|The Bunker: An oral history
Cult New York party The Bunker turned ten this past weekend. RA's Michaelangelo Matos charts its story through the eyes of those closest to it.
I recently brought a friend to The Bunker Limited, a boutique version of the New York dance institution, which takes place every month in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at Public Assembly. She'd never been there before. She doesn't go dancing much (though she likes dance music), being more partial to movies and readings. Public Assembly has a total capacity of 625 (400 in the front room, 225 in back), but The Bunker Limited—which takes place upstairs, in the smaller 70 North 6th Street loft—caps tickets at 150. This wouldn't just be regulars but die-hards. The atmosphere could have been insufferable. As we boogied to Erika and BMG and I said hi to a few people, my companion kept saying, "I can't believe how comfortable I am."
That's a rare quality for any party. But it's how Bryan Kasenic, The Bunker's co-founder and leader from nearly the beginning, wants it. Kasenic lives near Public Assembly in a sizable Williamsburg loft with his wife Seze Devres, a photographer and artist who is also The Bunker's official host. There is a homespun sensibility to their operation; Kasenic and Devres' lives are intertwined with that of the music they champion. (Devres throws a party as well: The smaller, looser Kiss & Tell, which focuses on older dance music.)
But the party and its satellite interests—Kasenic runs Beyond Booking with a small roster of Bunker residents and friends—are expanding. The Bunker has had its hand in parties around the US (Boulder, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit) and the globe (Berlin's Panorama Bar and Krakow's Unsound Festival, both of whom have also teamed up with The Bunker for events in New York). Its pace is cautious, but it's a growing brand, the kind you earn through a long haul. In The Bunker's case, that will be ten years this month.
On the night we put three hours on the record for this Oral History, Kasenic and Devres showed me around their place in Brooklyn. They pointed out the back room where two beds—one bunk, one on the floor surrounded by record shelves—serves as guest quarters for many of The Bunker's acts. Within their appartment is small recording studio, where Peter van Hoesen spent a few days working on new material.
The Bunker began on Friday, January 3rd, 2003 at SubTonic, the basement of a Lower East Side experimental music venue called Tonic. By then Kasenic had been entrenched in New York music circles for years. Raised in Pittsburgh, Kasenic transferred from Rutgers to NYU in 1997. A year later, he began the Beyond NYC Events email tip-sheet. Soon after, he started working the counter at Kim's Video & Music, and got briefly involved with the renegade Brooklyn warehouse parties thrown by the Burning Man-affiliated Madagascar Institute.
From 2000 to 2005, Kasenic was label manager of The Agriculture, DJ Olive's forward-thinking imprint (among its signees was DJ /rupture). He also held a Sunday residency at Halcyon when they were still at their first location on Smith Street in Brooklyn. In 2001, Kasenic began working with Magda—stopping over in New York on her way from Detroit to Berlin—at Openair, an East Village spot, where they began the brief Gel and Weave party, soon joined by Troy Pierce. This was where he began accruing his techno DJ contacts, meeting, among others, Dan Bell, John Tejada, Zip, Sammy Dee, Theo Parrish, John Tejada and BMG, nearly all of whom have subsequently played memorable Bunker sets.
Even after The Bunker got started, Kasenic had collaborations on the side, most notably with Wolf + Lamb—Kasenic booked DJs for their afterhours parties at The Marcy Hotel—and Anthony Parasole, his partner in the House-n-Home series. Public Assembly isn't the only place Kasenic throws parties as The Bunker: 12-turn-13 has long been a standby, and recently a show took place at 285 Kent, a venue run by Brooklyn DIY-venue kingpin Todd Patrick, AKA Todd P.
Nevertheless, the monthly parties at Public Assembly are clearly home. That's how it feels for a lot of people who play—and go—there, as well. To celebrate The Bunker's tenth birthday, RA decided to get its story from its principals, as well as some of the many DJs who've played it. With around 600 guests over a decade, there's simply no way to be complete, so we haven't tried. But it seemed logical to begin with some prehistory. Not only is The Bunker the culmination of Kasenic's vision, it was the offshoot of another notable dance night, the Polar Bear Club, whose roots go further back still.
Following the story deeper takes us from DJ free-for-all (not uncommon in New York during the '90s, whatever your preferred style) to a more refined dance night that's still expansive in its tastes and proclivities. But it also traces the fall and rise of the American dance underground over the past decade, the post-rave years in which true believers thinned out and then re-expanded. Ten years on, The Bunker is an institution. Here's how it got there.
Rod Smith (DJ, Polar Bear Club, Minneapolis, 1995-2002): I remember sitting around one night and thinking it would be great if you could do a DJ night where, rather than dancing, people didn't experience the music quite so immersively—the music was more in the middle-foreground.
Mike Wolf (DJ, Polar Bear Club, Minneapolis, 1995-1997/New York, 1999-2002): I became friends with Rod working at First Avenue. He was a musician and DJ and knew everybody, and had a spectacularly depraved aspect to his personality that was really fun to be around.
Rod Smith: We did the first Polar Bear Club at First Avenue, in the [side room, the 7th Street] Entry, early in '95. I recruited Wolf after his taste started very audibly changing. He'd always skewed toward dry indie rock and its major label corollaries. Suddenly, he started playing much juicier stuff.
Mike Wolf: He said, "My friend Dave Lofquist and I are doing this night. Do you want to be involved?" It was a response to the lounge music revival: Combustible Edison and a couple of other bands.
Chris Sattinger (Timeblind; DJ, Polar Bear Club, Minneapolis, 1995-1999/New York, 1999-2002; The Bunker, 2003): They were lounge music parties, which was a totally new thing at the time. People dressed up and they put out tables with candles.
Rod Smith: To a great degree it was a joking reaction to the lounge thing. We played a little Martin Denny-type stuff. [But] by mid-'96 we'd gotten really arch about it. By '98 we were having guest cameos of people doing breakcore.
Mike Wolf: It was a free-for-all, but with an aesthetic more or less agreed upon by three relatively like minds. We all perverted the idea a little bit in one direction or another—maybe in the case of Rod, several directions.
