To celebrate the arrival of Ebru Yildiz’s new book, a hefty collection of black-and-white photos from the final 70 or so days of Death By Audio, the photographer and nearly everyone from the bygone Williamsburg DIY venue’s inner circle descended on Rough Trade on Thursday night for a panel discussion. But really, it was more like a bunch of friends telling great stories from the venue that reigned for seven years, and was known for its wide array of amazing shows with lineups that weren’t so much about making money (uh, tickets were around $7 and a friend who played there several times told me that DBA was known for taking care of its touring bands).
We’ve Come So Far: the Last Days of Death by Audio documents the emotional tornado and creative wellspring that came out of the final marathon of nightly shows, all of them featuring incredible artists who’d played DBA over the years, as well as a transformative art show, and insane partying, of course. All bets were off and the DIY venue’s founders (Oliver Ackermann, Edan Wilber, and Matt Conboy), the residents of the industrial-building-turned-music-space, and the bands who loved it gave it everything they had. Last night was a way to look back and recount the craziness, proving that no one’s quite over it just yet.
Yildiz (who has contributed photos for B+B’s column, The Regulars) told us in a follow-up interview that she first became familiar with the DBA crew before the DIY venue even existed, when in 2004 she attended a show featuring A Place to Bury Strangers (Oliver Ackermann’s band). “The minute I saw them play, I fell in love,” she recalled. Eventually, Ackermann and her became friends and he showed her the empty warehouse that would soon be transformed into DBA.
So what personally inspired Yildiz to put so much effort into documenting the final days of DBA and self-publish this enormous, extensive photography book? (We totally understand the impulse– we’ve got some disposable camera photos of our own from the final night.)
“I have an emotional connection to that venue,” she explained. “I wanted to have a record of that place existing– there are all these places that are closing down, and it makes me sad that there is no documentation. [Places] like Max’s Kansas City, I wish there are more photos from there.”
The book, she said, “is a celebration of the people themselves and what they have achieved over the years.” And she achieved something during the three-month-long project too: “I was reminded of the importance of documentary photography, especially for the generations coming up so that they can see and learn what was before them.”
Almost everyone featured in the book was on last night’s panel, which was moderated by Stephanie Gross (she has a spread of her own in the book, and is shown wearing a huge smile and crowd surfing during a raucous set). However, Edan Wilber was notably absent from the Rough Trade event. Then again, we’ve heard plenty from Edan already— the guy deserves a vacation, and it was great to hear from a slew of other people who, so far, we haven’t heard that much from. Be sure to check out the book as well as the DBA documentary, Goodnight Brooklyn, for more deets.
On photographing DBA
Edwina Hay (photographer): I definitely came away with the most bruises at Lightning Bolt.
Eric Phipps (photographer): It was always just the most mind-blowing music […] I think one of the first shows I ever shot there was Ty Segall in 2009 and it was before he was huge on a lot of people’s radars, he had sold out the venue and it was just absolutely intense, packed wall-to-wall kids just going absolutely insane throwing themselves on the stage and throwing themselves to the stage.
I tried to make a conscious decision to not shoot as much [in the final days], I knew it was going to be really packed with photographers and people just going crazy, and I wanted to let other people have as much fun as possible, so I tried to shoot a minimum [number] of shows to just let people get their catharsis in.
Living at DBA
Matt Conboy (DBA co-founder and Goodnight Brooklyn filmmaker): If any of you have ever lived in a warehouse or a communal space, where you’re making things in the place you’re living in, it’s just an infectious creative environment. […] That’s, at least for me, what it felt like to be there, was to be surrounded by people who were challenging you to create things and do interesting things.
Oliver Ackermann: There was really no limit–whatever the hell you wanted to do. Like, we collected all these television sets and they were up on the wall for a while, and some of our other roommates took em down, threw them all into a pile from the second floor to the first floor, lit em on fire, and smashed them all at like 5 in the morning and that’s just, like, a day.
On the 24-Straight-Hours Drone Festival
Mark Kleeback (DBA Arcade): I think it was the first thing [to happen] in the living room, not in our showspace, in our house. I was there for the whole thing.
