Hell is a Place in Queens

We have talked to Seva Granik before when he threw a party at Sugar Hill Disco in Bed-Stuyvesant. For me, that event was a eureka moment. It convinced me that my future was absolutely in Brooklyn, and that the much touted past or "back in the day" that everyone complained was gone was alive and well and maybe even better. Next Saturday, October 27, Seva is involved with 319 Scholes gallery’s Club Hell. In what figures to be one of the most ambitious nightlife events ever, these guys have taken over and will curate an aging 600,000-square- foot glass factory for a party so way out off Metropolitan Avenue that it’s in Queens. I caught up with Seva and asked him to tell us all about it.

A glass factory? 600,000-square-foot space? Is this Woodstock, 2012-style? Tell me about the party.
Yes, the venue. It’s called the Knock Down Center. It’s actually an early 20th Century glass factory that was owned by a Jewish family whose scion had recently bought the space out from his grandparents. 

The factory and the lot it stands on are so large that there are even train tracks – for ease of transporting materials and final product, I’m guessing. 

It’s a bit out of the way, all the way down Metropolitan Avenue, a 10-minute walk from the Jefferson L train stop, squarely in Queens, NY. But we’ll be providing free shuttle buses to the space from two places: the Lorimer L train stop and 319 Scholes, the gallery that’s behind this event. 

The party itself is a bit conceptual. THUNDERHORSE, these guys that I work with a lot, are visual effects and event installation gurus, and we’re doing a nightmarish version of a club, basically with lots of red lasers, sets and stages, smoke –  crazy creepy crap on an industrial scale. The venue itself is so creepy that not much has to be done, really. But we’ll do stuff anyway.

How many people are you expecting?
Capacity is staggering. I’m sure we could pack 3,000 people in ther,e but I don’t think that many people will show.

What is the state of underground Brookln nightlife? What kind of parties are you into?
Yikes. Well, it’s not doing so good. Things are certainly not nearly as crazy and carefree as they used to be in the early oughts. Kids, too, are pretty tame, simply because they’re just more mainstream than older Brooklyn audiences. Fifteen or 10 years ago, it was a bunch of artists and musicians and poor kids out here, but now it’s just normal young people who have jobs or go to NYU or something. And they don’t go nuts much. They’ve got too much to lose. 

There have been waves after waves of shutdowns, something that never used to happen in the past; a score of DIY venues have been pressured by the cops to stop putting on events. It’s largely due to three reasons, in my opinion: the rising real estate costs and white people moving in and calling cops for noise complaints, the NYC film tax credit (which has attracted scores of film and TV productions here who have taken a lot of spaces away from the underground promoters since they have more money), and the rising popularity of Brooklyn as a capital of music. That last one really did us in because once there is money in putting on music shows, it all goes to regular venues because that’s where the money is, and that’s where agents are .That’s the easiest way to play and be seen and make money as an artist, with an agent. So, again, the DIY show/event loses. 

With all these mounting pressures, it’s a wonder that there is actually still a scene. But there is. A lot of it has morphed and transported itself into the gay and queer culture that has little regard for money and loves to just get down. So, there is a small clique of queer promoters and performers who do well and have lots of fun. 

For my readers who just moved here from Kansas, who are you and what do you do?
I’m an independent event producer. I put on stuff. Usually one-offs at off-the-grid, special places, and usually conceptual things, things that I know no one else can/will want to really do. 

What was the last party event you went to in Manhattan, and what do you find relevant there?
Ladyfag’s parties are always fun, Westgay at Westway is pretty fun, and so are Earl Dax’s performance series, but, again—that’s all queer stuff! I guess I just find that sort of thing really fun, even though I’m straight. 

There is a cute semi-straight party at Santos Party House called Chez Deep, and that’s nice, actually. 

Weird Wednesdays at Home Sweet Home is a great weekly that’s been going for, like, 6 years. It’s almost always fun, and the crowd there is freaky and dark and cute sometimes, too.That’s as much as anyone can ask of a weekly. 

Seva Granik on Promoting the Best of Brooklyn Nightlife

I might not understand it on a gut level, or even intellectually, as I once did. I certainly can’t book it or present it anymore. But there’s still one sure thing—I know it when I see it. The Seva Granik-produced event held at the Sugar Hill Disco and Restaurant in Bed-Stuy last weekend was one of the best events I’ve attended in eons. Seva, as everyone I know already knows, is the second coming. He is nightlife’s reigning messiah, a throw back to days where a promoter/producer of events cared more about the experience of their patrons and less about extracting that last piece of coin from their pockets.

