The only way I’ve sufficiently demonstrated how life-changing Death by Audio was to me is by telling people this: I went to my first show at DBA alone, powered by the confidence of five shots from the handle of Southern Comfort I kept under my dorm room bed.
It was my sophomore year at New York University, and I’d failed to make friends who were into music in the same way I was. This was a familiar failure. For all of my passion for music — I’d spent most of high school milking Soulseek for mp3s and created enough mix CDs to clutter the floor of my parents’ Ford Taurus — I was not part of Chicago’s music scene. I wanted to be — I wanted to be desperately. How great would it be to see the bands I loved live! To make a cameo in the sea of black-haired MySpace show photos I clicked through! To have the guts to gauge my ears!
At my suburban Chicago high school, though, music scene kids were cool kids — not popular, per se, but definitely cool and definitely not nerds, and cool kids have a sixth sense for nerd desperation. No amount of Special Effects hair dye or lyrics-based AIM screennames could hide the fact I custom-designed the CSS of my Neopets profile, spent most of my free time at the public library reading comics and philosophy books, and socialized primarily with teachers. Occasionally a music scene guy would discover I played cello and court me out of curiosity, but it always ended in me sobbing and scrawling Nietzsche quotes in Sharpie on bathroom stalls.
I arrived at NYU determined to remake myself in a city of strangers, and that vision included a circle of show-going, music-savvy friends (and, ideally, a cute guy for exchanging mixtapes). But if music scene kids in suburban Chicago had a sixth sense for nerd desperation, music scene kids in New York had a seventh. At NYU, it turned out I wasn’t just a nerd — I was a nerd, and a clueless Midwesterner. While I made friends freshman year, good friends I cherish, none were interested in crossing the East River on a school night to see Japanther at Market Hotel.
By sophomore year, though, I was sick of missing shows I wanted to see, bands I wanted to see because I was afraid of looking like a no-friends loser. I’d been a loser all my life — what difference did it make? So in spring 2007, I said fuck it, hopped on the L train, and marched down South 2nd’s cracked pavement to see Team Robespierre play Death By Audio.
Looking back on that night, I was 100% That Drunk Girl. I cut into conversations — spilled drinks on myself and others — got swept up by and knocked around in the pint-sized pit.
That last bit, though, I legitimately loved: what novelty to be helped up after I’d been knocked down! What novelty for my body to be touched at all! High on the fumes of connecting with other human beings, I ended up going home with another NYU kid to his Weinstein dorm room. Listening to Yoni Wolf’s laments on the new Why? album and gazing at the first naked man I’d ever seen in the flesh, I thought Now everything changes.
It didn’t, of course. The number that Weinstein guy gave me was fake, and I’d keep going alone to shows for months until I finally met my dear friend Danielle*, a School of Visual Arts student who graciously brought me into her circle of Brooklyn-dwelling art kids.
One thing that sticks out about that night at DBA, though, is this: somewhere between crashing into equally exuberant college kids, my cell phone slipped out of my back pocket. Being a Motorola flip phone built like a small tank, it didn’t break, but it did split into body and battery. I realized this after Team Robespierre wrapped their set, and all my drunken bravado left me.
“Hey,” I said, terrified to raise my voice above mid-level, terrified the people I thought I’d connected with suddenly wouldn’t respond, “has anyone seen, like … a cell phone battery?”
It’s hyperbole to say that everybody at that show dropped to the floor to find my battery — but at once I was surrounded by people trying to help, people who didn’t seem to think my cluelessness made me weird and embarrassing and worthy of exclusion. A community of strangers came together around me, embraced me, and piece by piece, my cell phone returned to me.
After meeting Danielle, I didn’t go to many Death by Audio shows. The cello turned out to be good for more than just attracting cute boys, and socially I found my niche in folk bands in Bushwick.
My music fixation shifted to hip hop after my first listen of Ready to Die, and I didn’t get back into the noisy fuzz of DBA until much later, when I relistened to No Age’s “My Life’s Alright Without You” after an awful, drawn-out heartbreak, and burst into tears.
So when I returned to DBA last Friday, the neighborhood wasn’t what I remembered. I stepped over a film shoot’s thick cables instead of pavement cracks, and instead of industrial sprawl, buildings with full-glass windows showcased wool-cashmere coats or lobbies with back-lit koi ponds.
Blah blah blah. You’ve the read New York Times article. “Williamsburg is pushing out artists! Williamsburg is gentrified! Williamsburg is without community!” Of course that’s true. Inside DBA, though, none of that felt true. Granted, the crowd felt somber and stiff for the first few alarmingly-punctual openers—but DBA’s imminent closure hung heavy.
As Ty Segall’s set approached, a familiar momentum began to build. One audience member elbowed another. Someone leaned a little too hard into someone else. After that, it added simply: packed crowd + all ages show + killer riffs = total annihilation.
At nineteen, going in the pit was a given, even if it meant a broken phone, even if it meant a broken pair of glasses. But I’m twenty-six now — I carry a highly-smashable smartphone, and I can’t wear glasses held together by duct tape to a meeting with my boss. Instead I stood at the perimeter and pit-mothered: pushed dancers back in, cradled the heads of descending crowdsurfers, hoisted the fallen up from the floor. Even from the outside, I could feel that energy I felt back in 2007: uninhibited and welcoming, inclusive and real.
That’s what makes DBA closing so hard to accept. It means fewer places in the city to experience that energy — fewer places for young, self-conscious music enthusiasts to go and feel a sense of belonging, even if only for one set. Other DIY venues will pop up and provide those places for future generations, sure, but DBA was that first space for me, and seeing it shutter its doors makes life and the city’s ceaseless transformation tangible. It’s a chapter of my life coming to a close.
Now everything changes.