Interview Spotlight: Booking Bands in NYC with Dyami Bryant
Blow The Scene is pleased to bring our readers around the world an exclusive interview with one of NYC’s preeminent DIY promoters, Dyami Bryant, who plays an integral part in the organization of NYC’s annual free music event, Punk Island Festival, that features over 50 bands across multiple stages. In addition to this gargantuan festival, Bryant steadily books scores of exciting shows at such NYC underground staples as ABC No Rio, The Acheron and more. In this interview Bryant takes us through his musical history and involvement with the NYC’s underground metal, hardcore, and punk scenes, all the way up to this year’s preparations for Punk Island 2014 and much more.
Without further ado, lets hear from Dyami Bryant..
Joshua BTS: You’ve been involved in booking some of the best underground shows in NYC for many years. When did you first begin booking bands and what originally sparked your interest?
Dyami Bryant: I actually started putting on little house shows when I was in college (in the early-to-mid 90’s – ha! I’m old). Started my sophomore year – I moved into a townhouse the campus owned and my roommates and I would move all our furniture upstairs and have free shows in our livingroom. Mostly local bands, mostly hardcore, but some alternative rock and punk stuff too. If we got a band from out of town we’d usually ask for donations, and people were pretty good about giving. For like 2 or 3 years our place was known as a spot that had shows every couple months. Campus security rarely hassled us because we always warned our neighbors in advance so there were seldom noise complaints, and we didn’t serve alcohol so there were never drunks being rowdy or causing problems.
Joshua BTS: One of the many projects you work on is the annual Punk Island Festival. What makes Punk Island different from other festivals? And where are you currently in the booking process for punk island 2014?
Dyami Bryant: Punk Island is unique in that it’s a pretty large scale, free event that’s totally DIY. This year is the 7th year we’re having it, and I’ve been involved in three of the last four years. It’s always held around the summer solstice as part of a larger, city-wide event organized by Make Music New York – a non-profit that curates outdoor performances all over the city, in all five boroughs. MMNY organizes musical performances of pretty much every genre imaginable – Punk Island just happens to be the one dedicated to punk and hardcore, and probably the largest one. The event is also unique in that it’s organized and run totally DIY by promoters and volunteers from within the NYC punk and hardcore scene (MMNY is totally hands off). The scene here has it’s ups and downs, and can be seen a couple different ways. There are a lot of people into punk and hardcore in NYC and the surrounding areas, but there’s so many little facets that don’t mix very often that shows still tend to be pretty small. At Punk Island we bring together bands and fans from across this wide array who would rarely mix otherwise, and people are often exposed to bands and parts of the scene that they didn’t know about, or didn’t know they’d even be into. It’s also hard from a financial standpoint. It takes a lot to put the event on and donations/grants have gotten smaller each year. Right now we’ve got a Kickstarter going to raise funds to cover our expenses, and there are lots of cool perks for your donation! People can check that out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/makemusicny/punk-island-2014
We’re almost done with the booking. There are 7 staging areas at the fest, and the managers are obligated to have slots on their stage filled by bands who reach out to us via e-mail. This helps prevent it from being some closed-off scenester thing where managers just fill stages with all their friends’ bands. It’s hard enough to get a show in NYC if you don’t know the right people, and part of the MMNY ethos is to give everyone a chance to make music and have their voice heard. We also try to avoid having too many bands from the previous year, to mix things up and keep it fresh!
Joshua BTS: What are some of the other venues/collectives you work with?
Dyami Bryant: The main space I book at right now is ABC No Rio, an all ages, DIY space in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I actually booked shows there about 10 years ago for a while, and after several bookers came and went started booking again in the spring of 2013. I’ve also done a couple shows at The Acheron in Brooklyn, and of late have been talking with people at Saint Vitus (also in Brooklyn) about doing stuff there. Both those places are great and work really hard to bring good bands to New York – particularly within the metal, punk, and hardcore scenes. Over the years I’ve booked at a bunch of clubs that are no longer around unfortunately, like CBGB, Coney Island High, The Spiral Lounge, even the original location of The Knitting Factory when they were still in Manhattan. I’d occasionally do shows in Long Island (Ground Zero) and New Jersey (The M&M Hall) as well, but right now I’m concentrating on New York.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the pros and cons of booking bands in the largest city in the United States?
Dyami Bryant: The hardest thing honestly is getting people out. There are actually more places for bands to play than ever it seems, so there’re shows going on all the time. But because there are shows going on all the time people get burnt out on going to them, or don’t see going to them as that big of a deal. Shows have gotten way smaller, so it’s harder to bring in unknown bands from out of town unless you pair them with strong locals – and there are no super strong locals. It’s extremely frustrating, because there’s really no shortage of awesome bands in NYC right now. Whether you’re talking metal, hardcore, or punk – bands here are just killin’ it! But none have that great of a draw, and several play out too often.
Dyami Bryant: What’s funny is I actually still go to tons of shows all the time! I love live music, I love seeing bands that I love, and I love seeing new bands I’ve never heard or seen before blow me away! I never even cared much for music until my senior year of High School, and college just opened the floodgates. I dove in and never turned back. I played in a band for about 10 years and have recently been talking to some people about starting something new – we’ll see! Besides music I’m really into film. I went to film school, and my day job is working in post production for a handful of cable networks. I go to the movies all the time with friends and watch a lot of TV. NYC’s also great for food, in that the cultural diversity of this place means there’s literally every kind of food you could hope for somewhere to be found! I go out to eat with friends fairly regularly, and like trying new places. There’s also a greater than usual array of vegetarian/vegan fare in New York, so even though I’m not veggie I have plenty of friends who are and we never have a problem finding an awesome place to grab a bite!
