The Last Dance
At 35, I do not necessarily consider myself old. However finding myself in the middle of a mosh pit, my camera in one hand and speed light in the other as wave after wave of (mostly) kids in their teens and early twenties crashed against me while I fired away I definitely began to feel my age.
Hot summer nights. 90+ degrees outside, who knows how hot inside. Crammed into a small basement or other tiny venue with hundreds of other people moving to the frenetic, brutal assault of hardcore. This is how I started my photography career in my late teens, shooting punk and hardcore shows in small, DIY spaces along the east coast, mostly in my DC area home town and my adopted city of New York. While my career and life in general have me going to and shooting far less live music than I used to, on the afternoon of June 25th, 2016, there was no place I would have rather been than the cramped, dilapidated, sweltering gallery of ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side.
This was not just any show, nor was ABC just another venue. This was the last show ever at ABC No Rio in its current incarnation. This was history. Alive.
For those that don't know, ABC No Rio has been a staple in New York City's Lower East Side since the late 70's. Started as an illegally squatted art gallery, it has transformed over the years into a comprehensive arts based community center serving one of the most heavily and quickly gentrified areas of the city, providing everything from a computer lab and a zine library, to photography classes and darkroom, to a silk screening workshop to an art galley to spaces for activist groups to meet. Perhaps most famously, however, ABC No Rio has been home to all ages, DIY, punk and hardcore shows every Saturday for nearly 20 years, and over that time has seen some of the most influential bands from every era of punk and hardcore pass through its doors.
On a more personal note, for me ABC was my home away from home for the years that I lived in the city. If I was not at work or at home, you could likely find me there, booking and keeping the punk/hardcore shows running with the hardcore collective, developing film in the darkroom, screening and helping out in the silkscreening workshop, or perhaps what I enjoyed best, just hanging out before/after hours with some of the other collective members who were really more like family to me.
But on this night, all of that was coming to an end, or at least a pause. After raising enough money to buy the building that we once squatted from the city, and even more money for a renovation plan, ABC No Rio will soon be undergoing a huge metamorphosis from a squatted, dilapidated tenament building to a brand new, "official", gleaming, LEED certified building that will house ABC No Rio in the future.
It was bittersweet to say the least. On the one hand we had achieved something that we had been working towards for decades, not only ownership of the building, but the funds to build a new building complete with facilities that were better suited to our needs than a tenement. But on the other hand, the history that was made within those walls was priceless. No matter how gleaming and new the new building will be, there was something about that gritty, dilapidated old building that I felt embodied the spirit of both the hardcore/punk matinees and the entire ABC No Rio collective itself.
And I was not the only one who felt that way. Hundreds of people showed up for the show. Some were just there for the show itself, to see their favorite bands play. Some were there to be a part of history, the last show at No Rio. Others, like me, were there for entirely different reasons. True I wanted to see the show, and yes it was a reason to get back to my photographic roots so to speak, shooting live music, which I don't get to do much any more, but it was more than that.
Like many people at that show, close friends that I consider family, I was there because I felt a deep connection not only with the physical space itself, but with the history and mission. I was there to see friends that I don't get to see nearly often enough and with them usher in a new and unknown future for a place that had been, and still is a huge part in many of our lives.
...And hopefully I will be able to be there to bring everything full circle when the first show happens in the brand new ABC NO Rio in (hopefully) 18 months or so.
If you would like to learn more about ABC No Rio, their history and what they do, please visit their website at www.abcnorio.org. If you are interested in photography for your band, please get in touch with me via my contact page.