We knew it was coming, but that still didn’t make the news any easier to digest; after weeks of swirling rumors, cryptic tweets, and endless speculation, we have official word that 285 Kent will close its doors at the end of this month. After a string of four final shows, yet another beloved Brooklyn institution will bid its final adieu.
At 285 Kent, music fans from all walks of life braved monstrous, sweaty mosh pits, and even more monstrous bathroom lines. Still, the venue’s grittier aspects merely added to its charm, and made each night spent there more memorable than the last. Looking back, we can credit 285 not just for the many fresh cases of tinnitus it inspired, but also for fostering a sense of community.
Opened in 2010 by promoter Todd Patrick, the venue had previously existed as Paris London West Nile, an experimental performance space co-founded by Zeljko McMullen in 2006. Eventually, John Barclay took over, transforming what had been a spacious artist’s loft into the vast, scribbled cavern we know and love today. Going back even further, the space had been a storage warehouse for the Domino sugar factory (which, of course, is now being converted into an apartment complex).
As 285 reaches its final countdown, here’s an oral history of the “big dirty room with painted walls.” We’ll add more memories, stories, and parting thoughts as we get them — and please add your own in the comments.
Zeljko McMullen, co-founder of Paris London West Nile
In 2006, When I first found [Paris London West Nile]… it was initially going to be Lou Reed’s new studio (I was at the time his assistant and in his band as well)… but the opportunity of starting this collective public space caused a rift between us, and I chose instead to find several artist friends to move into it, and then build it into our living quarters and make it a free public art space. We didn’t charge for concerts, we let visitors bring their own alcohol (or whatever).
Over the four years or so that I ran the space with friends Doron Sadja and MV Carbon, probably 40+ artists/musicians from across the globe called it home, at least temporarily… people would literally fall in the front door (they were going to see shows at Glasslands) and inevitably, one of us would drag the unexpected visitors into one of our studios to be in bizarre art films or photography projects. I shot the better part of [We Are Fools, feature film set for an April release] there, sometimes with unwitting participants.
John Barclay, now owner of Bossa Nova Civic Club
Me and my friend Josh Novicki took over the lease at 285 in 2010 after Paris London West Nile had left and the space had been gutted, cleaned and painted. We built a stage and a DJ booth, extended the electrical work, added a second bathroom and started throwing raves immediately. At the time Williamsburg was dominated by indie rock and synth pop and almost everything dance-oriented was very tongue-in-cheek and high in alcohol content. This was just a couple years after Studio B and Electro House committed suicide and despite the fact that we were pushing a very different sonic agenda, everyone “hip” was terrified of being associated with anything rave-related.
Most of our headliners had been in the game for a while (Jacques Renault, Kim Ann Foxman, DJ Spun, Morgan Geist), so the crowd was very much committed to traditional house music and a little older and less DIY than the scene that took over after we left.
We would throw a weekly rave and on occasion, so we could pay our bills, work with external promoters. That was my first collaborations with a lot of cool people like Brian Sweeney of Body Actualized, Contessa Stuto and, of course, Todd P.
About 6 months into it we got raided by a Vice Squad. Mid-rave, around 15 cops stormed in there like it was Waco or something. We were really kinda flattered that they spent that much time and effort on a bunch of kids partying in a cement box. They cuffed us, threw us in a van, took us to a holding cell in East New York then to Central Bookings without ever telling us what we were being charged with. I felt real cool for a minute but after 22 hours freezing, sitting on the floor, eating rotten plums and stale peanut butter sandwiches we decided we didn’t want to be at 285 the next time they came back. I offered the lease to Todd P, thinking he would be lucky if he lasted a few months in that place and he lasted over 2 years. He is a very magical person. Him and his crew obviously took the place to another realm and although I’m very sorry I missed out on the opportunity I am glad someone cashed in so I can at least casually interrupt any conversation about the place and brag about how i founded it.