Rod Smith: Sattinger became involved during the Loring [Bar] residency—'96. When he and Wolf moved to New York at approximately the same time—Sattinger coming straight from [Minneapolis], Wolf coming from Chapel Hill—they ended up getting together.
Chris Sattinger: [Wolf] was going to start Polar Bear Club at Brownie's. I immediately joined him. This was 1999. He was getting interested in electronic stuff. I was trying to move away from playing techno raves, and wanted to play all kinds of things. So Mike would go buy Robert Hood records, and I was playing Fela Kuti.
Mike Wolf: To say the very least, he knew a lot more about techno than I did. I was very open to it. I knew that a good DJ night was going to at least heavily involve electronic music.
I had been going to shows at Tonic, and was struck immediately by a lack of pretense about the entire operation. They did frequently avant-garde, difficult music. It could have been an intimidating social environment, and it never was that to me. I started getting the itch to do some DJing in such a malleable space. Our first night [there] was the very beginning of 2000.
Andy Battaglia (writer): It was as much a social setting—it wasn't exactly a DJ night, and certainly not a dance DJ night. The music was always really good. They were wildly all over the place.
Kevin McHugh (Ambivalent): The weird and funny thing about Polar Bear Club was that you could hear a weird Oval record after you heard a Perlon record.
Shel Kimen (KleverVice; Bunker resident DJ, 2003-2004): It was extremely eclectic. Mike was playing all kinds of stuff. And then Chris has got his angle—he's also eclectic, but it was heavier, harder. A lot of the guests they had were all over the map—WFMU DJs and local hardcore kids; it was just everywhere.
Top: Interior at Subtonic. Bottom: Chris Sattinger (left) Criterion Thornton (second from right) and friends.
Mike Wolf: Refreshingly, I think it changed almost night to night. We had great guests. We had Keith Fullerton Whitman early. I remember watching him mess with one of his modified Gameboys. It sounded genius. The guy from the Books, Nick Zammuto, did a solo appearance with us. He had it set so that every time a certain beat [was] triggered by him, puffs of smoke came out of little volcano-type plastic things he'd spread out all around the floor of the club. It was really cool.
Chris Sattinger: Gamelan, Coltrane, Wu-Tang, UK proto-grime, breakcore.
Mike Wolf: It was such an oddly shaped room that there was no feeling of, "Here is the dance floor. Here is the place we hang out." Every part of the room was a place to hang out. Every part of the room was a place to dance if you felt like it.
Andrew Lochhead (promoter): The booths were large barrels.
Bryan Kasenic (DJ Spinoza; promoter, The Bunker, 2003-present): Tonic used to be a kosher winery. Those were wine casks, and all they did was cut a door in them.
Seze Devres (hostess, The Bunker, 2006-present): Put some crappy tables and some crappy chairs in.
Bryan Kasenic: They didn't build some cool space. They just moved in.
Seze Devres: It was a dirty basement.
Bryan Kasenic: But what they did, which I always thought was kind of cool, was [build] some of the bar and other features of the venue out of the wood from the barrels. They took down some of the barrels to make space for it to be an actual venue.
Geeta Dayal (writer): The wine casks were such a nice touch. If you didn't want to be on the dance floor, you could disappear into one of those wine casks. There was no pressure there at all.
Mike Wolf: People used to smoke pot down there—oh my gosh. We caught people in a various states approaching nudity with each other. A lot of things went on out of sight down there.
Geeta Dayal: [The casks were] also protection against when it would get flooded. It was a basement. There were some pretty bad floods in there from time to time.
Jeff Samuel (DJ): SubTonic had a very distinct musty smell. It was cold, dark and cramped. It felt like what I imagine the bottom quarters of an old pirate ship would've been like. It was perfect.
Bryan Kasenic: I did an email list for my radio show at WNYU, Beyond. My email list was the Beyond events list, and that ultimately turned into the name of the company I operate under, [Beyond Booking]. SubTonic was my regular hangout, so I always pushed those events. Chris and Mike invited me to play at one of the last Polar Bear Clubs as a thank you for helping them promote it over the years.
Mike Wolf: DJing had gotten less fun. I worked at Time Out New York. People started coming down to the Polar Bear Club to talk to me about music writing. I didn't want that at all. A couple of obnoxious musicians used to come down because they didn't like things that were being written about them. That was just unpleasant. Eventually, people came down to request things to dance to—in those words.
Bryan Kasenic: That [appearance] went really well. People really liked my set. I actually got people dancing and everything down there, which was unusual for that party.
Chris Sattinger: We had some nights at Polar Bear Club where we had a really good dance floor. I wanted to let that happen more and not interrupt it by switching genres too much in the middle of the night, but still let the early and late hours go to the outer limits.
Bryan Kasenic: Chris got the idea that he should bring me on as the resident DJ for whatever the new thing was, which is what The Bunker became.
Chris Sattinger: Bryan seemed awfully shy back then, but he was an earnest promoter, so I figured he was what The Bunker needed. I needed somebody who would do things right.
Bryan Kasenic: I started The Bunker with Chris Sattinger (Timeblind) [in January 2003]. He left for Berlin in July 2003.
Chris Sattinger: Berlin has much of the energy of culture mixing and cheap creativity that New York used to have. If you have to fight to make rent all the time then you don't have the freedom to experiment. That's a bad situation for what is supposed to be a creative nexus.
Bryan Kasenic: I needed new residents. So I just brought my friends in.
Shel Kimen: I was friends with Sheldon Drake, [who] was doing Undercity with Bryan at Halcyon. Bryan and Sheldon and I tried to do a night in the Lower East Side. We called it Chew Toy. That did not work. So when Bryan was going take over the Polar Bear Club, he was like, "Do you want to do this with me?"
Karl Erhard (DJ Movement; resident, The Bunker, 2003-2004): It was lo-fi. There were no lights there. It was just a lot of sound, and that was it. It used to be way more freeform.
Shel Kimen: It was all over the place. I tended to play breaks a lot, and I was still playing acid. Then I would drop the Charlie Daniels Band or John Denver in the middle. If you do it right, people go nuts. If you do it wrong, then it's horrible, and that happened too.
