This article was originally published in A.V. Club Philadelphia on Sept 30, 2011 by Alex Marcus
“The Boom Room is not a venue,” insists Gary Dann, the space’s owner and director. So what is it? Something between a recording studio, a community center, and a private event space, he says—with some room for kick-ass parties now and then. Its opening Blastoff event is tomorrow, with bands, DJs, and a menu of “diggity dank” food curated by Dann and some of his chef buddies. The A.V. Club sat down with the man behind the Boom to talk about the new addition to Fishtown, what’s going to happen there, and why it’s not just another spot destined for L&I doom.
The A.V. Club: What is the Boom Room, and why’s it relevant now?
Gary Dann: First off, the Boom Room is not a venue. We’re a DIY recording studio that happens to have a really great space to showcase bands. Yes, I had a couple really great parties, a couple of great bands have played here, but, ultimately, the Boom Room is a recording studio.
We’re here because this neighborhood—this block alone—is just bleeding musicians. Everywhere I go, I see somebody with a guitar case walking down the street. It needs a center where people can go to record their music, and it just so happens that this is a great place for an event, too. So we’re going to be throwing events, but we don’t want to be a venue.
AVC: The space really is unique, with indoor and outdoor areas. Can you tell us more about the layout and how you plan to utilize it?
GD: Inside, it’s a really open plan. Basically, we took out the first floor of the property, so you get a huge room when you combine the basement and what was the first floor. When you’re standing at the basement level, you’re in a huge, 30-foot-ceiling room, which is great for acoustics. There’s the control room and the vocal booth—what we call the Space Pod—floating above, on the one-and-a-half floor, then there’s a mezzanine going all around the room. And I live above, on the second and third floors. We also have a big outdoor space that we’re calling the Dutch Patio, with a stage set up.
Besides being a recording studio, it’s also going to be a rehearsal space for bands, and we’re going to do some small community events—like maybe a nighttime yoga class. We’re also looking at doing music classes with kids, and maybe even having a DJ school aspect of that. And we’ll do bigger quarterly events like Blastoff.
AVC: So, what can people expect at the opening?
GD: Well, the Philly party scene is great, and I’m on it, and I’m out there all the time. But one thing I feel it’s lacking is good food, good drinks—you don’t see very much quality. It’s almost a part of Philly to have that trashy, graffitied-up, PBR-and-pizza feel; that grit is what I love about Philadelphia. But I want to do something in the neighborhood that’s just quality, in every sense. That’s why we’re going to the measures to have a Grammy-winning artist [Doodlebug of Digable Planets] at our opening party. That’s why I picked my two favorite DJ crews in the city—Broadzilla and Strawberry Mansion—to DJ it. That’s why I pulled from some of the best musicians I’ve met over the 15 years I’ve been producing music. This is a culmination of a lot of things that it took to get here, and it’s really a beautiful thing.
We’re getting a loud-music permit, and we’re trying to go through the city as much as possible. In the long term, we’re gonna go legit. I am working with some people on liquor licenses and such. But at the same time, we’re ready to go now. We want to make it happen right now, and that’s what DIY is all about. Yeah, there’s red tape, but we want to have this party now, we’re ready to go. That’s the beauty of something DIY.
AVC: So what exactly is the plan for going legit?
GD: My partner Julian and I are planning on starting a company called Groove Brothers, and that’s going to be moving things along with making the Dutch Patio into an outdoor venue. We’re thinking about having some quality food and working on some legality issues with being able to serve alcohol and having performances. We’d like to host a weekly event with headie-bo-beddie food, diggity-dank beer, and good music.
AVC: How did the idea for the space come about, and how did you see it through?
GD: I’ve been recording bands for about 15 years, and I’d been running a home studio in my old apartment for the last seven. I’d built up my clientele to a point where I needed to buy a property and build a studio. About a year and half ago, I connected with [now-partner] Julian Hinson, and we changed each other’s lives. He’s a real-estate agent, contractor, and a bass player. So on the phone, he said, “Hey, I’ve got this place near Kung Fu Necktie,” and later in the same call, I was like, “Hey, my band is looking for a bass player to go on tour in a week.” And boom, a brotherhood was started. In time on tour together, and time working—he helped find the property, he was my agent in negotiating the deal, and he was my general contractor through it all—we’ve become like brothers. Even though I own the property and the studio clients are mine, he’s played such a part of this and it could never be what it is without Big Jules.
