Magazine article The New Yorker

Suburban Renewal

Magazine article The New Yorker

Suburban Renewal

Article excerpt


Thursday evening in a Bushwick apartment, and a bunch of roommates were hanging out, waiting for a few hundred friends and strangers to arrive. "Everyone's messaging us," Kevin Dobbins, one of the residents, said. "They're asking, 'How do I buy tickets?' " You don't.

"It's about six," Jay Silva, another resident, said. "Kids will start showing up in, like, twenty minutes."

The apartment is known as Suburbia, in tribute not to the 1983 punk movie but to the early lives of its ten inhabitants, most of whom grew up in or near Massapequa, Long Island, where there were plenty of basements and garages in which local bands could play. The friends dispersed for college and then regrouped in Brooklyn, where they vowed to re-create the sub-urban paradise they had once known.

In 2009, they moved into the McKibbin Street Lofts and started hosting concerts, and two years later they found a space that was bigger and lower: a half-finished maze of rooms, a few feet below street level, that had previously housed a production company devoted to adventurous pornography. The roommates built small, tidy bedrooms, with numbers on the doors corresponding to their boyhood homes--Silva's door is marked 145, for 145 Harmony Drive, in Massapequa Park. They also kept a few items that the old tenants had left behind, including, next to the refrigerator, an industrial-sized roll of Saran wrap, which is at last serving the purpose its manufacturers intended.

Bushwick and Williamsburg have plenty of informal concert venues, but Suburbia is unusual for its devotion to one fertile but unhip--one might even say suburban--musical style: emotionally expressive rock descended, however distantly, from hardcore punk. For nearly thirty years, fans and detractors have been shortening this description to its first three letters, "emo," though the word isn't one that many bands embrace.

Silva's estimate had been off by five minutes: the first two guests arrived at six-fifteen, having endured a bus ride from Pittsburgh that must have been, no matter how cheap, many times more expensive than the price of admission to Suburbia, which is always five dollars. The show started at eight, and by eight-thirty Suburbia was full, and, for the second time in the venue's history, fans were being turned away. "It's a bummer," said John Nicholls, who was minding the door. "But beyond a certain point it's just not comfortable."

In the room where the bands play, that point had been passed some time ago. …

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