Inside the Venues of Northside: Comedy and Tons of Bands at The Knitting Factory

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Photos by Liz Clayman.

Williamsburg’s Knitting Factory is one of the busiest venues in north Brooklyn. On any given night, there’s at least five bands taking to the stage, many of which are touring. It’s up to Richard Sloven, the venue’s talent buyer, to keep the calendar up to snuff with quality acts that don’t veer off into filler territory. It’s not an easy job.

The venue is impressive. Unlike the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the front entrance of which is nondescript, the Knitting Factory’s front doors open into a wide room with high ceilings that tower over a long bar. One of the venue’s bartenders, Tyler Maxwell, knows the venue’s clientele better than anyone. Both Maxwell and Sloven share insights into the Knit’s daily workings and some treasured memories about rubbing shoulders with comedians and watching drunken rock n’ roll sets in the Q&A below.

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Brooklyn Magazine: How many bands do you have play here weekly?

Richard Sloven: We have about 25 to 30 [bands].

What’s it like booking all those bands?

It’s fun. I mean, I pretty much have to have the calendar full five nights a week, and then two shows on Fridays and Saturdays. Sometimes we have matinees on the weekends or two shows during the week. It can get a little stressful making sure we have something going on every night and making sure that they’re quality acts.

How often are you pulling from local bands or is it mostly touring acts?

I would say like two-thirds of the acts that play here are from the New York area. But among that two-thirds, like a good chunk of them are touring acts that play New York more often. I’d say half the acts that play here are national touring bands overall.

Do you notice any particular trends among local New York bands and the scene in north Brooklyn?

Yeah, I think dance music is really in. Kind of that even more bro-y, like harder EDM stuff. Which we don’t really do much of, we started to a little bit more. I mean a few years ago we had very few electronic acts and now we’re starting to more of it. The big thing in rock right now is like fuzz, garage, psych stuff. It’s really big and popular, especially around here.

What’s your day to day like in this place?

I usually get in anytime between 8:30 a.m. and like, noon, just depending on what I did the night before, because a lot of what I’m doing is seeing shows here or going and seeing bands at other venues. So, if I’m going out, then I’ll just kind of come in whenever. But my average workday, I’ll just kind of go home around 7:00 or 7:30. But it varies, I mean some days I’m here at 10:00 a.m. and then I leave at midnight. I’ll manage the club every once and a while these days, and when I do, I’ll be here until 1 in the morning, but I don’t do that so much anymore. Yeah, I mean sometimes it’s like 15 hour days.

Do you like it? Or does it get grueling?

I don’t like managing anymore. Before I was the talent buyer I was the night manager, so I was here pretty much every night. And that I definitely don’t like doing anymore. I’m here late, I wanna be enjoying the show, or buying beers for the band’s manager or whoever is coming through. But the daytime stuff like the booking and the marketing, I like doing.

If you had to talk about where Brooklyn music is right now, how would you describe it?

There’s nothing really like that new and original that comes to mind, but there are great bands from Brooklyn in like every single genre.

Who comes to mind?

I mean in terms of newer kind of lesser known bands, there’s this band I love called Prelow, they’re great. There’s an amazing band called City of the Sun, who are instrumental; it’s two acoustic guitars and a hand drum and it’s really psychedelic. It’s got kind of a Rodrigo and Gabriela vibe. I mean there’s a million, but those are two that I’m really kind of digging right now.

Do you have any great stories from your time here at the Knitting Factory?

I mean usually they involve seeing some really great shows. When I first started working here I saw the Menzigers and they totally blew me away. I’ve seen Har Mar Superstar, who lives down the street. He’s played here at least a dozen times. He’ll play midnight shows that get totally packed and wild; everybody’s hammered and having a good time. We also do a lot of comedy so like, Hannibal Burress was hosting here for a long time. I mean I’ve stood next to and watched Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Louis CK. I remember one time doing work at night and Aziz Ansari walked in and asked if he could put his coat down. So like all of those guys will come do a set. That’s always cool. Pretty much any big name in comedy you can think of has been on that stage.

What are those comedy shows like?

It’s probably one of the best comedy shows in the country. When they’re at the front bar, there will be a line down the block of people just waiting to get in. You see a lot of comedians have kind of gotten their start here. It’s at the point where the show kind of books out like six months in advance. If there’s a new rising comedian, it’s like they’re probably gonna have to wait awhile to play.

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Is there ever a time when you book a show and you get really, extra excited? Because I feel like you probably have to book some filler every now and then.

I’m really excited for Andrew Jackson Jihad in July. They played here three years ago when they were just kind of starting to get popular and the show sold out like right away. We added a second show for them the same night and that night is kind of like legend around here.

Brooklyn Magazine: What’s it like being a bartender here? What’s your day-to-day, night-to-night like?

Tyler Maxwell: Well it changes pretty quickly day-to-day, night-to-night, really just because there’s so many genres. You can go from like a rock show and then it will be like metal the next day, then it’ll be like synth-pop the next day. So it’s always changing.

Do you find that one crowd tips more than the other?

Yeah, the rockabilly crowds are typically the best and the ska crowds. These kind of people have been around forever. Those are the best shows for me, because I like the music and it’s usually the best crowd. Everyone’s in their thirties, they know how to tip, they take care of eachother back there. If there’s any kind of pit back there everyone kind of helps each other up if they fall down. They just kind of self-regulate.

Have you noticed any kind of changes in the bands that play here in the four years you’ve been working here?

Yeah, every band has three keyboards and four laptops now. It’s what I see constantly. A lof of the local bands and new bands it’s just tons of laptops and keyboards. It hasn’t always been like that, but I’m noticing that like more and more members of bands have keyboards now.

Any vivid memories of past nights and shows here?

Yeah, the Andrew Jackson Jihad show we had a couple years ago, they did a double show, so they played an early and a late one. The early one was great, they played really well and they sounded good. But they were playing two shows so we gave them two shows worth of hospitality, so by the second one they were just wasted. It was fun to see both, because you got to see the good show and then the trainwreck of a show which was still super entertaining and everyone loved it, but you know, there were guys falling down on stage, which was a little bit interesting.

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Check out the show lineup at Knitting Factory, and many other north Brooklyn venues, during Northside Festival.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

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