Joshua BTS: What does the “ideal” show look like for you?
Dyami Bryant: Ideal for me, I guess, would be a good combination of a couple bands I’ve seen before but am really into, along with a couple of bands I’ve maybe heard but not seen live yet. Ideal would be all ages, and at a club or DIY space – not a bar. Bar shows sometimes bum me out because there’s almost always an element of the crowd that’s there to drink more than they’re there to experience the show going on. Also, part of what’s hurting the scene here is so many shows are at these bars that almost exclusively book 21+ shows, and there are some local bands that are great but almost exclusively play these places. Realistically, this is going to hurt you in the long run if you’re playing hardcore, metal, or punk, because these genres are traditionally consumed most often by a younger crowd. If your primary demographic is unable to see you live there’s but so far your band can go. I think back to when I was in college and going to shows all the time, and it bums me out to think that if I was a college kid in NYC right now most of the shows I’d want to see I wouldn’t be able to get into. Ideal would also be a bill of 3-5 bands. Any more than that sucks for the crowd and the bands involved unless it’s a fest. Most people tend to be more annoyed than stoked at the idea of going to an 8-band show that doesn’t start until 7pm. People who are there at the beginning almost certainly won’t stay to the end, and the ones who wanna see the headliner tend to show up halfway into the show. It sucks – no more than 5 bands unless it’s a fest or some sort of special occasion. I’m also straight edge so I don’t care for alcohol at shows, but I do like food options. It’s awesome when a space either has reasonably priced food within the venue, or re-entry so you can run out and grab a quick bite between bands!
Joshua BTS: What have been some of your favorite shows or moments throughout your many years of booking?
Dyami Bryant: Hmmm, that’s tough. A big part of what I like about booking is turning people on to bands I dig that they may not know yet – I love that! Also, thinking back, it’s extremely satisfying to remember bills comprised of bands that went on to become huge. I played in a band called Locked In A Vacancy several years ago, and there was a point when my drummer was working at the Hard Rock Cafe here in NYC and convinced them to let him do occasional shows. The shows had to be late because because they served dinner, so it was kind of a risk booking shows where the doors are at 9:30pm and the first band doesn’t go on until 10! The upside was they let us do it all ages and keep the entire door – their only concern was making a few extra bucks at the bar. The first couple shows were okay, but I’ll never forget we ended up booking a show in like January of 2002 that consisted of Shai Hulud, Most Precious Blood, Every Time I Die, Locked In a Vacancy, Cipher, and Unsound – for like $6 or something like that! Over 600 kids showed up – there was a line down the block and the Hard Rock couldn’t believe it! The next month we booked Skinless, Burnt By The Sun, Mastodon, LIAV, and our buddies in Foiled Again to open – another huge crowd for a ridiculously good bill (years later Teddy from BBTS told me that remained one of his favorite shows ever for the band!)! Another sick bill, from way back when I was doing Sunday matinees at Coney Island High, was booking a show comprised of: Breakdown, For The Love Of…, Motive (playing their final NYC show), Cave In, Cipher, and Locked In A Vacancy. Of course I have to bring up every time I’ve booked All Else Failed at ABC No Rio! Those guys are one of my favorite bands and some of the nicest dudes you’ll meet, and just KILL it every time! Locked In A Vacancy played a reunion in 2012 and I booked them and A Life Once Lost to come up to rock it with us and Tiger Flowers – it was great! I’ve also booked Shai Hulud a couple times at ABC, and those shows are always outta hand! The first time was with Endwell, Cipher, and Relics – awesome show!
Joshua BTS: As you look into the future of underground shows in NYC- How do you see your role developing? Have you set any long term goals with any of your booking groups?
Dyami Bryant: I’ve been contemplating this recently. I’d really like to get more actively involved in helping bands grow. Several bands have already asked me to “manage” them or whatever, but I dunno if that’s exactly the route I wanna take. I’d like to do something that helps some of the amazing bands I like get more of the notoriety they deserve, but also help make the scene here in NYC bigger and better than what it already is. I’ve got some ideas, and will be talking with some people soon. Stay tuned!
Joshua BTS: What advice would you give to the next generation of music enthusiasts looking to book his or her favorite touring band?
Be fair, and be smart about it. Don’t just book shows with all locals, and don’t book shows comprised entirely of bands from outta town (unless at least one of them is super huge). I played in a band for 10 years, and I honestly believe people who’ve played in a band that toured will have a better idea as to how to put on a successful show, how to treat bands, and how to promote. Also promoting is not just making a Facebook event page – get out there and pass out fliers! Assume that no bands will be playing for free – even the locals, but make sure touring bands are taken care of first. If you can’t afford to sometimes dip into your own pockets to pay bands what they deserve if one of your shows comes up short, you probably shouldn’t be putting on shows. Book quality bands that you’re passionate about – screw flash-in-the-pan scene bands that are “big” for the moment. Don’t book your friend’s band that sucks just because they’re your friend – wait until they get better. Screw hooking up bands that ONLY ask to get on big shows, but can never seem to play any other show you offer them. And lastly, support your local scene as a whole by paying your hard-earned cash to go to other shows put on by promoters in your area. Local bands tend to be good about supporting each other, and you’ll meet lots of people in some of your favorite bands if you go out enough. Makes it much easier when you hit them up for a show down the road…
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T.Cohen
Tags: ABC No Rio, All Else Failed, Breakdown, Burnt by The Sun, Cave In, CBGB, Cipher, Coney Island High, Dyami Bryant, Every Time I Die, For The Love Of, Joshua T Cohen, LIAV, Locked In a Vacancy, Mastodon, Most Precious Blood, Motive, Punk Island, Shai Hulud, Skinless, The Acheron, The Knitting Factory, The Spiral Lounge