April 2nd, 2014 by Amelia
Bill is one of the owners (there are several) of the Acheron and the Anchored Inn. I know him from booking his former bands ABSURD SYSTEM (RIP Nick Poot) and ATAKKE and working with him as a fellow booker in NYC. At the time, there were basically three of us, but this was years ago, thankfully there are more cooks in the kitchen now and an ever growing, diversifying scene in NYC with solid DIY venues like the Acheron to support it. Here is Bill…
What is the Acheron?
The Acheron, along with the Anchored Inn, is a club, bar, and restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. We started as an underground DIY space just about four years ago, and over those years have upgraded and expanded to more of a complex. Now we are a fully legal space, hosting about 20 shows a month. Primarily punk, hardcore, metal, garage, psych, industrial/noise and so forth. You know, anything that’s loud, abrasive, and at its roots, rock ‘n’ roll.
Who owns it?
The owners of the complex are me, my wife Carmen, and our other partners Addie, Dan O and Eric. It’s been a kind of nebulous affair that has only recently merged into a totally cohesive unit. We started building out the Inn first, but were held up for over a year with bureaucratic bullshit, so we were all still stuck at our crap jobs. I was working in advertising for fuck’s sake. Anyways, the guy who had been renting out the space next door to the bar, and had been doing the occasional ska show (yeesh) came over one day and told us he was fucking done with it. He said if we were interested in taking over his lease we could have the spot to do whatever we wanted. I had been booking shows for a few years in New York wherever I could get space, and for more than a decade before that in Portland and in DC, so the idea of having my own space was pretty exciting. Carmen suggested I call my friend Eric the Red to help me out. He owns a couple of bars in the area, and has been a friend for many years. He got on board and we opened up less than a month later for less than ten grand. It was bare bones to say the least. Once the bar opened up, the two spaces were doing a pretty good job of bringing out crowds to our little block in Bushwick, and eventually we decided it was in both our interests—and really only made sense—to combine the two sides into one. So we got a liquor license for the bar, upgraded the AC/heating and the sound system, and put a door between the two rooms. Voila. Now we have more of a team of owners, but it really works for the best, as we each have serious strengths and weaknesses.
Who is in charge of what?
Carmen runs the day-to-day operations. She does inventory, writes the schedule, and handles staff issues and concerns. When it comes down to it, she’s the boss. Addie handles administrative and office things. Making sure that the man doesn’t come in and shut us down. The payroll, the bills, the taxes. All the fun stuff. Dan is the General Manager and does the booking along with me. I handle booking, promotion, the sound system, and advertising. Guess I haven’t really gone that far have I? Eric owns two other bars and a restaurant, so he’s mostly busy running his empire. His first bar, the Second Chance Saloon, has been an anchor of the Brooklyn punk scene for a long time.
Is this what you do for a living? How long did it take to start turning a profit?
Profit? Pfffffffttttt. We have been in debt for a long time, but it’s been a learning experience to me about how ventures like this run. If you’re doing good business and keeping people fed, drunk and happy, you don’t have to be “turning a profit” so to speak to be successful. We all work hard and get paid well for it, and we’re all doing exactly what it is we want to be doing. Eventually we will have our debts paid off and we can see a profit. That’ll be nice. I’d like to reach a point in my life when I don’t have to work. I just can’t expect that to happen very soon. For now and the foreseeable future, this is what I do for a living, and what I do for life.
Has the block changed since you first moved in? How have you seen Brooklyn change in general?
The block, the neighborhood, and the whole city has changed dramatically since we opened. Williamsburg is more expensive than many parts of Manhattan, Bushwick has exploded in just the last year or two. when we opened in 2010 there we very few other music venues on this side of the river. There was Trash Bar, Europa, North 6 (which turned into Music Hall of Williamsburg), and a few bars that let you play on the floor. Now I lose track of how many music venues there are. I think six have opened up in the last year! Fortunately for us, we carved out a niche early and have a really loyal crowd. I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I mean, and the explosion of douchey lounges and cocktail bars and places that shout about how “punk” or how “metal” they are only helps us out. We don’t have to tell people we are a punk and metal bar. They already know we are.
Do you feel the music scene has become more organized since you moved to NYC?
New York punk and metal has gone insane in the last five years. There is such an eye on who’s doing what here that it can make your head spin just trying to keep track. Competition for booking shows has gone bananas, and venues are offering bigger and bigger guarantees just to make sure they get the shows they want. I’m definitely happy for bands that do well because of this. Bands and performers deserve to get treated well. But the flipside to that is that with the higher guarantees coms higher ticket prices and higher risk. If I play that game, I risk losing my ass over a show that I’m not convinced is worth it. It’s really nice to see the New York punk get its act more together. New York’s Alright fest is in its second year, there are some really solid and stalwart younger bands like NOMAD and SAD BOYS, whom we just brought down to Mexico. LA MISMA is doing really cool stuff as well. Honestly my favorite current punk/metal/rock ‘n’ roll band right now is SYPHILITIC LUST, with guys from SHOXX and HARVEY MILK. But there are also bands doing really new stuff that’s perhaps not in a lot of people’s purview as far as punk goes, but are killing it. FOSTER CARE, PAMPERS, MARVIN BERRY & THE NEW SOUND are all more garage, but they also play harder than many of the bands that come through on tour. As far as heavy stuff goes, we don’t really have too much in the crust scene, besides my band TRENCHGRINDER, but we’ve got incredible grindcore and doom, like SKULLSHITTER, BELUS, GERYON, BLACKOUT, MUTANT SUPREMACY.
