Battle of the boroughs
When it comes to music, is Brooklyn the epicenter of the scene or is Manhattan top of the heap? Two TONY Music writers square off.
Mon Aug 23 2010
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BIG IN BILLYBURG Music Hall of Williamsburg
"Brooklyn is band central"
Where have all the artists gone? Gone to Brooklyn, every one. Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but over the past decade, the crazy cost of living in Manhattan has driven them across the water. There's also something about Brooklyn that's, well, inspiring. There are green spaces, and for all its mismatched, chaotic architecture, room to breathe.
Creatively, Brooklyn got a huge boon at the turn of the millennium, when the Williamsburg "scene" first began to blossom. Now something of a hipster's paradise, it was an industrial, depressed area when bands like TV on the Radio started making music here. And then the music just kept coming, from Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear to MGMT and Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, the National and LCD Soundsystem. Of course, these are all big names now, and areas like Williamsburg, Fort Green and Park Slope get fancier by the week. But head a little further out to, say, Bushwick or Red Hook and you'll find a thriving DIY bluegrass scene, plus improv gatherings galore.
And Brooklyn is synonymous with hip-hop—hell, Jay-Z got his name from the subway. More recently, the likes of Kid Cudi and Charles Hamilton have honed their sounds in the borough. Away from the bright lights of Manhattan, you can do what you want: relax.—SH
Best big venues: BAM, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Best small venues: Knitting Factory Brooklyn, Jalopy Theater, S.O.B.'s
Listen to: Dirty Projectors, Charles Hamilton, Phosphorescent, LCD Soundsystem, Woods
"Manhattan has history"
Yes, in the myopic realm of indie rock, Brooklyn is king. In the past ten years, the number of rock bands to emerge with Manhattan addresses has slowed to a trickle, while the notion of a "Williamsburg band" has cemented into archetype. Yet are Brooklyn's musicians endemic to New York City—with its wit, glamour, gabbiness, ambition and edge—or simply young America? As the Manhattan rock elder David Byrne has pointed out, the impetus behind so much historic NYC music has been the geographic proximity of the island's inhabitants. This trait, unique to the central borough, demands an exchange of ideas involving artists of different mediums and backgrounds. It has yielded pretty snazzy results too: Tin Pan Alley pop (Irving Berlin), Harlem jazz (Duke Ellington), Greenwich Village folk (Bob Dylan), Bowery punk (the Ramones), international pop (Madonna).
Meanwhile, Brooklyn is essentially a driving town, with isolated pockets of artists marooned in unattached neighborhoods. Increasingly, its celebrated sounds are created by the young, the middle-class, the straight and, sadly, the sane. Besides, regardless of where musicians rest their heads, Manhattan remains the place to hear music, from downtown's weirdo dives and jazz haunts to uptown's iconic theaters.—JR
Best big venues: Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall
Best small venues: (Le) Poisson Rouge, Village Vanguard, Bowery Ballroom, Cake Shop
Listen to: Nellie McKay, Adam Green, Regina Spektor, Marnie Stern, Justin Bond