Dope Jams in New York

  • The shuttered record shop returns to Brooklyn for an anniversary party at Public Records.
  • Share
  • After the Brooklyn record shop Dope Jams closed in 2013, a sign appeared in the shop's window: "Over 2500 sq ft. of strollers & pet clothing. Coming soon!" It's unclear whether this was a parting joke from the owners or the landlord's sincere promise about the coming business (the building is now a dentist's office). Either way, it came to perfectly capture the borough's conversation about culture and gentrification. A respected New York institution brings young, creative people to the area, yuppies start to see it as safe and begin moving in, which ultimately ends up with the respected institution priced out of the neighborhood along with those who already lived there. This process is nothing new, but it never gets any easier to watch or participate in. Public Records is a new audiophile venue and listening bar in Gowanus, two neighborhoods over from Clinton Hill, where Dope Jams was. Much has been made of its technical specs, vegan cafe and craft cocktail bar, and its founders consider it a community space, an experimental music venue and a purveyor of general wellness. The programming so far holds true to these intentions. Last week, the venue hosted Terrence Dixon, die Angel (AKA Ilpo Väisänen and Dirk Dresselhaus), free-jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch and the local DJs Queen Majesty and Chairman Mao. These bookings show an earnest aim to exhibit under-appreciated talent. But while Public Records' literal price of entry may seem reasonable—$15 tickets, $20 at the door—its hefty bar prices ($12 well drinks, $14 cocktails, $6 cold brew) and generally over-designed aesthetic all but ensure that the community they serve will mostly include people in a different income bracket to those who created most of the music the place celebrates. In reality, the experimentation happened elsewhere, and now that its fruits are widely accepted as significant, the venue can present them in an Instagram-friendly setting. Saturday's Dope Jams party felt like another turn in a vicious cycle. Money, politics and real estate aside, the event was great fun. Tom Of England and shop owner Paul Nickerson played together all night, bringing out an enthusiastic crowd of devotees. Their selection of classics (the dub of Shirley Lites' "Heat You Up (Melt You Down)," Janet Jackson's "The Pleasure Principle") and warm house, such as the latest Róisín Murphy single, sounded incredible through the soundsystem. Todd Terry's "Bounce To The Beat" showed off the chest-shaking subs while the high-end sounded wide and pristine coming from the vaunted Altec horns. I kept my earplugs in my pocket for much of the night, which I can't do at most New York clubs. There was a Loft-style balloon drop when Nickerson played Machine's rowdy anthem "There But For The Grace Of God Go I," a reminder that we were celebrating an anniversary, as well as the fact that Dope Jams lives on, as Preserved Instincts, upstate. It's wonderful that the store continues to mean so much to New Yorkers, but there was an acute perversity present in dancing in the kind of space that feels like a symptom of the same real estate trends that shut Dope Jams down in the first place. So far the venue has nailed the "records" bit, but it doesn't feel terribly public. Photo credit / Brandon Wilner