Like the term "indie" before it, DIY has gradually blurred from the straight acronym "Do It Yourself" to a genre descriptor of sorts, mostly encompassing messy rock, electronic, and experimental music produced by less than strictly professional means. Five years after Spin declared Williamsburg "The Rockest City in America" (despite being neither city nor borough), Brooklyn is thickly packed with starry-eyed transplants seeking to make a name for themselves in the music world, most of them with limited means (trust fund stereotypes aside). As it happens, almost all are, to a certain degree, doing it themselves. Or doing it together, at the very least.
So, be you a Midwestern ex-pat dreamer looking to crash the party, or just a curious voyeur in need of a road map to a scene that changes fast, here are some of the key names and places that make up Brooklyn DIY.
Where to Size Up the Competition
Above the Auto Parts Store
One of the newest additions to Bushwick's teeming wilderness, Above the Auto Parts Store has the space to make a bigger splash than your average converted loft. DIY heroes like No Age, Oneida, and Lightning Bolt have played there already, and bigger acts are starting to pile up. Also, the name is confusing and thematically appropriate enough that chuckling at baffled squares will be a perpetually amusing conversational by-product.
De Facto House Band: Oneida
Monster Island Basement
Like many of the new wave of rough and tumble venues, the Monster Island complex, down by the river, combines a small, sweaty venue with affordable practice spaces. The Basement is its public space, and the convenient location sucks in more noteworthy bands than almost any similarly sized room in Brooklyn.
De Facto House Band: Real Estate
Before Brooklyn exploded with venues, the Lower East Side's Cake Shop felt like the purest DIY spot in New York: Not every fully-licensed establishment would strive to make you feel like you're actually in somebody's subterranean rec room. Owner Andy Bodor brings the same feeling to Williamsburg's Bruar Falls, which maintains the prescient booking, predilection for fuzzy rock, and less-than-ideal sightlines in for this inevitable Cake Shop satellite (better airflow, though). It's also a swell place to get drunk for cheap on a weeknight while feeding a stacked jukebox after you've just created an entirely new genre at your practice space, say.
De Facto House Band: The Beets
More established than Williamsburg's newest ramshackle concert locales, Glasslands has already hosted its share of memorable shows by nationally known acts. But it's still easy to set up your own show in an art-forward space that's more surreally appealing than many of the younger barebones, converted-use venues.
De Facto House Band: Twin Sister
Death by Audio
Death by Audio serves double-duty in the local scene, as both a medium-sized venue and a pedal shop, which cobbles together handmade chaos boxes with names like "Supersonic Fuzz Gun." Though the inside of the electronics lab is less open to the public than the concert area, there's probably quite a ruckus going on in there, as well.
De Facto House Band: GROOMS
Nothing to make you feel hip like walking straight through something totally unrelated to get to the tiny room where your concert is going down. You've gotta resist the lure of the Lovin' Cup Cafe's rosemary fries to get to this cramped but increasingly well-booked spot. The giant neon Snuffleupagus on the ceiling will reward your persistence.
De Facto House Band: ASA RANSOM
Currently an inert casualty of the licensing and noise complaint problems DIY venues often face, the Market Hotel nonetheless promises to be a phoenix rising from the ashes of several hundred chain-smoking teenagers. A victim of its own success for being one of the first off-brand venues to draw huge crowds to see name bands for cheap, the large Bushwick loft is now organizing to get up to code in order to function as an un-shutterable venue, community space, and "noncommercial spiritual home for independent rock music and indie art." Its demise has been prematurely declared more than once.
De Facto House Band: The So So Glos
Though Graham and Grand Avenues have steadily filled in since the hipster goldrush of 'aught two, as far as music venues go, the area still lags far behind the Bedford and Lorimer areas, and is now being lapped in the other direction by seemingly all of Bushwick. The faux sporty sounding Shea Stadium is an oasis nestled behind an unmarked door (of course) several blocks removed from the newly trendy bars and restaurants. A spacious loft space with access to a giant smoking/chatting roof, it doubles as a recording studio, cheaply saving for prosperity the sets of the touring bands that rumble through.
