Talking With Nora Dabdoub, Luke Chiaruttini, and Max Kagan of Shea Stadium

(Photo: Dan Arnes)
(Photo: Dan Arnes)

We’ve seen too many DIY venues close this year. If we start listing them off again, we’ll probably just start crying. But despite all odds, Shea Stadium has managed to stay in business, even as their neighborhood, East Williamsburg, has turned into a hip extension of both the adjacent Bushwick and Williamsburg neighborhoods. Regardless of their increasingly tony surroundings, Shea continues to throw all ages shows that welcome in all sorts of bands and fans alike. The place is still loveably grungy, and the “Shea family” is still just doing their thing.

How have you guys seen the East Williamsburg area change?
Nora: As far as rents rising and all that, I think we’ve seen a lot of new things pop up, which has definitely affected the population in the neighborhood. This is a very industrial area, or at least it was when we first moved here. It was just us and all warehouses, I mean downstairs is a plastic bag and cup warehouse.

Now there are a lot of things down the street, there’s some kind of gin brewery situation, there are a lot of bars and restaurants, which is funny to think about because for a long time there were just question mark buildings. So you just have a lot of traffic on a street that during the day is primarily industry. Obviously that has an impact on people who come here. People who aren’t necessarily on their way here, but will stop by because now they live here or are going to a restaurant or bar.

Max: Because this is an industrially zoned district, there are certain problems this precise location doesn’t have to deal with, such as rampant condo building which is something a lot of our brother venues suffer from. The East Williamsburg Industrial Park allows us a little bit of a buffer, it doesn’t mean we’re not affected by the incredible changes in the neighborhood. We’re fortunate enough to be here, and I don’t know if someone can really do this again unless they’re more corporate or have support.

Nora: Which people do have. We have a few very, I don’t want to say they’re corporate, but a few very established places that are very close by which I’m sure were industrial buildings before. They had to get rezoned on some level to function as they do. But there is a lot of nightlife around here too.

So you guys have a really good relationship with your landlord, right?
Nora: We have a lease that can’t change for an allotted time. We’ve been able to renew that very easily. So you know, it’s a pretty fair situation.

Do you think that over the years Brooklyn has changed, that maybe it’s no longer a desirable place to be for artists and musicians?
Nora: I feel like I’ve seen a fair amount of bands leave since we’ve been here, bands that were Brooklyn mainstays have decided to go try something else. A lot of bands have moved to Philly in particular, and just back to wherever they’re from.

Do you feel pretty optimistic about the general state of things in Brooklyn then?
Nora: I feel pretty good honestly.

Max: I wouldn’t have been optimistic back then, but looking back at five years ago, it was a fuckin’ glorious period and so I kind of feel like we don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel more confident about things now more than I used to. Because I see lots of younger bands and younger people playing and stuff and they’re really great, and kids are still being rambunctious and stuff.

That’s interesting, because I’ve heard from other people that there’s a noticeable lack of younger people with a certain fire in Brooklyn. Do you think there’s any truth to that?
Nora:  No, our experience is completely the opposite. I think right now we have the highest numbers of young people, like under 20. I feel like before we had more people our age, like mid-20s. We’re talking 20 to 26.There were no X’s, and now we have a lot of X’s and it’s great. Especially because they come for a variety of shows.

How have you guys seen things shift within the scene? Is there still a strong sense of community?
Nora: Things have shifted a lot with different venues closing and stuff. I think because of that, in a way, a lot of that community has gotten stronger, because there are fewer and simultaneously new things popping up. There are fewer of the older venues that were around five or six years ago, but all the ones that are left are a lot closer and consider each other family a lot more than they used to.

Max: There was sort of a period maybe seven or eight years ago when Todd P was really throwing a lot, a lot, of shows in BK and a lot of people came together at that point and since that time a lot of venues have come and gone, bands have come and gone, but the core Brooklyn DIY community has stayed really ambitious, and strong, and together and supportive and not competitive. Any given number of venues can close and open, but the family is just too big to really break apart.

Also a lot of people are moving from all over the country to Brooklyn to participate in music and really do have a good attitude. I think there’s enough momentum that that will continue for a while. People are dealing with the rent already which is already ridiculous. So people will just move out to Maspeth or Cypress Hills or something. Something’s coming next, but it’s only a subway stop or two away.

Bushwick was a neighborhood you’d never want to go to when I was growing up. If you had said ten years ago we’re all going to be living in Bushwick now and you won’t be able to afford it, people would have said that’s crazy. So if I say we’re all going to be living in Brownsville and then people won’t be able to afford Brownsville in five years, people are going to say that doesn’t sound right.