AVC: Let’s talk about the challenges of DIY spaces. Do you think it’s appropriate for places like the Ox and Bookspace to get shut down? And who’s at fault when they inevitably do?
GD: When you do something illegal, you’ve got to be prepared for the consequences. So if you run an underground venue, you’ve got to know that, and be prepared for it. A lot of these places, they have a $5 donation at the door, a few hundred people come, they make a little bit of money—more than they would selling books that week. And a lot of people will want more, to do it every weekend. You can’t do that. It’s got to be special events, not parties. It’s like tantric sex, man. Don’t give it everything. Just a little bit, then pull back, and don’t have any more parties for, like, three months. But still, the system sucks. The cops can be assholes; I’ve heard about cops coming into parties and smashing equipment and pouring beer all over things. They should allow people to at least, you know, have fun. And the people that do it and know that it’s wrong—that’s just as dumb, because they know they know they can get busted. But do I wish everybody could throw a party and not get busted? Yeah, I think that would be awesome. Where do I vote for that?
AVC: Do you think there might be any negative consequences to party-enabling legislation?
GD: Maybe there is stuff we’re not seeing that would be really not awesome about it. Maybe things would get out of hand, there’d be too many parties. What if Danger Danger House or the Ox never got shut down? It would just blow up, getting bigger and bigger bands; the cover charge would go up and up. Maybe it’d just get beat, get crappy, turn into Old City—I don’t know.
AVC: What about journalists who write about these places? Or bloggers writing about events that they happen to go to? There’s a weird balancing act where people want to get their cred by being at some cool, underground party, but at the same time that could be what busts it.
GD: If you like the venue you’re writing about, and you don’t want it to get douched-out, or have the cops bust it, then just be smart about it. If you’re writing for some cool, underground blog thing that a couple hipster—I mean, “indie rock”—kids read, then say a little more; if you’re writing for City Paper, say a little less. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing, “I checked out this band at the Ox.” As long as you don’t put, “The Ox, at Fifth and Oxford,” or, “We paid $5 for beer.”
AVC: So what kind of balance are you hoping for with The Boom Room? Do you intend to go totally public?
GD: Not totally. I’d say 70 percent, whatever that means. There’s a Facebook and such, but I don’t post the address on the Internet; I’m not going to be advertising it in City Paper, I’m not going to have a sign. I want it to be kind of word-of-mouth. But I want people to come.
AVC: But you don’t want us to publish the address.
GD: How ’bout you say, “In the triangle of creativity between Johnny Brenda’s, Kung Fu Necktie, and the El Bar”? Or how ’bout you just say, “Fishtown”? Or, “One block from the Girard Street El station”? But I like that “triangle of creativity” jawn, man—I think you should rock that.
AVC: In honor of the first appearance of “jawn” in this interview, let’s take it home with a question about the 215. What is it about Philly’s music culture that most compels you?
GD: I like that there’s a lot of guys coming together. Philly has so many influences. There’s so many jazz musicians here, and this is a hip-hop city, too; there’s just as many indie-rock kids as young-buck rapper kids. Another thing I love about Philly is that you can kick this city’s ass so easily. You can’t say that about New York; it might take you 25 years just to punch a dent into New York. But in Philly, you could have every phone pole flyered up in this city with two days, a bicycle, and a staple gun. It’s a good balance—not too big, but still cool. Whatever you are—writer, photographer, music producer, drummer, T-shirt printer—Philly’s an easy city to tear it up. You can kill this city. New York—it’ll kill you.
The Boom Room debuts this Saturday, with live bands, DJs, food, drinks, and more from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.; more information at boomroomstudios.com. It is frankly not hard to figure out the address, but we’ll let you find it yourself, as Dann requested.