing wall, can be a bit cacophonous but it’s a fantastic place for kids to run themselves ragged. There’s also a mini café and rooms for music classes and Wii-and-pizza birthday parties. http://www.klub4kidz.com/

Six years ago former gymnast and Williamsburg mom Wei Jiang opened Ms J’s Gymnastic and Dance, a nothing-fancy, low-key kids gym which is immensely popular for their movement classes and day camps, “Pick Up and Play” for after school, “Kids Night Out” for Saturday night and birthday parties. http://www.msjsgym.com/

The newest local clubhouse Frolic is rock and roll themed with a real VW bus (carpeted walls and groovy lights inside) and a mini-stage. An annual fee is the only option but if you plan to be a frequent visitor, the price is on par with the pay-per-visits. Don’t miss their Little Rock-Its class where three cute young musicians (on drums, keyboard and guitar) turn toddlers into mini rock stars. http://www.frolicplayspace.com/

Audra Rox has been teaching Music for Aardvarks (created by the musician David Weinstone) for years at venues including Mini Jake, Play and Frolic. With a guitar and plenty of musical props the interactive classes include songs like “Taxi” (now an animated video on Nick Jr TV) and the punky “Playdate”. www.audrarox.com/

New York artist Samara Kupferberg opened the small studio Painted Cloud for kids to experiment with high quality materials. Classes include portraiture where kids look at Cindy Sherman and Salvador Dali for inspiration. There’s also a three year old playgroup and after school trips to museums. http://thepaintedcloud.blogspot.com/

Williamsburg’s Danilo Krvavac, who qualified for the 2000 Serbian Olympic swim team, decided to open Aquabeba when he had a baby. Given at local condo pools in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the small classes for infants and toddlers teach swimming without devices as well as water safety. http://www.aquabeba.com

PARENTS CONNECT

La Leche League, which helps new moms with all aspects of breastfeeding, has a new regular Friday morning meeting in the neighborhood—at Caribou Baby. Sign up and arrive early—it’s a tremendously popular and often over-attended event. http://www.lalecheleague.org/

Brooklyn Baby Hui (Hui=group or meeting and is pronounced Hoo-Ee) is an email listserv for local parents to ask advice, share information and sell/donate stuff they don’t need anymore. Unlike the often-acerbic Urban Baby, the posts are good-hearted and practical. For example, recent posts include “ISO Stokke Changing Table” and “Checking car seat with luggage at the airport.”

You may have seen those Mighty Mamas in McCarren Park, doing squats using their Bugaboo as support. The program was started by local mom/dancer Lakey Evans-Pena, a dancer and fitness instructor (who also owns The Williamsburg Movement and Art Center, WMAAC, beloved for its dance-based classes, http://www.wmaac.com/) as strength and conditioning workout incorporating yoga and pilates to shed post-pregnancy pounds. Classes are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from April through November (or organize a group/private session.) http://wburgmightymamas.com/

On alternate days, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, there’s now a local chapter of the nationwide program Baby Boot Camp run by Jody King Camarra, held at Caribou Baby and the Betz Method in Greenpoint. It features the 60-minute Strollfit class combining strength training and cardio for new (6 weeks postpartum) and not-so-new moms with stroller aged children. http://www.camarrafitness.com

IN STORES

Caribou Baby was opened in March 2011 by local mom Adriane Stare and sells a handpicked selection of eco-friendly clothing and accessories, homeopathic remedies and classes ranging from prenatal care to painting for toddlers. They specialize in the best methods of “wearing” your baby- i.e. wraps, slings, pouches etc. Perhaps most importantly, Stare has made this store a supportive and educational center for parents by holding relevant and supportive workshops and events in her store’s lovely sitting/play space and spacious back room—including a postpartum support group meeting and a baby massage workshop.   http://www.cariboubaby.com/

Mini Jake is where you’ll find that gorgeous, architecturally genius high chair (that looks like it could be from Design Within Reach), and other modern, stylish, well-made toys and accessories for babies and kids. You can shop online but the lofty store holds most of their products plus a small activity area for kids. https://www.minijake.com/

Although slightly overpriced, the mini chain Area Kids (http://www.areakids.com/ )is a great place to go for gifts for kids up to 8 years old. Plenty of Melissa and Doug toys, NPR-logo-ed T-shirts, Appacha hats, mini scooters and loads of arts supplies and games.

