The Bunker Turns 12: An Interview with Founder Bryan Kasenic

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01/02/2015 7:23 PM |

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The Bunker is one of the most respected names in New York nightlife.  Started in 2003, The Bunker is a party for dance-music-lovers, by dance-music-lovers, and it happens about twice a month, usually at either Output or Trans-Pecos. This Saturday, The Bunker is hosting their 12th anniversary party at Output with DBX (Daniel Bell live), Rrose, Derek Plaslaiko, John Tejada, Harry & JPEG, Mike Servito, and more. (Also, lucky us, it’s free if you RSVP here! )We talked to founder Bryan Kasenic, who will also be playing the party on Saturday, about the evolution of the Bunker, thriving in a changing world and what we can expect next from this dance-music institution.

You’ve been constantly relevant in the NY dance-music world for twelve years- that’s a long time. That’s way longer than so many brick-and-mortar establishments in New York have managed to stay alive, not to mention way WAY longer than most parties, but there’s no denying that The Bunker has become more than a party. Was there a certain moment or a certain period when you realized Bunker had gone beyond the point of just being another party to being something iconic and meaningful in itself?

Honestly right from the start we were trying to be more than “just another party”, but I suppose it took a while for that to be widely recognized. I think it’s safe to say that The Bunker has become something of an institution in New York, but it’s really hard to say exactly when that happened.

Obviously an insane amount of hard work from so many people is the first thing on the list, but other than that, what else would you say accounts for your success?

First and foremost, we are insane music nerds. Our resident and guest DJs are the kind of people who have dedicated their lives to finding and sharing the best music out there. We also really value the importance of a good soundsystem. To me those things are super basic, but so many parties miss the mark on both accounts.

I think it’s really cool how The Bunker has continually grown out of spaces: subTonic in Chinatown, then Public Assembly in Williamsburg, and now you’ve finally found a new home at Output, this huge space with an amazing built-in sound system. Yet, you’re intentionally keeping alive that intimate vibe from early Bunker days with your off-shoot party, The Bunker Limited, which you originally started throwing in small lofts but have now found a home for at Trans-Pecos. What do you think is the value in purposefully keeping that intimate vibe alive despite The Bunker growing so large? Is it a challenge to balance those two different types of parties?

As things have grown over the years, scale has become very important. Some of the artists we present have huge audiences now after moving with us through the various venue changes. It’s fantastic to have a super large and professional venue like Output to present that kind of thing. But by our very nature as music nerds, we’re inevitably also drawn to newer up and coming artists so it’s good to have an intimate space like Trans-Pecos to throw parties for them. It’s also fun to occasionally put a bigger artist into a smaller space to push them to do something different and possibly more interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of the intimate parties or want to stop doing them, as they’re usually the most fun.

Can you talk a little about the seemingly complete relocation of the dance-music scene from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Do you think it has been a complete relocation? The Bunker was one of the pioneers of that shift, making the move in 2007 after subTonic closed. How has it affected The Bunker specifically?

I think it was just a necessary change due to the real estate forces at work in NYC, which continues to push interesting people and venues away from Manhattan, deeper and deeper into Brooklyn. subTonic was one of the last places that felt really free and interesting in Manhattan for a few years before it closed. We never even considered keeping the party in Manhattan when subTonic closed; we instantly starting looking in Williamsburg for a new venue because we lived there, as did most of our friends. I barely know anyone who lives in Manhattan anymore, and walking around there on the weekend is a miserable experience, so I can’t really think of any cons to moving to Brooklyn.

Now Brooklyn is at a point where it’s changing so so much. There’s this shift in the culture, and things are closing down. Public Assembly closed in 2013, which is when you went to Output, and this year alone so many other great places have gone under: 285 Kent, Body Actualized, Glasslands, Death By Audio, Wreck Room, Galapagos’ new location. All gone. Is this something you see as sad? Or, after 12 years, do you just see this as the way it goes? What does this mean for the future?

I really see it as a case of whack-a-mole. There are a lot of interesting venues opening further out in Brooklyn, and even Queens like Trans-Pecos, that I think will fill the void created by all those places closing. It can be sad to see a favorite venue close, but it also forces us to move on and try to do things better at a new location.

You’re celebrating The Bunker’s 12th anniversary at Output this Saturday. What are you most looking forward to about the party? 

I’m super excited about the entire lineup, but I think presenting the new DBX live show with Daniel Bell and John Tejada is really something special. Dan and John were two of the first big techno artists to perform at The Bunker and put their faith in me, way back in the early days of subTonic when we didn’t have much of a reputation. They’ve both remained as relevant as ever, with their live set being the clear highlight of Movement Detroit 2014 to anyone who witnessed it. It means a lot to me to have these guys who’ve been on board so long celebrating our anniversary with us. And as always, I’m looking forward to sure-to-be-stellar sets from our resident DJs and everyone else on the bill. The anniversary parties are always very special and seem to bring out the best performances.

What would you say has been The Bunker’s biggest accomplishment in 2014, and what can we expect in 2015?

I think that clearly our biggest accomplishment of 2014 was starting The Bunker record label and getting 10 releases out. It was an amazing experience and we’re super excited to take the things to the next level in 2015. We have a few big things already booked for 2015, including finally having Jeff Mills play the party at Output on January 17, after many years of trying to get him booked, and a label showcase at Berghain in February. We probably have a few more tricks up our sleeves as well.