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Brooklyn has long been known for its legendary DIY music venues, establishing a creative community of artists and musicians who produce experimental, off-the-radar shows in spaces where they often live and work. In a quintessentially Brooklyn fashion, DIY venues prioritize community over financial gain, offering unique character that you won’t find on the big stages in Manhattan. From warehouses and lofts to basements and backyards, here are some of Brooklyn’s most legendary DIY music venues.
Arguably the most legendary DIY music venue in Brooklyn, Death By Audio, was a huge part of the indie music scene for years. Located on the first floor of a warehouse in Williamsburg, the space initially served as an instrument effects pedal company that made effects pedals for legendary bands such as Wilco and U2, but was subsequently transformed into a recording studio and art/music venue by Matt Conboy in 2007. After this influential venue closed in 2014, its final weeks were captured in the documentary Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio.
Founded in 2009 by Brooklyn punk band So So Glos and producer Adam Reich, Shea Stadium is a staple in the DIY music scene, bringing hundreds of independent bands and artists from around the world to East Williamsburg. Showing true appreciation for live music, all performances at this well-known venue are recorded and available for streaming on the space’s website as part of an effort to bring free live music to those who value ‘organic representations of a band performing in their natural live state, in front of an audience, with the absence of studio magic.’ The Live @ Shea Stadium series has accrued an archive of over 1000 recordings.
Williamsburg waterfront warehouse 285 Kent closed in 2014, but was easily one of the most influential Brooklyn DIY venues in the 12 years that it was open. Founded by Todd Patrick (now regarded as the godfather of DIY) and managed by Ric Leichtung and Ad Hoc, the space hosted a slew of musical acts, ranging from hip-hop and electronic to rap and R&B, drawing in some of Brooklyn’s best local and touring artists. The club became a wild scene of revelry and debauchery, throwing all-ages parties into the early morning hours, and often attracting unwanted attention from police. Referred to as the ‘indestructible room’, 285 Kent offered a sense of freedom to many, and its off-the-books, DIY style made it a beacon of underground culture.
From 2006 to 2014, Glasslands operated as a music venue and art gallery, labeling itself as a ‘homegrown community art space turned psychedelic partyhaus.’ In its early days, the venue hosted several well-known bands, including Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Passion Pit, Bon Iver, and MGMT before they became big names. Lana Del Rey also performed there secretly under the name Queen of Coney Island. Many of the musical performances often incorporated visual installations, creating experiential art intended to offer the audience more than just a black box on a stage.
After vacating the basement of the old Monster Island in Williamsburg and a move to Bushwich, Secret Project Robot is temporarily closed once again. As their website states, the new venue, still in Bushwick, is set to open in March of 2017, and that all programming has been shifted to bars Happyfun Hideaway and Flowers For All Occasions in the mean time. Eccentric art and experimental music characterize this DIY haven, which defines itself as an ‘art-party’, inviting guests to interact with contemporary art and performers.
In addition to providing working studios to a handful of businesses including a barbershop, synthesizer factory, and recording studio, Silent Barn also functions as an artist residency program in which artists live and create work. The ‘barn’ is covered in murals, and hosts visual, installation, and sound art throughout the building. Silent Barn has become a well-known venue for DIY music, hosting many big names from the underground scene.
Shows at this low-key Bushwick warehouse are curated through Facebook and word of mouth only, giving the venue a true DIY character. 538 Johnson has become a well-known home for the punk and noise rock scenes, and was one of the locations that hosted the annual punk festival New York’s Alright. The venue has been known to throw notoriously rowdy parties.
Another one of Todd Patrick’s early creations, Monster Island put on many indie and punk rock shows from 2004 through 2011 in this former spice factory in Williamsburg. It was made up of two nonprofit performance spaces, a screen-printing shop, surf shop, recording studio, and artist studios. The colorful, no-frills venue had become a well-known institution of the neighborhood, which had brought together an interconnected community of artists all of whom collaborated on projects together.