Lady Gaga’s official closing of the iconic Roseland Ballroom after 95 years in April marks the final nail in the coffin for New York’s once-storied live music scene.
Those of a certain age will fondly remember the New Music Seminars of the late ’80s held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, which captured the Big Apple’s club scene in all its pomp. European journalists such as myself would make a pilgrimage to venues around the city to see underground dance and hip-hop acts. We then infiltrated the beat-up offices of their record labels with names such as Nu Groove, Cold Chillin’ and Sleeping Bag to interview artists.
Gentrification may have lowered the city crime rate and eradicated graffiti but it also has blunted the city’s musical edge. Condos have replaced clubs, and European bankers rather than struggling artists are more likely to be seen on dance floors.
It’s doubtful hip-hop with Harlem pioneers such as Kurtis Blow and the Bronx’s Kool DJ Herc or Grandmaster Flash will continue to evolve out of Gotham’s ghettos because coffee shops and juice bars stand where block parties were held.
I appreciate both economic and social progress and I’m all for safer streets but what happened to the energy and home-grown talent? What about the soul? The town, as evidenced by Randalls Island’s Electric Zoo Festival, is now an epicenter of electronic dance music extravaganzas attended by suburban kids dancing to Euro superstar spinners.
“What I really miss,” famed producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers has told me, “is that you don’t see musicians on the street in New York anymore. Guys with guitars strapped to their back.” As the Rodgers co-penned hit of the summer “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk (a French dance music group) proved, there is still a fondness for the halcyon music of old, and nostalgia-based nights such as “Offline” at Williamsburg’s Output with rapper Q-Tip have become popular for allowing clubbers to relive their yesterdays.
“It harks back to the old days without being old school,” says Maurice Bernstein of Giant Step, the promoter of the event. “The other night we had Dave Chapelle, Busta Rhymes and Tribe Called Quest there.”
An occurrence which alas, doesn’t happen too often anymore.
Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.