Bryan Kasenic: It wasn't necessarily intended to be a techno party. [The name] did refer to the party and the feeling, but it really referred very much to the space of SubTonic. It felt like a bunker down there.
Karl Erhard: It was really dark. It just seemed like the type of place where you would hear less mainstream stuff that you otherwise wouldn't at any other place. It got really hot and really sweaty. It was kind of a grind down there.
Derek Plaslaiko (DJ; The Bunker resident, 2006-present): It took not full on convincing with Bryan, but little pokes, back in the SubTonic days: "Shut that light off." After a while, that became The Bunker's thing.
Andrew Lochhead: It was such a neat venue, because it really captured that very raw style of what was happening in the electronic music scene in the United States at that time. There was still a kind of fun that was unique to that space, just in terms of how unpretentious it was for a New York club night.
Karl Erhard: In New York, geez, there were clubs all over the place that you could just as easily go to and dance and have a great time. But the variety [at The Bunker] was great, and you could spend $5 or $10. It was really affordable. That was nothing compared to what you'd spend at . . . anywhere! It was a different crowd, different vibe entirely.
Geeta Dayal: Tonic was like my second home; it was like my living room. I went there at least once a week. It was the perfect mesh of my interests. You had the whole John Zorn crowd, downtown jazz. You had the avant-garde Wire-reader scene. And in the basement you had this awesome dance party, which was equally cerebral as what was going on upstairs. It was just presented in a different form.
Dave Q (promoter, Dub War): He booked some of the early dubstep guys—Plastician and Vex'd—around 2003, and those were some of the more inspiring DJ nights happening at the time for me.
Bryan Kasenic: We would have nights where people weren't raving their brains out. They were coming and having a couple beers and being social. It was more of a casual hangout and less of a rager.
Praveen Sharma (Sepalcure): When Bryan eventually started doing both downstairs and upstairs events, things got extremely eclectic.
Bryan Kasenic: Tonic booked a couple really quiet acts, poorly attended events. We had the people in the acts—and the [venue] managers—coming downstairs, where we had a raging party happening, saying "Hey, you guys are going to have to turn down the bass, because we have this quiet concert upstairs," that seven people had paid $5 for.
Seze Devres: Who don't drink.
Bryan Kasenic: Tonic's making no money off this. I'm like, "Really? We've got 50 or 60 people drinking like crazy and partying. You're going to ruin our party for this?" After that happened a couple times, I approached Tonic and said, "Let me book the bands for the midnight shows on Fridays. We'll make it part of The Bunker." We also charged $5 for those.
Shel worked at Kim's. The employees at Kim's were all either in an indie rock band or running a noise label. They were wanting for spaces to play. There just wasn't a lot of Todd P stuff happening back then. We had Gang Gang Dance and people from Animal Collective in earlier stages of that stuff being popular. We would get really cool people out for those shows, and really cool people out for the techno.
Shel Kimen: Underground music is underground music. We thought it would be interesting to get that mix, expose people to different kinds of music.
Tonic's dance floor
Bryan Kasenic: To get those audiences to combine was extremely difficult. Shel or I would just stand at the top of the steps and say, "There's a party downstairs. It's usually $5, but it's free right now."
Andy Battaglia: It was a wild mix of stuff, all of which made sense in the context of Tonic, but outside of that context might have seemed more incongruous than it actually was. That applied upstairs as well as down.
Bryan Kasenic: There was a time when techno was bigger in New York, and there were all these huge parties happening, then there was that quiet period. It was almost like somebody hit reset. The scene disappeared, and we had to start from scratch again with new music and new people.
Kevin McHugh: The Giuliani administration changed New York in so many ways. He was dead set against the arts, and was all about thuggish security issues and cracking down on nightlife. There was this really dark spell over all those elements, and 9/11 became his golden pretext to do whatever he wanted on those agendas.
Criterion Thornton (founder, Broklyn Beats): All of the thriving downtown techno record stores (Throb, Sonic Groove) and clubs (Twilo) closed, and there was less interest in the music. What really stood out for me then was simply a feeling of camaraderie with DJs, musicians and fans.
Dave Turov (DJ): After September 11, Bryan, myself and two or three other promoters were all fighting for the same 300 people that were still going out. We didn't want to compete with each other. It didn't really make sense. We would coordinate our parties—make sure we weren't stepping on each other's toes.
Bryan Kasenic: In '03, '04, '05, [there were] little spots here and there, like Tronic Treatment. Kevin McHugh was doing a party called Micromini. Robots did a weekly on Fridays at Café de Ville. Those parties were in bar-type venues. Nobody was doing big techno parties in clubs, or a warehouse. It was just not something that even seemed possible then.
Kevin McHugh: A lot of people were starting to get poached off to Berlin.
Nick A.C. (promoter, Robots): A handful of us in New York were getting really excited by labels like Playhouse, Perlon, Kompakt and Minus. At that stage techno in New York was mainly limited to the household names such Sven Vath, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, etc. A lot of new and exciting artists were just emerging and had never played in the US, and did not have a platform.
Bryan Kasenic: There really were no booking agents for this music in the United States then. Everybody, especially the bigger artists, had European booking agencies. The US scene was so different from Europe. There was just no money in it.
DJ Olive (founder, The Agriculture): Bryan would try to get one good person that happened to be in the States, or maybe fly someone in, and build on that.
Andrew Lochhead: In 2003-2004 I was putting on shows with Detroit Underground, an IDM and experimental techno label that I was [co-running]. We'd started to build some contacts for touring other artists, mostly from Trapez and Traum and Bpitch Control. My solution, when we had DJs who wanted to tour, was, "You fly into Detroit, I'll meet you there at the airport, and we'll drive all over the eastern United States making rave parties as we go." It was all very punk rock—we were sleeping on peoples' couches, sleeping in the car, eating a lot of fast food, staying at dodgy motels.
Bryan Kasenic: He'd be like, "OK, we've got to get up early tomorrow to drive to the next gig. It's an eleven-hour drive." And they're like, "Wait, what?" If they'd never been to America, they don't think to get from Detroit to New York is going to take you half a day. Ultimately, he was a fun person, so they had fun.
