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There wasn't even a stage back then, right?
MC: For the first few months there was no stage, but then Todd brought in a stage that was originally for something else.
EW: It was mobile stage. He was moving it back and forth between Silent Barn, DBA and maybe on other spot. It was in three sections and Todd had that big green van at the time and he could disassemble the thing, it fit pretty perfectly in the van.
MC: It was a big day when we bought our own PA. It was about six months of saving money to do that. But until that point, Todd would just bring in a PA for every show. Which was a nightmare for him, I think. At that time, I was saying 'Hey let's have a venue here and have bands play and it'll be fun.' But the other guys who rented the space with me were like, 'Let's put in an office and a photo studio.' It was all this pipe dream shit that was never going to happen.
EW: There was a green screen set up in there for a while, behind the band.
MC: But that other stuff didn't work.
So at what point did it stop being this multi-use space and a real venue?
MC: It happened slowly. It was still tenuous, but having rock shows was paying the rent for the space. So it was like, 'This thing is working.' It justified itself and was something I believed was good to do. And I still do. I think, for me, it became real when we got our non-profit status. The thing that we do, historically, has a shelf life. There are probably five continuing DIY spaces in the world. I always had the idea that this was a really great thing to do: it's fun, it's important and we'll do it as long as we can. We've been really lucky that we've been able to keep doing it.
What's the most difficult thing at this point about running the space?
EW: I've made so many relationships over the years, people have come and gone. For the most part, people who I've done shows with I continue to do shows with. But now you somewhat have to think about the show more. I have to worry about paying the rent, which has risen and risen over the years. I could do a show with where only six or seven people came because I wanted to see it. Now I have to say no to those people and they get mad sometimes. That is hard.
MC: And the balancing of the politics of doing shows with bands...
EW: A band who used to email you directly now has some intermediary who never writes me back because they don't think I'm worth their time, even though their band wasn't worth their time three years ago. But they were definitely worth my time and I had them play over and over and over. Now it's like 'Yeah weíd love to do it. Talk to our manager.' It's a pretty thankless job. You hear it from the bands when they play, but it's not like people are coming to DBA randomly just to see what we've curated.
MC: I dunno. Some people come to Death By Audio who don't know the bands. People have told me they do, or tell other people new to New York to do that to check out what's going on. But that was something Todd definitely had for a couple years that was cool. 'This is going to be eclectic. It's going to be weird. But it's going to be good and you should just go.'
EW: That's what I did. I went to Todd's shows for two years before I ever said a word to him. And the first conversation we had, he invited me to do sound for some of his shows at SXSW. I didn't know him, he didn't know I was a sound guy, but after a 20 minute conversation he was like 'I see you all the time at shows, you love this stuff.' He saw something in me, decided to nurture it and he totally did. I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for him. Sometimes I wonder where's the next me, and I don't really see it. A lot of the stuff that goes on is more buzz-related. 'If this band is cool or somebody writes about it, I'll go see it.'
There are a lot more options too. Even on your corner. When Death by Audio started, there was nothing on that block of South 2nd. Now there's three high-end restaurants.
EW: And a movie theater. That's almost never open.
And two more venues around the corner.
MC: Well, Glasslands was already there, actually. Five years ago, when there weren't any condos on our street and it was just empty lots, we'd have races in the street and yell and scream at four in the morning and no one could hear you. You weren't near anything. And you used to be able to see the bridge. Now there's a nice big condo in the way.
EW: You can still see a sliver of the bridge.
MC: We had an incident recently where Edan got an email from a woman who just moved in a condominium across the street. Her email was from like Morgan Stanley or something and that's just surreal that someone who works at Morgan Stanley lives on the same block as DBA. She was writing to complain about our 'dance club that's open till four in the morning,' and it was awesome because... it was not us. So we wrote her back and said, 'that's not actually us, but if we ever do anything that upsets you let us know.' That's always been our attitude.
EW: We've also made an effort to have shows end earlier. We talked to them and asked what's a reasonable time. So now it's generally midnight on weekdays, 1AM on the weekends. If we end up going over, nobody's been on the phone right away or anything. The first emails were very.. .harsh, authoritative. They expected us to be these jerks but weíve always been 'hey, let's all exist here.' It's not about 'we were here first.'
MC: There is something funny about that, our role in the gentrification of Williamsburg. We're creating our own obsolescence by bringing art and culture to an abandoned neighborhood.
EW: Especially on that street. Nobody got pushed out of living there, nobody lived there.
MC: No businesses on that street, apart from a used police car depot. And a very weird bar called Fire & Ice that is where Williamsburger is now. Artists and musicians have been in Williamsburg for 20 years, but I do feel good that we didnít displace anyone. The Domino Sugar factory went bankrupt and that's where our shit is.