Unless you’re one of New York City’s tireless live music fans, gleefully cramming into darkened rooms several nights each week to see the latest crustcore revivalists and sub-sub-genre DJ troubadours, chances are you probably didn’t know what the hell 285 Kent was before this week. Yet Pitchfork’s apparently newsworthy announcement of the Brooklyn all-ages music venue’s string of farewell shows snowballed the coverage of a local story into a national one, with blogs rapidly repackaging that content. Since then, outlets from Billboard, The Fader and The Village Voice have all published interviews with the people behind 285 Kent, namely local booker Todd P and Ric Leichtung of Ad Hoc.
With lineups including Autre Ne Veut, DIIV, Fucked Up, and Laurel Halo—names recognizable to those who regularly read these aforementioned music blogs and others like them—on paper the shows read like must-see CMJ or SXSW events. There are still a few wrong notes, and the bookings largely resemble those put on by Bowery Presents, which seems somewhat antithetical to all this talk of D.I.Y. and independence. Curiously, despite the bookers’ full-throated boasts about 285 Kent’s rap shows, these final few are devoid of any emcees, though perhaps that’s where the “special guests” promises come in. Though Pitchfork is credited as co-presenting these gigs, Editor Brandon Stosuy insists that there’s no formal monetary sponsorship, rather that his personal involvement in booking these final performances justifies the tastemaking website’s coveted imprimatur.
Nonetheless, given the attention one might be inclined to think its closure would be as dire as losing 924 Gilman or ABC No Rio. Though some have assuredly connected with it, as D.I.Y. venues go 285 Kent could exist just about anywhere. Despite some impressive bookings these past three years, the space is essentially a rectangular box, populated with with art mural walls, a makeshift bar, a stage, a couple of risky couches, and not much else. Patrons and staff disregard the city’s indoor smoking bans. Shows start and finish with no regard for set times, should any even be announced.
285 Kent is precisely the sort of place that pops up in a given city and lasts until the cops shut it down one time too many or the promoters lose interest. Here today, gone tomorrow, D.I.Y. venues generally don’t stick around forever. Consider the Brooklyn spaces we’ve lost over the years, places like Bruar Falls, Monster Island, Zebulon, or the old Silent Barn. They’ve been replaced or supplanted, of course, by the likes of Death By Audio, Shea Stadium, Suburbia, and the new Silent Barn. More or less, that’s the nature of the D.I.Y. beast, one with the average life expectancy of an adult no-kill shelter dog, and anyone’s who’s spent a long enough time attending, performing, or volunteering at spaces like these knows that full well.
There’s no denying that 285 Kent means something to a select community of people—musicians and concertgoers alike. Though on the surface it doesn’t appear all that special, those preparing to mourn it during these farewell shows and afterwards made memories, connections, friends, enemies, and lovers there. Other venues will pick up the slack, and the bookers appear intent on bringing future shows to other space. Still, let’s all try and keep the hyperbole to a minimum. This isn’t CBGBs we’re talking about here.
If anything, 285 Kent’s closing is less an all-ages tragedy than a harbinger of things to come in Williamsburg. Despite the convenient shorthand, the neighborhood is hardly the hipster utopia it once was purported to be a decade ago. Rents have risen to the point where those without the means to afford it instead settle in abutting Bushwick or Greenpoint, the latter locale already eagerly following Williamsburg’s lead. As Williamsburg grows ever more upmarket residential, many of the neighborhood’s assorted nightclubs and rock bars will likely find themselves priced out or otherwise embattled, an extension of what’s already happened in recent years to local businesses like grocery store Tops On The Waterfront.
Take Rough Trade NYC,, the newly installed Brooklyn outpost of revered UK-based record chain. Hardly a D.I.Y. space, with booking duties under the corporate Bowery Presents umbrella, the franchise swiftly ran afoul of the real Williamsburg when its robust in-store concert program had to be temporarily ceased due to noise complaints. It’s unlikely that independent venues like Cameo or Glasslands (next door to 285 Kent) could undertake the same sort of soundproofing renovations without taking a sizeable financial hit. Once the authorities get involved, the associated fines can cripple a small business, let alone an already legally nebulous D.I.Y music venue. In that case, only those with deep pockets will likely endure, something that bodes well for Brooklyn Bowl, that Vegas-fake, Disneyfied complex that approximates what some suburban bumpkin imagines a fun night out in NYC to be.
With the relentless development of luxury housing and national chains like Dunkin Donuts and Urban Outfitters already setting up shop, only the truly naive could expect a venue like 285 Kent situated so close to the Williamsburg waterfront could possibly have survived. Todd P put it best when speaking with The Fader, describing the neighborhood as “Times Square for guys in khakis.” The likely outcome, then, is that the next round of D.I.Y. spaces will crop up nearer to the people who’d actually frequent them, in places like Bushwick and Ridgewood. Plenty already have. Metalheads in the know already frequent The Acheron, and New York punks regularly file into 538 Johnson for pile-on hardcore shows.
There’s nothing wrong with saying goodbye to a place that means something. Indeed, oral historian Ezra Marcus’ recent Yelp cut-up poetics eulogize 285 Kent better than most will. But the loss of one D.I.Y. space is not the death knell of a sprawling movement that has survived decades of aggressive law enforcement, maddening city bureaucracy, and scene politics. As adaptable and perserverent as a cockroach, punk has no reason or incentive to lie down and die.
Gary Suarez likes to say, "I'm Gary." He's on Twitter — @noyokono