It’s only been about a year and a half since the closure of Glasslands Gallery, the other DIY venue on the Williamsburg waterfront– the one that was the button-down oxford (second-hand, but you couldn’t tell) to Death By Audio’s torn-up band tee. It wasn’t so surprising– after 8 years of hosting indie rock, R&B, techno, you-name-it shows in their cavernous, blackened industrial confines, their neighborhood along Kent Avenue no longer felt like the “forgotten backwater” it did when they opened in 2006. Today the Glasslands team announced that it’s returning with a new venue in East Williamsburg, Elsewhere, set to open this fall– and it’s not just any old ramshackle DIY establishment, but a 24,000-square-foot affair in a former warehouse. It’ll be #blessed with $3 million worth of pure sparkle, including a sprawling roof, food and drink service, and an adjacent art space.
The culprit for Glasslands’ demise was a push for development on the waterfront– specifically, Vice Media was looking to expand their work space and managed to squash some of the last bits of cool cred remaining in their own neighborhood. Since both Glasslands and DBA were artist-run venues without, heh, billions to speak of, all they could really do was say “Fuck Vice” and, in the latter’s case, rip up their personal collection of Vice magazines.
After the final show rang in 2015 on New Years Eve– featuring DIIV Sky Ferriera, Smith Westerns, and Beverly– the place closed, just a few weeks after DBA said byebye. (If you Google Glassland’s former address, you’ll find a “business” called “A Place to Bury Glasslands.” Ouch.)
The DBA crew went on to make themselves a well-regarded documentary film, Goodnight Brooklyn, and have hinted that a new venue is on the horizon. Meanwhile, we’ve seen the next wave of DIY venues open up east of the Brooklyn waterfront: East Williamsburg (Sunnyvale), Ridgewood (Trans-Pecos), and Bushwick/Bed-Stuy (Palisades, The Gateway, Market Hotel 2.0). Some are run by the the old timers like Todd P, while others are the product of a new generation of bookers and music people (Aviv).
But Glasslands is a different story altogether. The two founders, artist Brooke Baxter and Rolyn Hu, a musician, started the club at 289 Kent Avenue with “very little startup [funds] and donated or recycled materials.” (Baxter was already running Glass House Gallery right around the corner, starting in 2004.) A couple years after opening, the partners shifted their attention to their new baby, Manhattan Inn, and Jake Rosenthal and Rami Haykal, under the name PopGun Presents, started booking at Glasslands. The place now had just scored themselves a liquor license and was beginning to seem less like a funky art space and more like a legit venue. By 2010, the PopGun duo were running the place fulltime and, soon after they took the booking reigns, Glasslands underwent a dramatic remodeling in order to bring the place up to code. “I’ve never seen us as a DIY venue,” Mr. Rosenthal told the Observer in 2014.
Slowly, the place started to resemble a real business in that they actually found a way to make money, and the venue began scoring more higher-profile acts (Django Django, Grizzly Bear, DIIV, Dirty Beaches) for shows happening every night of the week. And PopGun grew, too. They bought the venue from Hu and Baxter in 2012 and made it their own. As the founders remember it on their website, the company blossomed from “a hapless duo into a full-scale events production & promotion, music curation, and venue management collective.” In 2012, Brooklyn Vegan wrote that Haykal and Rosenthal were now “prominent tastemakers” at the helm of a venue that was becoming “one of the first stops for any new hyped band.” If you’re in the music writing biz, it’s likely that PopGun promotional emails and event blasts flood your mailbox almost daily. Meanwhile, Brooke Baxter took off for the Catskills, where she and her husband run a bucolic retreat called Glass Mountain Inn, where she devotes more time to being a mother and perfecting “artistic cultivation and mountain hospitality.”
True, if you were into grittier venues and harsher sounds, eventually it became hard to find a lineup you completely adored (but DBA was just around the corner), so of course there were people who dismissed Glasslands as essentially a sellout. Just before the place closed, Andy Animal, former frontman of Brooklyn band Stalkers, told the Observer that the venue “used to be cool,” as he bemoaned the arrival of a “fancy office” where they had him sign a W-2 after his set. (Mr. Animal also has his heart in the Catskills now, in the form of the Meltasia music fest.) And at least one person argued that all this commercialization was partly to blame for the closing of many DIY venues, especially the ones in Williamsburg.
Even when Glasslands was preparing to close in 2014, the PopGun pair were already hinting toward plans for their next venture, a new venue somewhere in Bushwick. Finally, almost two years later, the partners (plus Dhruv Chopra, their “lifelong friend” who joined PopGun in 2014) have revealed some preliminary details about their new digs. Located at 599 Johnson Avenue, Elsewhere is technically in East Williamsburg, but the founders are calling it Bushwick because, you know, “Bushwick.”
In an announcement B+B received Tuesday, PopGun declared that their venture would be both “a platform for emerging talent, and a destination for world-class artists” and are still calling it an “independent” establishment despite the $3 million price tag that’s going toward “creative infrastructure,” (aka a killer, ear-exploding sound system) among other things. While PopGun has always been business-minded, Chopra seems to be the ultra business type–the Elsewhere release describes him as having experience in “investment management.”
Haykal is quoted as recalling that it was difficult to convince some bands and artists to come to Williamsburg “in the early days of Glasslands,” when they could easily play the venues with “better facilities” on the Lower East Side. “But Brooklyn had the energy,” he said. “Bushwick reminds [me] of that time.”
The operation as a whole will be a bigger one, with a staff of “several bookers” and an art director/ self-described hacker, Igal Nassima. He’ll run a full-on visual arts program with its own space, the Skybridge Gallery (“floating above” a courtyard), where exhibitions by international and local artists will be held. The space was designed with the “natural aesthetic of the warehouse” in mind, with recycled and revamped materials, and “large portions of raw space” maintained for murals and other art installations.
There will also be dance parties, film screenings, and booze galore thanks to a full bar. Of course the massive, 24,000-square-foot space itself will make the crammed confines of Glasslands look like a kitty litter box, with a 5,000-square-foot rooftop, a “loft bar” with food and drinks (open even outside of shows), and multiple entertainment zones. The separate spaces include a 5,000-square-foot “performance hall” designated for “emerging artists.” (No photos just yet, but we’ll update as soon as we can.)
The lineup at Elsewhere will most likely resemble Glasslands’s PopGun-era bills, as the founders are pressing that they’ve maintained an interest in booking “diverse” bands and are continuing the same “pioneering spirit” that “epitomized” the bygone Kent Avenue venue. As Rosenthal mentioned in the announcement: “It’s important for our city to have these types of autonomous zones for people to step back and reconnect with something creative – so how do you bring more and more people to that place?”
Correction: B+B initially reported that Dhruv Chopra had previously worked as a tech strategy consultant according to a LinkedIn profile. Chopra has not, in fact, worked as a tech strategy consultant.