It all sounds pretty grand, especially as a follow-up to Glasslands, which closed just as 2015 began, and in the course of its existence traded in and out some classic DIY features: homemade art installations (those clouds, tho), labyrinthine lofting, and swinging saloon doors between your bathroom break and the impatient line waiting behind you.
But sans photos or renderings, it’s difficult to predict what this Elsewhere will look like. It’s even kind of hard to think of an existing venue that matches their style and funding– Market Hotel is too lived-in and without many frills (even if its 2.0 version is perfectly up-to-code n’ such), while National Sawdust had
a shit ton $13 million more in funding behind it and anyway is a little frou frou compared to Elsewhere.
So we jumped at the chance to speak with Jake Rosenthal, the co-founder of PopGun Presents and one-third of the team along with Rami Haykal (the founding partner at PopGun) and Dhruv Chopra. Jake gave us the rundown on how the new, multi-faceted venue and art-space will function, and how it all came about.
We actually started thinking about doing a new space maybe as early as 2012.
That’s impressive, especially since Glasslands was doing shows seven nights a week at one point, right? How did you even have time for all that?
We wanted a space that we could stay at for a long time, and that we knew when we booked these bands, that their set wasn’t going to be interrupted by, like, a power outage. As the neighborhood started becoming more developed and the local agencies started getting more aggressive about the way they were enforcing the neighborhood, it became more difficult for us to stand by the fact that what we were doing was going to be around.
We knew that we wanted the next thing, and at whatever cost. We knew it was going to be difficult. At that point, we didn’t even know how we were going to do it. But we knew it was going to be something that we could stand by for many, many years. So we set out to fix the sustainability problem. The inevitability that we felt around these [DIY] spaces closing was always kind of a bummer to us. If we were going to go out, we wanted to go out for reasons that were legitimate and not ones that could have been prevented.
The original idea was that, we work with all these artists when they can sell 50 tickets, or when they have a small fan base that’s just their friends, and a lot of times we’re trying to find music we really like, and that we think has the potential to become great, and sometimes it does. It was always frustrating that we couldn’t grown those relationships once they outgrew Glasslands. Wu Lyf is a good example of that– I became obsessed with them in 2008 or 2009 and we decide to fly them out. We knew there wasn’t going to be any money in it, or we were going to break even, but we knew we wanted to work with them. We did that, they crashed on some couches with our team, and had two really great shows. But despite the fact that they loved working with us and they knew we believed in them, it was very hard to work with them the next time they came through, we didn’t have the ability to room-wise.
What we felt was special about Glasslands, is that it didn’t put music in silos. It allowed visual art, and sound art, and installations, and murals to be a part of the experience of being at the venue. The fact that it was connected to the visual arts community and that the staff were all musicians, for the most part, was the reason we were attracted to [the venue] in the first place. That element made people enjoy it more than if it was just a black-box, showcase-type live performance room.
We knew we wanted to expand the art program to be something a little bit more deliberate. At Glasslands, a lot of times, it was really a friends-and-family effort and sometimes we’d shut down the venue for a night or a week or something and ourselves or the staff, or both, would work together on building the clouds, for example, and the last installation we had in there were these LED tube things. That was something we always cared about in the space, but an effort that was always very friends-and-family.
[At Elsewhere], we want to include more people and just make that experience better, in a way that we weren’t able to do by just throwing money at it and furnishing and finishing. That’s why we didn’t go nuts with the design– we’re going to be leaning much more heavily on the arts program to see that through.
We’re really excited about bringing Igal [Nassima] on [as art director]. He had a really amazing studio in Brooklyn for many years, called 319 Scholes, which I think was an art analogue to Glasslands as a music venue. It was a curatorially ambitious space, but lacked a ton of resources and had an underground spirit to it. He cut his teeth there in the way that we cut our teeth at Glasslands, so it was a natural fit. And he’s also just a really brilliant guy with great taste.
Yeah, I moved back out to Bushwick in January of last year to be close to the construction site and keep an eye on things. I also lived here for a lot of the time we were working at Glasslands. So I’ve done two stints in Bushwick now.
There are the obvious reasons for choosing the Bushwick/East Williamsburg area as a location– it’s the cool neighborhood right now, it’s considered arty, and it’s a good place for a venue when it comes to space. Other than those considerations, what were you taking into account when you chose the neighborhood?
For a space like ours, especially with the size, we’re going to be drawing a lot of people to the neighborhood and making noise. And with that, obviously, you don’t want to bother the neighborhood– so right off the bat, that puts us in a space that’s industrial and a little farther away from residential. With those considerations, there really aren’t an insane amount of neighborhoods you’re looking in, especially if you throw other factors into the mix, like, wanting to be close to transportation throughways, like the L. We definitely wanted that, because the crowd we served at Glasslands and the community we developed on our mailing list, live in this neighborhood or in various places along the L.
How have you dealt with the L train debacle and news that it might shut down completely for more than a year?
Obviously, it’s not fantastic news, but there’s a lot of things you can do to prepare, especially for a spot our size. A lot of our crowd is a Brooklyn crowd, and we’re fortunate in that sense. Even beyond that, when you talk about people who want to get here from Union Square or something, we’re pretty involved politically and that’s something we’ve been doing since we’ve been running Glasslands, and we’re trying to keep our ear to the ground and advocate for local bars, venues, and restaurants. We’re always trying to keep the nightlife/hospitality theme in the area thriving. So we’re involved with the L train coalition and the Nightlife Coalition at the Brooklyn Borough President’s office.
People have been talking about $5 fares for Uber, and we’re thinking a lot about it– honestly, we just have to be proactive about it.
We’re pretty close. We’re really getting there. It’s shaping up, physically. Construction itself is pretty near complete. It’s always a bit in god’s hands exactly how complete it is. But the big question mark is always how long the DOB is going to take, and that’s always a stressful time. We’re getting there, it’s definitely going to be [opening in] the fall.
We’re going to have as much as a shit-show as we can in all the spaces that we have. There’s going to be something going on in every one of those spaces, to show the full architecture of the place– art, music, and something that spills into the day as well, to show people we’re not just a transactional space where people just buy the ticket, but that it’s a space where people can really kind of hang out. We really want to emphasize the community element of the space. We’ll have visiting hours during the day, a coffee program, and an ability to work there, so people can work in the neighborhood, have a coffee, and just hang out.
I was born here in the city, and I grew up listening to a lot of stuff, but the first music that I became obsessed with as a kid was rap, hip-hop. Lately, I’ve been coming back to it. I think it’s been a really insanely amazing last three to five years for hip-hop in general. There’s so much fierce creativity happening in the rap scene.
So I’ve been really vibing on that, and, random examples, I’ve been listening to The Posterz from Montreal. The big albums, obviously– the Kendricks, and the Kanyes and the Vince Staples, Vic Mensa– pretty much everything across the board, from the small stuff to the big albums.
It’s been a really good time for creativity in rap, again, after a sort of period of a little bit of vapidness in that genre for a while, so I’m sort of going back to my roots in that way. But that’s just me. Our team is pretty broad— Rami listens to everything from rock and garage rock to pop stuff, and a little bit of punk. And then Drew grew up as a jazz musician, he’s really into Kamasi Washington’s new album, and stuff like that. I know lately he’s been pretty into the European techno we’re seeing.
Between the three of us, we have a pretty wide range of tastes, and what I hope is that our personal interests express themselves in the programming at the new space, because those weren’t really so aggressively expressed at Glasslands. We want it to be more eclectic at the new space.