Why You Should Always Go To A “Secret” Show

Last minute, some friends and I decided to grab tickets to Ariel Pink’s Webster Hall show.  TEEN was opening and I hadn’t seen Ariel Pink in roughly two years, the last time being at Irving Plaza when I was going through some major melodrama that kind of ruined the whole thing for me.  So despite the hefty ticket price and less than ideal venue, I logged on to Ticketmaster, rolled my eyes at the ‘service’ surcharges, and was just about to click on “Submit Order” when I heard a familiar gchat ding.  My roommate was informing me that Holy Other had announced a secret show at 285 Kent via a Twitter message that had already disappeared.  All that remained was the following cryptic tweet from the venue:

Todd P’s reply tweets seemed to confirm that it would all go down after Ariel Pink finished the Webster show.  Holy Other was opening for Amon Tobin at Hammerstein, so that also seemed to make sense.  285’s facebook dangled a 3am set time like a carrot on a stick.  The matter was discussed with friends; it simply made more sense to skip Webster on the chance that Ariel would play later, cheaper, and in a rad venue instead of a lame one.

My brain was buzzing while I excitedly coordinated a new game plan for the evening.  Sure, I’d been excited to see TEEN, but had no doubt they’d play a CMJ showcase somewhere.  Holy Other was a more than suitable consolation prize.  And I was curious about R. Stevie Moore’s set as well.  But something about the prospect of seeing Ariel Pink at 285 seemed so epic, even though it was nothing if not the scaled-back nature of this alternative venue that made it that much more appealing.  There was something else at work here – the rumors, the hush, the knowing wink (or in this case, knowing retweets).  The magic of the ‘secret’ show.

What is it that makes a secret show feel so magical?  By its nature, even indulging the rumors means you are part of a club that is “in-the-know” and from there you have two options: play the part of the cool skeptic, or go all in on the chance that whatever happens might be spectacular.  It’s not like buying a ticket for a bill announced well in advance; while the anticipation might be just as acute there is the added glamour of uncertainty.  The venue could be jam-packed!  The ensuing show could be mayhem!  It might not even happen until the wee morning hours!  There could be insane special guests!  Suddenly, I was starring in a saga that had yet to unfold, knowing that if any one of these grandiose scenarios came to fruition, there were major bragging rights to be had.

After all, it was only about a month ago that Pictureplane and Grimes infamously took over 285, aided by surprise appearances from araabMuzik and A$AP Rocky.  I had been at that show; I got tickets before they sold out without thinking about the fact that I was supposed to work that evening, but it ended up taking place much later than expected so I just went afterward.  I’d had some friends in town that weekend so by the Sunday evening on which the show took place, I was exhausted, ready to keel over.  I was quite enjoying Arca’s DJ set but also feeling impatient and super-annoyed by the underaged seapunks populating the crowd.  Pictureplane didn’t go on until after midnight, as though enacting some backwards Cinderella clause.  I was simply too worn out to stick around for Grimes and her gaggle of buzzy artists, but the next day I admittedly kicked myself for not sticking it out a little longer.  A very well-known ‘journalist’ infamous for his over-use of superlatives tweeted: “Seems clear @285Kent will one day be regarded as a legendary NY scene.  Easily the wildest + most creative I’ve witnessed in my 5 years here.”

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Grimes DJs 285 Kent. Photographed by Erez Avissar, photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

And it is kind of true.  If there’s a venue in Brooklyn that’s really taking the reins as far as booking avant-garde artists and quirky parties, it’s 285.  While it’s no doubt benefited from its proximity to neighborhood DIY stalwarts Glasslands and Death By Audio, it has also had to set itself apart from these institutions.  It does so by catering to subcultures so specific to an ever-fleeting moment that, while the general populous tries to come up with a searing punchline to describe it, the nature of the ‘scene’ has already morphed into something else as explosive and as vibrant.  As with any scene there are downsides and caveats, but boredom isn’t in the vocabulary.

