DIY venues in Brooklyn were at one point a dime a dozen, popping up all over youth-heavy areas like Williamsburg and more recently Bushwick, giving the many NYC-based scenes a safe-haven to create and share their artwork and perform their music. But while rising rent prices have been forcing these venues to shut down or relocate elsewhere (obligatory R.I.P. 285 Kent), one multi-faceted space has been cultivating buzz in the Ridgewood, Queens area.
Trans-Pecos, run by Brooklyn’s DIY-venue guru Todd Patrick and local musician Sam Hillmer (from the experimental band Zs), is a beautiful and minimalistic space made intended for (literally) everybody. The space was actually founded by the band Skeletons in 2005 as the Silent Barn. Patrick first discovered it in 2006, and took over the originally space with John Chavez (now a prominent booking agent) in 2007. The Silent Barn space was forced to close by the City in 2011, and Hillmer and Patrick opened Trans-Pecos in the same space in December 2013. Community center by day and venue by night, Trans-Pecos is designed to serve the needs of both the intellectual art-driven youth and the less fortunate locals whose creative passions are usually overlooked and left without the resources that the former generally has access to. By opening its doors to the entire neighborhood, Trans-Pecos has created a space that is open-minded and unique, and is one of the few places in the city that give equal importance to both the local community and artists of all types.
Trans-Pecos includes a coffee shop, a full-service bar, two areas set-up for live performances, a woodworking shop, a backyard, yoga classes and more. Patrick and Hillmer have put together a pristine space perfect for anything from an after-school program or experimental noise show. The goal of Trans-Pecos is to be a place that can provide community services and an adequate workspace for residents of all backgrounds and ages. To keep the music refreshing and accessible to everyone, Patrick and Hillmer put most of the show booking in the hands of a handful of curators they’ve grown to know and trust over their years in the New York City music scene. This allows them to focus a large amount of their time on servicing the local community, housing community projects and collaborating with local programs like AHRC and Fyrezone, which work to aid the developmentally disabled and underprivileged students, respectively.
I was fortunate enough to visit Trans-Pecos and sit down with Partick and Hillmer, who talked to me about the space’s beginnings, their involvement in the community and music scene, and their curator system.
Tyler Koslow: How did the Trans-Pecos space come to be?
Todd Patrick: I first came to this place in 2006, but it was not a space that I began. It was started by a band called the Skeletons, who moved out here to live and have a studio work space, previous to that it was a textile mill, but they were the first to turn it into what it is. I had happened to organize and event here on New Year’s Event in 2006 [going into 2007] with the Black Lips, Meneguar, and Japanther. We built a stage and had 300 to 400 people show up. That was a very long time ago, I don’t even think I knew this was considered Ridgewood or Queens, I just assumed the L train only ran through Brooklyn. A few months later the guy who was running the space, Andy Borsz, asked me if I wanted to take over the lease and so I did, with my friends John Chavez and Lucas Crane. I ran the space for a few years collaborating with different live-in folks, before I finally gave it to the roommates living there in 2010, when I learned I was going to be a dad. By 2011 the city got involved and everybody who lived here had to leave, so the place was closed down for several years.
One way or another, I was invited back in by the owner of the building to be involved and bring the space back. At the time, even in 2011 to 2012, I thought getting people out on weekday nights this far out seems like a challenge. Having always been involved in pretty ‘toury shows’, shows where bands are coming through with a booking agent and have to do the best they can in New York, it seemed kind of hard to tell them “I’d love to do your show in New York I’m going to do it at this spot that’s really far out”. So I thought about it, “What would I like to do with this spot?” I wanted to do it in a way where we could survive off of very little in case we have modest turn-outs, I didn’t want a big commercial space or a place dedicated to trying to pack it in with as many people as possible. If I’m going to do this I want it to be a self-sustaining entity that’s doing intriguing and interesting stuff, but I don’t have to keep feeding the fire.
Koslow: What sets Trans-Pecos apart from other venues and spaces?
Patrick: My thought was that there was a real need for a place that brings a real gravitas back to music, in the wake of all the buzz and “let’s fill the room” attitude. You’ve got the buzz scene in the music world which is all bout one hit wonder after one hit wonder, and the touring scene which really relies on bands to make as much money as possible in New York, Los Angeles, [and] San Francisco to float the rest of their tour. You really push a situation where these bands are applying this any cost necessary model, artistic vision be damned, because of these pressures to even have your stuff noticed at all. I wanted to be deliberately outside of that, and I feel like that has been at the loss of the gravitas that was involved in the music scene when I first moved here to New York and when I first got involved in putting on independent concerts here.There was this long standing canon of intellectual music speaking to this common thread of musical history, whether it came from the underground “downtown” world or the grant-funded institutional art world, that there was an artistic conversation going on that was fed by a community of people having a commonality of deep knowledge and connoisseurship of music.
