'Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio': Film Review

Courtesy of Goodnight Brooklyn/Oliver Ackermann
A fond goodbye to a do-it-yourself music venue.
12/16/2016

The story of a beloved DIY music space is told by one of its managers, Matthew Conboy.

A eulogy for a concert venue the likes of which most casual music listeners will never experience, Matthew Conboy's Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio emphasizes the family-like bonds and sense of belonging generated by the best DIY venues. Honing in on specifics for better and worse, the doc provides an overview that may inspire other young space-creators, and documents the emotional series of shows that sent DBA out with a bang. Moviegoers who know what it means to have a scene will appreciate the doc as it rolls out in niche bookings.

Fans familiar with this actual scene, though, may be puzzled at why the movie seems to suggest that Death by Audio was some kind of pioneer — when there were, in fact, multiple other much-loved venues in the very same building. Glasslands and 285 Kent were only two neighbors in this dilapidated former Department of Transportation field office, whose many structural faults kept landlords from charging rents in keeping with those on nearby blocks in hippest-place-on-Earth Williamsburg.

Whatever his reasons for pretending the neighbors didn't exist, director Conboy (one of the young men who ran the venue) paints a vivid picture of what went on inside DBA's crumbling walls. Originally, the idea was just that some like-minded young adults could live in the moldy, trash-strewn place (make that "awesome dream opportunity") while practicing music at all hours and running a little guitar effects-pedal business (which would soon become successful). But rent parties became more frequent, up-and-coming bands found themselves welcomed here and resident/proprietors started taking the place seriously as a concert venue: One week there was a lock on the bathroom door; soon, there was soap there, as well.

As we meet the likeable residents and the artists they befriended — Ty Segall, Deerhoof and Future Islands among them — we also learn the reasons for the venue's closing: Vice Media, the behemoth that cynically positions itself as the voice for rad millennial shaker-uppers, had decided it wanted to swoop in and yank the old building away from those very shaker-uppers.

Irony abounds in this transition, and it does not go unnoticed by the film's interviewees. But despite their justified indignation, the men who form DBA's core and the varied people who work to put on its shows maintain a winning optimism, focusing on throwing a series of cathartic concerts that will do justice to what they feel they've accomplished. Other venues would soon rise to replace DBA, and those in turn would be pushed out by gentrifying developers. But Goodnight Brooklyn reminds us how fun it can be to live, however briefly, in the vanguard of cool.

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Production company: Dishwasher Safe Films
Director: Matthew Conboy
Producer: Amanda Schultz
Executive producers: Scott Coulter, Patricia Devine, Jeffrey Kornberg, Jonathan Yi
Director of photography: Jonathan Yi
Editor: Andrew Ratzlaff

Not rated, 82 minutes

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