It’s been nearly 15 years since the first very loud splash Brooklyn’s music scene made on the national landscape, back when the Music Hall of Williamsburg was still called Northsix, long before anyone ever could have imagined Karen O performing at the Oscars. We’re also a bunch of years removed from that period in the late aughts when bands like the National broke out. It was 2009 when Solange famously dragged Jay-Z and Beyoncé to the Williamsburg Waterfront to see Grizzly Bear.
All of this feels like an eternity ago. And when we really tried to pinpoint the artists we’d identify not with the Brooklyn of 2001 or 2009, but with the Brooklyn of 2015, we realized we can’t, not yet anyway. But there are people working every day, largely behind the scenes, to provide the infrastructure necessary for more of those watershed moments to take place. Here, with the help of a formidable panel of industry people including Brandon Stosuy from Pitchfork, Mitski, producer Andrew Maury, and Kelly Ridgway from Cult Records, we’ve identified 20 people playing integral roles in making sure Brooklyn’s music community continues to thrive.
Billy Jones, Owner of Baby’s All Right
Billy Jones rose like a bat out of hell. Though he was always involved in the music scene, working as a booker at LES staple Piano’s for some time, everything changed when Baby’s All Right opened its doors with the hopes of being a go-to spot for music and food in Brooklyn–it became much more. With countless incredible shows, a bottomless brunch special, and the delightful “Pink Baby,” Baby’s All Right quickly became the place to be. And with it, Billy became the man. Need to book a show? Ask Billy. Want to get in touch with an artist? Billy probably knows them. The rise of Baby’s, and the clear talents Jones possesses as a music manager/talent booker, has led to the opening of a new spot, Elvis Guesthouse, in the East Village. In addition to running some of the best venues in town, Jones manages Porches, the moody, rising project of Ronald Paris. Next for Jones is curating the soon to open National Sawdust venue in North Williamsburg.
Derek Davies, Co-Founder of Neon Gold Records
Davies is one half of Neon Gold Records, the label that has launched countless indie outfits into mega stardom. He co-founded the label in 2008 with long time BFF Lizzy Plapinger (also of MS MR), signing artists that are now household names. With releases from HAIM, Marina and the Diamonds, St. Lucia, and HAERTS, Neon Gold is very much on the up and up. A partnership with Atlantic Records has allowed the boutique label to launch major releases, like Charli XCX’s sophomore album, which Rolling Stone deemed the best pop album of 2014. Aside from scouting some of the most promising talents, Davies also co-producers POPSHOP, a dance party hosted at various NYC venues. Things are only getting bigger for Davies and Neon Gold.
Ariel Bitran, Booker, Soundguy & Janitor at Palisades
Palisades moved quickly. Led by Bitran and co-owners Leeor Waisbrod and Rose Fathers, the space opened its doors in Bushwick in early 2014–but now it’s common for shows to sell out there in minutes (see AdHoc’s February Parquet Courts packed-to-the-brim shows). Creating a new space within the ever thinning DIY music scene, Palisades is a great spot to catch an intimate show, grab a beer, or see a band you’ve never heard of. Bitran is no stranger to running a venue, previously operating the Lab alongside Waisbrod, and those skills have allowed Palisades to be a space friendly to all scenes and people.
Robbie Mackey, Partner – Grand Jury Music
Mackey’s evolution into partner of a record label might seem untraditional, but in 2015, doesn’t everything? Coming from a deep background in digital marketing, serving 4 years at the Orchard–eventually becoming their Director of Interactive Marketing—followed by a three-year stint in the marketing department of local label Mom + Pop, Mackey has been around the business for awhile. “Everything is digital, and coming from that background has made everything I do more grounded in the way the music industry works now. Grand Jury was built on a foundation of us understanding how to work with an artist in the digital age,” Mackey explained. Grand Jury Music, where he partners with industry veteran Craig Winkler, boasts buzzy acts like Twin Peaks and Hippo Campus, and is focused on building a real partnership with artists, allowing them to maintain creative integrity and control.