Seva is in it for the love and not the love of money. In time, the cash will come and I’m fairly sure he will just invest it in something we will all enjoy. My dearest friend Rozi introduced me to Seva, and I can’t stop raving about his talent. The Sugar Hill Disco is room after room of 1960’s, ‘70s, and ‘80s décor. The outside space was packed with all the unusual suspects who’ve led me over the river and through the woods. This coming Saturday, June 25th, he’s supporting the Ladyfag event at Drom on Ave A. If he says to be there, from now on, I will be there.

The party last Friday night was the perfect storm of incredible music, great planning, an amazing unique space — and great crowd. You said that it took six months to organize. Tell me about the production. I used to date a lovely young lady who lived in Prospect Heights. We would ride our bikes to and from her house for a few years, and we were both just fascinated with that strange building on the corner of Nostrand and DeKalb Avenues. By then, I’d already gotten into my element of connecting off-the-grid, unknown, and weird venues with new and interesting musical acts, so I couldn’t wait to get inside that space and see what the vibe there was. I’d tried calling them for years and they would never return my calls. Finally, I just snuck in on a Friday night and was floored by what I saw. I had to make it work. I didn’t even know what band I would get in there, or what I would do about the sound or lights (there was neither). I embarked on a campaign of polite tenacity and would not give up until I met with the owner. The patriarch, Mr. Eddie Freeman of North Carolina, runs a tight if not a bit tyrannical ship with his daughter Akesha and his son Aaron. It took a lot of visits, fancy Italian chocolates, getting hung up on, and ultimately, money, in the form of cash, out on the table—the old way—until I got a confirmed date. But, of course, the challenges didn’t end there.

The space is very large, so I needed a big band to fill it up. At some point, I figured the Crystal Ark, a band that I worked with during my short stint at MoMA PS1, would make a good fit. The second Gavin Russom and Viva Ruiz stepped into that place it was sealed. They were completely on board. It also took a bit of time to get the sound man and his team on board. That system, his staff, and the level of professionalism that they brought should have really cost about $25,000 but they gave us a bro rate once they saw the space and understood what we were doing. Same for the lights team of Bec Stupak. From Justine D. who managed promotion to DFA’s and FADER’s media support to my small army of interns and events staff, everyone seemed to understand the scope and the meaning of what we were doing, without us ever having to vocalize it, really. There were some hick-ups, of course, but nothing that made a major dent on outside impressions and the end-result seemed to have been something that was greater than the sum of its parts. I’m still processing it all.

You’ve stated that Brooklyn is the new music capital of the world— or something like that. Please expand and explain. That’s been the case for a few years now. The explosion of new musical acts and talent in the past few years seems to have been emanating mostly from North Brooklyn, and it’s a self-feeding, self-propelling cycle. The more good talent comes from Brooklyn, the more good talent relocated to Brooklyn to get more recognition or to improve themselves in this highly competitive atmosphere, or to just soak up the smell of it all. Of course, for every good band that comes here, there are a hundred shitty acts that no one wants, so what you end up with is a dizzying array of musicians and artists just bouncing off the walls everywhere you go. I was part of it at an earlier point; I played in a few bands and toured a lot and tried to make a living with music exclusively. While that didn’t exactly work, it introduced me to a whole world of concentric NYC music scenes that seemed to have been flourishing at break-neck speed, and I saw what worked here and what didn’t early on. Every major music media outpost has relocated here. Pitchfork, VICE – everyone is either working for some blog or publicity firm or organizing parties or tours, or playing in a band that they just blogged about. I bartend at a tiny lesbian bar in Greenpoint, and every other conversation I overhear is about music business. It’s both funny and absolutely fascinating.

