The Bunker is the Godfather of Weird Techno Parties
Last year they went and started a record label. We talked to label owner Bryan Kasenic about the future of Bunker.
The next Bunker party will take place tomorrow, March 14, at Output in Brooklyn.
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Name: The Bunker NY
Vibe: Like talking to the slightly schizo' goth kid who sat alone in your high school cafeteria (and later became an internationally renowned artistic genius): you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth, but you knew it was going to be weird, and probably a bit dark.
Founded: The record label officially launched in 2013, but the Bunker parties started in 2003.
Location: New York City
Claim to fame: The Bunker has built its own reputation on the strength of its left-field bookings and dedication to new York's experimental electronic music scene.
By the Numbers: So far, The Bunker NY has released three records, but founder Bryan Kasenic says he's got several more on deck.
THUMP: What's the deal?
There are more than a few fish splashing around in this pond they call New York City, and it's ain't easy to carve out a space for yourself in the city's cutthroat music industry. Somehow Bryan Kasenic has pulled it off. Over the past 11 years, his Brooklyn-based party series, the Bunker, has become a bona fide institution in New York's experimental electronic music scene and the number-one makeout party for techno nerds.
Bryan's taste runs the gamut of intellectually and artistically provocative sounds, and the party has hosted drone, synth, and noise acts, as well as lots of moody minimal techno à la Sandwell District. In the early days, when Kasenic threw his events in the Manhattan lounge Subtonic, the Bunker even hosted performances from bands like Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance.
The Bunker soundtrack tends to have a dark edge to it, but it's impossible to pigeonhole—and it's even harder to say what the Bunker is these days, because it's more than a party. Kasenic has played around the world with the party's other resident DJs, launched a record label under the Bunker banner late last year, and his parties are still going strong in Brooklyn; the next one is tomorrow, March 14, at Output. The label's catalog so far is as surprising and avant-garde as the party: the first record, a debut release from Leisure Muffin, tinkered with electro-tinged synth beats, while the subsequent offerings from Clay Wilson and Voices From The Lake approached deep, hypnotic techno.
THUMP: Why did you decide to start the label now?
Bryan Kasenic: In my head, this has been in the works for 10 years, but it didn't seem like the right time to start the label. A lot of that time, the Bunker was a weekly party and took up a lot of my time. It still takes up a lot of my time, but in the past year things slowed down, when we started doing things at Output. One of the huge benefits of working there is that they take a lot of the administrative load off of my shoulders, so it's allowed me to work on these huge parties but still have time to devote to other projects. I can't really sit around and do nothing, so with the little bit of time that Output freed up for me, I just went for it with the label.
The label is supposed to be reflective of my favorite moments from the party, so sometimes that's very specific, like, some of the best parts from the Voices From The Lake set from 2012 is now that EP. Other things, like Clay's record and Leisure Muffin's record, are really just inspired by things they heard at the Bunker, and we have more records coming like that. One of our sound guys is doing a record—people who have been around in the shadows of the party are finally getting their music out there.
In an interview with the Daily Note last year, you said that you started throwing Bunker parties because you wanted to carve out a space for a type of music that didn't otherwise have a home in New York City. Do you feel the same way about the label?
I started doing the party because I had a community in New York, but I wanted a specific community around the music that I loved, and I felt like it existed, and that we could build it and make it happen. Over the years it has exploded in a way that I never could have imagined. So, that's part of the reason why I finally wanted to start the label. I mean, I listen to a lot of electronic music promos all day, and it's terrifyingly awful at times, because everything sounds the same—people are into this Berghain sound now, or they're into this lo-fi sound, and all of a sudden everyone's doing that.
Every idea gets boring so fast, so I'm interested in putting out music that can still be functional—in my mind, anyway—on a techno dance floor, but is still really unlike anything else that's coming out. Keeping it interesting for myself is a big part of it, because I feel like I'm one of the first people that starts to get bored of a venue or a party or an artist, so if I start to feel a little bored with things, I always try to move it forward and do something different. I figure that if everybody else isn't already bored, they will be soon.
The label adds a new dimension to what the Bunker is—it's not just a party series anymore, and it's not just a group of resident DJs. So, what is the Bunker, and how will the label change it?
People have an idea of what the Bunker is and what it's about, especially when they view it from afar. It's really the people who are very intimate with what we're doing and come to all the parties and who're fans of all the artists that really get that it's not that easy to pigeonhole. And to me, those are the people making music for the label. The label is going to really help define what the Bunker is more than a party ever could. It's going to change what the party is, and make the space a public party space for this kind of music to happen. It would be difficult for me to book some of the people making very strange music at the party, but by putting the music out there and getting fans, I think it'll all feed back into the parties and make the parties more interesting.
Part of the fun is figuring out what that all means, and where it leads, and what opportunities it opens up and how it changes peoples' perception of the Bunker. I have some idea about how this is going to go and how it's all going to play out and how it's going to change what people think about the Bunker, but I mean, I felt the same way as my taste in music shifts, or venue shifts for the party and how that would play out. Sometimes I'm right, but sometimes I'm wrong—and sometimes when I'm wrong, it's just as good as when I'm right.