Andrew Lochhead: The first show I booked for Bryan was Triple R. Riley took a flight. Then he and I did the rest of the driving. I remember him being unhappy with the fact that he wasn't getting a ride from the airport to the club. It was just because the train will get you there faster than someone driving you.
Riley Reinhold (Triple R): At Kennedy Airport there was a queue of about 1,000 feet of people waiting for cabs. I thought it would be good to use a coach instead. I arrived after a four hour trip. I was not a mobile phone guy then—still not.
Andrew Lochhead: I remember Bryan calling me and panicking, like "Where the fuck is this dude?" Eventually he got to the show and it worked out. Ultimately, the thing about those early Bunker days was that kind of urgency. It was not a big money club. There was a real punk rock ethos to it, which driving around by car also complemented.
Bryan Kasenic: [Lochhead] would tell an artist, "We're going to do a rave in Detroit, and then we're going to go to New York for this other rave." So people would already come in with this total wrong idea in their head. When they would get to The Bunker they would be like, "This isn't a rave. This is just a bar. What are you talking about?"
Andrew Lochhead: Because of the police crackdowns [in the US], it was like, "No, man, you're going to a party." Yeah, OK, I get that—but I know all you people saying party had fun at raves, so why not call it what it is? It became a linguistic campaign for honesty in electronic music.
Falko Brocksieper (DJ): He certainly called the Bunker a "rave," but I was aware I didn't have to expect trumpet-shaped pants and rubber-spike backpacks.
Andrew Lochhead: We'd often stay with Bryan at his old place in Brooklyn. I'll always remember fondly the room we jokingly called the Bridge on the River Kwai Room, which was a closet that was just big enough to hold a bed. That's where we put the DJ. I'd normally crash on the couch with a cat.
Chris McNaughton (recording engineer): I met Bryan at SubTonic, probably 2005. I think Derek [Plaslaiko] was dancing on top of a bar or something.
Derek Plaslaiko: My ex-girlfriend—we were together in Detroit—moved to New York about five months before I did, [in] July 2004. I went with a crate of records, just in case I played at someone's house party. But I wasn't really trying to move there and make a name for myself.
Eric Cloutier (DJ, Bunker resident, 2009-present): When Derek moved [to New York], he was selling a ton of records. He held 200 to the side: "You get first crack."
The Subtonic DJ booth
Derek Plaslaiko: [The Bunker] was a vibe unlike I'd seen since my early days going out into raves in Detroit in the mid-'90s. I never thought I would experience that feeling again, and here it was happening.
Eric Cloutier: It was raw. It was good music, not shit that you'd find on the radio. It was digging music—it was a DJ's club. Instead of it being palatable, simple, minimal stuff, there was always something a little bit more in Bunker: "These are the people."
Derek Plaslaiko: One time I asked for a gig—October or November of 2004. Then, on New Year's Eve, I got an email from Bryan saying that Tadd Mullinix has cancelled because he was sick, and since he was a Ghostly/Spectral artist, and I was a Spectral DJ, that I would be a good fill-in. I certainly felt at home there.
Bryan Kasenic: In 2003-2004, it was extremely rare that we had a raging party that went until 4 AM. By 2005 we were always staying open until 4. [Seze and I] met around when things were really starting to feel more like a real party that people were attending regularly.
Seze Devres: I came to The Bunker one night to get a drink, because one of my best friends [Heather Leitner of Broklyn Beats] was the bartender there. I'd made a flyer for Kiss & Tell—I hadn't had the party yet. I gave Bryan a flyer for the party. He [said to the person I was with], "Who's your friend?" [laughs]
Kate Lesta (promoter): My first time going to The Bunker was May 10, 2005. I'd seen the lineup, and it blew my socks off that I could fly to New York and see Deadbeat and Crackhaus and Steve Beaupré and Vince Lemieux for $10. So me and a couple other people from Communikey bought plane tickets on two days' notice and flew out there.
I remember being irritated with the sound being total crap. [laughs] I ended up tracking down Bryan—I'd never met him before—being like, "What's the deal? You have all these incredible artists, and they're playing on these blown-out JBL monitors!" He said, "This is all I have to work with! I'm doing my best." Years later, The Bunker is known for having high-quality sound. Back then [I was] this random person giving him a hard time, maybe not legitimately. [laughs]
Eric Cloutier: We were having to fix something every day.
Bryan Kasenic: At any moment the electricity would just go out.
Seze Devres: The sound would go out. So many crazy things would happen. It was held together by duct tape.
Bryan Kasenic: The sound is so professional now, but back then, the rats' nest of cables, and 99-cent power supplies—
Seze Devres: We would show up to set up the party and there would be a rat in the middle of the dance floor. It was really DIY.
Bryan Kasenic: You'd never know who had touched the amp rack. Would the turntables be working? Would the mixer be working? We always made everything work. We always had the party no matter what. But the production value of it was significantly lower than it is now.
Ivy Feraco (Unjust; Bunker resident, 2005 - 2006): It was really chill. [The first time] I was playing, people were sticking around, man. I definitely remember Bryan rocking out and turning up the mixer, woot-wootin' and hollering and shit. I was playing Kompakt and these German guys were giving me the thumbs-up.
Karl Erhard: We got a lot bigger crowds with people who were really spinning straight techno. Plus, our interests really had shifted more towards minimal techno and Detroit and German stuff. We were really excited. It seemed to be a lot more quality stuff.
Bryan Kasenic: Sammy Dee and Dan Bell was [on] my birthday [in 2006]. It was the first time we got the techno community really paying attention to what we were doing. People interested in relevant techno were dancing to it in New York—that was a big moment, because that hadn't been happening so much.
Ivy Feraco: It was becoming more focused on techno and house. Derek Plaslaiko was in town too. Bryan and him were forming a stronger friendship.
Derek Plaslaiko: Even before I was a resident, I was usually one of the first people there and last one to leave.
Bryan Kasenic: It became very clear that this is the sound that's making this whole thing work. It became obvious that if we wanted to have a community, there had to be some more consistency.