Dustin Payseur, Co-Founder of Bayonet Records, Singer/Guitarist in Beach Fossils
Payseur is already known for being the frontman for Beach Fossils, but this year, has taken his career to another level. Alongside his wife, former Captured Tracks Label Manager Katie Garcia, Payseur launched his own label in late 2014. Bayonet Records is already destined for greatness–snagging Frankie Cosmos, Jerry Paper and Beach Fossils (obviously) as their early signs. As an artist himself, Payseur cites his years with Captured Tracks as inspiration for how to interact with artists on his own label, aspiring to operate at a level of transparency that makes for a great partnership between artist & label. “We want our artists to be a little bit involved, to know what’s going on, so they can have their say in it. It’s fun to be hands on!” Next for Bayonet and Payseur? A Bayonet Records Northside Festival showcase at Rough Trade and a new record for Beach Fossils.
Kelly Bruce, General Manager of doNYC
As General Manager of events super hub doNYC, Bruce is no stranger to the intricacies of production. Single-handedly booking bands, coordinating with venues, and wrangling brand sponsors, Bruce is the maven behind seemingly endless free music events around town. Through doNYC, Bruce also facilitates massive amounts of ticket giveaways to shows that sold out in a heartbeat, along with giving a stage (and a party) to smaller local bands. Her longtime in production, coming to doNYC through a past with BlackBook Magazine and Nylon, has allowed her to build relationships with venues and publications a like. Some venues, like Manhattan Inn and Good Room, have put her connections to good use, having Bruce serve as unofficial event coordinator at their spaces.
Michelle Cable, President of Panache Booking
If a band’s out on the road, making a splash with garage, punk, psych, noise, or just straight-up rock n’ roll, there’s a good chance agents at Panache booked their tour. The Brooklyn-based agency, founded by Michelle Cable, represents rock stars of the moment such as Thee Oh Sees, Mac DeMarco, and Ty Segall, and is busy tending the next crop. Panache places acts on the lineup of most every major pop music festival in the United States.
Nora Dabdoub, Booker at Shea Stadium
For a long while Shea Stadium was an outlier among Brooklyn music venues, far enough from the Kent Ave. hub as to be a lonely island in the city’s DIY community. But time has proved booker Nora Dabdoub and her cohorts right for imagining a future in industrial areas still years away from complete corporate colonization. With spots like Aviv, Paper Box, and the Acheron now popping up nearby, Shea seems more central and visionary than ever.
Nick Sylvester, Founder of GODMODE Music
Founder and guiding dude at GODMODE records, Nick Sylvester seems to find exciting new artists in places no one else is looking. Two cassette compilations in two years have brought overstuffed handfuls of our favorite new band—from coolly minimal rock band Courtship Ritual to fearsome noise-duo Yvette to baby pop star Shamir. GODMODE is pointedly odd, prone to one-off singles and experimental tangents, willfully defying the hyper-speed careerism of some big city scenes. With his own discoveries and outside of them, Sylvester’s also become a producer of note. Last year the former music critic went full circle, recording a new Deerhoof record rather than just discussing one.
Matt Werth, Founder of RVNG Label / Music curator at PS1
Brooklyn’s RVNG Intl. has been around for over a decade, making its founder Matt Werth something of an elder statesman among the borough’s young independent record labels. Recent releases by artists like Bing & Ruth, Julia Holter, and Holly Herndon rank among the best of RVNG’s run, pushing pop boundaries while remaining thoughtful and delicate. Werth also serves as a member of the curatorial committee for MoMa PS1’s Summer Warm Up shows, arguably, the most successful art concert series in the city.
Dean Bein, Founder of True Panther
Dean Bein founded True Panther Sounds in 2004 and maintained the label’s aesthetic voice through an acquisition by the mighty Matador Records five years later. Though their first and biggest successes to date were the albums released by Christopher Owens’ now-defunct band Girls, they’ve moved on to distinctive new voices like genre-hopping UK troubadour King Krule and Canadian crooner Tobias Jesso, Jr. As another curator of MoMa’s PS1 summer concerts, Bein helps bring challenging artists to huge outdoor crowds.
Founded by Judy Miller Silverman in L.A. in 1997, but now staffed up and holding sway on both coasts, Motormouthmedia is a super effective advocate for experimental music on the cusp of breaking through. The boutique PR firm boasts clients like Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Destroyer, and Caribou, who shaped the sound of indie rock over the past decade and artists as different as PC Music and the Haxan Cloak, who seem just as likely to disrupt electronic music over the next one. When a surprisingly hip band shows up on late night TV, Motormouth probably played a part.
