After six years of hosting shows for the incredible price of $5, the house known as Dead Herring, located at 141 S. 5th Street in Brooklyn, NY will have its final concert on Saturday, January 26. Sending the storied DIY venue off will be The Immaculates (who are going on hiatus at the end of the month), Moonmen on the Moon, Man (who are reuniting) and Necking plus Hunters. As a memorial to Dead Herring, Impose asked its residents and the bands once billed there to share their favorite memories from the past six years.
A photo retrospective from the past six years can be viewed here.
I was one of the founders of Dead Herring (I named it!) and booked shows there for the first couple years. I also played there frequently in the band Necking and other things. Because we only had shows twice a month at Dead Herring, most of them were booked around touring bands. Then, inevitably, the touring bands would stay in the little loft upstairs, all snug. Some of the best times were hanging out with the travelers on non-show nights.It was a good way for Necking to play with people we liked, and eliminate the extra step of finding a venue. I also got a kick out of putting unlikely bills together. The first big show we had included Big A Little a (tribal psych), The Children (thrash), and Kirsten Ketsjer (Danish sunshine prog), among others. It’s not a huge stretch or anything, if you like one of those you will probably like the others, but they are bands who wouldn’t play together much besides. And they draw different crowds. So I was happy to help expose the Danish band, Kirsten Ketsjer, to various sects of the Brooklyn music scene. And they are great people! Having the venue helps to keep in touch with musicians who become buddies. I also miss the folks from Mutators, an awesome Vancouver band who helped trash our place. Very good times. Dead Herring felt like a welcoming home because that's exactly what it always was.
It's about 1 am on a Saturday night and we are having a small dance party following a show. Out of no where the last band plugs their gear back in and turns off the music. My immediate response is WTF but I am put to shame when out of the speakers blasts one of my favorite songs of all time, "Age of Consent" by New Order, performed perfectly and with great ease by the band, Esque. The dance party picks up like it had never stopped and one of my favorite moments of the last 5 and a half years is created.
I could go on and on about all the other great times I have had — Calvin Johnson making tea in my kitchen, having a limbo contest with the members of The Men, getting hugged by Blake Schwarzenbach, and being told not to take pictures of Mirah come to mind and I will remember the whole thing fondly. It was so incredible to be a part of such a unique space, hosting local and touring bands, showing bands and show-goers alike that we want to have as much fun as possible at the shows just like they do. It also presented a great opportunity to document and contribute creatively with the bands by photographing the shows. This house really made my life in Brooklyn: it introduced me to great people, involved me in a music scene I never knew existed and gave me great subject mater for photography. I feel very lucky to have participated in such a phenomenal creative community. These are some of my favorite moments from my life at Dead Herring.
I didn't want to move here at first. We lived on McKibben, had a couple shows, had a lot of bedbugs, and I thought we had it pretty good. Then Mindy at the Woodser told us their next door neighbors were moving out so we should move in. I didn't like the idea of moving but Nick convinced me-- we'd have a backyard! And we could have shows! So in we moved. We had the backyard for less than a year before the landlords reclaimed it for a future condo (pit). But living in Dead Herring is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
This house made me feel at home in this city, a sense of belonging I hadn't expected to find. I hope we've been able to provide that to other people too. We've had amazing bands play here, but it always felt less like a show and more like a bunch of friends over for a party. Shows turned to dance parties turned to sleepovers turned to waffles in the morning. Other venues have been incredibly kind and helpful to us-- Showpaper listed our events, Cakeshop sent shows our way, Matt from DBA fixed our PA. We've been proud to tell our outta-town friends' bands that we could give them not just a show but also a New York home. Sure, every once in a while people were jerks, but with few exceptions the bands, performers, and people who came to shows were as friendly and supportive as if we'd been friends for years. And they often became our good friends anyway. I am tremendously lucky to have spent my last six years here. This house was the thing that got me through my sister's death and my bout with cancer. Even when I hated the world and didn't want to leave the house, we kept having shows and people kept coming over, and I couldn't be a hermit if I tried. And that is what kept me going. Somebody had to work the door.
Magic things happened here. For years all I wanted was a chandelier to tie the room together. Now we have two, and a disco ball. I had room here to build a phone booth time machine, a paper moon, a miniature styrofoam planet Krypton with Pterodactyl, a Corinthian column. Calvin Johnson sang a song to our cat. A couple we didn't even know got engaged here. Last month a vaudeville magician sawed a lady in half in our living room.