Ivy Feraco: Bryan gave me this phone call one day: "Hey, it seems like you're not that into it, and I need to change gears." A couple of parties in the May of , I said I couldn't play, because I was finishing my thesis for school. I thought that was clear that that's what was happening, and he took it as, "You're not interested. I need new blood." I was like, "OK." I didn't fight much.
Bryan Kasenic: It definitely felt like a big decision at the time, because the party was really starting to happen. It seemed like techno was about to explode in New York.
Seze Devres: It was really exciting.
Bryan Kasenic: Seze said, "This is a no-brainer: Derek's your best friend." He was really one of my favorite DJs at the time.
Kevin McHugh: Derek was Rich [Hawtin]'s tour manager. I just knew him as this wild man. Then all of a sudden I hear Derek DJ and I was like, "Oh my god, he's better than anybody else we have here in New York!" He was really amazing.
Derek Plaslaiko: We were having a dinner at [Bryan's] house, and I pulled him into the kitchen: "It's turning into this rager party, and I feel that the people who came there for the experimental side might blame me for it." He was like, "That's what I want." I was like, "Okay, then that's what you're going to get."
Derek Plaslaiko (center) at Subtonic
Zak Khutoretsky (DVS1): It reminded me of a proper Midwest party. There were people hunched over the decks watching you, but there were also people in the back of the room just freaking out around the speakers. There was no extra fluff.
Andrew Lochhead: Sleeparchive [on March 17, 2006] was pretty fun. The place was under construction; a condo was going up on the site there. There were a lot of construction burns. I remember Derek Plaslaiko drinking Sparks out of a paper bag. We had set ourselves up in a wooden area [near] the condo, and used it as a theatre to perform hits of the '80s to passers-by like Laura Branigan.
Seth Troxler (DJ): I played a New Year's there in the old venue when you had to go underground. It was the best, playing for eight hours with Derek Plaslaiko, who's also from Detroit and an old friend.
Bryan Kasenic: That was 2006 into 2007. We started that night at 12-turn-13 with a 12-hour party that went to 10 AM. It was a collaboration with Wolf + Lamb and theARTcorps. Then the party moved to SubTonic and continued for 18 more hours. That was the very first Blood & Thunder.
Karl Erhard: A roll of toilet paper went through the crowd and wrapped everyone up. There was this huge crowd of people dancing with toilet paper strewn about.
Bryan Kasenic: [Andrew Lochhead] drove Seth Troxler, Ryan Crosson, and Lee Curtiss—all their first gigs in New York were at The Bunker—for probably the equivalent of gas and beer money.
Andrew Lochhead: It was the night of the worst snowstorm in Brooklyn history. The snow was halfway up the cars, so we had to seriously use everyone's western Michigan skill-set: Turn the tires, push. Turn the tires, push.
Eric Cloutier: I came to New York to play at The Bunker in December 2006. I moved January 2007, like, "This is where I need to be."
Derek Plaslaiko: The next year, we did it at Public Assembly, and it was just one long party from 10 PM to, I think, 6 in the afternoon. The end of the party was me and Jan Krueger for eight more hours, just tagging the whole time—one or two [records] each, maybe three each at the most.
Bryan Kasenic: Before the last Blood & Thunder [in 2009-10], those were the only events that lasted that long. We did 18 hour techno parties once or twice a year, that seemed to be about how frequently New York could handle something like that.
Derek Plaslaiko: The first time we had Alex Smoke [in November 2007] was awesome. Alex did the show for really cheap, just because he was in town. He did it for $300. Then we found out that his hotel room was $297. Alex was completely annihilating the place. Me and Bryan just kept looking at each other, going, "Three bucks. He's doing this for $3." [laughs]
Alex Smoke (DJ): I remember that first night in the tiny sweaty basement. I remember being there for New Year's Eve [2009-10], for one of my favorite-ever parties, slightly worse for wear, and missing another gig with flightmares. [What] makes it special is working with your friends and enjoying the night because it's a shared experience.
Criterion Thornton (founder, Broklyn Beats): Toward the end of Tonic, The Bunker was floating the rent and paying employees through tips from the party. Unfortunately, the party outgrew the space, and that led to problems with the plumbing and the fire department.
Andy Battaglia: I remember there being a lot of complaints that the rent was shooting up. Sadly, it felt so routine that it didn't feel notable—consigned to the fate of downtown New York at that point in time.
Karl Erhard: I don't think [Tonic had a dance permit]. I think it got nailed a couple of times later on, but [the police] just kind of went away after that. For such a small place, maybe they just kind of tended to look the other way.
Bryan Kasenic: [Village Voice, January 6, 2012]The final night at SubTonic was shut down by the cops. Matthew Dear was playing and they shut the place down. They wrote a bunch of tickets. As far as I can understand it, they were basically like, "This place is totally unlicensed." Tonic was a legal venue, but SubTonic—there were a bunch of licenses they just never had. For a month or two we took over Tonic, upstairs.
Mark Verbos (musician): I played upstairs at Tonic, which may be the last time they ever played at Tonic. We were moved upstairs because the basement was flooded. That ultimately was the reason Tonic was shut down.
Andy Battaglia: I was worried for Bryan because I didn't think it necessarily would work in Williamsburg. It's almost hard to believe in retrospect, because Williamsburg has changed so much and so fast. It doesn't seem possible that it felt as remote as it did five years ago, but it really did. I was concerned that [The Bunker] was going to die on the vine. Obviously, that is not what happened at all.
Chris McNaughton: Bryan moved it over to Luna Lounge. It wasn't there very long.
Derek Plaslaiko: Maybe four-five months—that whole thing is such a blur. It was very much a transitional thing. It was getting by. We were hoping that it was going to work, we were hoping to have what we had at SubTonic, but it just didn't. It never came together.
Chris McNaughton: They wouldn't do what Bryan needed them to do to make the night work. They were a rock club and they didn't really care. It didn't have an intimate feel, which is what he was looking for.
Bryan Kasenic: [Galapagos was] an old mayonnaise factory.
Seze Devres: [laughs] "Throw a party in a mayonnaise factory!"
Bryan Kasenic: The new owners put in proper ventilation, which was huge.
Seze Devres: We have an amazing air conditioner.
