This article appeared Friday in the New York Times. Despite my issues with the subject matter, which are laid out below in the form ofÂ endnotes, it is astonishingly poor journalism and writing. This made it through the editor gauntlet at the NYT?? Incredulous.
OFF THE BEATEN BEAT
by Mylena Ryzik
Â ON Monday night inside the GlassLands Gallery, a converted warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 100 or so people (1), alerted by MySpace pages and music blogs, gathered for a concert by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. For an hour, the singer Karen O yelped and shrieked and pranced around a makeshift stage in a paint-splattered gold bodysuit, often wading into the audience a few feet away. At the end of the night the band took requests; to close the set, as her band mates played on, Ms. O paraded most of the crowd toward an alley behind the building, a musical moment as intimate as a reigning rock star can have (2). â€œWe hardly play small venues anymore, but this one is definitely special and personal,â€ Ms. O said afterward. â€œMy favorite kind of party to be at or show to see is a house show. This is as close as you get.â€ (3) Amid the teeter-totter energy that currently defines New Yorkâ€™s music scene â€” where the lamented demise of one club is offset by the splashier opening of another â€” many artists can be found outside that playground entirely, performing at off-the-beaten-path locales like warehouses, rooftops, apartments or inside a Brooklyn oil silo (4).
Music fans with limited funds and a taste for adventure (5) look forward to the summer concert season, which is about to turn the cityâ€™s parks and other public spaces into musical free-for-alls. But there are already many places to see bands for little money, without sellout crowds, ticket surcharges or security pat-downs. (Yes, Virginia, thereâ€™s even cheap beer.)
And the lineups are diverse. Experimental music did not die with the closing of Tonic (6), nor did grungy rock (7) with the fall of CBGB. With a little planning and an active MetroCard you might catch the next Arcade Fire performing in a parking lot (8).
â€œAnything is a venue,â€ said the promoter Todd Patrick, known professionally as Todd P. For six years he has made it his mission to program music in far-flung places, from divey bars in Greenpoint (9) to Lutheran churches to private lofts. Now New Yorkâ€™s alt-location guru, he has recently expanded to work with bands on the verge of stardom (Animal Collective, which he booked in 2005) and even nationally known acts (Oneida, Trans Am) at large clubs like Studio B in Brooklyn, winning the attention of the music industry (10).
But Mr. Patrickâ€™s hallmark remains the cheap, on-the-fly, do-it-yourself concert, promoted through his Web site (toddpnyc.com), his e-mail list (13,000 strong) and MySpace, blog and newspaper and magazine listings. Essentially a one-man band, Mr. Patrick, 31, has interns who work the door (ticket prices rarely go above $10) and stamp hands (he only does all-ages shows) while he helps set up (11).
â€œBecause the idea is about D.I.Y., I like to show the strings,â€ he said. â€œI want people to come to the show and see me build the P.A. system, (12) see that thereâ€™s nothing glossy about what weâ€™re doing. I think alternative venues are a great way of doing that. It just kind of throws it off. If a club is the quote-unquote appropriate place to see music, why do people have so much more fun in a warehouse?â€
Last weekend was typical: On Saturday night he booked shows at two unexpected spaces, an Ecuadorian restaurant across from a low-income housing project in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and a loft apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. (13) Both drew several hundred people to outer-borough neighborhoods not typically known as destinations.
The restaurant, Don Pedro, had a full menu of ceviche, $3 bottles of Negra Modelo and a small stage in a brick-walled back room where Cass McCombs (14), a singer with a Lou Reed croon (15), performed to a packed house. William Alberque, 36, a Defense Department analyst visiting from Washington and a longtime fan of Mr. McCombsâ€™s (16), said he preferred seeing him anywhere but a rock club. â€œThe D.I.Y. spirit is wonderful,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s just you and the band, five feet away. You buy into whatâ€™s happening so much more. It gives you musical butterflies.â€ (17)
At the loft there was even less distance (and more butterflies). The headliner, Dan Deacon (18), a sensitive electro-party rocker from Baltimore, performed on a patch of carpet in the middle of the room. No stage or bouncer separated him from his audience, which swarmed around, fists pumping, creating a heaving, dancing, steaming mosh pit. (19) Even the walls vibrated.
In shorts, a sweat-soaked Mickey Mouse T-shirt and his trademark oversize red spectacles (think of Sally Jessy Raphael), (20) Mr. Deacon leaned over his keyboard and mike, persevering despite sound problems. His 20-something fans had started singing along even before he passed out lyric sheets. (21) Crowd-surfers easily reached the ceiling, and a camera crew from Vice magazine recorded the whole thing for hipster posterity. (22)
Skip to next paragraph Mr. Deacon, 25, credits Mr. Patrick with helping propel his career from unknown novelty act (23) a year and a half ago to headliner today. (He plays the Mercury Lounge tomorrow.) â€œHe helps out-of-town bands break and get known in New York more than anyone else I know,â€ (24) Mr. Deacon said in a bedroom after the loft show. Nearby, interns counted the door money; Mr. Patrick takes 10 percent before expenses (security, interns) and the rest goes to performers. (Mr. Deacon noted that he made more money at Mr. Patrickâ€™s shows than at regular club gigs.)
