By Ariana Hwang
It has been over a week and I have the song “Semi-Charmed Life” cycling in my head. It’s the Third Eye Blind song that goes, “Doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” in the refrain and chorus. A late 90’s classic and earworm I somehow casually keep singing to myself all thanks to someone named George Clanton.
So, before I spare some more details on this George Clanton guy, let me recall a special kind of night.
Arriving at Johnson Avenue, Elsewhere is less noticeable at first glance. It stays mysterious, lurking among shadowy industrial buildings, trucks, and colorful graffiti walls (that’s what Bushwick is known for). From the outside, there are no flashy neon signs, no windows, except bouncers in front of this renovated warehouse. My boyfriend and I are late to an EP release show, after guzzling our chicken-broccoli pizza slices and Modelo beers, and this is our first time ever entering this Bushwick music venue.
Elsewhere opened to the public on Halloween of last year, making this the fifth month since its inception. It’s important to note that Elsewhere is a DIY music venue, also serving as a nightclub and arts space. As it says on the venue’s site, there is an “ethos of creative risk-taking” held inside its multi-disciplinary performance spaces, rooftop, sky bridge gallery, café, and courtyard. The café, otherwise known as “The Loft”, gives off a Twin Peaks vibe with striped tiled floors, red walls, and dangling plants. It sells coffee during the day and drinks at night. Bathrooms are gender neutral too. In regards to the actual performance spaces, the main stage has geometric shaped lights and slanted floors with plenty of room for dancing without bumping into strangers. Everything is new to me but it all feels so familiar.
The owners of Elsewhere are the same people behind another former existing underground venue called Glasslands Gallery. At the time, they worked their way from being unemployed to curating an abundance of memorable shows that became the stomping grounds for bands like Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV On The Radio. They gave the occupants an unpretentious, low-key environment to unwind after their 9 to 5 jobs or college classes. Everyone knows how endlessly tiring and exciting NYC can be.
I still have my Glasslands t-shirt celebrating my first time seeing the alternative rock band, Beach Fossils. On that night, I couldn’t help admiring the music and lighting setup, tubes filled with pulsing LEDs and cloud décor hanging above the artists. There was a teddy bear head mounted on the wall, reminiscent of a taxidermy deer’s. For the first time, I didn’t feel so estranged to a venue and when I discovered this, I was sad to hear it would be closing after New Years due to VICE using its space as the new headquarters.
Four years later, and I’m here, a first time observer of this independent venue. NYC’s Cabaret Law, which had outlawed dancing in most bars and restaurants and had targeted LGBT and colored communities, has been repealed by Mayor De Blasio a few months ago. As a matter of fact, the discriminatory bill was signed at this very same spot. I can’t believe dancing was an issue from 1926 up until 2017; New York is supposed to be a sanctuary for expression and a “thriving” culture for the arts and emerging creatives. Or at least I would like to think so.
In a previous Guardian opinion piece by The Talking Heads’ frontman and 80s icon, David Byrne, he argues that artistic genius is being squeezed out by gentrification and income inequality, wondering why the government and 1% care so little about funding culture-makers. He conclusively asks, “Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian? I agree with his point of view because if you look at a city like Berlin, the government invested 1 million euros to support nightclubs and countries like Sweden and Australia give gracious public fund grants to nurture the arts without having everyone fend for themselves. This is not the case for nightclubs and music venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn that come and go just like tourists, alienated from continuous communal support.
This is why I like Elsewhere and pray for it to last. Its crowd is diverse, ticket prices aren’t through the roof, and there is room for under-appreciated artists who can’t perform at corporate-owned venues. It’s a microcosm for what I want New York nightlife to be or at least to emulate. The type of musicians they host is another factor for me being here. While a dream pop band Teen Body closed their set with a guitarist/singer, drummer, and bassist, I patiently await George Clanton to take the stage.
Seeing his bowl cut with blonde highlights and dark, penetrating eyes provoked my first listening. With his previous moniker, Mirror Kisses, George Clanton dropped a number of vaporwave tracks. For those who don’t know what vaporwave is, it’s a genre of electronic music, typically appealing to people who love smooth 80s music, meme culture, and colorful 3D anime and design. The most popular and quintessential vaporwave Youtube video to date is titled “MACINTOSH PLUS – リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”. This whole song is instrumental, unlike George Clanton’s music, which features his own vocals with tons of reverb.
His music videos, strange humor, and latest synthy-pop album, called 100% Electronica, converted me into a longtime fan. He has a song called “It Makes the Babies Want to Cry” in which he joked in an interview about being a good baby that never cried while growing up. The contrastingly sappy lyrics are just a bit more serious than he leads people to believe.
like i can never tell
if youre condescending
or if you meant it well
but this time
it makes the babies want to cry
it wakes the sleepless every night
i dont believe it that you cant let me treat you right
when i want to stay you get hung up
and when i walk away you’re in love
tell me im the only one
and tell me everything you want
it takes a lot of guts to say
i dont want to play
it wont hurt this way
i dont believe it that you’re sinking and im okay
when i want to run you get fucked up
and so i walk away from your love
George Clanton brings along his distinct presence from online to real life. He’s a welcoming 20-something year old and Virginian native, easy to talk to, kindly thanking everyone before his set for coming to the show. In the dark, he uses his phone’s flashlight to carefully double check his equipment set up before the show begins. The backdrop he manually arranges on stage is a curtain with lights that flash images of aliens and commercial logos like NBC, Playstation, and Chanel in neon technicolor.
During his set he jumps wildly, waves his sweatshirt like a prop, falls and curls up into a ball. He yells at your face as if he’s from a metal band instead. The crowd is not motionless or bored; they are swept by his single being. There are no instruments either—just a synthesizer and mic. As he goes on, he sings another favorite of mine, “Keep a Secret”, which has this pumping tropical beat with whistles. I am dancing without thinking of anything but the moment I am in. George probably feels the same as he crowd surfs and immerses himself in the juvenile crowd. The edgy youth and future cyberpunks are sporting fire red hair, dressed in vintage clothing from Urban Jungle or L Train Vintage, and singing back his songs as equals.
This is his girlfriend, Negative Gemini’s EP release party. Lindsey French of Negative Gemini runs the record label 100% Electronica, a platform that often reissues albums that are hard to find or too expensive to buy, alongside Clanton and has a similar technical set up, minus a backdrop. She is next and has a mesmerizing aura that goes with her modern electronica music. Dressed in a power suit and eye-catching silver booties, she looks like she belonged to the 80s new wave band, New Order. She sways back and forth, looking off into the distance, singing “Bad Baby”, a love song about her partner.
When Negative Gemini finally ended her show, I didn’t want to leave. Instead, I kill more time. I send myself upstairs with my boyfriend and his friend, and play with the newly installed Death By Audio Arcade inside Elsewhere’s Sky Bridge. Created by local indie game developers, the cabinets feature multi-player racing, shooting, and brawling. I can’t help but laugh every time I die too soon. The hard work put into the games, music, and venue is what made my night so special. They all deserved more for the effort they put in, I thought.
If New York’s higher-ups can afford fancy facilities, they can financially support a budding venue or musicians like George Clanton and Negative Gemini, whom don’t belong to the mainstream. They explore niche and diverse genres, making live music more fascinating to be a part of. So, where are these patrons when it comes to nightlife? I hope they’re exploring Elsewhere today. But for now, we still have people who want to keep new and old venues alive. Because in a city that never sleeps, people are always starving for more venues that aren’t just like Madison Square Garden.
See gallery of Negative Gemini’s EP release party below:
All Photos by Anthony Sokolov