De Facto House Band: Beach Fossils
Who to Impress
While the recent south-of-the-border boondoggle of the MtyMx Festival proved that his powers might not extend to convincing chill-wavers they'd be safe from Mexican drug cartels, promoter Todd Patrick is still the unquestioned king of Brooklyn DIY. With his cred-cup running over and eight years of built-up connections to once unknown, now-headlining bands greasing the wheels, Patrick is able to pull in more bold-type names than any other fledgling Brooklyn promoter could ever afford. Magic tricks like getting Bjork to play a DJ set at a raw Bushwick spot (an actual thing that really just happened), aren't within the grasp of most anyone else in the hood. That said, the shows under his booking umbrella still take more chances on unknown acts, and still look for more and more unique spaces further and further into the ungentrified fringe than the competition. His dictatorship is a benign one.
While his 140-character record eviscerations on Twitter are enough to make any band tremble, Village Voice critic Christopher Weingarten is actually one of the fairest, shrewdest evaluators of local talent around. Weingarten's "Yes in My Backyard" regularly scoops the broader-focus national publications on identifying Brooklyn bands whose wobbly yearling steps should be checked out at all costs.
Jack "Skippy" McFadden
Park Slope, either due to subway isolation relative to the rest of the city or its stroller/Subaru demographics, polls a distant third to Bushwick and Williamsburg for neighborhoods on the musical cutting edge. That said, Union Hall and The Bell House, the Slope venues run by Jack McFadden, are the beating heart of a considerable local scene. The amiable McFadden, perhaps the first grown man to go by "Skippy" since Family Ties, has the reputation of a straight shooter in a landscape full of flakes, along with a discerning booking eye—both of which help when those little bands playing Union Hall suddenly blossom into big bands who can fill The Bell House.
Since 2005, New York critic Doug Mosurock has been valiantly compiling his "Still Single" column for brainy music site Dusted, shining a light on limited-run vinyl releases that often only make it as far as the hands of a few greedy hoarders. Limiting his spam influx by only accepting physical copies of new releases, Mosurock heads the best-curated guide on the internet for those who'd like to dive into the world of off-the-radar 7" singles but have no clue where to start. And bands who'd like to reach those people would be wise to submit.
Even further down the rabbit hole is the web community Terminal Boredom. Like "Still Single" its focus is the DIY world at large, rather than Brooklyn in specific, but you'll find plenty of discussion about the thriving local scene here by default. They will review literally anything they are sent, format-be-damned, though you might have to wait a bit. The associated forums are a good place to find tips on truly obscure acts, spar with possible future bandmates, and just generally rant about records.
Brooklyn Vegan Commenters
No one is more ready, willing, and able to drop a squat on your dreams than the anonymous hordes of virtual unwashed perpetually trolling Brooklyn Vegan. You've done the hard work, you've cobbled together your debut EP, you've gotten a tight live set together, you're ready to take on the world! They'll take a 15-second listen to a streaming mp3 and declare it the musical equivalent of ball cancer. Ladies get the added-value implication that they're carrying some variety of venereal disease. A fun bunch! Basically impossible to impress en masse, but don't sweat it. Had it existed in 1967 it'd be absolutely jammed with bon mots like, "More like Sgt. Meh-pper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
No one's taste gets more direct grief from the mob than Bill Pearis, BV's intrepid, "This Week in Indie" correspondent, and occasional Sound Bites NYC blogger. Amid a blog and tumblr landscape that teeters between vapid boosterism and cynical nihilism, Pearis is a refreshingly informed enthusiast. Since most of the messy rock and experimental bands that one might brand DIY fall under his beat, he's often the first well-trafficked voice to spotlight emerging acts after only a handful of shows.
Where to Diversify Your Influences
Academy Record Annex
At least for the time being, the city's best record stores are still mainly in Manhattan, though the North 6th Street annex to the main isle's Academy Records is awfully impressive. With an intimidating number of bins, a wall stacked with local bands and labels, avant staff picks standoffishly blaring over the shop's stereo, and constantly replenished new arrivals rad enough to make you momentarily guilty that early 80s scenesters must keep dying prematurely to fuel the fire, the Annex is the best, most affordable crate-digging spot in Brooklyn. It even provides rare, tangible truth that a neo-cassette culture exists! (Also, it's always fun to guess which clerk might have recorded the 7" you are currently ogling.)
