Matt Conboy, who co-founded the venue Death by Audio, directs a film about the club's bitter end
Even now there is sadness in Matt Conboy's voice as he describes "how screwed up the whole thing was."
The "whole thing" he's describing is the demise of Death by Audio, the underground music venue he helped establish in a Brooklyn warehouse.
Our hopes are to find a way to get the film out to the public more... and find an audience [of] younger people or people who feel somewhat disenfranchised or not empowered.
The night spot [named for the effects pedal manufacturer Death by Audio, which occupied the same warehouse] grew organically into a vibrant indie music space, attracting artists like Dan Deacon, Sisters, Thurston Moore and Future Islands. If the place lacked amenities, it fostered intimacy: a hothouse tucked away in an unprepossessing section of Williamsburg. Music fans began to flock there. Some people even lived there, in makeshift quarters. A kind of giant hammock served as an aerial crash pad.
In the end this little musical utopia was too good to last, overwhelmed by gentrification, commercial interests -- and Vice Media. Conboy explores the death of his club in the new documentary Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio, which premiered on Monday at the South by Southwest festival.
Death by Audio's fate was sealed when hipster TV and internet news outlet Vice Media decided it wanted the warehouse for its headquarters, lured by incentives from New York State, which feared the company might choose to relocate to LA.
Nonfictionfilm.com spoke with Conboy in Austin about South by Southwest, his documentary and his feelings about Vice Media.
How is your Southby going? That's the first question people ask here, so I'll ask it of you.
It's going really well. It's been really fun, at times exhausting, at times overwhelming.
Overwhelming in what way?
I'm like a little bit less social or outgoing, so being thrown from one cocktail party to the other is not necessarily my most comfortable environment. But's it's all been fun. Everybody is so nice.
Your history with Death by Audio goes back quite a ways.
I started the music venue Death by Audio in 2007 with a guy called Jason Amos and we intially started it just kind of as, "Oh, this is going to be a fun thing to do." There wasn't really a plan or a strategy for it. And as it kept going and people seemed to enjoy it... Jason ended up leaving and moving. One of our early show bookers and staff people wanted to kind of take the reins and so Edan Wilber came in and really improved the venue a lot and built it into the venue which it ends up being, which was an important thing for my community.
That's really what the film is about, isn't it -- community.
I guess when you're talking about the New York area there is always that threat of commercial interests impinging on community. You created something special and then it took a turn.
I think it's a story that has happened a lot in New York and is happening a lot all over various cities around the U.S. You have slightly abandoned, failing or like underutilized areas in these cities that artists and kind of the working people gravitate to and take over. And then there is this process where they kind of make it attractive to people who aren't really interested in making things and just want to live somewhere and consume stuff.
There is the irony that Vice, the group that was going to take over your space, their public image would ostensibly seem to be a fit with what you were doing with the club.
Oh yeah. They were fans in some ways -- and it's part of the film -- the irony that they made their own short documentary about us.
Has Vice responded in any way to your film?
To my knowledge they have not responded to the documentary... I would look forward to any response they would have.
Are there particular nights or moments at Death by Audio that stand out for you or that are particularly meaningful where you felt like, wow, this is something special we have built organically here.
It was difficult because between arranging everything for the film I was also kind of involved in managing the space for the last event [in November 2014]. It made it a little tough to remind yourself, "Oh wow, this is important." I think I tried every night to find one moment of like, "This is awesome." Just off the top of my head I remember feeling that way the time Dan Deacon performed.
There were things about the whole circumstance [of the club closing] when I remembered feeling connected to the audience, like we were really all in it together and really all on the same page, and the things that were inspiring about it to me were inspiring to everybody else and the things that were frustrating to me were frustrating to everybody else.
Where do you take the film from here? What is the plan?
As of now there isn't a very specific plan. Our hopes are to find a way to get the film out to the public more... whether that be in theaters or on the internet or whatever. But I think it's really important for me that the story get out there and find an audience [of] younger people or people who feel somewhat disenfranchised or not empowered.
You may have heard Vice has started a new cable channel, Viceland. They air documentaries, so who knows...
That is something that is part of the irony of this whole situation. I feel very confident that if Vice weren't already a part of this story they would absolutely want to be a part of telling this story. If it was another company that did what they did to us Vice would, I think, be all over this and championing how important this issue is and how screwed up the whole thing was.
With Death by Audio gone, what are your longer term plans?
I've always wanted to be a filmmaker. I've made short narrative films and short documentaries. Definitely for me it's like kind of a first step in a direction in my career as a filmmaker. My producing partner and I have several TV pilots that we're working on and a narrative feature film. A couple of those things we're hoping to get off the ground sooner rather than later.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.