“What is elsewhere?” I asked.
Just a week or two into my internship at PopGun Presents, I had heard Jake, Rami, and Dhruv say this word at least ten dozen times. I sat with Jake and Dhruv at Saint Vitus over beers as they went back and forth about something, until I had to ask. They just laughed, but explained that Elsewhere was a still just a concept, but would one day be a massive music venue that we would own and operate. I say “we” because I had already decided that I would be working there, even if they didn’t know it yet. It would celebrate the DIY ethos of PopGun’s former home, Glasslands, while being totally legal and up-to-code so that it could survive. They wanted to build a home for independent artists and musicians that would last.
Nearly three years later, Elsewhere is open, a reality that seems to re-dawn on us everyday as we face the triumphs and challenges that arise at the club each day. In my first year at PopGun we were just a team of four; I sat at my desk posting Tweets and straining my ears to try and gather bits of information as the guys poured over and finalized blueprints while we waited to begin construction. At this point, the location was top-secret even to me, knowing only that it was in the general vicinity of our Bushwick office. One afternoon after construction had begun, Rami began to head over to the site and asked if I wanted to come see it; I was already out the door ready to go before he had put his coat on. We walked through the gutted warehouse maze, of which the main hall was still merely an idea, as Rami pointed down hallways and through door frames and told me what each “would be” someday.
Slowly but surely bricks were laid and walls were raised; the guys plowed through to-do list after to-do list, checking off licenses, permits, and inspections with respect for the complicated game of bureaucracy and red tape that they had undertaken, and brazen excitement for the future the unfinished project held. One afternoon, Dhruv burst into the office and told me I had to come see what was going on at the site; they were breaking ground on the main hall. Huge stacks of wooden stakes the size of telephone polls littered the ground; a giant machine used to plow them into the ground would suck them up and hammer them into the dirt, creating tension for the massive structure that would one day rest upon it.
It only became more real from there, as the to-do lists became shorter and more of the necessary paperwork was acquired. There were cautious celebrations with each little victory, with all of us afraid to jinx the next necessary step – the liquor license, the T.C.O. inspection. We hunkered down in the freshly finished green rooms plotting strategy for opening and operation and counted down the days until our first show. Lighting went up, art was installed, the sound system arrived piecemeal and was plugged in. Soon enough Elsewhere would cease to be our secret clubhouse and would belong to all of New York City instead, and it seemed like the little details to get there multiplied as quickly as we attended to them.
Every ounce of stress has been worth it though, outweighed tenfold by pride in every victory and excitement over what’s in store. In the two months since our Halloween opening, so much has already happened: Mayor Di Blasio signed the repeal of the much-detested Cabaret Law on our Hall stage. Swedish pop star Tove Lo played a surprise show in pasties; emerging queen of Brooklyn house Yaeji continued her ascent to the top of the scene with a sold-out set in the Hall. We’ve booked all three members of the Detroit techno Belleville Three, and hosted the triumphant return of London soul-funk collective Jungle. It’s been a trip to watch people take in the space, overhearing their comments and questions – Where does this door go? What is this room? – and it’s felt great when they’ve loved it as much as we’ve wanted them to.
With all that in mind though, we’re only two months in, with so much to come in 2018. There’s a daily learning curve in everything we do, as we try to constantly grow and diversify the artists and genres we book. A lot of seemingly simple questions grow into long conversations because they are questions that haven’t been asked before, so we don’t have answers at the ready.
More literally, we’ve got a lot of exciting shows on the book though. In the coming months we’ll welcome thrashy noise-punk duo Lightning Bolt, dub songstress Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook), and Detroit punk legends The Gories. This summer, our rooftop patio opens, which promises lots of frozen drinks and twilight dance parties. All in all though, after everything we’ve been through, I mostly can’t wait to keep lifting up the community that has always lifted us up, by sharing art and music that we love and creating nights that you’ll remember fondly.
Thank you to Jake, Rami, and Dhruv for letting me tag along on this crazy journey, and to all of you for supporting us through it.