The Death of DIY Williamsburg Is Not Your Fault


The Internet: the place where there’s never an opinion too stupid to publish. You could drive yourself insane worrying about every dumb thing that gets said online, but still, occasionally something so arse-clenchingly asinine comes along that it’s nigh on impossible to keep quiet about it. So, here goes: Brooklyn music venue Glasslands announced this week that it’s closing at the end of the year. This, along with the imminent demise of Death by Audio and the fact that 285 Kent is already long gone, means that from 2015 onwards, there will officially be absolutely no reason to go to Williamsburg again. This is sad, certainly — it marks the end of an era, although honestly, the writing has been on the wall for this particular era for at least a decade.

The rapid gentrification of Williamsburg has been written about to exhausting lengths over that decade. It’s the product of ever-increasing property prices and rents in Manhattan, of rezoning along the East River waterfront, of the fact that wider socioeconomic trends (rapidly changing income dynamics for musicians, a generally moribund economy, an uncertain future, an unnavigable web of unpaid internships and shitty working-for-tips service industry jobs) have made it all but impossible to make a living as an artist in NYC in 2014. All these play into the fact that Williamsburg as it existed in the late ’90s and early 2000s is a distant memory — its arts community has largely moved away, to be replaced by rich types who work across the East River and can probably afford to take the ferry to work instead of cramming onto the L train. Venues like Glasslands and Death by Audio are relics of an age that’s ended, and it was only a matter of time before they were gotten rid of by developers keen to exploit the value of the properties they occupied.

Or not. If you believe Impose founder Derek Evers, it’s apparently all your fault, for not keeping it real enough. Yesterday, Evers published a screed about Glasslands on his site, wherein he lambasted his readers (and, by implication, pretty much anyone involved with Brooklyn’s DIY music scene) for a lack of commitment to the cause — a lack of commitment that apparently opened the door for nasty Big Corporations to come in and ruin everything:

For every free corporate-sponsored show you’ve attended, and every free frosty (sponsored) beverage you’ve drank, it is your fault. For every sell-out debate you’ve had with someone in the past decade, settling on the conclusions that you “might as well get the money while you can” or “if we don’t take the money, someone else will,” this is your fault. That time your band played a cheesy festival to make some extra cash to fill the gas tank; or when you took your job skills to a larger company, choosing financial security over the excitement of creating your own identity. For every Williamsburg Starbucks pumpkin-spiced latte, every ironic shirt you bought from Urban Outfitters, every episode of Girls you tweeted about… These were all your ringing endorsements for the commodification of South 2nd and Kent.

As a catalog of Brooklyn/hipster clichés, this is impressively extensive; as an argument, it’s so fucking stupid that it barely warrants rebuttal, but still, here we are. The idea that multimillion-dollar waterfront properties would have been left for DIY venues if only the kids had believed a little bit harder, the curiously capitalist implication that freedom of choice means YOU CHOSE THIS… This sort of keeping-it-real bullshit is “alternative” culture at its most juvenile and embarrassing, which is why it’s worth engaging with, if only to point out just how fucking lame it is.

Does Evers really think that the transformation of a grossly undervalued waterfront neighborhood that’s one subway stop across the East River from Manhattan into a yuppie playground could have been halted by Staying True to Your Ethics™ and not going to those Absolut Brooklyn shows a few summers back? For fuck’s sake. Cities change. Constantly. Every single city in the world experiences some sort of economic mobility, whereby property prices in some neighborhoods rise because of an influx of money, and those in other neighborhoods fall. There’s nothing static about any city in the world.

The whole reason places like Glasslands and 285 Kent ever existed is that at some point, Williamsburg property was markedly undervalued. It’s a well-established pattern that the charge into such neighborhoods is generally led by those who can’t afford the places they’re in, and/or are willing to compromise on amenities and comfort in exchange for space and/or location: artists, students, musicians, DIY venue owners. It’s also a well-established pattern that they’re followed by the people we like to call “gentrifiers”: developers, investors, well-off young office types looking for property bargains in hip neighborhoods. Prices go up, the New York Times writes a belated trend piece, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone’s fun is over. It happened in Lower Manhattan in the ’80s and ’90s. It happened in Williamsburg in the ’00s. It’s happening in Bushwick right now. In a decade’s time, it’ll be happening in Ridgewood and Spanish Harlem.

In one respect, Evers is right: we’re all complicit in this process. Unless you happen to have the magic combination of monastic ideological purity and a shitload of money, it’s impossible to avoid being part of the change. And even then, you’re not immune — when Evers and his ilk moved into Williamsburg a decade or so ago, they were opening the doors for gentrification. They were, in fact, gentrifying. The only difference between them and the assholes now paying eye-watering amounts of money for waterfront condos is that the sums of money involved are substantially higher. They’re here for the same reason artists came in the 1990s and 2000s: they think they’re getting a good deal.

We’re all hypocrites. We all make compromises. A quick Google search suggests that Evers himself has worked for AOL and Condé Nast (where he appears to currently be Assistant Editor at, um,, two companies that don’t exactly fit the mold of “keeping it indie.” Which, y’know, fine. I’ve worked for KPMG, for Christ’s sake. This is called adulthood: unless you’re fortunate enough to have a trust fund or another source of independent wealth, you have to survive, and to survive, you most likely end up doing things that represent some sort of compromise with your ideals.

But that being the case, for the love of god, don’t then have the audacity to turn around and hold forth with insufferable sanctimony about how bands are somehow worthy of contempt if they have “played a cheesy festival to make some extra cash to fill the gas tank” — or, for that matter, about people “[taking their] job skills to a larger company, choosing financial security over the excitement of creating your own identity.” Remember what they say about people in glass houses, dude.