Things end, new things begin. We are embarking on a new adventure that might be a huge mistake but fingers crossed it will grow into something even better than what we've had here. Our knuckles are bloody (figuratively) from so much knocking on wood. Dead Herring has made my life for the past six years. Thank you to everybody who has played here, performed here, come to shows here, and turned Dead Herring from a regular house into this magic bubble of music and art and community and family. I am so proud it was my home.
I’ve never understood people who are weirded-out by house shows. Surprisingly, there are many such folks. As if the lack of “official” trappings are signs of imminent social disintegration; or maybe they just have party anxiety (that’s what alcohol is for, dummies). I spent my twenties fucked up outta my skull stalking dank Midwestern basements and unorthodox showspaces, so a place like Dead Herring felt like home to me. Some of the more memorable shows I’ve played there include a few with my old band Golden Error, particularly the one I was sporting a full-bodied Flash costume that I had snagged off of a Lower East Side chain-link fence. I told the rest of the band to give me a second after they set-up; ducked into the bathroom, changed, and came out ready to rock. Lemme tell ya, that thing didn’t leave much to the imagination. The set went by in a blur. Two summers ago, my current band, Family Curse, played one of the hottest shows I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of attending. The high temp that day was 98 degrees as a shroud of humidity settled over the city. I checked my phone around 11 PM and it was still 90 degrees outside. Add at least 10 more degrees to the crowded, non-ventilated interior and the band thought we were gonna pass out mid-set. But, like all Dead Herring shows, it ended up being a blast. We’ll miss ya, baby.
It’s hard to think of a venue that has meant more to us than Dead Herring. In fact, to even call it a ‘venue’ feels somehow cheap, or not quite right. When I first walked into that space, at our first show there in October 2009 with our forever-BFFAEAEs Bad Credit No Credit, what struck me most – apart from the immediate thought, “Holy hell, this is the cleanest DIY space I’ve ever been inside!” – was that, unlike your garden variety show house, which ushers bands and fans into a basement to alternately shiver and swelter together, the residents of Dead Herring had more or less invited us into their living room. Indeed, right where the hearth, or television, or family puzzle table would have been – that was where the bands set up, and it seemed imperative to behave accordingly: to not just load in and out, grab a few drinks and perfunctorily thank whoever booked you, but to invest, make friends, and maybe bring a bottle of wine and some flowers, hoping they would have you back around. And for heaven’s sake, don’t throw beer cans on the floor!
Thankfully, we did make friends, and they did have us back. And not just to play shows, but for birthdays, barbecues, New Years, Super Bowls, or any old Friday night. It’s the site of Josh’s first (and only!) open-container citation, and my teary-eyed phone call home when my Giants won the World Series. As Thomas reminded me, it was the kind of place where a show – for instance, our friends’ Leg Sweeper’s most recent trip to Brooklyn – could turn into an impromptu dance party/sleepover/waffle breakfast. Ultimately, I think that’s why it never felt strange to have my parents show up there for our record release party. Nervous as I was – my folks had never seen Sleepies before – everyone was thrilled to meet them, and they, in turn, did as we Romans did: bobbed their heads to (dear departed) Little Victory and drank from Coors tallboys straight out of the paper bag. By the end of our set, after I’d somehow gotten the entire crowd to place two fingers across their upper lips in salute to the majesty of my father’s mustache, I began to see what should have been clear to me that first night we were so graciously asked in: that, at Dead Herring, family was not the exception but the rule.
While touring in various punk bands over the years I have seen many a DIY space where the bands were almost an afterthought to whatever party the hosts were throwing—or even so much of an afterthought that the the hosts forgot to invite people to attend the party in the first place. Conversely in New York its seems that lately, perhaps as a reaction to these lackadaisical DIY spaces, many underground venues often operate with such annoying professionalism that it's hard to tell which venues are really underground spaces and which venues are simply stale rock clubs that just so happen to serve whiskey in dixie cups. It seems that this is a constant struggle within underground music—finding a balance between the amateur and professional, between creativity and business. Dead Herring, however, was that rare space that actually found a perfect balance that so eludes others. Dead Herring, with its warm and welcoming yet quite raucous environment still managed to not just treat bands well, but to treat them far better then the majority of so-called "legit" rock venues in town. For the New York music scene, the end of Dead Herring should be treated with the same reverence as one would treat the death of a unicorn. What a rare and beautiful thing we have lost.
Posted on January 24, 2013. More on: dead herring, necking, diy, brooklyn, big a little a, nicki ishmael, calvin johnson, the men, new order, mirah, showpaper, cakeshop, golden error, family curse, sleepies, leg sweepers, zulus, prsms