285 Kent Remembered
By the People Who Made It Great

January 13, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

In conducting the interviews for this piece, something became clear: The reason that so many people care so deeply about end of 285 Kent, is that 285 Kent was more than a room where bands played. At 285 we witnessed the collapse of genre barriers in real time, as internet rap stars mingled with hardcore kids and European tourists unwittingly stumbled into experimental electronic shows. It was a place where artists loved hanging out as much as their fans, big bands got to play truly intimate shows, and underground acts found larger audiences.

The space changed hands several times over its relatively short lifespan. 285 Kent opened in 2010 with the concert promoter Todd P and indie video game collective Babycastles at the helm. In 2011, after a stint with promoter John “Rambo” Jacobson running the space, Ric Leichtung, editor of the music blog Ad Hoc, took over, and turned 285 into the type of space that could attract Pictureplane, Grimes, and A$AP Rocky in the same night. Now, there are just three more shows left.

No two people feel the same way about the space and its closing, but in doing these interviews — with artists like Pictureplane and Dan Deacon, as well as staffers and management — one sentiment was echoed again and again: we did this, and we can do it again.

Todd Patrick (DIY concert promoter, venue founder): 285 Kent, like Monster Island before it, was like a Williamsburg welcome center for visitors to New York and newcomers — like a gateway drug, if you will. It was a place where people who were seeking out the underground and the warehouse scene could easily find it in a neighborhood they felt comfortable in. We really tried to represent a lot of different musical movements and draw diverse crowds. I’m really proud that 285 had as much success as it did bringing out people who were not necessarily white and not necessarily straight.

Das Racist at 285 Kent, Benjamin Lozovsky/Flickr

Kitty (rapper): 285 Kent threw the first party I ever attended in New York. I had run away from home in Florida that morning and spent the day trying to find someone on Twitter to house me. Finally, I ended up following Chippy Nonstop around Brooklyn. I was dressed in Florida clothes and had no idea who anybody around me was. One of Chippy’s guy friends — Nick (Koenig, musician and producer Hot Sugar) — introduced himself to me, and we hit it off. We ended up in front of the stage, dancing and making fun of this old guy in front of us with earplugs. He dared me to pull the guy’s earplugs out, I counter-dared him, and he did it! That’s when I decided I was in love with Nick.

Joshua Strawn (Vaura, Azar Swan, Religious To Damn, Blacklist): My first experience playing there was shortly after it opened. Religious to Damn played with Bush Tetras. It was one of our last shows as Religious to Damn and one of our best. The crowd was great, the energy was great, and the way it sounded on stage was amazing. Recently, both Vaura and Azar Swan did their record release shows there, and again, for each band the show stands out as among our best. That’s what I’ll remember about it more than anything: something about it made everything work and sound good and feel right. In contrast to lots of venues in New York, which make playing in a band into a kind of masochism, I always felt at ease there.

Kitty and Nick Koenig at 285 Kent, Andrew St. Clair/Noisey

Chippy Nonstop (rapper): The first show I played there was honestly the best show I’ve ever played. The energy at 285 is untouchable compared to every venue in NYC. It always goes off. I did beautiful drugs for the first time at 285 Kent.

Emilie Friedlander (Ad Hoc, The Fader, La Big Vic):  In 2011 and 2012, I lived in an apartment in the same building, and when I lost my job at Altered Zones, Ric Leichtung let me serve drinks and check IDs at 285 to pick up some extra cash. He and I came up with the idea of starting Ad Hoc in that apartment, and once the publication was up and running, we began hosting our office hours at 285, even though it was pretty much the darkest and smelliest office in the world.

Alaina Stamatis (artist, The Ho_se, Showpaper): My favorite period of 285 was when it was shared with Babycastles. When I was able to play the large-scale full-body Twister-style-DDR video game while listening to Ed Schrader or PC Worship. Also the bathroom hadn’t totally crumbled yet.

