Date(s) - 15/11/2016
The Gate Cinema
Brooklyn-based DIY venue Death By Audio opened its doors 2007, and quickly became the go-to place for underground music and art in New York. Seven years later, one of their former champions forced them to close. Featuring some electrifying performances by, amongst others, Deerhoof and Lightning Bolt, this emotional, vibrant film from one of the founders of Death By Audio looks at the origins and history of the venue, focusing on the cataclysmic final month of its existence, and the jam-packed shows which celebrated its legacy.
Requiem for a scene: Death by Audio says final goodbye in new movie, by Melissa Locker (the Guardian).
The Brooklyn spot, crucible for a host of bands, was a victim of gentrification. A new film remembers the good times – and looks back with a hint of anger.
“Every great city has a space like Death By Audio. If yours doesn’t, you should start one.”
Those words are the last thing to appear on the screen at the end of a new film called Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio, which documents the rise and fall of the Williamsburg, New York, venue from a Domino Sugar Factory reception area to one of the neighborhood’s last great DIY performance spaces.
“I always thought it would be interesting to make a movie about Death by Audio, but I thought it would be fictional,” explained Matt Conboy, the film’s director and one of the cofounders of the venue. That all changed in the summer of 2014 when Conboy and his partners, the sound guy and booker Edan Wilber and A Place to Bury Strangers’ leading man Oliver Ackermann, learned that they would have to leave the space they had built on nothing but a few spare dollars and a lot of sweat equity to make way for office space for Vice Media. “The story was just presenting itself to us,” Conboy said. “My producer, Amanda Schultz, just said, ‘You need to tell this.’”
During the club’s final days, Conboy would pull people out of the shows and stick a camera in their faces to get their take on club’s demise and recount favorite memories. The film he ended up making was woven together from these interviews, performances from some of the bands, and archival footage shot by friends.
“The end of Death by Audio was a flood of every emotion I’ve ever felt in my life,” says Conboy, who found himself grappling with the complex emotions while managing a film crew, handling the club’s final business, and helping to oversee a packed schedule of farewell shows that stretched out over weeks. “I was all over the map and super busy, but I tried every night to take a moment and appreciate how amazing it was.” That awe-filled appreciation is plainly evident in the film, which lovingly captures every moment of the club’s end until the last Penske truck is loaded up and moved out and every last hug doled out.
“Conboy captures Death by Audio’s essence – and DIY culture as an idea – into something equivalent to a proper eulogy, of a place, a space, and a time,” the Austin Chronicle wrote about the film. Death by Audio was a place worth eulogising. From 2007 to 2014, it was the place to see bands on the rise. “Every night is the best night ever,” says Hill in the film, and at Death by Audio, it really could feel like that, with bands such as Deerhoof, Future Islands, Dan Deacon, Jeff the Brotherhood, and Dirty Projectors playing acoustic sets, and of course, A Place to Bury Strangers dropping in.
“It was a neat space,” said Todd Patrick, who has been booking shows at DIY clubs across New York City since he arrived in the city in 2001 and booked some of the first shows at Death by Audio. “At first it felt like you were in this 1950s, 1960s office space, which gave it a weird energy. Later, the DIY vibes took over.”
The club was part art project, part living space, and part manufacturing facility for the Death by Audio guitar pedals that gave the venue its name, but it was best known as a live music venue for those looking for the vibrant, sweltering heart of Williamsburg’s post-9/11 music scene. “Death By Audio made a way for that music to really settle into its historical place,” Patrick said. “Now I see Kid Millions collaborating with Laurie Anderson. Maybe if DBA hadn’t been there to hold the torch, they wouldn’t have gotten the appreciation they were due.”
In one scene in the film, A Place to Bury Strangers is playing a cover of Dead Moon’s Don’t Look Back, the title of which serves as a fitting reminder that not all trips down memory lane are lighthearted entertainment. While Conboy is the director of Goodbye Brooklyn, he was also a front-row witness to the end of his own DIY dream. “It was hard for me to watch some of the footage in the film,” Conboy says. “It was hard to relive some of the most stressful and tense moments, even though I knew they needed to be in there.”
Rewatching the mural that was painted on the club’s back wall being painted over made his blood boil all over again, but the moment Conboy found most challenging to watch had little do with the actual shuttering of the space. For him, it was reliving the impact of a flood that caused extensive damage to the venue during construction work.
Goodnight Brooklyn manages to tell two stories at once. First, there’s the triumphant tale of Conboy and his friends creating something out of nothing and finding both national attention and a local community. “We didn’t belong in New York City,” the Future Islands frontman, Samuel T Herring, says in the film, “but we immediately felt like: ‘These people are like us!’” Patrick agrees: “Death by Audio really became a spiritual home to the community.”
Because Death by Audio was a ‘spiritual home’ for so many, the film’s second story plays like a melodrama, complete with a villain – Vice. But in what is perhaps the ultimate signal of the death of Williamsburg cool, in the film, artist Nick Kuszyk notes that in a different era, the “Fuck you, Vice” scrawled on the wall of the doomed space would have ended up on the cover of the magazine.
Williamsburg’s DIY scene was especially hard hit when three of its quasi-legal spaces shuttered within a few years. “285 Kent was one of the first venues on the Williamsburg waterfront to close,” said Ric Leichtung, who has been involved in the NYC DIY scene for eight years. “It was an indicator that that kind of business could no longer be operated in Williamsburg just due to the high cost of operation and real estate. Shortly thereafter, Glasslands closed, and so did Death by Audio.”
For music fans, watching the rapid-fire closures was like seeing the Williamsburg music scene in its death throes all due to the least sexy villain – real estate prices. According to Leichtung, the next frontier of gentrification is headed straight for Ridgewood, Queens and Bushwick, Brooklyn. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years, Bushwick looks like Bedford now,” he says. “The gentrification extends to all of Brooklyn – we’re still finding out where the scene is going next.”
While Conboy does an admirable job distancing himself from his subject, in some ways the film plays out as visual take on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, with the movie itself serving as the final stage of acceptance. “Now that the film is finished and people can see it,” Conboy says, “now, I will have said goodbye.”
Director: Matthew Conboy
Producer(s): Amanda Schultz
Main Cast: Bill Pearis, Brendan Shera, Brian Chippendale
Duration: 83 minutes
Tickets: €10.00 / €8.00 Concession