Welcome to Bklyn Sounds, Bklyner’s new weekly column which will survey various hyper-local musical goings-on in the borough this summer.
Bklyn Sounds is a community response to what we all saw take place during the pandemic and quarantine, a time that left musical performers, concert promoters, event producers, music venues, audiences, and musickers of all stripes without an opportunity to practice what they are all best at.
It’s also an answer to an era in which every media organization, no matter how big, is catering to a global audience; while local artisans, who rely on audiences for their shows and events to come from their immediate vicinity, no longer have a community mouth-piece which will help shine a spotlight on their work. Bklyn Sounds hopes to alleviate that situation.
These responses are the result of some of us who work in, and contribute to, the musical arts, have learned over the past year.
After all, during the pandemic, most of the business arts headlines have been made by multinational audio and video streaming services, who saw their revenues go through the roof because they became the indoor outlets for our entertainment—even as they were increasingly coming under fire for not properly compensating the creators of the content that powered their business models.
Meanwhile, Do It Yourself (DIY) musicians, shuttered mom-and-pop live venues and independent arts organizations and promoters (i.e. the lifeblood of the music-arts community) were all attempting valiantly just to survive. The fiscal disconnect has been plain for all to see.
Yet those of us who remained in the city during last year’s turbulent summer of illness and protest, witnessed another set of remarkable stories that never made it to major media headlines. These were made by local musicians and by people who can not live without them: in the form of an incredible community fight-back energy.
One could encounter it at stoop shows being produced from Windsor Terrace and Ditmas Park, to Red Hook; or on DUMBO rooftops. One could feel it at socially distant shows by singer-songwriters and improvisers, whether in Prospect Park or in Greenpoint. And at DJ’d block parties in Clinton Hill and Bushwick where everyone remained masked while dancing for their lives. (COVID Raves made tabloid headlines but were for suckers.) All of this music was performed by some of the greatest musicians in the world — because, d’uh, its Brooklyn and some of the planet’s finest musicians live here.
It is, in fact, probably no exaggeration that, during the rebellious, exhilarating and hopefully world-changing months between COVID-19’s first and second waves, the city’s street-music culture was as alive as it had ever been. If one simply knew which social feeds to follow—a big “if” even for those of us who chase pop and hip-hop and jazz and house for a living—one could literally participate in great live music almost every night.
And so, if it had not already been apparent before, 2020’s historic atmosphere made it obvious: Local culture matters!
As Bklyner and other young local media newsletters and outlets regularly remind us in areas of civic importance, the immediate things that are happening on our blocks, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities are the first line of defense against seeing the world in hopeless monotone. It is extremely important to spotlight the vibrancy that takes place around the corner, to participate in it, and—if you’re an arts writer such as myself—to shout about it.
Yet as with the streaming services, today’s arts coverage increasingly skews towards mass/Internet/national/International, giving little if any space to what is happening in our communities. And while social media has undoubtedly revolutionized how one broadcasts to one’s followers or friends-of-friends, it has created the kind of polarized silos that art and culture, and especially music have traditionally worked to break down.
This, then, is what Bklyn Sounds purports to do: spotlight all the local music cultures of New York’s greatest borough, or as much as we can. It will guide readers to neighborhood shows and parties they may not know about, spotlight new recordings by Brooklyn artists who have not yet gotten the ink, talk to artists and musickers creating great energy in their communities. Bklyn Sounds is a space not specific to genre, neighborhood, class, or age, because everything from Kids Rock concerts in Park Slope, to Flex parties in Brownsville is part of our current culture and part of our collective musical future.
If you have an event or a tip about great music happening in Brooklyn, please let us know by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
OUR PICKS FOR THIS WEEK: 6/4-6/10
With venue capacities rising and hours of operations being extended, the club and performance space re-openings are coming hard and fast all over Brooklyn. Which means that, in a variety forms (often requiring vaccinations, please check with individual venues for their admission policy), street music culture is once again ceding space to club culture. And yet strange happenings and community configured jamborees continue to pop up aplenty.
Two such events are taking place this Saturday (6/5) afternoon:
The indoor-outdoor yard of Bed-Stuy’s wonderful Sugar Hill club is hosting what it is calling “The Sugarhill Homemade Jam with The Bedford Hill Barnburners,” featuring a long, rotating cast of the city’s finest roots Americana players and singers, “headlined” (kinda) by the Georgia-to-NYC transplant Kelley Swindall. (217 Nostrand Ave, 4 pm, $10 cover).
Halyards in the Gowanus is also hosting an afternoon of guitar-centric entertainment: “An Acoustic Rock 'n' Roll Circus!,” organized by Graham Brice (who’ll also play), the free program is gonna feature five rock singer-songwriters reacquainting themselves with audiences in a chill-ass environment. (406 3rd Ave, 4 pm, Free)
Because they’ve been allowed to be open since late last summer, and slyly hosting socially distant informal music events almost this entire time, arts galleries have been a godsend to many musicians and DJs. They still are.
This weekend, East Williamsburg’s DORDOR Gallery is presenting the immersive exhibit “Combo Especial nº1,” which features the work of young artists from New York and Mexico City. On Friday (6/4) and Saturday (6/5) nights, the gallery will feature after-parties with a quartet of great art-minded funk, disco and groove-oriented DJs, Lloyd and Toribio (Friday), Tom Noble and Marco Weibel. (45 Irving Ave, 9 pm art screening/10 pm party, $25)
Considering that they’re built on intimacy and proximity and heat, and those things were the least viral disease-friendly, great local dance-parties suffered more than almost any other cultural events the past year. Their gradual return is a blessing.
One favorite, “Coloring Lessons,” helmed by the wonderful young DJ/producer duo MuscleCars, comes back to Mood Ring in Bushwick on Saturday (6/5). If you love dancing to classic house music and its modern variations, with a young non-binary crowd that goes hard and late on the dance floor, this is a great place to go Saturday night. (1260 Myrtle Ave. 10 pm, Free before 11 pm)
One of the many venues hard-hit by the pandemic was Bushwick’s palace of kitsch, The Sultan Room. But they also fought back hard-as-hell to have the independent music venues be recognized for federal assistance, becoming a loud voice in the New York chapter of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). Sultan Room has started booking shows again, in both its magic, psychedelic main room, and on its rooftop as part of its Sultan Room Under the Stars program.
Wednesday (6/9), the roof will play host to two sets by Adeline, formerly the bassist-vocalist of NYC’s great disco ensemble Escort, and is now writing and producing a variety of wonderfully soulful, catchy jams on her own and with a talented coterie of friends. (234 Starr Street, 6p & 8:30p, $25)
One venue that has been active throughout the pandemic by hosting great livestreams, has been Downtown Brooklyn/Boerum Hill’s Roulette, a four-decades-old city staple adventurous music. They are making up for lost time by increasingly selling tickets and filling up their schedule, including two great shows next week.
Wednesday’s (6/9) program will be led by the new-music/jazz percussionist Susie Ibarra, and feature flutist Claire Chase and pianist Alex Peh, focused on music from the trio’s new album, Talking Gong, as well as pieces by Pauline Oliveros and Olivier Messiaen.
Thursday (6/10) will feature Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones: New Monuments, works-in-progress from a “jazz”-minded group often led by Kidambi’s vocal prowess and harmonium, and which addresses social justice and racial inequity in America in stark, creative terms.