East Village Radio (EVR), the internet radio station that kept a storefront on East 1st Street and 1st Avenue and had some of the most thorough, eclectic, and loving programming of anyone broadcasting, will shutter forever tonight, the victim of skyrocketing licensing costs and peaking rents.
Not to be that guy, but at this present moment I'm feeling like new New York fucking sucks, and Bill deBlasio better swing in on his Spidey rope to save us ASAP before every one of our coolest institutions is submerged, Atlantis-like, in a sea of corpo condominiums inhabited by wack rich people with no taste. That goes doubly for the endangered internet, which brought EVR over a million listeners a month.
But, you know, it's personal. I first became aware of the studio around 2005, after my friend, the DJ Nick Catchdubs, started a show called The Let Out for his then-editorial job at The FADER. At that time, the studio was covered in ugly blonde wood paneling and clipboards hung from the walls, making it look very much like a rundown livery cab dispatch office—far from the sleek, mirror-covered booth it came to be. A couple of years later, I became the FADER's executive editor and began co-hosting The Let Out myself, where I booked artists like Hudson Mohawke and SBTRKT before they were all up in your bloglines. Over the years, my fellow DJs brought a weird, awesome potpourri of marquee artists into the tiny booth, up to and including Drake, Jessie Ware, Ellie Goulding, Danny Brown, Amy Winehouse, Natasha Lyonne, and Lou Reed.
When I left The FADER in 2010, I kicked off my own EVR show, Universópolis, where I played dance music from all over the globe but especially rooted in Latin America and the diaspora. Over the years I developed some signature tracks—Teehn Bwitches' trap-protest song "México" after the 2012 election (or, in the song's rubric, "election") of Enrique Peña Nieto; Bomba Estereo's transcendental freedom ballad "Pajaros"; La Insuperable and Chimbala's "Damelo" as 2013's perfect summer jam. Nothing made me happier than when someone came off the street to ask what song I was playing, or told me they loved my cumbias or, simply, danced in front of the booth. Simultaneously, people around the world would tweet at me about the music I was playing, having discovered the show by Googling the more obscure artists that showed up on my playlist, or having heard about the show word-of-mouth from the guests I booked from around the world. In-studio, I hosted musicians from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, London, The Bay; I received missives from listeners in Panama, Sweden, South Africa, Brazil, Boston. Each EVR DJ cultivated their own fanbase like that, little by little, until this super-local outlet had transformed into an important conduit for new music unto the world.
Tonight, East Village Radio will air its last-ever, four-hour broadcast at 8 p.m., which will consist of a sendoff playlist, fond memorials from DJs, and an epic final song which is currently still being debated. (Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" is at the top of the list, a choice that reflects EVR's devotion to perpetuating the neighborhood's punk spirit.) If you happen to be on 1st and 1st before midnight tonight, you'll likely see a swarm of folks on the sidewalk around the booth, current and former DJs paying our last respects and watching the security gate clamor down in front of the glass for one last time.
New York City prides itself on being a place where strangers commune. Manhattan, especially, enjoys an "anything can happen" mythos as celebrated through film, literature, and song, as if the entire island were constantly on the brink of a meet-cute. In the decade I've lived here, though, random stranger interactions seem to have diminished as the city has been tamed (barring catcalls and street harassment, of course), as though its increasing class divisions have created physical distance in the day-to-day, a place where even on the subway barely anyone deigns to make eye contact with a Showtime dancer. (Think about that: some people can't bother to look up when A DUDE IS ACROBATICALLY SWINGING ON A POLE IN FRONT OF THEIR FACES. Yo, why did you move here, even?)
But East Village Radio was one notable exception—it has been a rare place where strangers could interact, both from inside the booth or walking by on the street—with absolutely no expectation of commerce, in a city that is largely defined by commerce. Sometimes these interactions were caustic: There was the dude who, one month, repeatedly stopped by my show to snottily tell me that "girls can't DJ," even if I was banging some bonkers Angolan kuduro, the likes of which his sorry ass ain't ever heard. Two summers ago, a woman wandered into the booth and announced crisply that she was tripping on acid, asked my friends and me how we thought we would die, then promptly tried to fight me. (I managed to usher her out before she was done removing her earrings, my homegirls at my back.)
Mostly, though, I spent every Saturday having impromptu parties with swathes of curious tourists, neighborhood kids, and day-drunk dudes who'd peek in their heads, chat with me for a bit, give me a pound, and keep it moving, the embodiment of NYC street-peeper culture. It was a fishbowl unto the world, and you know what they say: if you're lost, stay put, because someone will find you eventually.
Some days at EVR it felt like everyone found me. The best people-watching spot on the planet. For years, one of my favorite things about being inside that fishbowl was watching the employees at the drag cabaret bar Lucky Cheng's saunter into the bodega across the street, casually picking up cigarettes in full stage make-up and skimpy ensembles made of feathers and pearls. But Lucky Cheng's closed, too, thanks to rising rents. It relocated, ironically, to Times Square.
Of course, EVR's most important quality was the range of music it brought to the world. Their programming was literally "every type of music"—metal and hardcore, techno and house, hip-hop and salsa, politics and personalities converged in a jumble and it was no thing, reflecting the way the internet, at its best, has dissolved the arbitrary divisions of genre. In the "keep the East Village weird" style, the staff took the legacy of their location seriously. As owner Frank Prisinzano and station director Peter Ferraro wrote in Billboard, "We were giving the world access to one of the most important musical neighborhoods on the planet via our live DJs. When you know that, you don't sell it out. You nurture it." And sometimes, you've gotta just let it go.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is a writer in Brooklyn who tweets @jawnita.
[Photo by Jim Cooke]