People come and go. Bars, restaurants, bodegas and bagel shops close and change hands. That’s a part of living in New York. Maybe it’s the fertilizer that feeds new generations of immigrants. My friends skew more towards artists and musicians, and I can safely say that that demographic is leaving this city faster than I can remember. From the perspective of real estate owners and businesses that cater to the upwardly mobile, it’s a great thing. But what will a New York City without creative poor and working people look like?
This city changes at a glacial pace, the pendulum swinging through neighborhoods of prosperity and tearing them down into poverty, erasing their memory and building something new. A glacier moving through your bedroom might seem slow from 10,000 feet away but when it’s your home, your favorite restaurant or community center, your kid’s favorite park, the speed of development and destruction happens fast.
I lost a warehouse I called home just over two years ago. For years it served as a music venue called Death By Audio. We also had a recording studio, photo studio, workshops and bedrooms. I’m not the first creative person to lose their home in this city, but the irony was visceral and frustrating: Vice Media, a company that built its brand selling advertisers access to underground culture, counter-normative ideas, sex, drugs, music, art, and youth took over our building and forced us out. It was painful and destructive on many levels but I was able to make a movie about the experience and the utopia we lived in called Goodnight Brooklyn—The Story of Death By Audio. I’ve spent much of the past two years making this film and it’s been both rewarding and cathartic to have the chance to make something positive out of a painful time.
Optimism is essential. I can walk through the changing parts of this city and laugh at its gaudy excess, smile at its nooks of wilderness and excitement. It’s hard at times not to feel resentment or frustration at the people who have moved into “developing” neighborhoods without any sense of history or community, but I never forget that I was new here once, too. This city is too old for anybody to say they were here first. The pioneers are long dead. I still love this city; I love that it’s always changing. People crazier and younger than me show up and bring their will and passion with them.
I haven’t played in a band since my venue closed and that’s OK. Friends of mine around the world are making great music; it’s their life passion. Maybe it’s getting older, but I feel like being in a band, opening a DIY venue or art gallery, these things should be done by the people who need to do them. I feel grateful that we had the chance to do as much as we did, but I would not want to stand in the way of the next person who needs to do it.
For every underground music venue or ad-hoc art gallery that’s closed, I like to think another one has opened in a different part of town. Perhaps that’s not the case, but so long as there is a space for creative people to live in this city, they’re going to do amazing things. Unfortunately, those spaces are becoming fewer and farther between, and it’s a terrible trend. These spaces are vital to our survival—culturally, artistically, and creatively.
Whatever small part, if any, Death By Audio played in the city’s troubling transformation from abandoned warehouses to nightclubs, Apple Stores, condos, and offices is for historians to decide. But the friends that I lived with on S. 2nd street were searching for an environment of creative freedom. Any great city should value these sacred spaces, and it’s my hope that the spirit of Death by Audio will inspire them to keep fighting the good fight.