So as you may be aware, I live up here in Brooklyn. Just across the bridge in north Jersey there used to be a venue called the Meatlocker. I say used to be because up until recently it was a crucial venue in the mid-Atlantic metal scene. In the last few days though it was closed down by a new restaurant that came to the area who complained to the landlord. I wanted to look at this venue as something of a case study for how DIY venues should operate. The Meatlocker had been around for decades and, strangely enough, was located on the main street of a rather cute little town. It was a punk stronghold that saw performances from legends like Magrudergrind to weird Asian bands like Wormrot, harsh noise and even the occasional bit of dream pop. Beyond that it was a space that had art showings and other events that catered to the alternative set in north Jersey and even New York City. Its loss is a massive blow and I want to look at what happened and how it impacts other DIY spaces throughout the world.
We all know that there is a perpetual war going on against DIY in the west. Gentrification doesn’t want folks like us to be out and playing shows in houses and basements across America for pennies. They want to close down the spaces where alternative activities happen because they are inherently subverting and dangerous to the mores of our society. There are constant rent hikes, stringent fire safety checks and constant police raids. It’s exactly why so many DIY spaces are forced into the absolute shittiest parts of cities. It’s the only place they can find landlords who don’t care and let us do what we need to in order to host our music. We are trying to create art with literally no support from mainstream culture and that means there is next to no money involved most of the time. It’s a hard reality and one that we constantly have to deal with, because when it comes down to it, people are not nice and have a hard time understanding the passion behind this music.
Now I know it’s hard to talk about because the wound is fresh. The Meatlocker was a goddamn institution and to deny its prominence in shaping punk rock in the region over the last four decades would be totally remiss. But this sort of thing happens in cities all the time. In a given year, New York probably sees five to ten DIY spaces come and then go. Part of why Meatlocker lasted so long was that it was in the middle of a town where no one really knew what to do. Most people didn’t want to shut it down because they understood that the venue was older than most of the other local businesses and the local punks were nice dudes. They did a lot of things right, but at the same time they definitely could have been running a tighter ship. I know that’s easy to say in retrospect and can sound super pretentious given my own role in the industry and the fact that I’m writing this from an apartment in Williamsburg, but I think it’s important to look at how we can work together to grow the scene.
I think though that you need to look at the general practices of any DIY space and make sure that they are sustainable. Now obviously this isn’t just applicable to the Meatlocker, this is a general rule for DIY spaces in general. The Meatlocker, as far as I could tell, had pretty sustainable practices. That being said – it’s probably best to observe what the best DIY spaces do, like the legendary ABC No Rio – probably the longest lived punk spot in the United States. They made sure to make their name on offering a variety of services, from a free computer bay,to art space, as well as of course having a performance space. They own their building and do their best to appease neighbors and keep everything as put together as possible. I know that sometimes this can violate punk ideals, but when it comes down to it – would you rather have a good spot for their to be shows, or do you want people to think you are the punkest?
Ultimately these spots are the lifeblood of our scene. They are the places that matter and which allow bands to rise up. The locals are putting together a list of bands who played the Meatlocker and as I scroll through you see countless bands who went from playing this basement to going on to selling out thousand person clubs. This is what the industry is supposed to be about, exciting and gradual progression. The Meatlocker was the sort of place that facilitated that, but now that it’s falling apart folks the scene are doing exactly what you shouldn’t do. People are posting bad reviews of the restaurant that filed the initial complaint. People are making trite posts on social media. They don’t seem to be getting their shit together from a legal standpoint. They also don’t seem to be building on lessons from punk that we all know – that sometimes we need to fight from within the system. I’m confident the scene will live on, it’s just sad to see such a beloved spot go.
When it comes down to it, you need to be able to fight for your local DIY space. You need to realize that you need to follow stringent policies and remain friendly and positive throughout. These are the places that art is allowed to grow in America, the rest of the time is, admittedly, only so much suffering. As hard as it might be to see the light we need to take every lasting scar and use it to build a better future for our scene. I know it’s not easy and oftentimes can be frustrating, aggravating, and downright silly, but it’s the way that it needs to go. Learning to appreciate the magic therein is the only way to move on effectively.
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