So when a place like this announces a secret anything, be there with bells on.  These aren’t just stories to tell your grandkids, these are stories that will make your relatives believe you are starting to go senile, because what you’ve described seems so fantastical.  No, you’ll insist: these are things that happened.  To me.  And they will either commit you to a geriatric care facility right then and there, or their shining eyes will widen and they will beg you to regale them with more tales from your debaucherous twenties.  You’ll play them a Grimes record, they will make strange faces.

Last Friday wasn’t quite so legendary as I’d hoped it would be, but Holy Other played an absolutely killer set.  His features were totally obscured by fog-machine sputter and pitch black lighting save for a mesmerizing laser projector cutting through the darkness.  Now, don’t go thinking I’m some stoner who could spend hours in Spencer gifts staring goggle-eyed at lava lamps and blacklight posters, but this laser thing was incredible.  It had a presence, like you could reach out and touch it, and it made geometric shapes and waves in myriad colors.  When I was living in Ohio, we had a regular karaoke spot and the DJ, Dave Castro, was the main reason behind our repeat attendance.  From time to time he’d have contests and give away this DVD he’d made for cats.  It was literally called Cat DVD and it was looped footage of goldfish swimming around or birds hopping through a forest or… that’s right, lasers.  The idea was that when you had to leave your cat at home alone, you could put on the DVD and then instead of napping the whole day away it would watch and be stimulated.  It was also really good for backgrounds at parties – much better than a lava lamp and much less likely to short out and cause a fatal blaze.  Watching Holy Other and his magical laser box was like getting sucked into Cat DVD in the best way I can describe.  When I talked about the show with friends afterward, the laser was the focus of conversation.  We wondered where we could get one, then decided that you had to know a wizard or a unicorn who could hook you up with it.

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Holy Other’s latest album Held makes good on all the promises of his early demos, singles and EPs.  Right at home on label Triangle Records, Holy Other is often associated with witch house, but he’s a front runner and a creator within that genre, not an imitator or piggy-backer.  He invented the sound that would define that movement, in all its sinister glory – skeletal beats marred by thumping bass, syrupy samples, seemingly random bleeps which emerge after repeated listens into blissful sonic fractals.  It’s hard not to be moved even during a subway ride with headphones over the ears or via computer speakers while you’re supposed to be casually checking email.  But with the volume up as loud as eardrums can handle, letting every pulse wash over you, the experience is truly one of holiness.

His set was plenty satisfying, but we had to know if Ariel Pink would show up so we stuck around, breathless from the experience.  What we got instead was bizarro pop Ariel Pink protege Geneva Jacuzzi, whose live performance I was surprised to learn just consists of her leaping barefoot around the stage in questionable attire while she howls over iPod tracks.  Since it was by that time close to 3AM if not well past it, and because grilled cheese from Normaan’s Kil was calling my name ever so faintly, my friend and I reluctantly left.  The reluctance was mostly mine and mostly only a byproduct of that uncertainty still reverberating through my psyche – what if Ariel Pink did show and I missed it?

While we waited for our cheeses (Solona + Vernice for LIFE!) I checked twitter for any news, mostly to no avail.  Finally someone posted an Instagram of a blurry, nearly obscured R. Stevie Moore backed by a band which may or may not have been Bodyguard and may or may not have included Ariel Pink, but there was no definitive account of who was actually onstage.  The person who posted the picture said they stayed at the venue until six in the morning.

In the end, the takeaway is this: the experience as a whole was totally worth it.  If I’d really wanted to see Ariel Pink I could’ve gone to Webster Hall, and for that matter I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity to bask in his weirdness.  In return for giving the promoters the benefit of the doubt, I was witness to an absolutely majestic Holy Other performance that I’m sure would have been nowhere near as intimate or haunting at Hammerstein.  It’s a great reminder that there is only one moment, and it’s the one you’re in.  You’re only a sucker if you stay home.

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