Bushwick, a small neighborhood in north Brooklyn, is well-known in the city as a haven for secret underground and do-it-yourself (or DIY) music venues and culture of the Pitchfork or Brooklyn Vegan variety. But the illegal basement Bushwick show space Suburbia regularly features emo bands — a genre that's largely out of step with the current music climate of Brooklyn. Here's a peek into what makes it tick.
In a city that exists largely without an emo scene, Suburbia is a rarity. Its co-founders say they miss the tight-knit teenage camaraderie of the small-town musical communities of the Northeast, and now are trying to recreate that vibe in Brooklyn. For many teenagers, the only good thing about growing up in the suburbs — besides some of their friends having pools — was going to house and VFW shows. That's exactly how a night at Suburbia feels. Visiting is like going back in time to high school, when emo seemed like the coolest thing in the world, except now everyone's old enough to drink–one of the main differences between the all-ages or straight-edge community shows that Suburbia tries to emulate is that cheap beer abounds at these parties.
Suburbia was once a porn studio. It now serves as a dual purpose as an unofficial music venue and a home to the 10 Long Island natives who run the space. The guys are doing their best to emulate the character and ethos of classic Long Island venues like The Downtown, a now-defunct emo hotspot in Farmingdale, New York.
Part of the challenge in putting on shows at Suburbia is finding the right balance between promoting the space to emo fans and keeping everything small enough to avoid attention from the police. This is a very real concern, as popular indie and punk spaces like Market Hotel have been shut down for good as a result of pressure from cops after the crowds at events became too large. The shows at Suburbia are mostly word-of-mouth, and the space's Internet presence is more limited than a normal promoter or venue's would be as a result. This only intensifies the feeling that the shows are a throwback to another era.
"We're not just like other venues, where the show ends and everyone goes home. It's a party too. We encourage people to stay, come, party with the bands. And a lot of times the kids are here until 4-5 in the morning hanging out," Kevin, one of Suburbia's residents, says of the venue's atmosphere.
The guys in charge:
Kevin, who's also one of Suburbia's main show promoters, wants to expand the space, but admits it would be tough to do without blowing their cover in the process. "We have to stay on the down-low a little bit," he says. "But luckily we've got a bit of a built-in crowd, who are just going to come for the party, for the hang out, people who like the same kind of music we do. That helps, and the bands promote their shows, which helps." So far their only run-in with the law has involved an attendee getting busted with an open-container fine for drinking on the street outside the space.
The Suburbia crew see a need for a comfortable, well-run, but still accessible venue for emo shows in New York City. "I hear so many bands come to New York and say, 'I don't like coming here, I hate coming here. And that sucks. Brooklyn is a great scene and I hate hearing that," Kevin says. "It's hard to draw kids out to a show when there are a million other things going on. If the show is 15 bucks and they haven't heard of a single band or 10 bucks and people haven't heard of a band or heard of one band. it won't work. That's why it's a punk show, five bucks."
The all-ages crowd:
Living in a music venue is definitely a weird double life, but the Suburbia crew is used to the blurring of home and party space. "We've lived with kids in the past that weren't up for the constant hang. But we're all on the same page, and we're okay with it," says Kevin. "We're able to adapt quickly. If you come home from work after a 12-hour day and there's 20 people over, you have to be able to adjust."
Their only rule for the kids that show up? "Don't be an asshole," says Emmanuel.