Cameo last spring (Photo via Facebook)

Cameo last spring (Photo via Facebook)

I first met Jify Shah back in 2014 when things were looking up for the owner of Cameo Gallery, a venue that became a mainstay in the Williamsburg music scene after it opened in 2009 on North 6th Sreet. It was the beginning of the summer and he’d just opened a restaurant featuring tropical cocktails named for figures in the Brooklyn music scene (“Losing My Edge,” with jalapeño-infused vodka) and food inspired by the stuff he ate as a kid growing up in Curaçao, a small island in the Caribbean.

Only a year later, rumors surfaced about the future of Cameo, which had quickly become one of the last remaining DIY institutions in the area. At first, Jify was hard to reach and clearly unwilling to talk about what was really going on. I was hoping his silence indicated Cameo would remain open for a little bit longer before Williamsburg is entirely overtaken by shadowy LLCs and glittering towers. No such luck. “I never thought it would’ve become what it did,” Jify told us.

I reached Jify for an interview over Gchat this week, when he finally agreed to tell us what was happening. “New landlord,” he said simply. “I wasn’t able to work out a situation that makes sense for all parties.”

the iconic installation over Cameo's stage (Photo via New York Magazine)

the iconic installation over Cameo’s stage (Photo via New York Magazine)

On November 21, Cameo will put on its very last show. But what about the restaurant? “Yeah, the whole thing will be gone,” he confirmed. “But we’re spending the energy [to make] the best of this space and enjoy it while it’s still here.”

“Been seven years!” he added. Some of his favorite memories include the people he collaborated with: “I never thought I was gonna work with Nicolas Jaar– one day he texted me and invited me over to talk about doing something at Cameo, and this was when he already got super big, so that was definitely cool.”

Jify's restaurant (Photo via Jify Shah)

Jify’s restaurant (Photo via Jify Shah)

Another favorite moment involved the late producer, Frankie Knuckles. “He played here twice before he passed, we were actually in talks of doing it once more. After he played here the first night, I was breaking down the gear and talking to him. He was saying how he liked the space, the sound, and how it reminded him of the early house music days– like The Loft– and as a joke I said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ And he said, ‘You know what Jify, we’re gonna do this again.'”

Joakim Bouzaiz at Cameo (Photo via Facebook)

Joakim Bouzaiz at Cameo (Photo via Facebook)

The explanation for Cameo’s closure is a familiar one. In a turn of events, Cameo’s landlord went from being hands-off and relatively lax about what was going on with the increasingly valuable piece of property– located in between the busiest and fastest growing areas on Williamsburg’s north side: the Bedford Avenue stop and the waterfront– to suddenly realizing the veritable oil deposit he was sitting on. “The old landlord was never around– lived in South America somewhere,” Jify explained. “So we were able to do what we wanted then, which is why Cameo came into existence to begin with.”

Jify knew the building was for sale back in December 2013, but it wasn’t until March 2014 that 88 Property LLC bought the place (an architect is listed as the contact representative on the deed, hinting the building will be undergoing some renovations in the near future). At first, things seemed fine. “It wasn’t immediate,” he said. “But then things got weird and we were basically waiting for a two months notice, which is almost tougher.”

Frankie Knuckles (Photo by 35 Bodies)

Frankie Knuckles (Photo by 35 Bodies)

I asked him what he meant by things getting weird. “They wanted us out,” he clarified. “They looked for all possible ways to get us out, until we had no option but to surrender under their terms. So it wasn’t just rent getting high.”

Jify declined to go into specifics, but it sounded like he tried his best to hold on. “I can definitely say that even when I knew it was gonna be over, I still tried to figure out ways to undo it!”

Over the years Cameo underwent what may have looked like minor changes to outsiders, but were big victories for the venue. “Everything that happened here was organic– the place used to be 150 [capacity] and then we made it 250 three years later– so there was a lot of learn as you go, and do things as you go.”

Nicolas Jaar (Photo by Evan Weiner)

Nicolas Jaar (Photo by Evan Weiner)

But Jify managed to stick to the original ethos. Cameo kept booking a solid mix of big names, up-and-comings, and fresh acts, while welcoming in a diversity of sounds, from indie rock t0 dream pop, R&B and hip hop, to electronic. “It was, and still is, a DIY space,” he said. “When I took over the lease, it wasn’t because it was gonna be a big money-making thing– it was a passion project.”