I’m really proud of what 285 has done… more than any other spot I know personally, it’s a place that’s always attracted a wider variety of folks… it’s a place that — more than any other spot I’ve been to that’s all ages, independently made, kind of ad hoc spot — has attracted people that are not necessarily white, and are not necessarily straight, and are not necessarily upper middle class. I would say that’s unique.
Cal Fish, Turnip King
The first time I went to 285 was the first concert I ever went to without a parent. I had no idea what DIY culture was and had probably never paid less than $20 for a concert ticket… I went to see Beach Fossils playing with Regal Degal and was totally introduced to a whole new perspective on life, art making, and culture… somehow harmonious vibes were just always easy to find there, connections just happened.
The super exciting thing, though, is that 285 Kent was just a big dirty room with painted walls.
Lucia Arias, Turnip King
The first D.I.Y show I ever went to was at 285 Kent. I went with Cal and our friend Becca. I met Jason Mandel for the first time, and I got to see one of DIIV’s first shows. [Zachary] Cole [Smith] mumbled the whole time through, probably because he didn’t have any lyrics for his songs yet, and what we saw was something RAW; way before Yves Saint Laurent Paris and way before opening for My Bloody Valentine. We went to 285 to see the show and to hand out demos to someone “important” in hopes that we would get asked to play a show somewhere or something.
Jordan Michael, Curator/Promoter
For a place that was either blindly beloved or maligned 285 actually fluctuated in quality a lot, but it was never better than it has been these past two years under Ric Leichtung and AdHoc. There will always be rooms that can fit 300 people where 24-year-olds can see a band they read about on the Internet. Ric provided an alternative to the 21+ bars with a sterile, artificial environment, and I don’t think many people could have done it as well as him.
My honest-to-God opinion is that Ric made that place to go from a shitty room people used to sell hipsters beer in and turned it until a well curated venue with a lot of precise taste.
Max Savage, Parquet Courts
285 Kent was a very mathematical place. 2 plus 8 plus 5 equals 15, which is the number of hours I spent waiting in the bathroom line. 2 times 8 times 5 is 80, which is the number of times my band played here. And 2 to the 8th power to the 5th power (2^8)^5 is approximately one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) which is the amount of money, in pesos, owed to me by 285 Kent LLC and its affiliates.
Lauren Dillard, CREEP
The fog was always so intense when I DJed there that I would pack my asthma inhaler next to my headphones.
Noah Kardos-Fein, YVETTE
Playing there was incredible. I’m extremely honored that we had the chance to play one of the last few shows at 285 Kent – and a packed one at that. It’s a very special place and we will miss it dearly. Dale and I made many friends there, and there is/was an energy about 285 that feels rare among the many venues in New York.
Tarra Thiessen of Sharkmuffin
The best show I’ve ever seen was Thee Oh Sees at 285 in February 2012. The stage wasn’t as high as it is now so once they started playing I kept getting thrown into it so hard it felt like my legs were going to snap at my shins. I ended up crawling up on stage and dancing behind John Dwyer with the girls from the band Friends and R. Stevie Moore. Cables kept getting pulled out of amps and one the PA speakers almost fell on my head. It was sick.
The first and only time I played at 285 it was a shit show. About 5 different bands jumped on and dropped off our bill over the week-long, last minute scramble of booking it. The only enticing factor of our poorly promoted Thursday event was the infinite possibility of our late night “secret special guest.” Like amateurs, night of the show, we called everyone from DIIV to Oberhofer (who was playing next door at Glasslands) to play at midnight, but ended up with not one big indie darling but 2 of our friends bands we play with all the time anyway. It felt magical and we all got wasted. The dude I was dating from the band Lunchbox ended up jumping off the stage during their last song, rolling his ankle, puking in a garbage can full of bud cans and then bummed at my house for months afterwards since he couldn’t walk. I blame 285 for those dark times.