Along with low overhead other common traits of this scene include out-of-the way locations (a long walk from the subway is common), online promotion, candles instead of spotlights and a high tolerance for graffiti: GlassLands, where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed as part of a video shoot, has two rooms where anyone can scribble on the walls, markers and paint provided. (25) Many places lack proper licensing; Mr. Patrick switches locations often to avoid the authorities. (Don Pedro is a legal establishment with a liquor license; the loft space was not.) (26)
Of course not every alternative site is scruffy or hard to reach (27) â€” or illegal. The Apple Store in SoHo has free performances by bands like Blonde Redhead and the Bravery several times a month (28), often before their sold-out sets at major halls. At Monkey Town, (29) a performance space and restaurant in Williamsburg, a back room lined with stylish, low-slung white sofas and walls outfitted with video screens offers a high-design setting for lo-fi acts. (30)
The cityâ€™s nonmusical cultural institutions also frequently book scene makers: Cat Power performed at the Museum of Modern Art this year, and later this month the American Museum of Natural History morphs into a disco with a D.J. party given by the event guide Flavorpill (rocking out beneath the blue whale garners at least as many cool points as trekking to an outer borough). (31)
But adventure â€” or a sense of discovery â€” is important. (32)
Perhaps the biggest wow factor lately comes from seeing a show at a former oil silo on a stretch of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Occupied for the last two years by Issue Project Room, an experimental arts organization, the silo is hidden behind an imposing metal gate with a small sign just off the Carroll Street bridge. Between the lapping (if occasionally stinky) water, the courtyard filled with poplar trees and the warm glow emanating from the two-story performance space â€” the top floor is reached by an exterior metal ladder â€” itâ€™s as far from mainstream clubland as you can get.
Rebecca Moore, a singer and violinist active in the protests over the closing of the Lower East Side club Tonic, performed at the silo last week. â€œI am very grateful for Issue Project Room,â€ she said from the stage: a rug at the front of the room. â€œWe couldnâ€™t get away with playing staplers at many other places.â€ (33)
And thatâ€™s exactly the point, said Suzanne Fiol, the founder of Issue Project Room. â€œWe are trying to be a breeding ground for experimental work, and we need spaces like this to nurture it,â€ she said. (34)
(Issue Project Room will leave the silo in July, but another group, MeanRed Productions, will move in. An outdoor concert series is planned; Nicodemus, a D.J. and founder of the traveling party Turntables on the Hudson, is already booked for Turntables on the Gowanus.)
And the alt-location audience is eager to trade accessibility for authenticity.
â€œIt feels good to give money to something thatâ€™s not so commercial,â€ said Laurel Frazier, 42, a corporate travel agent who came to see Ms. Moore. â€œIt seems more supportive of the artists and their freedom to do what they want to do.â€ (35)
For Mr. Patrick, who said he considers his bookings a form of being a curator, that independent spirit matters. â€œIt actually does totally come up from the grass roots,â€ he said. â€œThere is not someone in a boardroom sitting around deciding what the new bands coming out of Bushwick are going to sound like. (36) I really love going to shows, and I really think it should be a more purely appreciative-of-the-art experience than it often is.â€
And, he added, â€œalmost inevitably thereâ€™s a party afterward.â€ (37)
Ms. O, for one, appreciates Mr. Patrickâ€™s events, like a Deerhunter loft show she attended the night after seeing the band perform at Mercury Lounge. â€œThe energy, the vitality of it, was on a different level,â€ she said. (38)
Though heâ€™s no longer working with Studio B, Mr. Patrick is being courted by several other places, including actual clubs in â€” gasp! â€” Manhattan, and he said he hopes to open his own legal space. (A previous attempt at an underground spot was halted by the authorities in 2005.) In the meantime he is working on a long-held dream to book a show in the upstairs dining room of a 24-hour Midtown or Wall Street deli. Because, well, why not?
1.Â Â Â Â Oooohâ€¦..INTIMATE!!!! Alert: Here comes the obligatory â€œweâ€™re getting back to the small venues/real fans despite our superstar statusâ€!!!
2.Â Â Â Â Is the future editor of an oral history reading? Where they there!! Sure hope so!!! History is being made!!!
3.Â Â Â Â No, a house show is as close as you can get.
4.Â Â Â Â Chaos!!