For higher end wardrobe additions, check out nearby indies Smoochie Baby (http://www.smoochiebabynyc.com/) and Sweet William (http://www.sweetwilliamltd.com/). Both sell adorable clothes and shoes and you can actually measure your child’s foot size at Smoochie—a surprisingly difficult thing to find. And you’ll find more unique Brooklyn-grown gifts for kids—bandana bibs, handmade tooth fairy pillows, cute animal lunch sacks— at Honey and Hazel Kids, Honey and Hazel’s new little sister store around the corner. http://honeyandhazel.com/

Given the small window of usability for kids’ clothes, Flying Squirrel is a genius store–second-hand clothes for newborns and up, plus carriers, toys, games, books, strollers. It’s a small space but the inventory is carefully selected and well organized. The owners also host the annual Witches Walk, a sweet Halloween parade of kids in costume. http://flyingsquirrelbaby.com/store/

Finally, yet another reason to avoid the area’s new chain drug stores, Kings Pharmacy has an excellent selection of diapers, bottles, cups, plates, soaps and toys for babies and kids. And for those who choose not to go the disposable diaper route, there’s Diaper Kind—founded three years ago by two moms, the super eco-friendly service allows you to use cloth diapers without dealing with the annoyance of home laundering. Best part? They deliver to this neighborhood. http://www.diaperkind.com/.

SHOWTIME

The Knitting Factory makes the most of their mornings by using both the gig and bar spaces for kid-friendly, alcohol-free shows. Ari Brand and friends do singalongs on Fridays and some of the city’s best kiddie bands like Gustafer Yellowgold and The Deedle Deedle Dees play prenap weekend gigs. Check their schedule online. http://bk.knittingfactory.com/

This year, writer/actor Sara Todes started a smart hipster puppet show called Puppetsburg with music, balloons, bubbles and a rotating crew of funky puppets, many of whom have tattoos. They perform at Greenpoint Reform Church and PLAY (and will do private shows for parties or small groups). See their facebook page for more info.

Parents & Babies Movies organizes odd-hour screenings of first-run movies for moms and their babies (crying is allowed) at Nitehawk Cinema. Sign up at http://tinurl.com/parentsbabies to find out the schedule.

Town Square presents free kids concerts this summer in local parks as well as the annual Summerstarz program of family music and movies in East River State Park (N 8th and Kent) on Thursday evenings in July and August. http://www.townsquareinc.com

For more events, check out Mommy Poppins (mommypoppins.com), Time Out Kids (http://timeoutnewyorkkids.com/), A Child Grows in Brooklyn (http://www.achildgrows.com/).

 

 

Toughen Up at Green Fitness

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Photo by Ashley Corbin-Teich

By A.P. Smith

Green Fitness Studio
232 Varet Street (Bushwick)
www.greenfitnessstudio.com

Not unlike an awkward teenager turned self-assured and confident, Bushwick seems to have recently come into its own. The last few years have been very kind to this eclectic, multi-ethnic neighborhood, as more and more business ventures blossom. The developments on and around Morgan Avenue, first 3rd Ward and continuing with institutions like Roberta’s, Pine Box Rock Shop, and Brooklyn Fire Proof, have only proven that the five-block radius around the Morgan subway stop is a fertile ground for creativity and innovation in the realm of food, drink, music and… health?

In December 2009, Green Fitness Studio opened its doors on the short, two-block stretch of Varet Street. Amidst neighbors like Café Orwell and Post Bike Shop, Green Fitness makes its unique contribution to the neighborhood through mind and body fitness combined with environmental sustainability.

Barry Borgan has owned the building at 232 Varet Street for nearly ten years, operating a ground floor metal manufacturing business specializing in window guards called Avant Guard. The second floor of the building had been available, and with planned renovations, including ceiling reinforcements to allow a rooftop patio, the space was suited for just about any kind of business.

“We were excited about the transformations in the neighborhood,” says Rachel Borgan, the eldest of Barry Borgan’s four children. “It was something we wanted to participate in.”

And so the Borgans considered business plans from a number of interested parties. One proposed venture was a yoga studio. And though it did not ultimately work out, it got Rachel Borgan thinking.

“Looking around the neighborhood,” says Rachel, “we didn’t find anything else in the community—a green-conscious and eco-friendly service the community could rally around.  Someplace you could exercise your mind and body, a space promoting awareness of the connections between mind, body, and environment.”

