By Maria Gotay
Goodnight Brooklyn is a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Death by Audio, one of New York’s greatest venues. Casting a new light on the DIY venue's spirit and success, the film remembers the things that made it's time so special. The legacy of Death By Audio lives on, and with this documentary, expands far beyond Brooklyn.
It's Saturday night, and North Brooklyn’s finest have trucked it to Gowanus for a Rooftop Films screening of the doc. But it’s misting, and we’re set up outdoors. Three-quarters of the way through the movie, rain starts coming down in buckets. We book it inside the Brooklyn Can Factory warehouse, crowding together in unseasonably cold summer rain. Almost every key character of the film is in eyesight and wear a variety of bittersweet expressions.
The first part of the film has been a poignant collection of memories from the DBA vault. Found footage and interviews narrate the space's 2006 start as a work/live space and factory for the Death By Audio boutique guitar petals. By 2007, it had grown into a legitimate venue and an oasis for expression and music and art. Along the way, the house band A Place to Bury Strangers found commercial success. The team behind the boom - Oliver Ackermann, Matt Conboy, and Edan Wilber - were doing what they loved and building a community while doing so. They seemed invincible.
So it was all the more saddening when the venue learned the Vice media empire had bought their building. Suddenly, their weird DIY fortress was crumbling, and they had months left before being swallowed whole. Death By Audio headed into its final days resilient, with an incredible lineup of shows, packed with a dedicated community of fans. Underground heroes like Ty Segall, Deerhoof, and Future Islands gave heartbreaking final performances. Fans lined up for hours in the November chill to say goodbye.
At this point in the screening, the rain starts falling in sheets, and the movie's put on pause. Chatting with those around me, we joke, “But how does it end?!” The unspoken part being we all knew how it ended. Death By Audio closed its doors on November 22, 2014 and left a big, funny-shaped hole in the scene. We sip beers and reminisce about the good old days.
Eventually, the drizzle slows and the film returns. It's been over an hour of waiting and almost no one's left. The film resumes anyways. A dramatic montage spans the last four days of Death By Audio, full of slow-motion crowd surfs, roars of reverb and lots of sniffles. The club owners give tearful goodbyes to a venue they loved, and a community whose heart will (hopefully) go on, at some other venue. The crowd cheers, and the air is thick with condensation and inspiration.
During the Q&A the owners of DBA say that everything was worth it if they've inspired someone in the world to create a DIY space of their own. And while it's easier to start up something new in cities with cheaper rents and more space to spread, DBA proved that there is no community more motivated and passionate than New York.
While the old model of DIY rarely went hand-in-hand with the law, a few new venues are paving the way for the community to thrive sustainably. Venues like Alphaville and Sunnyvale dress up the DIY spirit in repurposed wood and legal abidance and sound good all the while. DBA contemporary and former neighbor Glasslands Gallery’s owners recently announced their new Bushwick venue, Elsewhere will be a by-the-books space. Yes, some of the thrill is gone now that they’re complying to things like building codes and noise ordinances, but it means their stage, and their futures as business owners, won’t be pulled out from beneath them. Nonetheless, some of the dignity is wringed out of the community as it compresses its ethos to fit into legal-sized boxes.
I look around the rooftop at the crowd dripping with rain, and beyond to the Gowanus warehouses sitting empty. North Brooklyn is no longer the punk rock playground it once was, but all the way out here...who knows? The romantic in me can't help but believe Brooklyn's next great DIY venue is just around the bend.
Maria Gotay is a writer and designer who lives for music. Though she's a Spotify Discover Weekly convert, her favorite way to discover new music is hitting festivals on foot. When she's not in Brooklyn, she's traveling the world with her headphones handy, blogging all the while.