Just relocated to a bigger, more central Metropolitan Avenue locale in Williamsburg, Record Grouch is still no Academy in terms of scale or scope, though the selection's not bad at all. It is already serving a unique function as an exclusive ticket vendor for limited capacity, high-interest, paper-ticket-only happenings. A bit quaint in an online age, maybe, but it does weed out those who are only mildly enthusiastic.
Where to Send Your Demo
Captured Tracks, run by one-time Academy Annex mainstay Mike Sniper, is the most tirelessly productive label in Brooklyn, firing off 50 or so releases spanning 7" and 12" singles, full LPs, cassettes, and CD-Rs in barely two years of existence. There's a certain messy aesthetic to most of their records, but also a willingness to try anything. They've quietly released some of the best nuggets of the recent local DIY boom, by bands like The Beets, Beach Fossils, and Sniper's own Blank Dogs and Mayfair Set projects. They've also launched the career of the now legitimately big Dum Dum Girls, and started looking across the Atlantic to distribute low-profile British singles like Veronica Falls' great "Fell in Love in a Graveyard." Though the label is a household name in only a very small circle of households, when the story of Brooklyn music in this era is re-told, Captured Tracks will loom large.
With some of the most austere, handsome album covers around, Sacred Bones (operating from the belly of the Bedford stop beast on North 7th Street) has been providing wall candy for local shops for a few years now. The music hasn't been bad either, veering in to even more experimental ground than kindred spirit Sniper (whose Blank Dogs have released material on the label as well). But now, with new signees like Wisconsin goth Zola Jesus gaining legitimate buzz, their profile is likely to extend past the vinyl snobs.
Rare Book Room
Nicolas Vernhes has yet to have the same kind of smash success as a label head that he's had as a producer and engineer for bands like Animal Collective, Deerhunter or The Dirty Projectors, but it's only a couple years old yet, and interesting if noncommercial bands like Talk Normal bode well. The already formidable legend of the Nassau Avenue recording studio the label's named for just casts a long shadow, is all.
Since Grizzly Bear records have gotten so lush and commercial-ready, it might be tough to see Terrible Records' founder Chris Taylor as a DIY OG. Until you remember that he produced those records himself, and you know, built the studio they were recorded in. Their roster is slicker than most local start-ups, which at Taylor's level of success (and supposed super-niceness) isn't that surprising. But still, Taylor's solo work as CANT, Class Actress's stylish debut EP, and even unearthed Arthur Russell tracks from the 70s are very strong products. If any of Brooklyn's imprints are primed to supernova, it's this one.
One of the newest labels of note, Infinite Best is only three releases deep, the third of which is Color Your Life, the breakthrough EP for Twin Sister, suddenly one of the hottest bands in town. All eyes on number four, then.
Who needs a label, anyway?
National Recording Supplies
While it's true that anyone can post any song they've made on the internet at any time, it's also true that most everyone else will ignore it. The key to respectability remains in physical releases. As most vinyl facilities demand a print-run of 500 to even fire up the press, costs become immediately prohibitive for an individual. Which is partly why limited edition cassettes, and the small-run cassette labels that make them, seem suddenly ascendant. An exhaustive essay on the topic by Pitchfork's Marc Hogan earlier this year identified Brooklyn's unsexy industrial workhorse National Recording Supplies as a surprising key player in this trend. At per-unit prices lower than even a spool of CD-Rs, and with custom running lengths easily achievable, it may be the most reasonable option for producing a fetish item of your band's very own. Oh, and that whiff of retro-cool sure isn't hurting.
But what if your aesthetic ambitions run further than just the cheapest option? Doing it yourself is well and good, but pretty ain't cheap. Kickstarter.com, an independent financing platform, isn't specific to music but its simple model of direct patronage to the artist from fans and well-wishers holds unique promise to a business where wider revenue streams continue to run dry. When local cult-pop heroes My Teenage Stride wanted studio sheen for a forthcoming record, Kickstarter delivered. When ambient-pop sweetheart Julianna Barwick wanted the heavenly white vinyl pressing her Florine EP deserved, she tried her luck here.