I recently listened to the Dirty Projector’s album that came out in February. It was the first album they’d released in five years and the first since Amber Coffman left the band, a departure that was also a breakup between Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth and Coffman.
In many ways, the self-titled album is an apt proxy for the moment Dirty Projectors was one of the defining bands of Brooklyn indie. Brooklyn had a moment of around ten years starting in the mid-’00s where it fostered this particular pop/rock sound. Groups like LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, and of course, Dirty Projectors are some of the prominent names that emerged from this moment. While each had a distinct style, you can hear some of the threads that connected them, a city and a similar way of seeing the world.
The city itself was transforming too. Brooklyn was once a mecca for artists, the generational successors of the dance and punk movements of the ’70s, but priced out of the economically revitalizing Manhattan. They flocked to neighborhoods across the East River and developed their own sense of the world. In ways, they drove the cultural economy of the borough.
There were places created to accommodate them too, and to help incubate small artists who wanted to also be a part of the moment. Venues like Glasslands, Death By Audio, Shea Stadium, and others who were about music and fostering the art and the artistic spirit that springs from music. The venues weren’t always “official,” but they were destinations because they were almost willed into existence by the people who wanted to be a part of the moment.
What the artists were creating and what the venues were giving space to, brought people out from the hills. They came across the river and from their quiet suburbs. It was the urban movement and people wanted to say they were a part of it.
But like most things, moments eventually end. The people who wanted to be a part of the moment moved into the neighborhoods. Places like Williamsburg suddenly became hot properties and the real estate market responded. Prices shot up and pushed the artists out. The city crowed about the economic revitalization spreading throughout the city, but by who’s definition?
And the venues. The rising property values and their loose definition of “regulation compliance” eventually led to them closing.
So if the moment is over, what does the aftermath look like? Where did the artists go? In a lot of cases, they’re still there, they’re still creating, they’ve just been pushed further afield. You can find them in Bushwick, Crown Heights, Queens, and The Bronx now. The Brooklyn indie moment may be over, but New York music is, of course, far from dead. And you can also look for diversity, the Brooklyn indie movement mostly lived in one genre done by mostly white artists. The city still has plenty of black, Latino, and Asian artists working in many genres waiting for their own moment.
The venues are also still out there, but on the more up-and-up. Glasslands owners are opening a more “official” venue soon called Elsewhere. House of Yes, another that was part of the moment, closed and reopened a couple times, but now is here to stay and hosting official city bill signings.
If you listen closely to Dirty Projectors and Coffman’s own solo project City of No Reply, you’ll hear a couple of things. Some of it hashes through their breakup. And it’s not like they’re bad albums because we’re in the post-Brooklyn indie era. In fact, they’re quite good, definitely better than many of their past Dirty Projectors albums.
But they’re not all about the breakup. What you really hear is a more mature sound. Longstreth and Coffman are not old, but they’re no longer 20-somethings figuring it out in a fast-changing city. And that’s what happened to the Brooklyn indie moment. It came, it went, and we’re left with a more mature Brooklyn in its wake. There are still excellent music venues and a vibrant music scene. The Brooklyn indie moment was brief, beautiful, and fun, but it was messy. Forged in that fire is what we have now, a more mature scene that can still make amazing things.
But if you’re looking for the next moment, keep an eye out. It’s always right around the corner.
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