In August of 2004 the Republican National Convention was held in New York City. Despite the presence of Wall Street as the symbolic center of the financial industry in the US, the town is generally Democratic and did not take kindly to this decision. Nearly a week of large scale protests and equally large scale crackdowns and arrests by Mayor Bloomberg occurred between August 26th and the 31st.
This isn’t about the RNC or the protests. Its about what we did to come down from watching our friends getting lined up by the hundreds in zip cuffs for the crime of riding a bicycle with a bunch of other people also on bicycles.
After watching a few hundred cyclists get loaded into a police van on Friday, the only sensible thing to do was get drunk on Saturday and then go out to the United For Peace and Justice march on Sunday. That way we’d be hung over and feeling mean.
NYC’s Tonic was a small venue in the Lower East Side that hosted experimental, avant-garde, electronic, and other strange forms of music. I went there frequently with my roommate to catch shows. Downstairs was Subtonic which at the time hosted a weekly show, The Bunker which we went out to from time to time. A low-ceiling basement of a former kosher wine shop it was the perfect place to duck out of the madness on the streets and feel like a small piece of the city still belonged to you. That night it was a place to listen to extremely loud music, drink Red Stripe beer, and dance poorly.
Three years later Tonic would close, a victim of skyrocketing rents on the Lower East Side. Chic hotels, boutiques, and upscale restaurants replaced the clubs and bars that hosted the downtown music scene. Some relocated to Brooklyn but others closed for good.
Places like Tonic provided a small sense of stability and community. The closure of Tonic wasn’t an organic change in the neighborhood where a venue changed hands due to a shift in the cultural winds. Change happens. This time it felt like there wasn’t an opportunity for something new to take its place. You’re not going to see small venues that cater to strange forms of entertainment when rents dictate that your business must be packed with people willing to toss back $12 cocktails all night.
Its about nine years after I took these photos and I no longer live in NYC. I felt cynical then about the RNC and the way the city was changing under Guiliani and Bloomberg to stamp out nightlife and I just feel angry now. Venues like Tonic gave me the opportunity to learn performance photography and gave me access to musicians with my shitty little Canon Digital Rebel and nifty-fifty plastic lens. It gave musicians a place to play something that wasn’t going to be popular. And it feels like that opportunity is gone from NYC.
I’m gone too.