It’s highly unlikely anything cool will come after Cameo, or even that Jify knows what the new owner has planned for the building, but we asked anyway if he knew. “I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s some corporate company… nobody else can afford it.”

Jify said he was disappointed in how the neighborhood changed over the years. I asked if he’d consider sticking around. “I highly doubt it– it’s been really bittersweet here. So much that I fell in love with is gone. It’s still a nice area, but there’s no more charm.” (Maybe he hasn’t seen the artisanal soap store where Verb cafe used to be?)

If Cameo 2 happened, Jify said he’d look for a place elsewhere. “Not sure about Bushwick, but maybe Bed-Stuy… or even Manhattan lol.”

LOL indeed. You know things are screwed up when people say Manhattan– not even Chinatown, but Manhattan as a whole– could be a cheaper option than Williamsburg. I asked him if having to close this location made him reconsider his way of doing business.

Starchild (Photo by Thomas Ignatius)

Starchild (Photo by Thomas Ignatius)

“I have learned a whole lot over the last seven years, so I think it’s inevitable that something will be different,” he said. “The big difference if I were to do this again, is that everything will be designed with a specific goal in mind.”

But for the final weeks on North 6th, Cameo will be going about business as usual, maybe with a little more fanfare. “I’m trying to make the final days as special as possible,” Jify explained. “I’ve got some exciting stuff confirmed, and some surprise shows, last minute announcements, etc. It’s been my main focus since the closing became official on October 1, and we really don’t have much time to put stuff together.”

Cameo Gallery has effectively taken over Jify’s entire life, and he admitted when it’s all over he’ll be able to breathe for once. First, Jify said he’s taking time off to go home to Curaçao and see his family and “decompress.” The venue, Jify explained, and all the time and effort it took to run the thing “really took full control of my life, so I’m looking forward to having some freedom to be creative again.”

Maybe the coolest kids alive, bitty metal band Unlocking the Truth played at Cameo in 2013 (Photo: Philip Pantuso)

Maybe the coolest kids alive, bitty metal band Unlocking the Truth played at Cameo in 2013 (Photo: Philip Pantuso)

In the end, though, he feels like it was worth it: “I never thought I’d become buddies with like amazing artists such as Neon Indian, Twin Shadow, etc. I come from a small island in the Caribbean that most [people] here don’t even know, so for me this has been more than a dream come true.”

He added, “It’s because of these amazing moments that I can’t see myself just walking away from the music business, even though it can be so hard.”

Jify shared with us the final lineup (save for some surprises for the last few days), which includes Night Moves and a DJ set by Neon Indian. Check out the rest below. Note: more artists TBA and shows between 11/18 and 11/21 are TBA.

Oct. 30, 8 pm: Deadbeat Darling, Powwowwer, Drew Nix

Oct. 30, 11:30 pm: Midnight Magic, Mike Simonetti, Tippy Toes (DJ)

Oct. 31, 11:30 pm: “Freaky Halloween” with DJ sets by Neon Indian, Ssion, and live set by Le1f, One Hour Karaoke hosted by Samantha Urbani (Free)

Nov. 1, 7 pm: “Bernie Fest” with Janeane Garofalo, Mark Normand, Aparna Nancherla, Mike Drucker, Matt Koff, and more

Nov. 8, 6 pm:  Love as Laughter, Street Smells, IYEZ, Simon Doom, Glyph City

Nov. 10, 8 pm: Night Moves, Salt Cathedral

Nov. 11, 8 pm: Alberta Cross, Dicey Hollows, Heaven’s Jail

Nov. 12, 8 pm: Popgun Farewell Party w/ Beacon, Glass Gang and more

Nov. 13, 8 pm: Lemonade, Teen Commandments

Nov. 14, 8 pm: Class Actress, Starchild & The New Romantic, DJ Mia Moretti

Nov. 16, 8 pm– The London Souls

Nov. 17, 8 pm- Communion and The Wild Honey Pie present Fare Bee Well