Sam Hillmer: An auxiliary point to make about the institutionalized route that more outsider aesthetics taken in terms of the professional trajectory for people making noise music and what not, (with notable exception to the post-metal noise community), is one of greater and greater institutionalization. Noise acts seeking to play museums, colleges and big festivals, while the electronic and indie crews have greater dependence on presenters like Red Bull and more major festivals. But the symmetry between those two situations is that both of them are originally dependent on local communities of practice. If you take a lot of people headlining festivals like HopScotch and Bonnaroo for example. TV on The Radio is headlining HopScotch, but they’re a band that benefited from a strong local community of musicians in Brooklyn. If the whole game becomes giving into those institutions or getting into those festivals, and the local community just becomes a waiting station hoping to hook up with an agent or someone who can get you there, what happens to that local community? What does it become? If it becomes a situation where the quality of the community is degenerated and the quality of the work is degenerated, ultimately what are these festivals and institutional places going to have left to draw from?
Koslow: How can Trans-Pecos improve the quality of the various local music and performance art scenes in New York City?
Patrick: I think that with the way the ‘DIY-zation’ of the whole scene played out in the late 2000’s, you ended up with a lot of attention paid to music that was energetic and not taking itself terribly seriously. Which was great for getting young people interested and turned on, but essentially you were catering to that taste of young people to the detriment of people who have already seen this kind of thing before and are into something more challenging or intriguing. There’s more of a divide happening, two scenes of people that should really be coming together more. We wanted to have a place that wasn’t just somebody’s clubhouse, and was all ages but didn’t appeal expressly to the lowest common denominator tastes of average young people, or any age group. I’ve always said all ages isn’t about appealing to what average teens supposedly want, it’s about presenting intriguing music on its own terms and not excluding the exceptional young people who appreciate what’s interesting.
Hillmer: We try and do curation that achieves diversity. For the most part what we do here is host presenters, we’re not directly in booking bills that often. But when we are we really make a point to draw from the diversity of our network. My favorite example is a show we did back in December which was Arto Lindsey headlining, with Sadaf playing and Geko Jones DJing, we were really pulling in from different zones. When we do have the opportunity to curate we do try to capitalize on the diversity of our network, start to make those bookings simultaneous and build a bigger community of fans for interesting intellectual music at large, not just like these silver affinity groups formed on these social lines.
Patrick: It’s like a blank slate with a beautiful frame.
Hillmer: Right, it’s like you can take areas of culture that you’d think would be antagonistic to one another, like dancehall and harsh noise, two very different vibes, but the leadership of those communities can come in and feel like this is their place, they can envision their thing here which is something we’re proud of.
Hillmer: We create community programming by starting partnerships with local organizations and others that could utilize this kind of space. It’s essentially making the resource embodied by this facility available to organizations who need these types of resources during the day, which is an obvious idea but is seldom practiced. Every venue is closed during the day, but every venue is near a dozen schools who needs PA systems, stages, rehearsal spaces, et cetera.
Patrick: Especially in New York City schools.
Hillmer: Our biggest community partner is AHRC, who serve adults with developmental disabilities. They have about 35 day centers in New York with music programs. In the context of these music programs, members have actually formed bands. So we create this personal space for these bands five days a week … and there’s about eight groups that come and use the space from seven different centers. We’re also able to moderate what’s going on with them and advocate for them to get gigs. One of the groups, Zulu P, has a record coming out on a label we were able to facilitate an introduction between. It’s just resource sharing: we have the space and the gear, and if they have the need, then we’ll see you here.
Koslow: How does the curator system operate at Trans-Pecos?
Hillmer: The idea with the curator system is to articulate a disposition with the venue that we seek to acknowledge every area of outside musical practice. I’m defining that broadly, that includes working with The Bunker, who brings in a lot of amazing connoisseur-level Detroit and Chicago techno and house, from that to obscure modern classical to harsh noise to free jazz. We’re also partnering with Azucar and Fake Accent, who throw events involving global bass music targeted to LGBTQ people of color, and they’re very political about creating a safe space for these types of communities to gather. The curator system is our way of articulating that “we see you,” and so we get people who are emblematic in those areas to come to the spot and bring their vision to our spot for the evening.
Patrick: Especially given that we’re sort of living a hyper pyramid-up culture where there are fewer and fewer ins when trying to make a name for yourself, and we want to offer as many possibilities as we can. We recognize that there is connoisseurship coming from lots of different angles and pools, and these curators represent these different pools. We see our role as picking these curators to sculpt [something] that is made up of all these different voices.
Hillmer: Ninety percent of our booking is not coming from us, it’s us hosting people we’ve invited and met, and these curators turn over every three of four months. It’s a very diffuse and accessible leadership model, if you’re somebody on the scene doing stuff it’s very reasonable to think, “I’ll be a curator at Trans-Pecos in the next year or two.” It’s a very democratic process.