5.Â Â Â Â No, adventure is getting lost in the woods. Standing around with your fellow hipster action figures in some shithole performance space or â€œoff-kilterâ€ location while a band fidgets through music that no one will care about in a yearâ€¦.not an adventure.
6.Â Â Â Â Unfortunately.
7.Â Â Â Â â€œgrungy rockâ€ â€“ did my 74-year-old aunt write this?
8.Â Â Â Â Did I just read a grammatical error in the NYT??? Was this writer so overtaken with the idea that the Arcade Fire (who it should be noted sound like some ill-advised artsy of The Hooters and are a horribly slow-moving target that I shouldnâ€™t be wasting a sentence onâ€¦..though I will admit to opening a â€œCreative Bankruptcy: Main Offendersâ€ file on AFâ€¦theyâ€™d better watch their back!!!) might play a park or vacant lot that he canâ€™t write straight???
9.Â Â Â Â Music in a â€œdiveyâ€ bar??? What a slice!!! Pack heat!!! DANGER.
10. Â Mmmmâ€¦.tell me about these elusive â€œshow promotersâ€ that are setting the world on fireâ€¦.
11. Â Whoa, slow down. Are you saying that heâ€¦.PUTS ON SHOWS?!?!? This is too much.
12. Â Again, it appears that no one has EVER SEEN A FUCKING SHOW BEFORE. Build the P.A.? Who are you, fucking Springsteen mopping the bar after a performance? You bring your metal lunchbox, too, mister punch-the-clock-rock? D.I.Y.? Why is this being presented as a new, interesting concept? Oh, and thereâ€™s nothing â€œD.I.Yâ€ about any band mentioned in this article.
13. Â Just stop. Itâ€™s overload. The history of rock is being rewritten. A show in a loft apartment? A rock show in an ethnic restaurant? Are these destinations considered â€œadventurousâ€ because the Brooklyn hipster plague is partially replaced by, oh I dunno, people that grew up in the neighborhood or might speak Spanish?
14. Â Need I explain that people have been putting on shows in this fashion for decades? I really need to map that out?
15. Â Oh good, I now know exactly what Iâ€™m getting into. As a music writer, itâ€™s not TOTALLY against the rules to authoritatively comment on music that you obviously havenâ€™t heard, but at least make it funny or inject some meta or Situationist bullshit into it. Cass McCombs sounds nothing like Lou Reed.
16. Â Cass McCombs has been around for what, 4 years? Longtime fan? I suspect his longtime fandom of impressionable 20-year-old indie chicks far outweighs his love for McCombs.
17. Â Yep, you bought into something alright.
18. Â The latest â€œoutsiderâ€ artist that has nothing to do with true outsiders and everything in common with the herd mentality running rampant within this â€œundergroundâ€, â€œD.I.Y.â€ culture.
19. Â â€¦..of lemmings.
20. Â Thereâ€™s a misconception that this guy rocks an original â€œnerdyâ€ or â€œtouchedâ€ agenda, when, as you can see, he is indistinguishable from every third cookie-cutter 25-year-old walking up and down a Bedford Avenue.
21. Â Cute.
22. Â Hmmmâ€¦ â€œposterityâ€ is the word Iâ€™m having a problem with here.
23. Â â€œNoveltyâ€ acts require something novel.
24. Â Great, we need more bands.
25. Â Did this writer start going to shows at age 30? Is this concept really being presented as imaginative?
26. Â Not that Iâ€™m a fan, but when stacked up against the NY club kid situation of the early-90â€™s, this seems like a Wheel of Fortune party.
27. Â Oh well, thank god for that, I was getting nervous.
28. Â Both known for their D.I.Y. aesthetic.
29. Â Great name.
30. Â Ok, so now itâ€™s â€œlo-fiâ€. Is there a Rock Terms For Dummies book floating around that I havenâ€™t seen?
31. Â I have no idea what to write about that statement.
32. Â Then direct me to someone who actually writes about that.
33. Â And you shouldnâ€™t. Still waiting for that â€œwowâ€ moment. Playing staplersâ€¦thanks for exemplifying a moment when experimental = worthless.
34. Â Well, looks like you have a built-in audience that will unconsciously fall for the widespread hoodwink of improve noise.
35. Â This paragraph deserves repeated readings. The article seems to focus on 20-somethings, yet none of them would talk to this writer.
36. Â Think again, Mr. Idealist. And if that doesnâ€™t exist, it wouldnâ€™t have to, as Iâ€™m sure that these new bands are just palatable, plagiarizing, and indistinct enough to satisfy any boardroomâ€™s needs.
37. Â NO!!!! The shows in lofts w/out bouncers and people getting to stand in front of bands was almost too much, but AFTER PARTIES???? Stop!!!
38. Â You mean it was likeâ€¦.a show, which happens each night in every single city or town in this country?