The Last Nights of Silent Barn, Bushwick’s DIY Bastion
After announcing its closure in March, Silent Barn said goodbye on Sunday night with a concert aptly named Last Rites. The all-night event included a line-up of house favorites and a back-room dance party where the partitioned workspaces had been demolished ahead of the collectively-run Bushwick venue’s departure. Though it survived the loss of its previous space, a fire in the new one and constant financial issues, Silent Barn had soldiered on inside its bright, muraled collection of buildings on a tiny trianglular city block. Local youth community group Educated Little Monsters, which was housed there, had hoped to take over the lease with the help of a recent fundraiser but as ELM founder Yazmine “Jazo Brooklyn” Colon told us, “the landlord would not negotiate even though were under the impression he would.”
The night before Last Rites, we stopped by to see local 8 Ball Radio’s L8 NITE showcase featuring bands Gnarcissists, Straw Pipes, and Native Son. The music went till just before 4am, with the majority of fans staying for the long haul. The next morning, people were going through the dumpster, which had turned into a de-facto free art store filled with discarded debris from Silent Barn’s various workspaces and upstairs residences.
Stepping inside while sound-man Osaro Otedengbe set the board with co-headliner Shady Hawkins, I spoke with So So Glos guitarist Ryan Levine, whose 10-year-old band has seen a lot of Silent Barn. “You always felt at home as soon as you walked in the door and it felt like your living room,” he told us. “My favorite show was playing for Tod Seelie’s photo-book release of Bright Nights back in 2013 and I’ll never forget what the room sounded like. The first tear I’ll shed for this place tonight will be when the music starts up and knowing that I’ll never hear that sound in this room ever again, that’s when I’ll start bawling.”
As attendees started arriving at sunset, reunions abounded. Many of Silent Barn’s “chefs”— including Joseph Ahearn, Kumal Gupta, G. Thomas Crane and Stephanie Griffin— hung out in the now empty room where Disclaimer Gallery recently held its final show.
Asked about the future of Silent Barn, Crane told me that before his collective even thinks about the future “we need to just stop and think what we’ve been doing which we haven’t done in five years. Here in New York, DIY spaces have no process time because of the grinding just to sustain themselves so we really need to stop and think before do anything else.” Griffin added that “DIY needs to be in a place where people can think about what they’re doing,” and that while there’s plenty of art in this city, “New York is not sustainable for the artist.”
After our conversation, the members gathered for a group shot in Tyler “T-Byrd” Scoglund’s self-made photo-booth, which sat across from made-to-order silkscreen station where souvenir t-shirts were created on the spot. Despite the DIY difficulties Silent Barn’s members talked about, the spirit of “doing it yourself” hadn’t faded.
Poets Carlos Salas, Liz Pelly and Christopher Lee opened up for the musicians as Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn, father of member Joseph Ahearn, watched from the front row. Pelly, who is also a collective member, retold the story of a 24-hour party held in May of 2016 that had started to publish a newspaper during its duration. “To make something that felt meaningful, fun despite the hilarious self-imposed limitations, we had created something that we wanted to see happen around us,” Pelly said of the soirée. “Because some space was pushing open that didn’t exist there before.”
Crosslegged started up the live music that continued with a hip-hop set from the Educated Little Monsters ensemble followed by the audio cassette driven noise music of G. Lucas Crane. Then the electro-clashy beats of YATTA were followed by raucous performances from bands Shady Hawkins, MALLRAT and Library. Miss Olithia closed out the headlining roster and the crowd headed towards the dance party in the back room.
All the while residents of Silent Barn’s main building hung out upstairs, which had been emptied out of most belongings and became vast lounges amidst the mob scene below. As the wee hours crept on, folks walking home from other parties would stop in to see the emptiness of the once full main room and then stay for a drink in it.
The next and final day of the Silent Barn’s lease brought more solace with plenty of new items in the dumpster to couple it, including a cache of house paint salvaged by local artists Lance De Los Reyes and Zac Dunn. Yazmin Colon held a gathering for members of Educated Little Monsters as they cleared the last of their materials from the their office behind Silent Barn’s backyard. Though they were disappointed in not being able the make Silent Barn their new home, Colon told us “we’ll still he holding our weekday classes in a different location with TBA day and evening events too. Just because the building’s not here doesn’t mean we stop.”