Bonnie Wong has a way of making you remember her. A few years ago, when she ended up at a dinner in my house, she was living at Silent Barn, enduring the punk house/music venue’s infamously disgusting one bathroom in exchange for a few thrilling months of music and parties. She moved on to an infinitely cleaner spot above the new music venue and soon-to-be coffee-shop/bar, Muchmore’s, which she also manages. I came over one afternoon to check out the space, which is still partially under construction.
Where are you from and what originally brought you to New York?
I was born Canadian, in a wheat field covered in snow called Brandon, Manitoba. Birtle, the town I grew up in, had a population of 715. It was a very isolated environment, my family were the only Chinese-Canadians in a 50 mile radius. I had to drive three hours to go to a shopping mall as a teenager. Stones were thrown at me just for being Asian a couple of times. Surprisingly, I still have no idea how to drive a tractor or hunt for food. I’m not sure how I’m still alive.
As soon as I graduated high school I moved to Montreal, which is where I got really involved in the underground music scene. Partying, especially in Montreal, inevitably involves live music, and I don’t like idle hands. I would hop behind the bar, which sometimes just meant sitting on a bathtub full of beer and ice and handing them out for $3 to keep my friends company. I ended up painting, building stages, bars and gallery walls, and connecting good musicians with the people who ran shows.
At some point, I had had enough of Montreal and needed to have a bigger adventure. New York is a cultural mecca for the English-speaking world, the exact opposite of how I grew up, and it wasn’t far. I would go back and forth across the border, dodging questions about my work situation, living in NYC on what was really just shelf in a loft in Bushwick.
One of my favorite hats to wear is being a sex-activist, and I was working on that when I first moved to NYC which garnered a lot of attention. This lead to one of my most treasured friendships with Kunal Gupta who supported my work and I ended up living with him at a DIY music venue called Silent Barn, which felt really home-like due to the similarities with some of the spaces in Montreal I was involved in, and lead me to run Muchmore’s.
How long have you been in this spot and what are your favorite things about living here above Muchmore’s?
I’ve lived at Muchmore’s for about a year, moving throughout the building to accommodate the massive construction work, including on the ground floor which is now the music venue. I love my high ceilings, and the fact that I had a hand in building the actual structure of the house. I get lots of natural light, and there’s a great roof for drinking. But my absolute favorite part of living in any space, is the people I share it with. I have lived with some brilliant artists who are a pleasure to come home to and that’s still true at Muchmore’s.
So, other than that shelf in the Bushwhick loft, which was obviously luxurious, what are some of your other notable Brooklyn living arrangements?
Silent Barn was key. I got VICE to clean our bathroom in exchange for writing an article about how it was the dirtiest punk bathroom in Brooklyn. I also booked Grimes’ first show in NYC there, who is doing so incredibly well right now. She just went on tour with Skrillex, yet she had the humility to thank me the last time I saw her for booking that show at Silent Barn.
I lived in the LES for a few months, in an illegal hostel where I did a live-work exchange. I’d answer the phone and clean in exchange for a tiny cot in the very back. One day while I was on shift, the Department of Buildings came in with a squad of police and fireman to shut us down. We got an immediate vacate notice and had to move out the next day. The same thing happened at Silent Barn, although after I left. I really don’t like the Department of Buildings. They are also giving Muchmore’s an insanely hard time, but the owner happens to be a pretty badass lawyer, so it’s a (more) fair fight.
When and how did Muchmore’s come to be? How did you get wrapped up in Muchmore’s, and what exactly do you do here?
Muchmore’s is named after its owner, Andrew Muchmore, who I met at an underground party in Montreal. I was living at the Barn and he was trying to open a music venue, so we had a lot to talk about. Those conversations ended up in him offering me a job as General Manager. Which initially I refused, because I wasn’t interested in the logistics of running a bar, I just wanted to do shows. But he convinced me, and it’s probably been very good for my character. It was definitely a learning experience dealing with so much responsibility.
Who have been your favorite bands to come through so far?
Well, my absolute favorite show was Doldrums, with Celestial Shore and Zula. Zula and Celestial Shore are both great bands who are friends of mine, and to have them open for Doldrums—probably my favorite experimental pop/sound artist and also a very good friend of mine—was a great show. To top it off, Doldrums set our speakers on fire, which normally I wouldn’t condone, but it was this immensely dramatic moment as I was then realizing I wanted to make music myself, and was thinking of quitting Muchmore’s. That night sealed the deal. I want to set speakers on fire, too! Not worry about beer being delivered on time.
If you could take one Brooklyn neighborhood, lift it out of New York and plant it in some other city, which hood would you take and where would you put it?
I would put Jackson Heights, the most culturally diverse neighborhood in the world, which I believe has something like 70+ different languages spoken, in Birtle, just to mix up the homogenous culture that is going stagnant there.
Could you tell me a little about some of your favorite pieces of art in your apartment?
Hmm… well there are the porn collages in the hallway, by Zoo Lion. She left them here after an art show downstairs and hasn’t gotten around to picking them up, so I put them on the wall. Then there’s the sad clown portrait that me and Kunal found at the beach, and the recycled vintage lamp in my bedroom is definitely a favorite piece because I made it myself.
I used to have a work table in the living room covered in colored lamps and tools and technology and dried herbs and flowers which I also loved because it looked like a constant state of science experimentation, which is a pretty good description of my life.