After teaching all afternoon, we were able to stop by briefly at the Monster Island Arts and Music Festival Farewell Block Party late today.
They've always had wonderful block parties, but now, as it must to all pioneering artistic venues in a neighborhood beset by gentrification and rising real estate prices, death is coming to Monster Island
after seven years of serving the community with innovative and creative music, art, fashion and what-have-you, and they decided to go out in style.
Founded by Erik Zajaceskowski, the director of the not-for-profit art space, Secret Project Robot, Monster Island has been home to artists, musicians and retailers -- Live With Animals,
Secret Project Robot Art Space, Kayrock Screenprinting, Todd P. Practice Spaces, Mollusk Surf Shop, Oneida and a multitude of studios and rehearsal spaces -- but the building is scheduled for demolition in November.
This year's final block party featured a dozen live music performances from building bands and members of bands such as Golden Triangle, Oneida, Man Forever, Soldiers of Fortune, DudknowDub, Cult of Youth, Vaz, K-Holes, Knyfe Hyts, Divine Order of the Blood Witch, TrycryTry and many more.
It hosted art installations themed "Outer Space the Final Frontier" and "Liquid Gold."
It also hosted open studios, an all day BBQ, DJ's, a video installation in the basement by Robot Death Cult and live music in several practice spaces. In addition, they created a memorabilia T-Shirt, poster and tote bag of Monster Island so that the community will have something tangible to remember them by.
Of course the intangible memories will suffice and endure for many of us.
Here is James C. McKinley Jr.'s wonderful article in The New York Times:
Man Forever, a five-piece band, was making some decidedly unmarketable noise. Two drummers sat on either side of a snare drum, rolling out an undercurrent of cadences, while an organist with wild hair played endlessly sustained dissonant chords, and the bass and guitar thrummed muddy harmonies that fed back on themselves. The effect was of a primordial drone in which overtones clashed and warbled, phasing in and out in waves, chaos seeking order.
The concert was particularly poignant for the hundred or so people who stood listening intently in the bright light off the East River in Brooklyn because it was the last time they would be able to gather for a block party at Monster Island, a collection of performance spaces and studios in a faded commercial building covered with murals near the Williamsburg waterfront. Many said they had been going there to hear new music or see off-the-wall art installations for seven years. Some were heartbroken; some philosophic.
“Scenes have life cycles,” said Sam Hillmer, 33, a saxophonist with the trio ZS who was drinking a beer on the loading dock as the waves of sound from the stage washed around him. “It’s like passing a torch. You have a couple decades, a decade, half a decade, whatever. Then somebody else picks it up.”
Monster Island is shutting down this month because the landlord wants to redevelop the property and has not renewed the lease. Its fans marked its passing with a block party on Saturday. The end of this haven for struggling artists and musicians is a sign of broader changes in the neighborhood, where new condominiums are replacing the dilapidated warehouses, and upscale bars and restaurants have appeared on streets where once there were only underground clubs in vacant commercial buildings.
The eviction of Monster Island — home to two nonprofit performance spaces, a screen-printing shop, a surf shop, a recording studio and several artists’ studios — is a reminder that the city is always remaking itself, and nowhere is that more true than in the world of underground music, where performance spots and galleries operate with little cash, often on the fringe of the law.
A few, like Monster Island, become institutions of a sort. In the past 18 months two other spaces — the Market Hotel in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the Silent Barn a bit farther east in Ridgewood, Queens — have also been forced to close. Both were raided by city authorities, who demanded they comply with fire and building codes. (City officials said there had been no concerted effort to crack down on underground clubs in the area.)
The people who operate these spaces said they would revive them. Secret Project Robot, the main institution at Monster Island, is relocating to Melrose Street in Bushwick. Market Hotel’s promoters have formed a nonprofit to court grants and donations; they plan to do the renovations necessary to come up to code and reopen. The group that ran the Silent Barn has raised money to replace its equipment and is seeking a new space to rent.
Still, the turmoil has sent shudders through the network of people who run underground gathering spots, which are known as do-it-yourself, or D.I.Y. spaces. Just a few years ago the Brooklyn music scene was known for its vibrant D.I.Y. clubs that had been incubators for dozens of independent acts, among them the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Vivian Girls, Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon and Teengirl Fantasy.
Todd Patrick, a concert promoter who ran the Market Hotel and books bands at several other D.I.Y. spaces, said that times had changed. “A lot of places are by necessity becoming more permanent if they can, just because they are under fire,” he said. “There has been a change in the climate of the city.”
Mr. Patrick, known as Todd P., said that he could have reopened the Market Hotel after it was raided last year, but that he knew that without the proper permits it would always be vulnerable to another raid. Becoming a nonprofit group and seeking capital to do the renovations to meet city codes would allow him to turn a tenuous performance space into a full-fledged community arts center. “It’s a better option to try to do something that has a longer future,” he said.
The collective that runs the Silent Barn agrees. For seven years it has staged concerts in a grimy commercial site, where four to five musicians and artists lived to defray rent costs. In July thieves stole the club’s sound equipment after the police and buildings officials raided it and evicted the people living there. Since the burglary the Silent Barn’s fans have donated nearly $40,000 to reopen it.
But Joe Ahearn, a spokesman for the collective, said the group was looking for a more conventional setup where zoning would not be an issue: a Bushwick storefront with apartments above it. “The theft was a catalyst to bring us together and now we are going to make the space permanent,” he said.
As rents have risen in Williamsburg, and the waterfront has been rezoned to allow residential high-rises, more and more of the D.I.Y. crowd is moving east to Bushwick. Only a few, like Death by Audio and 285 Kent Avenue, remain near the water.
Rachel Nelson, who runs Secret Project Robot with Erik Zajaceskowski, said that when they took over the Monster Island building, the waterfront contained mostly factories, warehouses, fuel tanks and auto shops, a dismal strip where prostitution and drug dealing flourished. A couple of years ago a condominium building went up cater-corner from Monster Island, and some of the new residents in the neighborhood consider the colorful murals on the building an eyesore.
“They are not searching for the ephemeral underground,” Ms. Nelson said.
For musicians the D.I.Y. spaces are critical to developing new talent. A chance to perform live for an open-minded audience without worrying about earning money for a club owner is invaluable. Not only are the D.I.Y. concert promoters committed to experimental music, but they also have low overhead and can afford to take risks. The lineup on Saturday included the duo Divine Order of the Blood Witch, playing a 20-minute composition that sounded like a sustained train wreck in a horror film, evoking explosions, metal shrieking, rubble collapsing, layered above guttural electronic noises that sounded like movie monsters.
At Live With Animals, another space at Monster Island, a punk trio, was test-flying some fast, new songs. “We just started a month ago ,” the frontman, Tom Delaney, said, as a small crowd clapped. “This is our first show, and it’s a bit premature.” Later he added, “It’s just a relaxed environment where you can be comfortable being as creative as you want.”
Brian Chase, drummer for the dance-punk group the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, played in the experimental Man Forever group. He said he had done numerous side projects at Monster Island. “It has been a great home for many people,” he said after Man Forever’s 30-minute drone composition ended.
“There is that Catch-22,” he said. “Before your new sounds become commercially viable, they need the opportunity to be presented to the public. But sometimes a club isn’t willing to take a chance on music that isn’t commercially viable, to let the music be put out there.”
At The Street Spot, check out the fabulous Luna Park's dozen of so gorgeous photos of Sunday's "Paint Pour," when Monster Island collective members anointed the exterior of the already colorful building known for its murals with a final wash of color.
(Photo copyright 2011 Luna Park, but you can easily tell it wasn't one of our own crappy pics that make up the rest of this post)