Secret Project Robot
In spite of rent increases, robberies, and patterns of escalating police intervention, NYC’s DIY music scene continues to thrive. Whenever a much-loved performance space closes down, another one seems to pop up to take its place (which is definitely not the case in every major city). This may make it hard to keep up, which is why we’ve conveniently assembled this list of New York City’s top ten DIY venues. Each venue listed is still in operation and are not listed in any order of importance. Enjoy!
Pallisades, a brand new performance space at 906 Broadway has only been open for four months but it has already hosted shows by some of the most popular bands in the New York punk and underground music scene. It is conveniently located right off of the Myrtle Broadway stop on the J train and the sound and the size of the venue are good enough to rival any other medium sized rock club of notability.
2. Silent Barn
The original location of the Silent Barn in Ridgewood, Queens (which also served as the first gallery for indie-arcade game collective Babycastles) was infamously robbed a few years back. But a more than generous kickstarter response helped the venerable venue move to their space on 603 Bushwick Ave. The space is now only a hop skip and a jump from Pallisades and continues to host heavy-hitters from the underground scene. You can also get a haircut, buy records, and check out the murals in their new interior courtyard.
Secret Project Robot
Secret Project Robot used to be part of the slew of DIY space on the Williamsburg waterfront before it moved to 384 Melrose St. close to Morgan stop on the L train. The new space has never been better though, and the venue is constantly upgrading to include more disorientingly weird artwork and larger space both indoors and outdoors for performances. The backyard area, which is adorned with adorned with interlocking wickerwork, a long slide, sculptures, and even a bar, also doubles as a performance space. Secret Project Robot also has the distinction of having one of the most unique bathrooms in the city.
4. 538 Johnson
The infamously low-key warehouse space on 538 Johnson Ave. is known as one of the primary homes of the New York punk and noise rock scene. Shows at 538 are curated online via Facebook events and word of mouth alone (along with the help of Showpaper of course) and has several rooms that are utilized for performances. Johnson was one of the locations that hosted the New York’s Alright festival and, needless to say, things tend to get rowdy here.
5. Shea Stadium
Maybe the only DIY space in New York with a balcony area, Shea Stadium is another one of NYC’s most highly respected and sought after performance spaces. The venue was started by the band the So So Glos and also doubles a s a recording studio in addition to hosting big name indie acts at night. The venue can be accessed by a narrow flight of stairs behind a non-descript entrance on 20 Meadow St. They also record every show and the Live @ Shea Stadium series has amassed an archive of over 1000 recordings.
6. The Ho_se
The Ho_se is located on 28 Lawton St. and requires you to walk through a narrow first floor hallway down into a small sized basement space. This is perhaps the smallest of all the venues mentioned on this list and the experience can be likened to a New Brunswick basement show. The sound may get blistering (depending on who you see) and the room may fill up fast, but the energy quotient is certainly always high. Plus, there’s always a backyard to cool off.
Tucked away next to an autoshop on 1094 Broadway in Brooklyn, you can’t miss the colorful mural that adorns the entrance of this grassroots art and performance space. The Living Gallery is available for rent during the day when they are not hosting either art workshops or hosting community outreach programs for local residents. And of course, the Gallery serves as a venue at night by hosting a wide array of up and coming bands for a generous price. There is even a backyard for when things get too sweaty inside.
8. The Stone
What would a list of DIY music venues be without mentioning the legendary avante-garde performance space the Stone? Founded by avante-garde composer/saxophonist John Zorn, the Stone is located on E 2nd St. and Avenue C and is one of the last legitimate DIY spaces left in Manhattan. This particular venue specializes in promoting some of the most unorthodox genres of music and supports itself by releasing limited edition recordings and hosting benefit nights. Collaborations are the norm and regulars include Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, and Fred Frith.
Probably the most well known of NYC’s veteran DIY spaces, the inclusion of Death by Audio in any list of New York DIY spaces is mandatory simply because it is arguably the best. [Editor note: Death by Audio closed in late 2014 after this list was published, but it’s worth keeping here as one of the staples of the DIY scene]. Not only has the venue been around since 2002, but it also serves as an effects pedal manufacturer, a work space for artists, a recording studio, and as of late last year, an arcade for independent game developers. The staff are inviting, the sound is top-tier, and it also hosts some of the best names in underground music. Co-founder Edan Wilber can be found behind the soundboard himself most days of the week and the venue has even come out with their own art book/live music compilation. The venue eventually reached non-profit status in January 2009.
Trans-Pecos, located around the border of Queens and Brooklyn on Wyckoff Avenue, opened in 2013 across from an auto yard and is owned by two men who are familiar with Brooklyn’s DIY environment. Thus, although it’s technically located in Queens, it still has the aura of Brooklyn’s DIY music scene.
Get in touch with the author @DouglasCapraro