Life for Edan Wilber has changed dramatically in the two weeks since his Williamsburg DIY venue Death By Audio hosted its last show. “My sleep schedule has, like, 180’d one hundred percent,” he laughed. “I go to bed at like 9 p.m. now.”
When we spoke with Edan this morning he was kicked back on a porch where he’s living in St. Petersburg, Florida. “It’s almost been two weeks since we closed, and I pretty much moved the very next day,” he said. “I had 40 shows in a row, and now I’ve had two weeks of not seeing anything. It’s pretty weird.”
He seems to be enjoying the time off and new scenery, though. “I always fantasize about starting something down here, but it’s just so out of the way,” he said. “But there are just so many freaks and artists here. Like I’ll go to the doughnut shop, and it’s like wow, that person needs a place to hang out.”
But if things go his way, he won’t be staying in Florida forever. Though Edan was vague about when exactly a new venue could open up, it sounds like the same people running DBA are looking forward to starting fresh.
Check out our Q+A to see what’s up next for Edan and what exactly happened to trigger that widely circulated Gawker post, “No One Wants To Say It, But Vice Is Displacing Brooklyn Institutions.”
It’s just temporary until we know what’s going on. I definitely want to try and do another Death By Audio, but it’s really a matter of finding the right real estate and in New York right now, it just seems insane. The dudes went ahead and got a year-long lease for the [Death By Audio effects] pedal company at this office park down in the Navy Yard area.
We’ve got a couple of people who are good at real estate, so they’re looking or a place for us and if it seems like a viable thing, down the road six months or whatever, I’m down to try and do it again. But then there’s always the chance we won’t be able to find something affordable enough and in the right neighborhood to be able to do like what we did again.
Anywhere really, it’s gotta be an artsy neighborhood. I feel like with Bushwick, it’s already too late to get something going over there. Just because it’s already so gentrified, and real estate agents own it and know how much it’s worth.
But then the issue becomes, do you go out into Bed-Stuy? Do you go out into Ridgewood? Then you are the gentrifying force in those areas if you’re providing the art and entertainment.
The thing with 49 South 2nd street was that there was nothing there. There was already some nightlife. We found this little block that no one was on and we made it ours. And now it’s completely different over there, so then it’s like what happens if we open a place and 10 years down the road, where are we at? [Is the place] getting bought out by Vice again? Well, we didn’t get bought out. At no point did money change between hands, we just waited for our lease to end. [Update: Brooklyn Vegan reached out to Vice, a spokesperson for which said, “DBA took a buyout from the landlord,” and to a lawyer for the landlord, who clarified, “DBA and my client entered into a legal agreement, pursuant to which my client agreed to waive all of the rent DBA owed in exchange for DBA agreeing not to hold over in the premises after their lease expired.”]
Our landlord had a meeting with us in September and we thought our lease was going until June, because we thought we’d signed a two-year lease. We’ve always been good friends with our landlord and we were never really good with the business side of things, and we thought we got a copy of our lease, and we just didn’t. That’s one of our bads, but we’re just not business people.
So they produced our lease and said it was a year and five months, but we had no recourse at that point. We scoured for a copy of our lease, because we think [they showed us] a doctored lease. But we can’t say for sure. It’s one of those dumb-ass things we never thought would be a problem.
The only time Vice was in touch with us was that day when we had the meeting in September, and we agreed to leave at the end of November. No problem. We didn’t want to make waves because we felt that if we gave any shit to Vice they would just squash us like a bug.
But they were like, “What’s it going to take to get you out today?” And I was like, look, I’ve got two months of shows booked and these personal relationships mean a lot to me, and I want to make sure all the shows happen.
We [almost] had the censorship of [our art show.] Some rich dick who was another contractor came over and just started yelling at us and threatening to call the cops and the Department of Buildings on us right there. Our art show had some crazy art, and I’m sure parts of it weren’t up to code.
But this guy threatened to have us shut down. And we were just like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” Turns out he was just friends with the guys at Vice and he decided to come in and swing his dick around or something. But whatever, we made it through to the end and I’m happy about it.
I spoke with the people from the circus school, Muse, which was located right by you and they had some serious problems with construction going on while they were still occupying the building. Did you guys have similar issues?