Heather Bickford (DBA resident): Thankfully I wasn’t there the whole time because we played a show here [at Rough Trade] and we came back and it was pretty scary. Eventually I was just hiding in my room […] and my cats, they were just terrified the whole time staring at me like, ‘What are you doing?’
Matt Conbody: Essentially all of the instruments that you can imagine that would make the most noise possible are just available to anybody. […] Just no rules, total fuckin’ wildness.
Oliver Ackermann: Four or five amplifiers I had, that night, were just destroyed, and loud amplifiers.
At one point I went to the bathroom at 7 am, and there was some girl on the ground just screaming her heart out into a microphone, but there was no one there to listen. It was wild, mayhem.
Mark Kleeback: I mean, a guy fell asleep with his finger on the synth. Mr. Transylvania was gargling water with a contact mic on his throat– it was just the most depraved scene I’ve ever seen.
The First and Last Art Show at DBA, “Death By Art”
Matt Conboy: We were inspired by this show that happened I think in 2010 at St. Cecelia’s Church […] and it was this very immersive experience, it wasn’t like you were walking into a white-walled gallery, the art was built into the walls, in nooks and crannies, and I thought that was a really amazing display, so we tried to do that. The walls were getting demolished anyway, so we were like, ‘Sure, you wanna cut down this wall? Fine. You wanna spray paint, like, anywhere?’
[There were] around 150 artists.
Matt Conboy: It’s in the movie, this artist named […], a good friend of ours, painted this mural that said, ‘Fuck you Shane’– Shane Smith who’s the CEO of Vice. […] All the construction workers were like, ‘This is really offensive.’ […] So they were like, ‘We’re painting this over, this is it.’ There were a lot of threats of early eviction. […] It was like, ‘No, fuck you– you’re out, you can’t insult King Shane Smith.’ So we freaked out and I got a security camera, and we were all nervous, and it was like, ‘Oh my god, are they gonna come shut us down?’ And they didn’t obviously. We succeeded.
Booking the Last Shows/ the Music
Matt Conboy: When we found out our venue was gonna end, we really wanted to make the most of the experience. We really wanted to, I dunno, kind of swing for the fences […] and so we reached out to all the people who’d ever played there who we had a relationship with to try and get bands to reunite, to come back, and we were really fortunate that Edan had spent years and years building these really intense relationships […] That’s, I think, why people like Ty [Segall] changed his whole plans and flew his band from Europe overnight to play one show, and many people changed tour itineraries and canceled things so they could do that.
We were worried that [since] we were gonna have these big shows, the venue’s gonna be overstuffed […] We decided we were gonna tear down a wall in the back of the venue so more people could see.
DIY’s Past and Future
Matt Conboy: For me, I was always inspired by this place in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve never been there, but Oliver has.
Oliver Ackermann: I lived in Providence for a while and this sort of space was almost just commonplace, and I saw it, in the five years that I lived there, it all start to disappear and disintegrate. When I first moved there, I saw these shows where people had these blowtorches, just the wildest things you would ever see in your life, there would be wrestling matches where someone would be the ‘Pasta Guy’ and someone would boil up 50 lbs of pasta and, you know, throw it all over the walls– anything you could imagine.
There were a bunch of these warehouses, they were abandoned buildings, and you would just go smash the windows out, and climb on in, and find some old typewriters and throw them down flights of stairs and stuff. You could do whatever you want.
Maybe you have to get a little bit out of your norm to be able to deal with living or coping with this sort of thing, […] In a city, it’s just a pretty amazing feeling to not have these normal constraints or worries of normal life. And it breeds even the kind of incredible bands and performances which, just imagine if you see the kind of bands where they don’t have to do anything in particular, they’re not trying to make money, they’re just trying to have a crazy, fun, awesome time.
Matt Conboy: We just kind of ignored [the cops].
I think we just got lucky on some level, because we were in a weird time-shift between eras in Williamsburg. And we were also three blocks north of the division between North Side policing and South Side policing.
Oliver Ackermann: I think [the cops] just thought it was legit.
Jay Heiselmann (Grooms, DBA resident): We didn’t answer the door.
Oliver Ackerman: There were police who came to shows and shut the shows down, there was even a fireman who came and tried to get us to buy a fire extinguisher for $500 or something.
Stephanie Gross: We did need that fire extinguisher.