Film Review: Goodnight Brooklyn - The Story of Death by AudioA must-see doc for fans of New York noise bands, but maybe a little too precious for anyone who never made it out to the Williamsburg venue Death By Audio.
If you’ve spent any part of your life regularly going to rock concerts, you probably know how many of the most popular venues have built their own communities around whichever bands play there regularly. Goodnight Brooklyn, a documentary about one such venue, begins with so many people gushing about the Death By Audio rock club in Williamsburg, it comes across like the most pretentious doc ever made. Even more so once you realize it’s directed by Matthew Conboy, one of the people who ran the venue and masterminded what it would become. As the film goes along, though, you do begin to understand and appreciate what “dba”—its nickname to the cool kids—represented.
Death by Audio’s origins can be traced back to 2002, when Oliver Ackermann, front man for the popular noise band A Place to Bury Strangers—once dubbed “the loudest band in New York”—wanted a space for his guitar FX pedals company, Death By Audio. The original plan was to renovate an inexpensive warehouse as a living space where various bands could record and practice, but then Conboy decides to throw parties with $5 entry to see five bands in order to fund the construction.
Eventually, the warehouse became a communal place to hang out in Brooklyn, with people moving in and out of the living quarters while shows went on downstairs. Death By Audio was soon transformed into an art and performance space that catered to the Williamsburg hipsters who overran what was once Brooklyn’s art capital. From there, dba evolved into a full-blown rock club with its own homegrown music scene and bigger bands like Future Islands and TV on the Radio frequently playing there.
Goodnight Brooklyn follows a similar trajectory as the recent doc The Last Arcade, about the closing of a beloved Chinatown videogame arcade, but it also features live performances by lots of great bands that Conboy captured on film during the club’s tenure.
Things were going far too well for it to last, and Death By Audio eventually got pushed out of the building by Shane Smith’s Canadian punk-mag-turned-Internet-mogul Vice Media moving into the top floors of the warehouse and wanting the entire building for themselves. The doc actually gets more interesting when it becomes the David vs. Goliath tale of Conboy and the Death By Audio residents taking on the corporate Vice Media. As Vice is trying to move in and renovate the space, the people who live there are forced to suffer.
What Conboy has going for him as a documentarian is that he’s also the subject, having been there from Death By Audio’s very beginning, but also at the very end as the founders move out and take the whole place apart. Possibly the most emotional moment of the film is watching soundman Edan Wilber almost break down crying while talking about the club’s closing.
Sure, there will always be something sad about a beloved rock venue shutting down, and Goodnight Brooklyn is a fine documentary about one such venue, but you would really have to be open to know more about a venue you’ll never have a chance to visit to fully appreciate the film.
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