By Zach Schepis
Famous DIY space 285 Kent in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of qoygo.
The place is nondescript, just another battered warehouse leering against the Williamsburg waterfront. After a couple knocks on the door, a bushy and disheveled man wearing a respirator files into the entryway. Burning fumes of bleach radiate from inside. The room within is clad from floor to ceiling with a black-and-white jungle of graffiti. But aside from a vibrant decor, the space is completely empty. Scattered pieces of broken scrap-wood litter the floor; ghosts hearkening to something that once was.
“We had to tear down the stage yesterday,” the worker sighs, exhibiting a hint of something more than just a physical strain of the job. “Out with the old and in with the new, I suppose.”
Not even bleach will be able to wash away the stains of life that have saturated 285 Kent in its near decade-long existence. To the unknowing eye, 285 Kent might not have looked like much: just a 350-capacity room with some murals, bathrooms, and a bar. The space, however, hosted more than 400 shows in its short reign. In Brooklyn – hell, even along the East Coast entire – 285 Kent became a staple for the DIY music scene.
Now it’s being forced to shut down once and for all.
Its notoriety all started with Todd Patrick. Also known as Todd P, this maven is one of the monumental figures in the Williamsburg music scene. While 285 Kent was a free-range creative space for years, it wasn’t until the lease fell into P’s hands in 2010 that the Brooklyn DIY pulse started really thumping. Todd P set a precedent with 285 Kent that soon influenced other surrounding DIY venues, such as Death by Audio and Bushwick’s Silent Barn – both of which use the same PA system.
The real heart of the matter rested in both the venue and owner’s unwavering dedication to fostering a raw and honest creative haven for free expression. The following is a manifesto from Todd P’s website:
“Make your getting together with each other something different, something more. Not just music but all about the music; making you dance, making you stay out later. Going for the magic of being right there in what’s happening, with no hype, nothing elitist, everyone invited. Giving back and being involved and making creativity happen.”
From its very onset 285 Kent was all about the music – which is why when principal booker Ric Leichtung announced that the venue would be closing once and for all, four days of farewell concerts were set into motion. On Jan 11, then throughout the weekend of Jan 17, over 20 bands were culled to play in a final homage to the legendary underground hub.
When the final night of festivities rolled around, 285 Kent was a sweat-filled surging sea of bodies. The small room was completely sold out and packed to the brim with both first-timers and seasoned veterans who spent years attending shows at the waterfront warehouse. Guardian Angel, White Lung, and DIIV all played sets, with a frenetic finale provided by crowd-favorites Fucked Up.
“Dudes were, like, drinking sweat of Damian,” Fucked Up’s lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk tells BTR. “There’s no backstage so the only respite after the show is pushing through 300 people to get outside. It’s harder to play there – the sound is shittier, but the vibe has always been better and worth it in the end.”
LODRO kicked off the night to an already over-the-top crowd.
“It was madness; it was mayhem,” LODRO’s Lesley Hann tells BTR about her onstage experience during 285 Kent’s last show. “It was very important to me, the venue and all of the people who were a part of it. There were so many wild personalities and emotions. Some were excited, there were some who treated it like a funeral. It was an honor to be the first band for the last show, opening the ceremony so to speak.”
For Hann, 285 Kent was more than just a great venue to play shows.
“When we started the band all three members were living at the Market Hotel,” explains Hann. “Ric Leichtung also lived there, and he lived there ‘til the bitter end. We’ve always been very creative about how we financially support ourselves – when you have a 40-hour a week job, working on a band can take a long time. I’ve been a performer there in two or three different bands in four years and bartended there, so I have a pretty broad spectrum of feeling. I’ve also seen some of my favorite shows there.”
She continues that, “285 Kent was just a really amazing space for people to come together. It was a gateway, an open door to anyone who wanted to see the other side of the Brooklyn DIY curtain. Anyone could go.”
Unfortunately for such a creative hotbed, the very openness of 285 Kent became its ultimate demise. With rampant gentrification sweeping through Williamsburg, and the historic Domino sugar cane factory across the street slated to be torn down to allow for expensive high-rise condos in its stead, it was only inevitable that an untamable force like 285 would reach an end.
“I can’t believe it’s gone,” Glasslands worker Nome tells BTR, a popular music venue that shares a unit with 285. “I’m sure they’ll be coming after us next.”
“That venue was the reason why that area, that street, is even possible,” says Hann. “Why it’s even possible for fucking condominiums and a movie theater to even be there, and now those things are the very reasons why 285 Kent can’t stay anymore. It became too popular for its own good, the secret got out, and that was the beginning of the end.”
The musicians aren’t the only ones hurt by the iconic venue’s departure. Recently, fellow Brooklynite Dale W. Eisinger posted a petition to Change.org, calling on the borough’s king and queen, Jay-Z and Beyonce, to donate a million dollars towards saving the venue, because “goddamn this place ruled.”
While the petition surpassed its 285-signature quota, Eisinger’s call to arms triggered a wave of critical web responses. Local blog Brokelyn.com even went as far to say that, “we don’t think anything this stupid has ever happened in the history of Earth.”
What many failed to realize, however, was that the petition was a fake, written to illustrate the absurdity of the situation surrounding the closure.
“I feel great that critics responded to my fake petition,” Eisinger tells BTR.
“I write fake petitions like this one all the time. It’s a way of bridging what I call ‘radical slacktivism’ with things I actually care about, generating commentary on these admittedly insular issues by the absurdity of the prospect that anyone would maintain hope for a possibility such as Jay Z and Beyonce swooping in to save a marginally profitable space. Why would they do that? They had a stake in Barclay’s, for god’s sake,” he says. “The truth of the matter was that 285 Kent did not close because of money and this fake petition was intentionally misguided.”
Even if the petition was a farce, the DIY community doesn’t need a list of signatures to serve as permission to keep the torch burning.
“It’s not just about the space,” says Hann. “There will be another one. Closing 285 is stirring peoples’ passions to ensure it continues to move forward. People are mourning, sure, but at the same time people are scheming for the next location.”
No matter how much the times change, no matter how much modernization, gentrification, and commercial enterprises continue to transform our ever-shifting city, one thing remains certain among artists and fans alike: DIY will never die.
So then how will the community forge ahead in the wake of 285 Kent?
“To answer that question, I’m going to cite, in part, Mos Def’s ‘Fear Not of the Man,’” says Eisinger.
“‘Listen… people be askin’ me all the time / Yo Mos, what’s gettin’ ready to happen with Hip-Hop? / Where do you think Hip-Hop is goin’? / I tell ‘em, You know what’s gonna happen with Hip-Hop? / Whatever’s happening with us.’”
The new frontier is looming on the horizon, and we’ll need to journey deeper into the heart of Brooklyn to find it. We’ll need to do it together.
“The DIY scene will continue to evolve by holding onto its values,” Hann tells BTR, “that’s how it will progress forward. Williamsburg is done. It’s time to start moving east.”