It’s kind of fitting that a torrential downpour occurred with just 15 minutes left in Saturday’s Rooftop Films screening of Goodnight Brooklyn, the documentary about Death by Audio. You’ll recall that just days before its final show in 2014, the Williamsburg DIY venue was flooded during the construction of Vice’s new offices. If the beloved showspace could soldier on (albeit briefly) after that deluge, then the crowd at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus could damn well wait for well over an hour to finish the documentary. Especially since it was going to be followed by a set from a superband consisting of members of A Place to Bury Strangers and Grooms, two of the many indie acts that considered DBA a home away from home (or in their cases, an actual home) during the scrappy venue’s seven-year run.
While everyone huddled in the hallways during the rain delay, Oliver Ackermann, a founder of DBA and A Place to Bury Strangers, clued them in to the surprise ending: “There’s a twist,” he joked. “We’re all employed by Vice. I’m Shane’s brother!”
Everyone laughed at the mention of Vice’s CEO Shane Smith, but there were also plenty of tears (and a few outright sobs) when the movie ended with footage of Ackermann and his DBA cohorts, including filmmaker Matt Conboy, riding off into the Williamsburg sunset.
It’s no wonder emotions were running high: Conboy, during the q&a, said he recognized 70 percent of the people in the audience. Though he moved to St. Petersburg after DBA’s closing and moved to Austin just a couple of weeks ago, Edan Wilber, the venue’s soundman and production guru, was walking around selling a flexi-book of live recordings. Others were selling Death By Audio t-shirts. Ebru Yildiz, a Bedford + Bowery contributor whose photographs appear in the movie, was selling pre-orders of her forthcoming DBA book. Some of the artists who contributed to the goodbye art show, “Death By Art,” were also in attendance.
Heck, just about the only players in the story who weren’t there were staffers from Vice. That became apparent during the q&a, when someone in the audience yelled out, “Fuck Vice!”
Another answered with, “Fuck you, Shane!”, echoing the words of an art installation that got DBA in hot water during its final month.
With that, someone on stage asked the audience if there was anyone out there who worked for Vice: “It’s okay, we’re not going to hurt you.”
Prompted by the moderator, Conboy was the only one who shared some thoughts about the media giant. When we spoke to him ahead of the film’s SXSW premiere in April, he was pretty guarded about the corporation’s controversial takeover of his former home on Kent Avenue. He took a similar tone on Saturday: “I know I feel uncomfortable with Vice, but whatever… if you work for Vice, that’s ok– you know, that’s the life choice that you’re making.”
Wilber, who has already made his opinions about Vice know to us, joked about the period during which the company’s contracters were working above his living space: “I got so little sleep that last month, because it was psychological torture– I feel like there was a construction guy whose job it was, at 7am, to go bang on a metal plate above my room for just long enough for me to go, ‘Alright, I have to start the day.'”
Wilber still works as a soundman. During the Grooms/A Place to Bury Strangers set, he could be seen tweaking EQ levels on an iPad while Ackermann traded off vocals with his DBA partner Travis Johnson, frontman of Grooms. That said, the notorious PA system that Wilber got for Death By Audio is still sitting in his Florida garage. He did, however, get to bring it back for one encore while he did touring sound for Protomartyr, another onetime DBA fixture. “When we got back to St. Petersburg,” he recalled of the tour, “I found out what board was going to be used at the space where the show was happening and I was like, “Pff, no, I got this. I’m bringing my my own board– BYOB.”
Apparently DBA’s raucus final show— with its ear-shattering last act– left its mark on the board: “I opened it up and I was like, ‘Why is the gain all the way up? Why are the levels so high up?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, Lightning Bolt. At the end of Lightning Bolt, I just rolled all the knobs. I was like, ‘Fuck it, we don’t need this thing anymore.'”
For his part Ackermann said the comraderie rikindled by the screening made him wish he was “back there doing it again with everyone,” but with his hands full building effects peddles and touring with APTBS, it doesn’t sound like there’ll be a DBA relaunch anytime soon. If you want something to look forward to, Conboy says a distribution deal for Goodnight Brooklyn is coming together and the film should be widely available by Fall.
In the meantime, here’s the superband playing the APTBS song “Ego Death,” as filmed by Youtube user Tony Stanley.