Joe Galarraga, Big Ups
It would be a lie to say that Big Ups were very 285 regulars, but our first time playing the space was a momentous occasion for us. Zach Staggers of The So So Glos asked us to open for them at 285 Kent at a time when we were just starting to play a lot of the Brooklyn DIY spots. To me, this was an honor. The So So Glos are a band that I have admired for a long time for their dedication to this city. No one is as outspoken about the day-to-day problems in NYC — inequality, the dilution of culture, etc. – in our little community of New York bands. And 285 Kent was a space that often put on truly unique events, and it was an exciting prospect to be a part of that timeline- even if we were just another Brooklyn rock band to play the space. I saw some pretty inspiring performances there. Specifically, I remember a recent Jad Fair show & Dan Deacon’s Pardalince Bird. Things there were done thoughtfully and with intention.
Jeff Moore, Dead Stars:
My favorite memory of 285 Kent is pretty recent. We played last Halloween as Nirvana. The entire place was a giant pit with people stage diving and singing along. It was pretty amazing. Every time we had a show there it was super fun. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted, I think that’s what made it so cool.
[Williamsburg] is an area that’s already been changing quite a bit… Right across the street from 285 they’re about to build a pretty ambitious high-rise development.
285 has been experiencing more scrutiny, more trouble, more issues… and unfortunately, as much as we’d like to make the space a bit more bullet-proof against this kind of pressure, the place has some structural issues with the landlord, and what’s possible there in terms of improvement to the property… It’s just not feasible, unfortunately, to make the improvements we’d like to make. Our feeling is we’d really like to go out on our own terms, rather than being in a situation where that’s no longer an option.
Myself and Ric came to the same place where we were like, “This pressure’s getting more intense, across the city the situation has changed, particularly Williamsburg, it’s just becoming more and more difficult to exist in a way that isn’t 100 percent perfect, with every i dotted and every t crossed.
Noah Kardos-Fein, YVETTE
As much as we would have loved to see it last, I think deep down many people sensed that place wouldn’t be around forever. The closing just seems sooner than expected. But nothing is permanent in Williamsburg and New York City in general, not even 285. Though it will be hard to fill the void left by its closing, we hope for even better things and look forward to whatever comes next.
Andrew Savage, Parquet Courts
The nature of DIY spaces is that they come and go. In the case of Williamsburg, they seem to be going, and the closing of 285 Kent really seems to be a sign of the times. A lot of us cut our teeth at 285 Kent, be it playing music, doing sound, working the bar or just showing up to see what was going on that night. Unfortunately it seems like the end of an era. We still have Death by Audio, but Williamsburg, especially the waterfront, is changing quickly. No coincidence that the and the arrival of Dunkin Donuts and J. Crew are all coming around the same time as 285′s last shows.
Robbie Guertin, Radical Dads
In general it seems like everything is just slowly shifting east – the new Silent Barn is probably our favorite new-ish place. The stuff down by the water is probably just gonna get more and more fancy, since the rents are so high, but it’s great that Death by Audio is hanging on. Baby’s All Right is probably more on the “fancy” side of things, but seems pretty cool.
Jason Mandel, Booking Agent
There is a huge vacuum in my heart and in the heart of Williamsburg where that great spot used to be, and I will never forget the memories and friendships that I made while going to shows there. But I’m excited for what’s to come. Baby’s All Right looks awesome and it seems like that place is definitely off to a swinging start… and Todd’s new spot Trans-Pecos is siiick! It’s great to see a legend like that spot coming back.
Lucia Arias, Turnip King
Something else will come along — not to replace , but to contribute to the assortment of talent we have right now where independent music and art is so prevalent because great new material is constantly being created for public consumption. 285 Kent was what show goers and musicians and artists came up with entirely; we all made this what it was. That is the universal spirit of a scene in any state or country. I’m lucky to have been around to know it, but nothing is dead, you know?
Additional reporting by Allyson Shiffman