The Epoch Collective
An interlocking web of Brooklyn-based musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and generally starry-eyed creative types, The Epoch Collective gently dominates the city’s DIY arts scene by sheer volume. Its associated bands—Eskimeaux, Bellows, Small Wonder, Sharpless, Told Slant, Florist, Yours are the Only Ears—share members and sound components, all enabling the unique points of view. A sweet, introspective sort of songwriting is the tendency, though hardly the rule. As an inspiring support system and model for artistic collaboration, their cult following is quickly growing.
Mike Sniper, Founder of Captured Tracks
Mike Sniper was still recording in his post-punk guise Blank Dogs when he started Captured Tracks in 2009. But as his focus shifted from making music to building his label, it’s become increasingly instrumental in the rise of indie stars like Mac DeMarco, DIIV, and Perfect Pussy. Last summer Sniper expanded his reach by creating Omnian Music Group, a consortium of small independent record labels that includes Cap Tracks as well as esteemed New Zealand indie-pop label Flying Nun, and newer avant garde imprints like Fantasy Memory. Sniper’s commitment to vinyl extended to opening a stylish Greenpoint record shop in 2013.
Liz Pelly, Founder of The Media, Editor of Impose, Member of Silent Barn Collective
Liz Pelly is one of the many driving forces behind collective-run Bushwick DIY art space Silent Barn, where she lives, books shows, and helps run the Safer Spaces Working Group, dedicated to keeping the venue free of oppressive behavior and attitudes. She’s the co-founder of The Media, an ad-free biweekly webpaper with a zine-influenced aesthetic that offers an alternative to clickbaity content with its coverage of arts, culture, and activism. As an editor at Impose Magazine, Pelly gives her music and culture coverage a political slant.
Dave Castillo, Owner of Saint Vitus
Since opening in 2011, Greenpoint’s Saint Vitus has become the mothership of Brooklyn heavy music venues. Though metal dominates most bills, owner and booker Dave Castillo, frontman of Primitive Weapons, has also made it the destination bar for goth, punk, industrial, noise, and hardcore shows. The likes of Pentagram, Descendents, Converge, Every Time I Die, Melt Banana, and the surviving members of Nirvana, fronted by Joan Jett and Kim Gordon, have graced the stage — taking up the mantle of legendary New York rock clubs like the late CBGB.
Dan Goldin, Co-Founder of Exploding in Sound Records
Dan Goldin co-founded Brooklyn-based Exploding in Sound Records in 2011 after quitting his job at mainstream label Island Def Jam to pursue noisier music. Along with Boston college friend Dave Spak, Goldin has since put out stellar, unconventional rock releases from the likes Pile, Palehound, Porches, and math-grunge rising stars Speedy Ortiz.
Rami Haykal, Founder of PopGun Presents
In 2008, along with friend Jake Rosenthal, an unemployed Rami Haykal used his ear for original new bands and skill for throwing parties to start PopGun Presents, which became one of Brooklyn’s most exciting music events production and promotion companies. He soon became booker and owner of the now-defunct Glasslands Gallery, helping turn the Williamsburg waterfront into the city’s go-to spot for independent new music. Haykal remains a tastemaker with PopGun’s upcoming curation of concert series Redbull Sound Select and partnerships with record labels (Captured Tracks, Domino Records) and music publications (Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum).
Ric Leichtung, Independent Promoter, co-founder of Ad Hoc
Ric Leichtung is best known for his time spent booking shows at 285 Kent, the iconic DIY space that shut down back in the beginning of 2014, but he’s booked shows at pretty much every other noteworthy Brooklyn venue, too, like the new Silent Barn, Trans-Pecos and Palisades. He’s a tireless advocate for a certain kind of experience that’s in constant danger of being made obsolete. “I’ve never enjoyed going to faceless venues,” he told the Voice last year. I’ve always liked going to interesting events in bodegas or lofts or warehouses because that’s my taste. I think that’s cool, I think it had personality, and a lot of these places have a sense of community I feel is absent in other, larger-scale venues.”
Dennis Manzanedo, Buyer at Rough Trade NYC
You know what’s a really important part of any local music community, despite the fact that they’re alway closing, and despite, well, everything the internet is always telling us? Record stores. And you know what’s even more important than record stores? Record stores that are staffed by smart people like Dennis Manzanedo at Rough Trade NYC, who have great taste records and are committed to helping local bands and labels.