Inside the Venues of Northside: Hustling at Aviv, Greenpoint’s DIY Space

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All photos by Joshua Simpson

We’ve hung with the team running Aviv before, who told us the challenges of running their own DIY space on top of running rehearsal spaces, and, you know, having a life outside of music. Still, watching Zack Wheeler, Stuart Solomon, and Olivia Russin hustle to put together a solid lineup night after night at the six-month old space, it’s clear that the crew behind Aviv doesn’t do it for the money or perks–it’s for the community that lines up for every show.

With Northside Festival upon us, we wanted to take some time and explore some of the venues hosting showcases. So we stopped by Aviv, the Greenpoint DIY spot on Morgan Avenue. Greeted by two of three of the venue’s founders, Zack Wheeler and Stuart Solomon, we gathered at the venue pre-open on a Saturday night, to get a behind-the-scenes look at all the blood, sweat, and booze tears that go in to making a show happen at Aviv. Hanging around for a show booked by Ipsum & Exploding In Sound, we caught a tremendous live show by Cop before heading out for the night.

Later in the week, we caught up one-third of the team running Aviv, Zack Wheeler, by phone. In between errands and grabbing a slice of pizza, Wheeler shared with us a deeper behind-the-scenes look into the work he and his team put in to making every show happen.

 

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You’ve just hit your six-month mark of being open, any milestones you can think of from the beginning?

As far as milestones go, it really feels like– pretty much every week is a milestone. And so pretty much every show we do, there’s a whole lot of work goes into it. The nature of what we’re doing, we’re always kind of scrambling to get things done last minute. As far as major milestones–early on when we were able to upgrade our sound system from a really, really tiny system. It was from Emet, where we came from [Emet was a Bushwick DIY space owned by Stuart Solomon, a significantly smaller space than Aviv], we had their sound system which was … not even really appropriate for powering a small space, and definitely not good enough for Aviv. But we were broke. So we upgraded the sound system, and we are going tp be upgrading again soon.

Another milestone … when we built the stage and had the Valentine’s Day show, that was definitely a milestone. When we didn’t all get kicked out after a month, that was a milestone. I’d say Yonatan Gat’s residency–that was a very special evening. We got that show because of word of mouth … and each show was absolutely fantastic.The energy was amazing, and visceral, and chaotic, and music that was just wonderful. … I’m forgetting a lot of things, but those are the ones standing out.

What does a typical day at Aviv look like — or does a typical day at Aviv even exist?

[Laughs.] A typical day at Aviv is Olivia, Stuart and myself talking on a group chat about the thousands of urgent things that need to be done RIGHT NOW, that we are scrambling to do. … Like, on a production [side] … We’ve got a show happening tomorrow, and it’s really fucking hot, and Aviv is a sweatbox right now because I can’t afford to install AC. So we’re trolling Craigslist for industrial fans to place around the stage, [which] we have to do before the show, because we’re expecting to sell out– [we] want to make sure no one’s going to have a heat stroke.

But in your average day, we talk about the people we need to be responding to, and the infrastructure of everything we need to do, that we’re stocked with everything–a thousand little things that we’re reminding [each other] on group chat. And that’s pretty much it. And then we’re scrambling with the logistics of the band [on show days].

It’s just three of you that run the space, but obviously you have a big crew to help you. Would you say it takes a village to run a DIY space?

Thank you for reminding me of that–yes, that does need to be pointed to. Yes, Olivia, Stuart and myself keep [everything] in our heads, but we could never have done it without the amazing support of some people who have been involved. … The crew people we hire, sound people, … even when we built the stage, we put it up as a Facebook event, and 12 people showed up with their own power tools. It definitely takes a village no way we could have done it without the support of our community.

You’re no longer really the “new kid on the block” in the DIY scene–what have you learned from opening your own space?

What have I learned … besides that my friends are wonderful, giving, insane people? [Laughs.] I’ve learned what it’s like to not sleep very much. I say personally–it’s definitely going to be different for Stuart and Olivia–everything we ran before [at] Ehmet was on a much smaller scale. When we came into Aviv, in such a larger place, we thought that we needed to step up our game, bring in bigger acts in here. … And I found out that that was the wrong way of going about it. We did get some good things going in the beginning, but we found that even though we have a larger space, we should book what we like–what is cool, what we enjoy, and not really care about all the practicalities, because those end up working themselves out. … As a DIY spot, we get to book what we want. … The main thing is to keep following our instincts, and the rest will sort itself out.

You mentioned a few months ago that you felt the burden of Glasslands and Death by Audio closing and carrying the torch for large DIY shows. And now Brooklyn Night Bazaar is closed, too. Do you still feel that responsibility today?

I think in the beginning, we were just a little intimidated. We were this new venue, we all had booked shows and then the mainstays closed down, and we opened up, coincidentally. We were like, ‘Uhhh, guess we need to book some stuff.’ Did we feel the weight of it? Not really, we were just doing our thing. When Brooklyn Night Bazaar closed up and my friend Tyler Kane was one of the primary bookers there–he books a lot of stuff at Aviv as well–I watched his struggle, and to see that go away, that’s hard. But I look at the shows at Shea Stadium and Palisades, and I’m super impressed with their booking, and the curation that’s goingon over there. There’s still plenty of house parties little pop-up places that have one show in true DIY fashion in someone’s living room or basement, just doing their thing. That goes back to at least what I’ve learned, to go create what’s I think is cool. Places are going to close down, but there’s always going to be a spot for it, a desire for those shows and [to see] musicians doing cool things. That’s always going to happen.

 

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_MG_4839 _MG_4975 _MG_4656 Stuart Solomon, Zack Wheeler, and Olivia Russin, the trio running the show at Aviv, at the Valentine's Day party. Photo by Ulysses Popple.

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with reporting by Marcy Franklin

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