Happy Birthday, Death by Audio

Ari Spool

Eric Phipps

Everyone always says, “Remember when there wasn't a huge picture of Edan behind the stage?” They are referring to a giant, six-foot tall portrait of one of the Death By Audio original gangsters, Edan Wilber, that was painted on the seafoam green of stage left maybe about eight months ago. Edan's benevolent bearded countenance smiles down on all bass players and rhythm guitarists forever, since that is where they usually stand. For some reason, at DBA, keyboardists are always at stage right.

Death by Audio is about to turn five years old on on Saturday night, but my first encounter with it was the first night I came to New York, in late September of 2008. I'd quit the newspaper I'd worked at on and off in Seattle for almost five years, and taken a gig driving a musician friend from Chicago down through the Midwest and then up the Eastern seaboard. The musician had bought me a ticket from New York back to Seattle. The last night of tour was a gig at DBA. The night before, after a show at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan, I'd been sideswiped by a van on the BQE and resolved to never drive in New York again.

Edan welcomed us to the venue; he was doing sound that night. I walked through the front hallway, looking at the wide pipes, and into the main space. The checkerboard linoleum and the green and red of the stage stared back at me, and I was wide-eyed. I'd worked for years in venues in Seattle, but none of them looked like this. For one, having white walls was a no-no. Venues in Seattle were meant to look more like theaters; even some independent spaces painted the walls black so the light of the stage would be more apparent. There was a large mural on one wall (they had yet to grow to envelop the stage). It was a pattern of thick red and blue lines. I am ashamed to admit that I wrote a graffito below those lines that night. It was a boob and a smaller boob next to it, and it said “Biggie Smallz” below. Now I know better – Edan paints over any graffiti in the venue the night it is made. Those murals are sacred.

The murals would probably have DO NOT TOUCH signs on them if it was possible to prevent shows at Death By Audio from getting extremely physical. It's definitely one of the best places in the world to crowd surf – everybody's done it. In the Impose archives we must have literally thousands of photographs of people crowdsurfing at DBA. It's not a get-on-the-stage-and-jump-into-waiting-hands kind of crowd surf, because the stage isn't high enough. At DBA, if you want to crowd surf, you have to get a friend to boost you, ten-fingers-style. Many times, the particle board of the ceiling tiles has been torn down by people grasping as they surf. I'm sure Edan and his co-owner, Matt Conboy, just started buying those boards in bulk at some point.

I didn't crowd surf the night I came to DBA because it wasn't that kind of show – everyone playing was a low-key solo artist. One of the artists that opened was Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, performng in a solo incarnation of Liturgy, and we met that night. He's been cool to me ever since. I also met Gavin Schneider that night and he's been really cool to me since then too. He was tending the bar that night and has for years. Most bartenders at DIY venues come and go – they are also usually women, for sex-sells type reasons. But Gavin is always tending bar at DBA. I think it might because he doesn't just give away all the beer to his friends. I've seen him leave the bar momentarily to come up and crowd surf, though.

The bar is now in front of a gigantic mural of a woman's face, which looks like a Swoon paste-up, and from it you can see the stage if there aren't too many people. Death by Audio started out with white walls, as you can see in the photo set above, but time's natural tendency towards agglomeration has grown murals to cover almost every wall, and at one point, one that was scuffed off of the floor. DIY venues seem to grow murals in the same way that a forest trail, gradually neglected, will allow various vines and saplings to move in, except that the metaphor is backwards – the murals are an indication that the venue's path is being well-maintained and well-loved. Death by Audio is one of the most loved of all.

So here's to five more years of DBA, or maybe more. There will be difficulties, of course. The first one that comes to mind is a giant, white block of modern living convenience, complete with fancy-schmancy restaurant, that recently came into full being across the street. As the Williamsburg waterfront develops, it's impossible to know what's going to happen with the few ramshackle old factories that are left. But we shouldn't, and can't, focus on that. It doesn't matter.

If I didn't come to DBA that night, make my mark, and have everybody be so nice to me, I might have been extremely shaken by that car accident and fled back home to the enveloping, moist, weed-scented hug of the Pacific Northwest. But Death by Audio made me realize that if I lived in New York, I could hang in really nice spots with cool people and hear great bands every night, and it would be a lot more colorful. It set me at ease. I sold the merch in the back room and felt like it was a really wonderful place to sit in for several hours of one's life. It's possible that staring at the murals of DBA convinced me to move here, and changed my life forever.

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