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The Scene: Generation W

Down and out in Williamsburg? Not exactly. How the victims of a sputtering economy are fueling a creative explosion.


HOME COOKING: The members of Things to Come in their Williamsburg kitchen.  

For fear of being sized up by a hipster wearing something asymmetrical and self-made, there are those who prefer not to walk down Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue on a Saturday night. This is not the case with the girl who has just sashayed out of the L subway station wearing nothing but a shapeless piece of pink fabric belted at the waist and a pair of stiletto heels. Once she's out of earshot, two guys smoking outside the L Café begin to giggle. "Looks like somebody got new window treatments," says one, stroking his goatee in a posture of mock rumination. His friend bursts into the first few strains of "My Favorite Things," but by then, she's already disappeared into the Reel Life video store.

Near the L Café, there's a brick wall supporting a cluster of Sharpie-written flyers: "Share available with four other art-oriented chill people." "Musician/audio engineer seeks smart, clean, liberal, fun, vegetarian(ish) student/artist for large 2-level loft. Serious musicians, illustrators, technicians, and writers encouraged." "Cute apartment share . . . I'm looking to create a productive scene. You can paint here, or sculpt, or spin, or write, or yell, or whatever your thing is!"

Inside Fabiane's, a coffee shop on Bedford -- "Please come and see my friend's new movie at the Anthology Film Archives," says the boy behind the register, setting a flyer onto every tray -- two girls are complaining about the latest Fischerspooner show at Deitch Projects. "And the costumes!" one shrieks. "Hello -- ?"

The girls in question, both wearing choppy cavewoman-invents-scissors hairdos, are halfway through their iced mochas when they embark upon a heated debate as to whether they're living in the old Manhattan, the new Manhattan, or some unconfirmed-as-of-press-time Manhattan. From what can be overheard, there are those who tout Brooklyn as the new Manhattan, and there are those who tout Manhattan as the new Brooklyn. Whatever the case may be, the old East Village is now the new West Village -- despite the fact that Avenue C is the new Avenue A. However, Avenue A is over, because Williamsburg is now the new East Village.

"How many artists can even afford to live in the East Village anymore?" one says.

The other replies, "Williamsburg is the only place to find people who are still interested in living a bohemian lifestyle."

Nevertheless, the rest of the people don't look like they're about to start banging on bongos. Last summer, Fabiane's began to get overrun by swarms of stroller-pushing mothers -- you're more likely to hear a conversation about Fisher-Price than Fischerspooner.

The fact that this article is being written will no doubt symbolize to some that the scene in Williamsburg came to an end a long time ago. "All the people who moved here when they were 25 are now in their thirties and having kids," says Dave Alhadeff, who's lived in the area for three years. "It's basically turning into Park Slope -- a lot of baby shops, tchotchke stores, and moms." But any talk about how Williamsburg's becoming overgentrified and stale (and there's a lot of it) could be chalked up as a sign that the young people in Williamsburg -- most of whom will themselves have kids in five or six years -- don't want to lose what they have. Right now, it feels like a charmed creative moment, and everyone wants to ride it. (Dave himself, who used to work for Urban Box Office, is currently working on a furniture-design store, a guidebook to the city, and numerous other projects.)

Of course, riding the creative moment looks pretty good when there's not much else to ride. The dot-com industry has crashed, both the media and music businesses are tanking, and it's difficult to find a twentysomething who's not living on unemployment. Couple this with the impact of 9/11, and you get a sense that, after the nineties, the world is ready for a change.

"Williamsburg definitely has that feeling of 'partying before the apocalypse,' " says Ana Matronic of the electronic band Scissor Sisters. "There's a sense of reckless abandonment, with this sort of sinister undercurrent of war and destruction -- partying while Big Brother takes a nap."

"There's a really rich scene here," says the 42-year-old promoter and D.J. Larry Tee. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that young kids can actually afford rehearsal spaces -- so you get all the cool people living in a place where they can practice and develop; that fosters a sense of community."

Tee and Spencer Product's parties -- "Mutants" on Friday night and "Berliniamsburg" on Saturdays, both at Luxx, were hailed as the long-awaited antidote to a nightlife dominated by anonymous techno and Lizzie Grubman–helmed boutique openings when they launched last year.

The invocation of Berlin here is far from accidental. "There's a strong German element to the music we play -- especially German disco," Tee says. "But the name is a joke, inspired by something the designer Hedi Slimane said: 'Williamsburg is the new Berlin.' Plus, we wanted a name that was really terrible and memorable."

Taking its cues from electronic artists like Fischerspooner and Peaches, the music played at Luxx has been alternately branded as "electro," "tech-pop," and -- in the most vicious case -- "avant-tarde." It has more to do with do-it-yourself humanization of what had been a fairly impersonal form, and it's already inspired an assortment of copycat parties, like Washington's "Sleaze" and London's "Nag Nag Nag."

Of course, not everybody's biting -- a friend of mine who recently purchased a compilation at Other Music was harangued by the girl at the cash register: "My friend recently made a T-shirt that says electro sucks," she sniggered, dropping the compilation into a bag. "I completely agree . . . "

Tee and Product began Berliniamsburg because "we wanted to create an environment that promoted a new way of life," Product explains. "We wanted to apply the do-it-yourself mentality to everything from the club's décor to the music we make on our home computers to the clothes we wear."

Spencer had been balancing his nightlife gigs with a daytime job as a freelance graphic designer for The day he was fired, he says, "I'd just thrown a party the night before and was completely exhausted. I kept thinking, Something has to change. When my boss called me in, I was worried that he was going to give me a permanent position -- because that would've been an offer I couldn't refuse, and it would've meant I'd have to stop throwing these parties." When he was asked to leave, Spencer was relieved: "I thought, This is my way out!"

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