It might seem strange to start off a piece on the thriving rock scene in Brooklyn, New York, with a quote from Down South, but Bradford Cox, frontman for Atlanta psych-punk act Deerhunter, described a fitting modus operandi in a recent interview with Rhapsody. "The one thing I've always been devoted to is my personal concept of what punk rock is," he said. "[Which is] doing away with self-expectations, worrying about audience expectations, worrying about what anybody's gonna make of anything, and just allowing things to exist. ... It can be anything. It's just freedom — a liberation."
And it's a liberating feeling setting foot into DIY shows — which are often smoke-filled, cheap-booze-fueled, poorly lit loft events with a small cover — these days in Brooklyn, where decidedly left-of-center bands play to small audiences of attentive music lovers. There you'll find the successors of the early '00s New York scene driven by Interpol, the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"I think people are just trying to do their own thing and make it unique," said frontman Oliver Ackermann of garage/shoegaze outfit A Place to Bury Strangers. "And, in that way, that kind of lumps things together. People are trying to break boundaries, and that [unites them with] the same sort of boundary-breaking that someone else is doing. If you see a band that's doing something really unique, it's gonna plant a seed in your head: Like, 'Wow that was really cool — I wish we were doing something like that.' "
Having said that, categorizing it as a "scene" is something most of the bands involved want to stay away from. While they might influence each other and share ideas, each has been self-defined by its parts and players. After all, the one thing that each of these bands have in common is their drive for individuality and self-creation.
At these DIY shows, that creativity is simmering under the watchful eye of promoters like Todd "Todd P" Patrick. He's responsible for many of the shows taking place in warehouses, lofts, art galleries and other places, pairing his favorite bands (and his favorite bands' favorite bands) from all over the country. Take Todd P's April show at the 100-or-so-capacity Silent Barn in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick with a mega-bill of Atlanta's aforementioned Deerhunter, Pittsburgh's Black Moth Super Rainbow, and Brooklyn's Awesome Color and Dirty Projectors as a prime example of the cross-pollination uniting Brooklyn's scene with that of other scenes throughout the continent.
"Todd came to New York and brought this aesthetic [that] came from the original DIY American-underground vibe of, 'F--- this, we can do it ourselves.' We're not represented by MTV and all those things. We're gonna start our own network of people doing their own sh-- and expressing themselves. We don't need money; we don't need magazines; we just need our imagination. And a vibe as free as that ... It's hard to bring into New York and have it still make sense because things are so competitive, but Todd is an amazing figure because he figured out how to do that," said Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors, who are an experimental pop-rock group.
"When I first got here, everyone was just doing disco-post-punk stuff," said Patrick, who arrived in New York from Seattle in 2002. "And that's awesome — but it definitely had its time and its place. And now you see people going in lot more experimental directions. One of my favorite things about Brooklyn right now is that there isn't [one] sound: It's like lots of different bands doing lots of different things and they're all coming at it from really diverse backgrounds and ideas and influences."
An interesting dichotomy exists for a band like the collective MGMT (who will be on a national tour with fellow Brooklynites Yeasayer this and next month). Although the Brooklyn scene is largely independent, MGMT are signed to a major label (Columbia Records) and are being overseen by the likes of new label head Rick Rubin and producer Dave Fridmann, who has worked with the Flaming Lips and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. However, most of their Brooklyn brethren shy away from that route.
"The major labels are sharks — trying to steal your money, trying to steal your merchandising," said Chris Keating, lead singer of the self-described "Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel" outfit Yeasayer (originally from Baltimore but now Brooklyn-based), referring to the "360 deals" major labels have been trumpeting as a new business model.
So while they may not necessarily be united in terms of sound or business practices, this Brooklyn scene-that-insists-it's-not-a-scene — which also includes Grizzly Bear, the Muggabears and many others — is producing some of the most vibrant rock to be found in this country.