Bryan Kasenic: We have the best air conditioning of any techno party I've been to in New York.
Chris McNaughton: Galapagos wasn't necessarily easier to set up [than Luna Lounge], but it was easier to control and maintain. That was the real shift in everything. We employed this piece of gear called the DBX Drive Rack. That changed everything and helped define The Bunker as a great-sounding party.
Bryan Kasenic: The name changed [to Public Assembly, in 2008] because the ownership changed. When they came in, they were in no hurry to overhaul everything and replace the staff and parties.
Derek Plaslaiko: We made a very conscious decision to make the back room as dark as we can.
Bryan Kasenic: From July 2007 until January of 2009, it was always just the back room. We were still weekly.
Derek Plaslaiko: We'd have really good weeks and some pretty shitty weeks. Unfortunately, the shitty weeks were always the ones that we were hoping people would trust us on.
Bryan Kasenic: [Starting] in January of 2009 we were only going to do monthly. It was a big shift in the party.
Derek Plaslaiko: I'll be honest: I was against it at first, for purely selfish reasons. I wanted a place to play every Friday.
Bryan Kasenic: The first monthly party was Marcel Dettmann and John Roberts. It seemed like so many people were so excited about that party that I contacted Public Assembly: "What do you have in the front room that night? I think we are going to throw a big enough party that it will allow both rooms to be open." It worked out really well.
Marcel Dettmann (DJ): I was really impressed. The Bunker is a really cool club with a perfect size and a great crowd—[an] extraordinary mix of people.
Bryan Kasenic: From then on, instead of going to 4 AM, we [went] to 6 AM; instead of booking one room, we [began] booking two rooms—all these huge shifts at once.
Eric Cloutier: Derek was always the backroom resident. I'll play the front room, 'cause I've got a house collection as well [as] techno.
Fred P (DJ): I met Bryan at an Underground Quality night [on February 6, 2009]. DJ Jus Ed had Anthony Parasole, DJ Qu, and myself on the lineup. The crowd is diverse and a cross-section of all types of heads, so it really gave the label a boost in terms of visibility.
DJ Qu (DJ): That particular party was a beauty. We did the tag-team thing and it flowed lovely. Definitely was sort of a "dream come true" for all of us to be able to play together on the same night, in the same club, for the same crowd. My 2010 Bunker appearance still runs clear in my mind today. The crowd pretty much directed my set for most of the night. I left with a sense of purpose.
Seze Devres: The last time Jus-Ed played for us [on November 4, 2011], there was a ton of dancers. He had an entourage of fancy dancers. It was kind of amazing.
Bethany Benzur (DJ, Kiss & Tell resident, 2009-present): There's no decoration at The Bunker. It's just a dark room and it's all about the sound, all about the music. Planning my sets almost completely revolves around what's going to sound amazing on The Bunker sound system.
Vicki Siolos (booking agent): I got into a car accident in spring [of 2009], and still hopped on the LIRR for Ben Klock and Sandwell District that April. I almost chickened out at the last moment, and to this day I am so glad that I didn't.
Bryan Kasenic: [August 7, 2009] was maybe the best MUTEK party we ever had. That broke the attendance record. Especially with the Communikey room: They were our friends from Boulder, they had booked me to play at Boulder at their festival.
Chris McNaughton: Bryan's [set] went over great. The crowds were really into it. Derek came into Boulder, slayed the place, and they started hiring him to come play at different parties in Denver. He's now a favorite. When he comes out, people go.
Bryan Kasenic: Through doing the MUTEK nights in New York and going up to that festival, [we've] established friendships with all those people; the same thing with Communikey. Those organizations are part of our extended North American family. There's just not a lot of people who do anything like what we do or who are interested in the music we're interested in on this entire continent.
Vicki Siolos: November '09, closing out the back room, DJ Pete was playing so hard that I couldn't take it. I ventured over to the front room, and Dan Bell was closing it out. It was incredible: He had pulled nearly everyone over from the back and had such a joyous, hands-in-the-air vibe going out for the final hour of the party. No one left.
Bryan Kasenic: Yeah, that party was amazing. I remember Dan was exceptionally good that night in the front room.
Seze Devres: When Bryan played in Panorama Bar on September 1, [Pete and René Löwe] were the first ones in the door to see him play. That party itself was amazing.
René Löwe (Vainqueur): It was the best night on the tour. It [felt] very much like being home.
René Löwe (left) and DJ Pete
Bryan Kasenic: Mat Schulz, who organizes Unsound, was in New York to meet with Goethe Institute and Polish Cultural Institute, who are the main organizations funding the festival. He was looking for places to [help] produce the events. He said, "You just produce the event and I'll give all the funding to make these more extreme line-ups that you wouldn't normally be producing."
Seze Devres: It was an insane amount of work. I've never seen Bryan work that hard on anything. It was the midterms of The Bunker. We almost dropped dead.
Cosmin TRG (DJ): There was this panel discussion during the day [of the February 13, 2010 Bass Mutations showcase], where it became quite clear that everyone was expecting a lot from that night. It was right at the time when a lot of producers formerly associated with other genres were attempting different formulas and branching out. So people expected neither the dubstep du jour, nor the more purist sort of 4/4, which resulted in freedom of expression for DJs and crowd.
Untold (DJ): It was a really special time, a very fast moving productive period where dubstep was expanding and lots of artists were experimenting and swapping music. I was able to turn up and drop an hour of unheard tracks. It was great to get such a hyped crowd reaction—a real eagerness to dance hard to the wildest tracks.
Dave Q: I remember distinctly the crazed response that "Footcrab" by Addison Groove received that night. I think both Untold and I played it, and both times people were freaking out.
Pavel Ambiont: Soon both of the venue rooms were totally packed—I didn't expect that. I especially enjoyed the 2562 set.
2562 / A Made Up Sound (DJ): Halfway into the night I went outside to bring in a friend, and there was still a huge queue of people waiting in the cold to get in, which I think was a pretty big deal for underground electronic music in the States. I hadn't seen it like that before on my tours over there. I started with a Cloud One track, as a nod to New York, and ended up playing for about four hours, well beyond the scheduled closing time.