Melissa Scaduto (The Beets, Cassie Ramone, 285 staff): There’re so many fun experiences I’ve had there: bottles flying around, furniture and a bass getting smashed during the end of a metal show. I recently hung out with Ariel Pink and told him his new look is very Genesis P-Orridge and he did a spot on impression while Shannon Shaw smashed ice with me.

Dan Deacon (electronic musician): A really great venue, like 285, is a place where if you got cut, you’d be worried about it the next day. You’d be like, “Oh god, this disgusting place. This is terrible.” Whereas if you got cut at the Mercury Lounge, you’d be like, “Of course, they have bacitracin and peroxide on hand, so I washed it in a clean bathroom that if my parents went into they wouldn’t be ashamed of my life choices.”

Crazy Spirit (and fan) at 285 Kent, Tod Seelie

Jane Chardiet (writer, DJ, Foreplay): People villainize Todd P, but the promoters and staff at 285 were nice people and they let us get away with murder. Factory Floor and Yellow Tears killed it a couple of weeks ago. The New York’s Alright festival was really cool, too. At any other venue a giant bouncer would have torn Tyler, the Creator from the pipes he was climbing on and beat the shit out of him. But I think the wildest set I’ve ever seen there was Dog Leather last year. The crowd was pretty small but there was sort of an orgy. That kind of stuff doesn’t fly at most venues.

Heidi Vanderlee (Leda, Mal Blum, The Chris Gethard Show, Permanent Wave): I only booked one show at 285, but it was one of my favorites: JD Samson & MEN, Making Friendz, and Claire’s Diary. A feminist dance party took over, and some drunk guy was really upset that he wasn’t at a The Men show and had to be placated by 285 staff.

I remember standing in the back, watching my friend Amy play with her band Hilly Eye as they opened for the Thermals. The Thermals could have easily played a “legit” place but they played 285 instead, and the venue’s characteristic swelter got [The Thermals’ Hutch Harris] down to his briefs before the set was half over.

I remember getting there just in time for Shannon and the Clams and perching on a wobbly chair to watch their entire set. Shannon told everyone who was too scared to stage dive to just do it, and people did it, and it was one of the sweetest, rawest things I’d ever seen.

Dan Deacon at 285 Kent, Richard Gin/Flickr

Jordan Michael (JMC Aggregate, Silent Barn Showpaper): I had a show with Dan Deacon, and I was upset the whole night because Randy Macho Man Savage had died the day before, and then Dan threatened to shove something up my pee-hole, but in a very loving way. I met one person I fell in love with there, and countless people I hated, but somehow those are equally great memories.

I saw Kool Keith clear 400 people out of a room by naming cities he has rapped in for half an hour. I got to know a lot of people over mop buckets at five in the morning when everyone was too tired and drunk to think. We had snowball fights with $3000 in beer-soaked cash, twice.

Travis Egedy (Pictureplane): I was performing and suddenly A$AP Rocky was standing behind me with AraabMuzik and started pouring liquor into peoples mouths from the stage. It was all a surprise too: no one — not even me — knew that Rocky was going to be there. Grimes was on LSD and only DJ’ed Skrillex songs that night. That type of thing would never happen at a regular venue.

Pictureplane at 285 Kent, Andrew St. Clair

Ian Vanek (Japanther): Japanther celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 there with a free peace concert. We resurrected the Twin Towers as seven-foot tall speaker cabinets. People were crowd surfing on boogie boards and a huge American flag got turned upside down. Our friends Sun Color from Barcelona performed and our friends Puppies played their first show. My brother’s band Night Toilet played, and Unstoppable Death Machines shredded it.

Mike Tucci (Unstoppable Death Machines): I think the 9/11 show was Japanther’s way of saying, “We’re going to rebuild something that was taken from us.”

It was a mentality of not being stuck somewhere, figuring a creative way of expressing yourself, and allowing your life to move forward. We were celebrating that, 10 years later, we’re all here and enjoying each other. It was a rowdy, crazy show.

Kaitlin Browne (285 manager): The place is like a second home, and as dirty as it could be, sometimes we took pride in it. Painting the bathrooms, mopping the spilled beers, cleaning up cigarette butts: the only way anyone could possibly do that night after night was with love. It’s tricky in NYC. You have to make enough money to stay open, but how do you let people drink for free?