Well, the first order of business for Vice was they gutted the second and third floor completely, like down to the girders. So they were jackhammering right above our heads at all hours of the day. For us, it was like the night would end and it be one or two o’clock and we had to decide whether to hang out or go to sleep right away to make sure we got enough sleep in, because at at a certain point at every morning at like 7am [the noise would start].
I don’t know anything about construction, but there was this guy, and it seemed like it was his job every day to just hit a piece of metal with a hammer for 20 minutes. Another day they were breaking out old bricks and dropping them onto my AC unit that sticks out of the wall, so that was just the loudest fucking metal bang. There was all kinds of stuff, there was flooding. We’re trying to collect money for flood damages, because the ceiling flooded one day and came into our equipment closet that had like seven amps in it and three drum kits. Luckily our main PA didn’t get hit by any of that.
Right up until that last week it was like, are we going to make it through to the end? Every day was just a trial.
The answer seems pretty apparent, but do you feel you’re at odds with what Vice represents?
For sure. I’m sure you saw photos of all the shredded Vice magazines at the last show. But the fuckin’ funny thing is, that was Matt [Conboy] and my personal collection of Vice magazines from the mid-2000s.
It was such a rad thing. It was one of the first magazines I found when I moved to New York. I picked up an issue at Tower Records because it was in the free stack. It was one of the first out-there, awesome things I’d found. I was a fan for a long time, but that has definitely declined in the last five years because it just seems to be eating itself alive. How many times can you write about the same frat-boy bullshit? Or how many times can you read about it?
But it was just one of those things I did have respect for because I thought they were doing something out-there and different, but it’s just the same now. It’s become corporatized.
When it came time for someone to take the blame, all these lower rung people at Vice decided to contact me and tell me how sorry they were that somebody in their company was doing this. And I was like, who’s going to take the blame? Because no one wanted to take the blame. And then it got to the point where that guy came in and started harassing us [about the art show] and he was like, “Well how can you blame Shane [Smith]? It wasn’t his decision.”
And I was just like now, wait, the head of Vice is just going to pass the buck? Like you can’t do that, you really can’t do that. They’ve lost a lot of fans in the process. I’ve gotten calls for record labels that say they’re not going to send promos to Noisey anymore. People are seeing what’s going on.
But I don’t need Death By Audio to be this thing that people remember forever and ever and ever. If you were there and it was important to you, then awesome. Vice is writing history, so they’ll write us out of history. No article went up about our closing or anything. And Pitchfork already said DIY died in that neighborhood. But I’m totally fine with that, because I want DBA to be remembered by the people who enjoyed it, not by the people who weren’t there and read about it after the fact.
I showed up at the last show and missed it because of the crazy line. But it seemed like the line was filled with people who I’d never seen there before, and who didn’t really look like the type of person who would be there– I know that sounds awful.
It’s true. And that’s what we were trying to get away from by not doing advanced ticketing for all those last shows, so it was for people who wanted to be there hardcore. And if they happen to be the people who haven’t been there before, at that point there’s really nothing I can do.
I actually had a huge breakdown that night before the show because I was so upset with how [long the] guest list was. But when you have 30 people who have lived in a building for 10 years, there’s going to be people who want to be there.
I definitely wanted to go outside at one point and announce, “If you’ve never been here before, thank you for coming, but please let people who have been here in.”
But there’s no way to do it right. And our place is pretty small at capacity, and I’ve never wanted to have a bigger space. That’s pretty much the perfect size for me.
We don’t really know, it depends on the space, the neighborhood, the price. We were getting to a point where rent was almost impossible to pay. And there was a lot of competition. I mostly work directly with bands, but sometimes end up working with booking agents, and they want guarantees and numbers and stuff, which I was never able to offer.
I’ve never wanted financial backing. I like the fact that bands earn their money. If there’s a bunch of people there, I’ll pay them the money. If there’s not a bunch of people there, then I can’t do it.
A friend of mine, whose band is from Detroit, played at Death By Audio a couple of years back, and he said you guys very much took care of him.
And that’s what the people who are road dogs know. If you’re on the road and you’re on tour, you know what I do is better– well not better, but different– than a lot of places. I will show you the numbers at the end, and you will absolutely get the lion’s share if you’re from out of town. But saying that to an agent, even agents I’ve worked with for years, they say they can’t take my word for it. It was just how I did things, and it worked for a long time. But it was just getting to a point where that neighborhood was insanely overpriced and it was just really, really tough.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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