It’s already a little hard to remember, but as late as 2012 in Greenpoint—before Transmitter Park opened at the end of Greenpoint Avenue, before construction of ten waterfront towers began along West Street, and certainly before Northern Territory invited scores of loud drinkers to a rooftop above Franklin Street—the neighborhood still felt mysteriously forgotten. Photographers, graphic designers, artists, small fashion labels, jewelers, woodworkers, and many more took advantage of relatively cheap rents inside converted industrial spaces. And one of those addresses—Suite 221 at 67 West Street—was especially nurturing to a wellspring of independent music labels.
There, from 2008 until 2016, Mexican Summer, Captured Tracks, Flying Nun, Cascine, Sacred Bones, Bayonet, RVNG Intl., and Software grew together in a large shared space. But as of this month, Mexican Summer, the original lease holder—in the context of a Greenpoint that looks very different (and more expensive) than it did in 2008—decided to part ways with the address that helped birth the careers of so many artists whose music you know, including Mac DeMarco, Frankie Cosmos, Weyes Blood, Crystal Stilts, and Yumi Zouma, to name just a scant few.
Today, in honor of the labels’s time and work together in Suite 221 in support of North Brooklyn’s independent music community, the labels are releasing a mix of select tracks including unreleased songs from Frankie Cosmos (Bayonet), Yumi Zouma (Cascine), and Widowspeak (Captured Tracks). But best of all, all of the funds for the mix will be donated to benefit relief efforts for the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland earlier this month. The mix can be accessed a limited number of times for free. But support a good cause, and purchase it for just $10, which will go directly to the Oakland Fire Relief Fund.
While all of the labels (save for Software, who are currently on hiatus) have re-located to new spaces (RVNG Intl. and Cascine share a new space in Bushwick; Captured Tracks has put down new roots there, too; and the rest inhabit leases elsewhere in Greenpoint) the mix recalls a time not so long ago, but one that suddenly feels very long ago, in Greenpoint when a bunch of independent music labels and artists were able to flourish in a rental market much more chill than the one on steroids we are familiar with now.
“Suit 221 was kind of a whirl for us at [Captured Tracks and Omnian Music Group],” said Captured Tracks founder Mike Sniper. “On any given day you could have Mac DeMarco in there and Zola Jesus hanging around, just weird potential meetups like that.” Sniper said all labels got along well, though conceded that, at times, talking actual business could be problematic, given the fact that another deal, from another label, could be in the making only a few feet away. On the upside (and obviously), “The Holiday parties were the best,” said Sniper. “We had a communal record player. So we’d hear all the Sacred Bones’s test pressings, and vice versa.” And because the space was so large and raw, lots of music and film were shot there, too, including a Rihanna music video, and “something,” according to Sniper’s telling, by Woody Allen and John Turturro.
In sum, says Sniper, “It was a pretty cool moment and maybe the beginning of the diaspora of labels away from Greenpoint.” Already, in 2013, he says, when he Googled “Office” and “Greenpoint” for anything over 1,000 square feet, not a single location showed up.
Caleb Braaten of Sacred Bones said the constant creative inspiration from “all the talented faces that would walk through the door on a daily basis” at suite 221 made it most special. And Jeff Bratton of Cascine said he could not believe how many successful independent labels were already in that space, working together, when they arrived in 2013, just as Captured Tracks had moved out. The office, said Bratton, offered priceless feedback from all sides, which was especially instrumental when he was trying to figure out how to open Cascine’s webstore, and negotiate better deals with distributors here and internationally.
But perhaps most indisputably, said Bratton, Cascine definitely “wins the award for most lunches eaten at Le Gamin over those years,” which is the French café just down the street from the office.
On a personal level, that statement really recalled for me that singular moment at 67 West Street. I was a server at Le Gamin and, one day, Cascine staff arrived for lunch. A coworker who had been at the restaurant longer than I told me who they were. Their table stood out because they all appeared to be so happy just to be there together, sharing a meal, talking shop or not, and definitely laughing together over large bowls of lattes and Salad Niçoise. Sometimes they’d offer to play for us some of the music that they dug.
Then, of course, I didn’t know about the larger community of labels they shared their office with, and the full and diverse extent of independent music they supported; but I knew that the small sliver of that community that I did see, for reasons I was not totally aware of at the time, was something special.