Zak Krevitt, Hari Nef and Macy Rodman at 285 Kent, Cakes Danky Dank

Todd P: It was about people who were different from each other actually hanging out, and sometimes making out. 285 was as much a sweaty punk rock venue as it was a smart-kid electronic music venue. We were lucky enough to exist in the scene at an interesting moment when a lot of genre divisions were breaking down. It always seems like people from outside New York appreciated it more than people here did, which to me felt like we were doing things right. Or it might just be that the New Yorkers knew how terrible the bathrooms were.

Ric Leichtung: I feel like a couple years ago it was pretty taboo to host dance music in a DIY venue. A lot of people who start these spaces come from a noise or indie rock background and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between house and techno. There’s also a lot of entrepreneurial promoters looking to host raves and seek the cheapest place possible to do this, and DIY venues are often the best option. Terrible experiences like that ended up really poisoning the artistic and cultural appeal that dance music could have in the DIY universe.

285 was probably the first of its generation to really take on a lot of dance parties and intellectualize them to some degree. We love dance music, and were really hands on with select people on creating bills that act as bridges between the rave community and DIY community.

Emilie Friedlander: I think that 285 was pretty emblematic of the utopian belief that good music should and can reach as many ears as possible, no matter how challenging — or conversely, commercially palatable — it may be. 285 was able to host a wide variety of shows while still remaining true to its founding ethics — of being a fully independent, all-ages art space that shunned velvet rope culture and always made a point of paying its artists well. There are people in this town who are so in love with music and the community around it that they’d sooner give up every waking second of their life to the cause than let that community die.

John Jacobson (ex-staff), Sophie Weiner (author), Neon Indian and Pictureplane at 285 Kent, Erez Avissar

Andrew Spaulding (SoftSpot, Showpaper): When you were there and so were your homies and John Maus was on stage bashing his own head with a mic, it felt like a real community.

Mike Tucci: Ric and everyone there fostered that mentality. Once you walked into the venue, it’s this really big open space, so right away you feel a little freer than you would going to a venue where everybody’s checking your ID and patting you down.

Dan Deacon: You actually feel transported out of this world of regulations and rules and signs telling you explicitly what you can and can’t do, constantly, in all areas. You’re very aware of law, and presence of law, when you’re in New York as an outsider, especially if you’re a delusional crazy person like myself. But I think that’s why a lot of people feel so comfortable in a DIY space, even if it is by very definition, uncomfortable. It’s so fucked, and it’s so abnormal from where you just entered from, that it changes your whole perspective on what comfort and limitations can be.

Zoo Lion (artist, 285 staff): 285 was a place we could all let our boobs hang out, and we were untouchable. It was our safe space where practically anything was O.K., and if anything ever got crazy I knew all my friends had my back. If I wanted to pee in a bucket, I peed in a bucket. If I wanted to chain smoke while bartending, I did so as well.

Matt Sullivan (Ad Hoc, Velvet Zombie, 285 staff): It was small enough to be in the DIY space circuit but also just large enough to compete with larger venues and clubs, and, unlike most of the underground rock venues, it was open to electronic styles and dance parties. It was managed well enough to seem like an “official” space. It was the kind of place you could catch the kind of shows that you will brag about having caught later.

Siobhan McDonald (285 manager): I felt like certain people had a resentment towards us. Whether it was towards Todd for some reason, or for us making more money and having bigger, more “mainstream” shows. I feel like we were at the forefront, along with some other dumb legal venues, and only represented the DIY underground scene to people who had no idea what they were talking about.

Monotonix at 285 Kent, Nev Brown/Flickr

Kunal Gupta (Babycastles, Silent Barn):  A dangerous thing about DIY is that it is easily exploited. You want to be careful about that. You have to think about where the money moves around in the picture, and you have to consider whether everyone agrees about money. It’s a shifty business, so you have to make sure to identify when people in DIY New York get caught directly lying about money here and there. It’s something we all have to do, as part of building a community, participatory world, to make sure that we keep the siphoners out, because it’s so easy for any crafty, Machiavellian person to siphon all of the value right out of our hard work.