But mark my words, we’re all going to be in Brownsville.There’s going to be venues and coffee shops until the Super Bowl comes and we’re all done. And hopefully de Blasio can save massive numbers of units for affordable housing, but if there’s abandoned homes out there just fill them with hipsters and we’ll make them nice and  everyone will be happy. There’s a way hipsters of the world can work together.

Nora: We don’t condone that message.

Max: I’m starting the HDL, the Hipster Defense League.

In a way, cultural institutions like Shea Stadium contribute to or initiate gentrification. How do you grapple with that?
Max: People need to live somewhere. If you want to live in Manhattan or huge swaths of Brooklyn you have to literally make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Affording a two-bedroom apartment is an impossible dream for most people. So where are you going to live? I think gentrification is just what’s going to happen. Does every young person have to move back to the suburbs or stay in their small town?

Nora: It’s always been important for us to be very inclusive and aware of the community. Obviously by  being there, you’re going to change it no matter what. But it’s important to have the space or whatever you’re doing be very inclusive to the community you’re in and not be specifically catering to the community you’re bringing in. Make that community also very aware that it’s not just specifically for them.

Max: Silent Barn and Shea have really good relationships with their communities, and Big Snow, back when it existed, really went out of their way to make sure everyone on their block knew what they were doing and knew who they were and that they’re not here to change the character of the neighborhood and that they can be a positive part of it. And for the most part, people love it. If you’re destroying somebody’s house and building a condo there I can see how they’d get really upset.

And it’s not like you guys are a fancy restaurant or something, you’re offering something a little different than that. So how do you deal with the possibility that Shea could close in the nearish future?
Max: I have a crazy idea where I would eminent domain certain cultural institutions in any district. But that’s not gonna happen. I think it would be worth the city’s while to save a couple of art institutions in this area. The artists who have moved to this area have really made a positive impact and they’ve turned what was a pretty bleak corner of the city into an incredibly vibrant, international arts district.

Nora: It’s very difficult to take any measure to ensure [that spaces like this are saved] and continue to produce things that you really believe in and keep taking it to the next level within your community and higher but not trying to make it about the outside forces and how to prevent that. On some level, that’s not something you can really stop. But continuing to do good work and making it something you believe in and getting better and better within it, I think is the most important thing.

Luke: I think losing these kinds of spaces can be extrapolated to a fear of death– like I love this thing, I don’t wanna see it go. But you know everything is going to end at some point, but what won’t end is the spirit of DIY.  As long as people love having music and love being able to throw shows, people are going to throw shows wherever they can.

Nora: It’s very cyclical.

Max: Death By Audio will be one of the most important places in my life, forever. I can’t believe it’s not there anymore but at the same time, there’s nothing really to get too upset about because everyone who had anything to do with that place is gonna do some really interesting stuff and doesn’t need DBA. There will be more things. It had a good long run, whereas Big Snow ended too soon. But then again, if you really don’t want a space to close, it won’t close. Like what happened with Silent Barn.

What are you predictions for the future of Brooklyn? What will it look like? What will culture be like here?
Max: I think there are going to be tons of skyscrapers all along the waterfront, and everything from Long Island City to Downtown Brooklyn will be this big, whole new skyline, which we’re just seeing pieces of now.

That’s gonna suck and those neighborhoods are really gonna suck and you’re never gonna go there. And then the old school neighborhoods of Brooklyn will retain a lot of their character. The hipsters will get older, so downtown Williamsburg will be like the Upper West Side or something. it’ll be families and then, by that time far eastern Brooklyn will be ravaged by gentrification. Canarsie baby, Canarsie. That’s what I always say. It’ll be great, it’ll be a wonderful city in 10 years.

Luke: I guarantee no one else [doing these interviews] said that it’ll be great.

Max: And we’ll have the Super Bowl. Or maybe we’ll all live in Jersey.

Luke: So you’re skipping Staten Island and going straight to Jersey?

Nora: I feel like something is actually going to happen to pause things. I don’t know what exactly. I think in a few years, maybe five years, something will put a halt on this moving south situation. New York will continue to be trendy and stuff, but I just see things moving all over the place. A lot of people are moving to Philly. But there will always be people moving to Brooklyn and doing great things in New York. But part of this push south has to do with so many people wanting to be in this specific part of BK. I think something might happen to pause things and it’ll even out. But I don’t think we’re gonna be in Canarsie, baby. Not yet. Not in ten years, maybe in twenty years.

Luke: I could see another city becoming the place to go. Philly makes a lot of sense. Everybody who comes here from Philly is laughing at us, and for good reason. They pay like $600 and they live in 10-bedroom houses, with 12 other people but that’s just the style there.


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