One of the cool thing about New York being so big is that there’s a scene for everybody, and although a lot of people get really cliquey, there are those who are really crossing over into new stuff. SURVIVAL and STATIQBLOOM are pushing hard into electronic, post-punk and industrial, and even further out there is THEOLOGIAN and COMPACTOR, who are DIY juggernauts in the noise/experimental/power electronix scene. And I really love the current crop of heavy psych bands like ANCIENT SKY, IT’S NOT NIGHT; IT’S SPACE, NAAM and HASJ.
I feel like New York is in a good place right now. We have a lot of really excited people, and a good balance of new faces and experienced folks to keep it reasonably stable. I’m happy here.
SURVIVAL and STAIQBLOOM fucking rule as does ROSA APÁTRIDA speaking of pushing hard into the electronic realm. How has it been dealing with NY State codes and regulations? Any problems with the NYPD?
The man is always trying to bring you down. We get raided every once in a while, but that’s just to be expected. We try to communicate with the police, let them know that we’re in the location that we are so that we don’t cause a disturbance. The other side of that is convincing the crowd that this isn’t the Wild West, and you can’t just drink outside or piss on whatever you want to. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel to the cops. But it’s the price of doing business.
Is your venue all ages?
It was when we first opened and for the first two years, but once we got a liquor license we had to cut that out as something we do regularly. It’s just too much risk, and it keeps the cops eyes on you all the more. We do the occasional special all-ages show when it seems really important to do it. But at the end of the day, we’re a bar, and the kids should be making their own spaces. That’s what I did when I wasn’t old enough to go see bar shows in DC. We did shows in our house, or at our college, or at a youth center or rental hall.
How do you feel you contribute to the underground NY music scene?
We try to be a home base for any up-and-coming band that have their heads in the right place. And that place is putting the music first and the music industry second. It’s really easy in New York to fall into various traps. One of those is falling too deep into myopic arty weirdo stuff just to make yourself seem “challenging,” but on the other hand, it’s just as easy to fall into the trap of doing it as a business, to stop caring so much about who you’re supporting or what, and just try to get warm bodies in the door. With so much competition in the city right now, you find yourself scrambling a lot just to get any show or event on a certain night, because you can’t afford to not be open. We try very hard to avoid those pitfalls. Everybody who works at the Acheron has been in bands, both local and touring. We know what it’s like to be on tour or be the local on a show for a bigger band on tour. We want to have the kind of place that we would want to play.
What have been the biggest challenges of having your own venue?
The toughest thing is the nonstop nature. We’ve got to have something every day. It really is what I do for a living. What I do every day. Every day. It’s fun to set up shows, it’s the best job I can think of. But it’s also stressful, and very tiring. Fortunately I’m surrounded by some really positive people, and I’m continually impressed by what people are doing in the various scenes that I’m lucky enough to witness.
Any upcoming plans or expansions?
Nothing exciting. We’ve done most of the major expansions we can do up to now. We need another Walk in fridge. Rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, huh?!
Any upcoming big shows or fests?
We just finished up with our first stab at ACHERON D-FEST in Mexico City. It was an amazing time, and we were lucky enough to have incredible bands like TOXIC HOLOCAUST, BLACK TUSK, LECHEROUS GAZE, NECROT, SAD BOYS, NOMAD, APOCALIPISIS, CONSTRUCTORES DEL ODIO, DISTERROR, and a ton more play. It went well enough that we’ve already started planning next year. Look for that next February. We also just had SYSTEM FUCKER the other day, and that really felt like an affirmation of why we do this. Tons of kids were there having an incredible time with no fights and no bullshit. It made me feel really good about what we do. We have a couple other big things in the work that will probably be announced by the time this is published, but for now I gotta keep my big mouth shut.
What can people in NYC do to support your venue and other DIY all ages spaces?
There are still a few all ages DIY spots around Brooklyn and Manhattan, but I would ask people to try and find spaces. They can open up their house to do shows, find a practice space or a workshop and do it there. I really wish we could do all ages shows all the time, but the city puts extreme restrictions on a business like ours. It’s dead serious that they really just don’t want all ages shows to happen. I’d say, just like I think everybody should go out and start their own band, they should also be an active participant in their scene. that’s the only way it’s gonna get better. We started with an opportunity and a few bucks. I don’t think that’s too much for a small group of kids.
Any advice to someone thinking about opening their own venue or bar?
Do a DIY space. Don’t open a bar. At least not in New York. Do it somewhere else where they need a rallying point. There are tons of smaller cities that need a place to have shows and encourage bands to come through. I really believe that the conversations that happen when touring bands and local bands play together expand people’s horizons and push the whole form ahead. It’s necessary for music to evolve and grow. So if you have a dream about opening a venue, do it somewhere that needs it. That will make it the most rewarding.
Any last words? How can we best stay up to date on the Acheron and get in touch?
Thanks a lot for the interview. I really appreciate you taking the time. Our website is theacheronbk.blogspot.com and we can also be found easily on Facebook, twitter (@theacheronbk), blah blah blah. If you buy tickets to any of our shows or fill out the simple field on our website, you can be on our mailing list. We try to keep people informed but not annoyed. We are really privileged to be part of the amazing underground scene in New York right now, and I just want to thank all the promoters, bands, and kids that make it happen.