Those ideas very quickly grew to become Green Fitness Studio: a full-service facility with state-of-the-art exercise machines, on-staff personal trainers, nutritionists, spa and massage treatments, juice bar, boxing ring, dance studio, sauna, and over 200 classes each month, including pilates, kickboxing, yoga, and mixed martial arts.

Green Fitness implemented environmentally conscious design into just about everything: recycled rubber flooring, self-powered cordless exercise machines, refurbished equipment, duel flush toilets, an outdoor rooftop area with sod, and even an atrium for yoga with Heat Mirror glass to naturally heat the room through a greenhouse effect. Of course there’s free wi-fi, but what I enjoyed was the 13-inch touch screen monitors at each treadmill connected to a complimentary Netflix account.

Sebastian Almada is the day-to-day manager at the studio. “We like people to notice that we are making an effort,” says Almada. “This is an artistic community where people often practice alternative lifestyles and like to try new things. Here we show that we can do things differently.”

Green Fitness Studio caters to many groups in the Bushwick area, not just the open-bar enthusiasts. The fitness studio is open after 10pm exclusively for men.

Trip the Music Eclectic at The Firehouse Space

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By Laura Brown

On a casual evening stroll it’s unlikely you’d simply chance upon The Firehouse Space on Frost Street, but if you did, you’d surely be intrigued enough to enter. The Firehouse Space is compelling not just because it’s a beautifully renovated former firehouse from bygone days but most primarily because of the dynamic performances you’ll find there. It’s a place to experience the innovative and the inspirational.

Brainchild of composer pianist Sandra Sprecher, the artistic director, The Firehouse Space is heading into its second year, and now hosts several weekly, curated events, from the Thursday night Bark and Scream Series to Friday night’s AV Wave. From song to dance to spoken word to cinematic electronic synthesis; from straight-on classical music to improvisational jazz, something remarkable happens every night at The Firehouse Space.

It’s difficult to put a label on the diversity of music, installation, experimentation and interdisciplinary entertainment you’ll find here. Grand and intimate, novel and traditional, contemporary and classical, primitive and sophisticated: if there exists another spot with such an incredible range of unconventional performance in such a friendly intimate setting, I do not know of it.

Friendly, down-to-earth, and insanely busy, as she’s in charge of every aspect of the place, Sandra Sprecher says, “I am trying to make a serious listening/viewing place that gives a variety of people the chance to be heard. My goal is to provide these artists with the best audience possible, given the often challenging nature of the projects.”

In terms of cultural variety, Roulette in Boerum Hill or Barbés in Park Slope might be comparable to The Firehouse Space. But they’re larger, they’re more established, and they have bars. At the Firehouse Space, there is no bar, though you can purchase beer or wine for $3. It seats about 70 people. The acoustics are great, the cost is $10, and the atmosphere is as informal as a musical salon, it’s that cozy. This doesn’t mean the acts and the musicianship are not masterful. A glance at the website reveals a schedule abounding with multi-disciplinary talent and technique.

On a Sunday night in May, we went to hear the trio of Marilyn Lerner (piano), Ken Filiano (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums), and what unfolded was an amazing soundscape of pure improvisation. These are three incredibly skilled musicians who know each other well enough to interweave their instrumental sound into what they call “spontaneous composition,” the shifts arising from the silences as they intuit each others’ intentions, and take the music in startling directions, each responding to and following the other. For the audience, the effect was riveting.

To quote Heraclitus, “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult.”

Luckily, it’s not in the least bit difficult to check out The Firehouse Space. It’s close to the Graham Avenue L line stop. Although one might not chance upon it on an evening stroll, once discovered, it will quickly become a destination. Best to visit now, while The Firehouse Space is still off the beaten track, and you can still find a seat.

If you want to host a reception, a photo shoot, CD release party, product launch or conference, you can do that, too. With 4,000 square feet and 14-foot ceilings, the space includes a large kitchen with double professional Thermador Oven, and an outside deck with a hot tub and fireplace. The performance area itself contains two grand pianos, keyboard, drum set and lots of audio-visual and electronic equipment.

“We’ve just begun to explore creating site specific events that make use of the whole building both upstairs and down,” says Sprecher. “Ultimately I hope to offer a variety of classes and other activities that can involve the immediate community.” Towards that end, there’s now a jazz vocal class and Butch Morris doing a 2-day workshop in June.

Alas, The Firehouse Space will take a summer hiatus this year after June 17. But with a backlog of potential acts, the music returns with vengeance mid-September. Check out the web site for upcoming performances, prepare to open your mind and expect the unexpected.