Exploring Brooklyn’s New Silent Barn

It has been a long time coming, but the promise of one of the most heartwarming Kickstarter campaigns ever has been fulfilled: there is a new Silent Barn. If you’re unfamiliar, Silent Barn was one of our favorite venues in New York until it shut its doors after a devastating burglary in 2011. Located in Ridgewood, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, the space had a feel unique among NYC art spaces, even in Brooklyn’s thriving DIY scene. To get to the main space, you walked through a hall covered from floor to ceiling in art, interrupted only by the doors to the bedrooms of occupants. There were risers with couches on one side of the main venue space, and bands played in the kitchen opposite. The smoky basement was also home to the DIY avant-garde video game collective Babycastles, and a corner near the door featured a zine library. Everywhere in the space felt accessible – it was neither public nor private – and this homey atmosphere helped create performances that felt like a gathering of friends whose only goal was to make art as weird as possible.

It’s no wonder, then, given the singular nature of the space, that after Silent Barn’s shutdown, an international community made up largely of artists came together to get the organization back on its feet. After meeting their hefty $40k Kickstarter goal, Silent Barn declared itself an organization and idea independent of physical space, and has held several “public meetings” with bands and panels on DIY art, looking to the community to brainstorm their future. But for a year and a half, there was still no new space.

Finally, a few weeks ago, the Silent Barn collective announced that they had signed a lease. The new space is located off the Myrtle-Broadway JMZ stop in Bushwick – and area that is already being invaded by awesome art (thankfully, with its loud above-ground trains, it’ll never achieve Williamsburg-levels of bougieness). The space is much larger than the old Silent Barn – but this time, everything is legal, which is in part why it took so long to secure.

“It’s like they [the New York City government] don’t want you do be able to do this,” said Silent Barn resident Nat Roe while giving us a tour through the still mostly raw space. “Or maybe it’s that you can only do stuff like this if you have a lot of money.” As any New Yorker knows, the bureaucracy and expense involved in doing practically anything here can be enough to make you want to move, so we can only imagine what it must take to get all the permits required to start your own venue legally, especially taking into account that no one is on the Silent Barn payroll. In fact, if there was any concern that the organization was in this for the money, they had their January 2013 budget and projected profits painted on a large piece of wood in plain view. They definitely have their work cut out for them.

The Silent Barn crew, however, are up for the challenge. The plans for their greatly expanded space are fantastical but fitting. Aside from the main venue space, there will be different “neighborhoods” within the labyrinth of rooms, which are to include everything from a barber shop and vintage clothing store to a recording studio whose first recording session is apparently imminent (despite the total lack of equipment when we visited). The apartments are upstairs, and look fairly standard, although if we’ve learned anything about the Silent Barn modus operandi, they won’t remain that way for long. There’s a 1970s-looking trailer named “Canned Ham” situated in a back room next to a ten-foot-tall yellow fan of mysterious origin, which we can only imagine will be a saving grace at future shows. Pointing to a long, narrow hallway that was being used for storage, Nat told me, “Here’s the hallway, I’m gonna do a show in there.”

The venue’s debut show, which took place December 30th, was a perfect representation of the Silent Barn ethos – why shouldn’t the first event at your long-awaited and highly publicized new space include an all-noise DJ set? We stuck around for the three-piece Goodwill Smith, who played an overwhelming ambient-noise set while VHS infomercials for Sandals Resorts was projected on the wall, and for an experimental electronic set by GDFX, one of the many projects of Greg Fox, a Silent Barn devotee and former drummer for Brooklyn black metal darlings Liturgy. The crowd present to celebrate the momentous occasion included a combination of noise nerds and representatives from the Brooklyn DIY scene. Silent Barn hasn’t obtained a liquor license yet, so attendees sipped $1 sodas while they explored and gossiped about what was to come. All we can say for certain is that whatever the future holds for Silent Barn, we’re sure it will outshine our wildest predictions.

Click through for a photo tour of the new Silent Barn.

Photo credit: Sophie Weiner