Indie Memphis Saturday: Goodnight Brooklyn Chronicles The Last Days of New York's Hottest Music Venue

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Music documentaries are always a big draw at Indie Memphis, and this year music films get their very own category, called Sounds. One of the most acclaimed films in the category is Goodnight Brooklyn by first-time director Matthew Conboy

Noise rockers Lightening Bolt plays at Death By Audio in Goodnight Brooklyn.
  • Noise rockers Lightening Bolt plays at Death By Audio in Goodnight Brooklyn.

In 2005, when Conboy met Oliver Ackerman, he didn’t know it would change his life forever. Ackerman is the founder of Death By Audio, an small electronics company that makes guitar effects pedals beloved by musicians ranging from Wilco to Nine Inch Nails to U2. Ackerman and his company had taken over an abandoned industrial space in Brooklyn where he lived and worked. “He had a tiny little closet to build pedals in. I started building pedals with him. It became a full time thing with me. That lasted about a year before I started our music venue, which I also called Death By Audio, because I thought it was important for people to know about the awesome pedals that were made there.”

The music venue in question was a formerly disused space downstairs from the loft where Conboy and Ackerman and friends lived and worked. Thanks to a series of high profile shows by up and coming bands like Future Islands, it soon became known as one of the best music venues in New York. “We were a non-profit. Our goal was not to fill the bank account. We were just trying to make enough money to keep it going. We were mostly focusing on building a community, and having it be something that was really fun. That old school DIY mentality is pretty hard to do these days here.”
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Conboy says giving artists a place to experiment and find their audience is a vital cultural priority. “I think it’s important if you want to live in a vibrant, compelling society, you need spaces for people to do their art and make things. I think that it really helps if those spaces are less concerned with profits and more concerned with really great ideas. That’s the kind of mentality that fosters new music, and lets the artists that no one gives a shit about right now but who are brilliant and just at the beginning of their career, it allows them a space to develop. And I think you see that in the film. There’s a lot of bands who started out at Death By Audio, playing their first shows or just their first shows in New York, who become pretty famous and pretty successful. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, any time I had gone to those kind of spaces in my teens and early twenties, it was a thrilling experience. You’re kind of in it with the people who were there. It’s not an us-vs-them situation, like you might get in an arena. If you are a young person looking for inspiration, that’s the kind of environment that makes you say, ‘I have an idea, and I’m going to fucking go for it!’ Amazing things can happen from that.”
Director Matthew Conboy
  • Director Matthew Conboy

But in 2014, Death By Audio’s experiment in musical freedom fell victim to gentrification. Ironically, it was Vice Media, the counterculture news and media outlet, that made the deal to occupy the venue’s space. With two months to go on their lease, the partners decided to go out with a bang, booking the biggest and wildest shows of their eight-year run. When Conboy told producer Amanda Schultz about the space’s impending demise, she urged him to make a film about the experience. “I’m really glad that she convinced me,” Conboy says. “People came out of the woodwork offering to help. It was so moving.” 

Goodnight Brooklyn was Conboy’s directorial trial by fire, shot while the venue was going full tilt into oblivion. “It was a really traumatic time, especially with all of our stuff getting destroyed,” he says. “We felt like the world was crumbling around us. Most of us weren’t really sleeping a lot, and at the same time, we were dealing with tons of stress, and everyone was taking on more than they could handle. The recipe for a fiasco is reaching just beyond your grasp and not making it. But the recipe for greatness is that you do that and you make it. I feel like we achieved some level of greatness.”

Conboy took the lessons in collaboration he had learned in the music world and applied them to his filmmaking. “So much of being the director is just being the person who has thought about this thing the most. The strength I hope I have, and that most good filmmakers do have, is that even with all of your vision and preparation, if someone comes along with a better idea, you can listen to them and make your movie better. There were countless times on this film where that happened.”


Goodnight Brooklyn screens at Studio on the Square on Saturday, November 5 at 3:50 PM. You can purchase tickets and passes at the Indie Memphis website.


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