FaltyDL (DJ): The highlight for me was 2562 closing the back room and everyone leaving while the sun was up.
Seze Devres: Praveen [Sharma] was another person who has been coming to the Bunker forever.
Bryan Kasenic: It was [Sepalcure's] first-ever show. They didn't even have a record out at that point.
Praveen Sharma (Sepalcure): This was a really big deal for us since we had yet to be signed to Hotflush, and hadn't even performed Sepalcure out yet. It felt like the perfect debut, to a packed room of our friends, at an impressive new event series in NYC.
Bryan Kasenic: [June 11, 2010] was a really wild night. That was actually a really fun week because Sean [Canty] and Miles [Whittaker] from Demdike Stare, and James Leyland Kirby [The Caretaker], who were all from Manchester, were staying at our house.
Seze Devres: Really fun, really smart guys who know too much about music. It was their first time in New York.
Bryan Kasenic: Those guys were here for a whole week. We were hanging out, we took them to Central Park and took them to eat at all the local bars. That was a very fun week.
Seze Devres: We took the week off work and showed them around the city.
Bryan Kasenic: Which we don't always have the time to do. Not all artists even want to do it.
Seze Devres: A lot of them just don't want to leave the house.
James Leyland Kirby (V/Vm; The Caretaker): I had planned a nice calm show. As I started, the visuals broke down, and all I could hear was this constant 4/4 beat over the ambience. I was hammering some whisky fast, and when one audience member said, "Lighten up," I decided to go renegade, V/Vm style. I then jumped over the table to this harsh V/Vm noise music and curled myself into a human bowling ball and tried to knock over and kick as many people as possible to change the energy in the room. When I came out of the roll I was by the visuals screen, which was a big sheet hung to the back wall. I jumped up and ripped this out from the ceiling. Then I cut the music and did this pitched down version of Lee Marvin's "I Was Born under a Wandering Star," walking amongst those I had been rolling in seconds before. After it was all over, Bryan told me it was either the best or worst show ever at The Bunker.
Derek Plaslaiko: [Leaving New York] was a really quick decision made in June of 2010, due to a really hard breakup. I got offered a job in Berlin, so I took it. Bryan basically said, "You always have a home here. Any time you want to play, it's fine."
Eric Cloutier: The current [Bunker] residents—me, Derek and Mike Servito—are all from Detroit. We all used to play at Untitled together, with Matthew Dear, Ryan Elliott, Seth Troxler, Tadd Mullinix and Todd Osbourne. We've all known each other forever. We basically transplanted here and got involved with a whole other party.
Mike Servito (DJ, The Bunker resident, 2012-present): Before I moved to New York in 2007, Derek Plaslaiko had always talked about Bryan and The Bunker parties and drew parallels to what we were doing in Detroit.
Erika Sherman (Interdimensional Transmissions): We all came through the early '90s Detroit rave scene—me and Derek and Brendan [Gillen] and Patrick Russell. There's a kind of warehouse party that we used to go to—six, eight, ten, twelve hours. We wanted to connect back to our roots. So in December 2008, we threw a 12-hour-long party with just four DJs on the bill. That was the first No Way Back. We want to keep everybody in one place and keep it really concentrated.
Bryan Kasenic: I got to the [Movement] festival every year and Derek wanted me to come to the first No Way Back during the festival in 2008. In 2009, we flew our door guy to Detroit. Nik, our sound guy, drove all the way . . .
Seze Devres: . . . from Philly . . .
Bryan Kasenic: . . . and set up his sound system in the venue. The people from [Interdimensional Transmissions] came to our parties there and were just like, "Wow." These guys thought Oslo [the venue] sucked, but Nik is an amazing sound guy.
Peter van Hoesen (DJ): Nik is a true wizard. He's very dedicated and extremely pleasant to work with. Then, during the night itself, it struck me that the crowd was quite responsive, not something I immediately expected from a NYC techno crowd.
Bryan Kasenic: [The Bunker's first No Way Back party, November 5, 2010] was a good one. That worked really well.
Gamall Awad (publicist): One of the most exciting things about The Bunker is Bryan's commitment to live artists. For me, seeing Morphosis improvise on the 808 [September 2, 2011] is one of the most exciting things I've seen at that club. The live gigs, the live experiments—putting Bee Mask on, putting Outer Space on, putting Keith Fullerton Whitman on in one room, then putting Ectomorph on in the other room—that's the spirit of the early '90s.
JD Emmanuel: I was surprised and pleased that Bryan felt I would be a good draw for his [June 15, 2012] program. It was a wonderful performance, mostly improvisational with a few prepared sequences to use as a foundation. I am an old guy, 63. I was amazed that I was able to stay up until 4 AM. I will be using one of Seze's watercolors on an album cover being released later this year.
Jacek Sienkiewicz: My show in a new, "upmarket" club was cancelled, so [Bryan] put together a semi-private party in a loft [on November 12, 2010] for a hundred people or so. The vibe was amazing, and so [were] the people. I suppose it's nicer to have a great crowd in a small loft in Brooklyn than at a commercial club in Manhattan.
Bryan Kasenic: That was the first time I used the [70 North 6th Street] Loft. A new club, District 36, got held up with one permit or the other, and the opening was delayed for months. I knew both [Sienkiewicz and 19.418.104.22.168.5.18] and was approached by them both independently. I'd had the idea to do loft parties for a while, but after we used that space, everybody loved it.
It was also a reaction against what I was seeing, not only happening at the Bunker, but also other parties around New York. I would really want to be taken on a journey, and to find out that the big headliner DJ would only get an hour or two, that always felt really disappointing. We had Speedy J at the seven-year anniversary, who played the whole eight hours, and I just really liked that idea of one DJ playing all night, or people playing extended sets.
70 North 6th Street loft
Peter van Hoesen: At The Bunker Limited [last] February I played the whole night, eight hours straight. That one really stood out for me. I could build a proper story, starting with experimental ambient music, dub, new beat, EBM, house, and then three or four hours of techno. The crowd really followed, and that's a very rewarding experience.
Bryan Kasenic: We used the Loft for after-hours with Derek playing for eight hours [for the eighth anniversary]. Optimo played eight hours in the front room, while Dozzy was playing eight hours in the back.
