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Because There Are Punk Shows in Car Washes

Silent Barn's old space in Ridgewood, Queens. circa 2009.  

The first day of 2015 marked the closing of a third major Brooklyn DIY venue in a year’s time. Glasslands, the final chunk of the Williamsburg waterfront block that had been home to Death by Audio and 285 Kent, celebrated the New Year by surrendering to the perpetual fight against time often faced by these small, adventurously booked venues.

But to find solace in one of these dirty, makeshift places is to know that it will be fleeting, thanks to the combination of North Brooklyn’s competitive real-estate market and cops who sometimes decide to care about kids throwing not-so-legal parties. And as these spaces closed, others rebuilt — oftentimes in ways that felt a little more … above board. “Now more than ever, the line between what is DIY and what is not is blurred,” says Ric Leichtung, who runs the events arm of the zine AdHoc, formerly ran 285 Kent, and books for Webster Hall. “It really comes down to an ethos of community and the open-mindedness of its booking, rather than a cut-and-dried question of whether a venue is legal. I do think the days of the ultra-grimy DIY venue are behind us in New York — and it’s a gentrification thing.”

The year before 285 Kent willingly shut its doors (2014), Ridgewood cooperative Silent Barn moved into a new, improved, and totally legit (as in, ten-year-lease legit) Bushwick compound, home to show spaces, recording studios, apartments, artists’ studios, a café, even a barber’s chair. It’s a DIY operation so well organized, a fire at the end of September could only sideline its events — which range from the requisite touring indie bands to visual art to dance parties to alternative-media gatherings — for a mere few weeks. In the interim, fund-raisers of all sorts sprung up to help offset residents’ personal losses: benefit shows at nearby (and similarly minded, DIY-but-legal) venues like Palisades, donations from Alex G and Frankie Cosmos, collection jars planted in the neighborhood by supporters. Bouncing back, it turns out, is also easier with insurance; if only getting up to code didn’t cost six figures.

One-hundred-thousand dollars — in the form of a donation — is what it took to resurrect one of Brooklyn’s most beloved DIY spaces, Market Hotel. Located above the Mr. Kiwi’s that sits underneath the Myrtle Avenue–Broadway stop on the J/M/Z, Market Hotel was at the epicenter of the scene from 2008 until April 2010, when the NYPD shut down a Smith Westerns show, and Market Hotel subsequently became a strictly residential space for the artists. Over the last couple years, Todd P, New York DIY’s longtime kingpin, has not only founded a new legal venue (Trans-Pecos, in Silent Barn’s old Ridgewood space), he’s led the charge on an up-to-code Market Hotel, which celebrates its soft opening with a bang later this month: Sleater-Kinney culminates their New York victory lap with a show there December 16.

Of course, not all promoters are opposed to still playing things a little fast and loose, particularly when it comes to one-offs. The year’s most creative DIY show comes courtesy of AdHoc and Leichtung, a former Todd P intern who is in many ways his successor in the scene. During CMJ in mid-October, Leichtung built an early afternoon show around Sheer Mag, a bright spot in Philly’s own booming DIY scene, via a punk car wash also featuring Protomarytr, Perfect Pussy, and Destruction Unit. The space — a recently shuttered Williamsburg car wash called Hand & Detail — had just been sold to developers. Unsurprisingly, they’re planning a hotel.