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For many years, Brooklyn was an alternative hipster paradise to Manhattan, but now Manhattan offers little but jet-set playgrounds. Talk to me about the quantum leap of BK to first-city status. Brooklyn has accomplished something truly astounding. It’s begun a not-so-quiet revolution in culture, I think. The Brooklyn look and aesthetic, first pioneered by poor artists and musicians who moved here in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, has now been homogenized internationally by media conglomerates like VICE and Pitchfork, etc. And that’s a crazy thing to think about. While the hipster culture has now been rightfully pronounced dead, Brooklyn’s supremacy is still incredibly valid within Brooklyn’s own nightlife royalty circles, and the mainstream has now, too, conferred the status of the cultural epicenter onto Brooklyn, so Brooklyn’s status as the cultural center of the universe is truly axiomatic. You do it for the art and not the cash. Is what you do an art form? Are you a social artist/curator? At some point a year or two ago, I wanted to be known as a curator. The art world back then held a lot of sway with me, and I was under the impression that it was the ultimate arbiter of what was and wasn’t culturally relevant. Then I got a very rare opportunity to see some of it up close and I gradually became very conflicted, and ultimately disappointed with what I saw. People often use art-world terminology (because that’s what we’re talking about here) to validate their work or taste, or both, without realizing that the authority that the art world holds comes mostly from money and celebrities that siphon through it. It’s understandable, of course, that that’s what matters these days, but I felt that, for me, it was a false prophet, and have since moved away from it. I am not an artist. There is no art in what I do. I am not a curator. I am a promoter. I am on a crusade to bring back the respect and dignity that the term “promoter” once held. What have you learned about the biz on your own, and what have you absorbed from pre-production days? That I can only always rely on myself and that I should keep working on my own. I also learned that I am an honest operator and that people do respond to that well, sometimes. But the most important thing I learned is how to let go. Sometimes the planets align, and you see a parade of true stars. And sometimes they don’t, and that’s O.K. What direction is music going in, and who are some artists to look out for? Electronic music. The world around us is changing, and the tools for creating, delivering, and absorbing music are changing, too. We’re all headed towards a completely electronic world. I won’t list the musicians here for the fear of leaving important people out and giving the others too much spotlight before they go dim. Things change fast these days, you know. You use strong visuals within your productions. Tell me about the players and the process of integrating them into the evening. The visual aspect is very important to me. From the meticulously executed show posters to the visual immersion during the show, everything has to make sense together. In the past, I’d grown rather sick of the shit jobs that the majority of promoters and presenting entities put forth re: presentation; more often than not, it’s just a stage with a some lights and bands are just expected to deliver their craft with oftentimes zero enhancement. More often than not it has to do with money, because these things cost a lot. So, again, I end up with having to resort to doing a few shows a year because the production and the costs are so intense. Bec Stupak, the visuals guru behind this particular show, was by far the easiest part of this equation. She’s worked with Gavin before, knew exactly what the band needed, and brought the level of professionalism and creativity that I’d seen only once before, in my work with Thunderhorse, the guys who managed visuals for my Salem show in 2010. Tell me about this Saturday’s party, Ladyfag, and the gay crowd still living in Manhattan. This Saturday is Ladyfag’s Pride event with a live set by Ssion, a mutual friend of ours whom we both respect immensely. Pride is a big deal to the gay community, so we’ve been working on this show for quite some time, taking care of every little detail and making sure that everything goes smoothly. Ladyfag is in a league of her own. Those who know her personally know what I’m talking about. I can’t really say much here because I’m the most biased person when it comes to her – I’m her boyfriend – but one thing I can say that I feel everyone will agree with is that she puts her entire heart into everything she does, and that she represents a new breed of nightlife professionals: inclusive, original and creative, friendly and genuine – people who carry the weight of so many expectations without really being aware of any of it. She just wakes up, puts on some pants – hopefully – and goes to work with zero expectations from anyone. What are you going to be when you grow up? I’m pretty sure that I’m doing it now. You’ve expressed an interest in visiting Michael Alig. Why? I’ve been to prison, for three days, and the experience changed my life. I’ve also always wanted to just get closer to the things that made the world move; I go to museums a lot, and spend most of my money on traveling around the world, looking at weird historical shit. I feel that, by being closer to the things that once mattered, in any way, I somehow enter the matrix of life itself. And that helps me to deal with my own fears of the impending Armageddon, and the pathos of existing. Tell me about your beginnings and how you ended up being the promoter of one of the best events in memory. I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1975, into a family of Jewish intelligentsia who found themselves there in the wake of WWII and the evacuation, genocide and havoc that ensued during the German advance. We immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where I lived with my family until I moved out because the call of North Brooklyn was too much to resist. I had degrees in film and information technology, both of which I used in my work, but the events of 9/11 shook me up, and I left the work force to pursue my own interests which, at the time, were focused on music. I joined and left a number of professional and not so professional bands. Some of them took me touring around the world, and others around the neighborhood. I learned a lot of things about the business of events when I had to create exciting situations for various waning acts I was a part of. Eventually, I quit playing music and focused on creating experiences around it. I’ve produced hundreds of events, some for brands and other institutions, some for myself, and after a while found that I most enjoyed having complete creative control. The website BRCDBR.com lists those few events. I’ve been focusing on a lot of that lately while also bartending and doing some occasional consulting work for various companies that seek to appeal to my demographic, for rent money.