JD Twitch (Optimo): It's actually very rare that we get to play for eight hours. A lot of thought will go into what music we will bring with us for a set like that, and we'll dig really deep into our collections, pulling out records we love but that we very rarely get the chance to play in shorter sets.
Eric Cloutier: Dozzy and Peter [van Hoesen] were both resisting for a while. They know the bullshit at the border. They'd heard from other people [who've] been banned for ten years for bringing records in. It took a lot of wearing them down. Now they're lifers.
Donato Dozzy: It is one of my four unmissable gigs of the year.
Bryan Kasenic: There was a lot of running around, logistically.
Seze Devres: It was too much for us. It was a nightmare. It was my birthday party, too.
Bryan Kasenic: Around 2 AM, the head of security came up to me: "Yo, this loft party—your people aren't going to leave. We can only fit 150 people up in that loft, and you've got four or five times that in this building. You need to do wristbands." I was like, "Nah, people are just going to leave. Generally, 200 people at 6 AM is a good Bunker. It's going to work out." But nobody was leaving. At 5 o'clock, the back room, you couldn't move. The front room couldn't move. All of a sudden, we had to have a wristband system.
Derek Plaslaiko: I don't think Bryan will ever do that again just because a lot of people that really wanted to be up there got excluded. We didn't anticipate so many people being there at the end.
Seze Devres: Total strangers were coming up to me asking me for wristbands. It was really hectic and crazy.
Eric Cloutier: I got really high [that night], I'm not going to lie. We didn't leave upstairs until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Everybody didn't. We still had to pack up. Actually no—we didn't pack up. We were just too blotto. I think we just walked away: "Somebody else can deal with this."
Donato Dozzy: Staying at Bryan and Seze's place is part of the experience: The colours, the atmosphere, the space, the food, the neighborhood and, not last, the sound of the Reznor fan in wintertime.
Alex Smoke: I love the mad-as-fuck industrial heater in the ceiling.
Donato Dozzy: I love spending hours going through Bryan's absolutely ridiculous collection of music.
James Leyland Kirby: They are amazing hosts. I had an amazing night out with Sean Canty just trying to pick up girls in the local places.
JD Harrington (DJ): I've had the opportunity to get to know many of the artists. So many come back regularly and often stick around for a few extra days. To me, that's a really special aspect of the New York scene, and particularly around The Bunker, that I'm not sure exists in most cities.
Erika Sherman: It's probably the best place to crash after The Bunker. Sometimes there'll be a whole bunch of people over. A lot of times Seze will throw a dinner party for all the artists involved, which is really cool. Actually getting to have that sort of hosted hangout experience where you get to meet other cool artists—that's fantastic.
Bryan and Seze's place
Bryan Kasenic: Whenever possible, we try to have a dinner at our loft the night before the party, where everybody playing the party gets together. Seze and I buy a bunch of wine. I think it means a lot more to them, instead of the typical artist-promoter relationship, where you take them out to some expensive restaurant right before the gig. It helps with the flow of the party when they get to meet the residents [and] other artists. When it comes time for the party, everybody feels like they are on a team.
Seze Devres: They are really excited about that, actually.
Bryan Kasenic: There's not a lot of home-cooked meals for artists on the road. A lot of people, even if they are interested in good food and wine—which a lot of people in this field are—they're so tired and so busy that they'll arrive in Williamsburg, which is an insane culinary capital right now, and literally just walk into the first place they see because they just don't have time to do the research to find out the best place to go. Peter van Hoesen was just here for a whole week, and we made a bunch of breakfasts, and a bunch of lunches, and a bunch of dinners. We were cooking for him all week.
Seze Devres: The most successful parties are the ones you build from scratch.
Bryan Kasenic: It should be cohesive and work as a lineup, where everyone has the right music at the right time.
Dave Q: Anyone who has ever tried supporting underground dance music in New York knows how difficult it can be to pull off. The economic and logistical pressures are overwhelming. To keep the quality as consistently high as Bryan manages to do with The Bunker—for as long as he has—is a real testament his vision. The Bunker is the benchmark for anyone who tries to throw a party with interesting club music in New York.
JD Twitch: From the second one meets Bryan and Seze it is patently clear that The Bunker is 100% a labor of love. It's not just something they do. It's a way of life for them, which makes their parties very special to play.
Geeta Dayal: Bryan managed to create an actual, real community in a city like New York, where it feels lonely and isolating and alienating. I never felt unwelcome at The Bunker. I never felt it was too cool for me. It was certainly cool, but it was so inclusive.
Vicki Siolos: I consider some of these people as family.
Alex Smoke: It's not about hype and fads and backslapping bullshit. It's just like-minded people doing something because they love it. And the crowd can feel that too.
Bryan Kasenic: The Sandwell District party in March, where Silent Servant and Rrose and Function played, and the front room was Juju & Jordash and Morphosis—that was one of the coolest crowds that ever came to The Bunker: Goth kids, industrial kids, music nerds I've never seen before. That night it all came together.
I've been trying really hard to make more stuff like that happen. Of course, that's what I've been trying to do since the beginning of The Bunker, when we were doing the bands upstairs and the DJs downstairs—bridging the gap between all these scenes and bringing it all together. I'm just not interested in this group of party people who listen to groovy, chunky tech house. I just don't think that's interesting.
Seze Devres: It's definitely not interesting to us.
Eric Cloutier: I don't want to go to these flashy clubs with bottle service. It just doesn't seem correct for what we're doing and listening to.
Geeta Dayal: All the DJs know it's the party they have to play in New York. That's where they're going to have fun.
Lisa Hsu (door person, The Bunker): A lot people want to bargain at 3 AM: "It's so late." No, it's not late: We go until 6. Then at 5: "What? How can you still be charging?" But where else can you go at this time?
Seze Devres: We have a lot of guest beds. [laughs]
Additional thanks: Kenneth James Gibson, James Healy, Darshan Jesrani, Woody McBride, Adam X.
Published / Friday, 11 January 2013
Photo credits / Seze Devres (excluding Polar Bear Club shots)