Stephen Potter (285 sound engineer): I think a lot of the narratives around the space being a victim of gentrification, or the authorities, or whatever, are pretty dumb. It was a big warehouse that had high-profile illegal shows on the waterfront of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world. It wasn’t built to last. So I don’t think you can make any sort of big statements about New York City or DIY or The One True Meaning of Punk Rock based on the place shutting down.

John “Rambo” Jacobson (285 Staff, promoter): It sucks not being able to look at the stage that Todd, me and five other guys assembled at K&K Buffet in Ridgewood for a Black Dice and Real Estate show two years ago, then broke down, and reassembled at 285 in the span of 36 hours. And not being able to try to keep my balance on a wobbly toilet while I’m taking a shit.

Jordan Michael: 285 was always all-ages. Where can a 16-year-old go see Mykki Blanco play now? More importantly, what regressive bullshit might they listen to instead? 285 Kent sounded like shit and was filled with obnoxious hipsters, but it was a place where you could experiment, relax, and fuck around, and that is the most important thing for art. The higher up on the food chain you get, the more radical the idea of fucking around becomes, and we just lost the biggest player in the fucking around game.

285 Kent, Zak Krevitt

Mike Tucci: The scene will thrive no matter what. Bands will play where they play, and people will go to the shows. I think people are crying just so they have something to talk about on the internet. We can just find another place and call it something else. I feel like people who are treating it with this super-sentimentality are just talking for the sake of talking. If there’s a problem, address the problem. Find another place and start doing shows.

Dan Deacon: I’m not shocked at all that it’s closing. I don’t think anyone imagined celebrating the 20th anniversary of 285 Kent with Pictureplane coming back and playing with his all-star jazz band. Just seeing how quickly new york is exploding in development, it’s amazing that it lasted as long as it did.

It’s insane to think that there’s waterfront property in Brooklyn where its main purpose right now is for people to go and see insane bands for eight dollars. That’s crazy. I think if you were to explain that to anybody, they’d be like, “What are you talking about? Why is there New York waterfront property where the business generates at most, like, nothing per night? How do I acquire this property?”

Matt Sullivan: Real estate is no easy game, particularly in Brooklyn 2014– you can’t just walk around and pick out a crusty warehouse anymore — especially in Williamsburg, but even in Bushwick or Ridgewood it’s a struggle. I’ve read some comments that seem to scoff at the idea that this is a serious stressor for anyone involved with the space and that’s wildly inaccurate.

Zach Staggers (The So So Glos, Shea Stadium, Market Hotel): I’d imagine the condo-fication of Brooklyn didn’t help. It’s something everyone involved in running venues is thinking about as the neighborhoods change and then change again. While 285 may be gone, the spirit of DIY and all-ages spaces is here to stay.

Melissa Scaduto: New York’s never been big on nostalgia. We tore down the original, beautiful Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden.

Jordan Michael: 285 Kent as a venue meant nothing. What matters is Ric Leichtung, the guy who ran 285 Kent. It wasn’t until Ric stepped up did that place really begin to take off. Booking and press agents have wanted their bands to play there more than anything because for the last two years a picture of a band in front of that black and white mural was a stamp of authenticity.

Dan Deacon: That space is important, and the space following it, closing down five years from now, will be important. It is a chapter in a long, endless book, but it was an awesome chapter.

Joshua Strawn: I hope other venues learn from what made 285 awesome.

John “Rambo” Jacobson: To me it’s more like a marker on a timeline. It’s something worth noting and remembering fondly, in kind of a wonder and amazement that people were able to do what they did in that space while it was around. But there will be other places, and there will be more memories. 285 was just one of them.

(Top photo: Blood Diamonds by Erez Avissar, Vertical inline: Manager Kaitlin Browne by Kamilla María Gnarr, crowd by Zak Krevitt)