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At a Space in Queens, Avant-Music Plus Community

Inside Trans Pecos (photo by Maximus Comissar)
Inside Trans-Pecos (photo by Maximus Comissar for Brooklyn Spaces)

The Pecos River runs through New Mexico and Texas, forming a locale in the latter state colloquially known as Trans-Pecos. Also referred to as Far West Texas, it’s a coarse region famous for its rough topography, Terlingua chili cook-off, and in recent years, revitalized arts economy.

Prada Marfa is the region’s most ubiquitous work, a roadside monument to cosmopolitan frippery installed by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. To drivers nearing Marfa on US 90, the Prada façade appears on the desert horizon like a bourgeoisie mirage.

Trans-Pecos, a “new music” venue and community space in Ridgewood, borrows its name from the Texas land for its vague sovereignty. Located on the north side of Wyckoff Avenue, it’s officially a residence of Queens; but off the L and just a few stops east of Jefferson, it’s also in fraught, pre-gentrified Brooklyn territory.

On a crisp Saturday afternoon, Todd Patrick, better known as Todd P, Trans-Pecos’s founder and the man behind such legendary Brooklyn alternative spaces as 285 Kent and Silent Barn, picks up crumpled papers from the venue’s massive cement yard.

The outdoor grounds, leased from another owner, are a vital addition to the former Silent Barn space. After letting a new management team take over, Silent Barn was shut down in 2011 for non-compliance with local zoning laws. It has since moved to Bushwick, but Todd, whose name was still on the lease, stuck around and founded a new, legal, space with a self-selecting audience and a more muted presence.

Trans Pecos (photo by Kit Crenshaw for Brooklyn Spaces)
Trans-Pecos (photo by Kit Crenshaw for Brooklyn Spaces)

Affectionately dubbed the “urban blight beer garden” by its caretakers, the yard is more Zen than its industrial environs would suggest, save for a glowering mutt on the other side of a chain link fence. Todd’s three-year-old son climbs over a handsome new picnic table, while a few carpenters draw plans on another at the other end of the lot. The adjacent building is home to a separate woodshop and carpentry studios. Inside, Todd’s father, James Patrick, waits at a lone table near the center of the floor. He’s using the space to promote his first novel, a political thriller titled Blood Profits: The Lithium Conspiracy.

“We’re hyperaware of the fact that most venues are just rooms with the lights off all day long,” Todd reasons, “and so we really want to make sure the space gets use all around.”

“Difficult listening” — as opposed to easy— is how Todd half-jokingly describes Trans-Pecos’s “new music” palate: an umbrella term for experiments in drone, noise, and metal, and a rarefied taste that appeals to few. An avant-music venue with café and gallery space in a predominantly working-class, Latino section of Ridgewood could have the same hallucinatory effect as Prada Marfa, sans the cheeky humor.

Inside Trans Pecos (photo by Kit Crenshaw for Brooklyn Spaces) (click to enlarge)
Inside Trans-Pecos (photo by Kit Crenshaw for Brooklyn Spaces) (click to enlarge)

But if the programming clashes with the environs, then Trans-Pecos has found other ways to mesh with its surroundings. An unmarked entrance connotes more respect than exclusivity. And on certain evenings, middle-schoolers pile up at the same wooden tables where music aficionados smoke and socialize between sets. For children without internet access at home, Trans-Pecos fills the wifi gap after the school bell rings.

The space also houses rehearsals for music groups formed through AHRC New York City, a charitable organization for the developmentally and intellectually disabled. Sam Hillmer of the band Zs and Diamond Terrifier, a Trans-Pecos curator, create beats for AHRC groups, while Christian Joy, a friend of Todd and the designer of Karen O’s wardrobe, crafts costumes.

Inclusion seems to be a priority for Trans-Pecos, perhaps because of the narrow appeal of its wares. A typical act eschews melodies and rhythm for eardrum-shattering pitches and rattling reverberations. But the space’s open, unpretentious layout tempers the intensity of the experience. Todd describes the design as an invitation back to a four-band bill and a DIY atmosphere — this time with spotless bathrooms.

On Saturday, MoMA PS1 will host a lineup of Trans-Pecos-chosen performances in conjunction with the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF). Printed Matter, NYABF’s organizer, originally contacted Todd in 2012 to book a few acts on behalf of Showpaper, his biweekly newspaper advertising all-ages indie shows. This year, instead of a one-set showcase, musical acts will coincide with the fair’s panels for the duration of the day. But make no mistake — these are not background musicians. The acts, which span hip-hop, rap rock , and nu metal, were chosen for their discord with what Todd characterizes as the “delicate, dainty side of publishing.” It’s a punk gesture, but also, for Todd, a circuitous route to representation.

Alex Drewchin, aka King Conqubine, will be performing at the book fair with a high-energy dance group. “The human body radiates a lot of energy, and these artists in particular are flaming,” she says. “It’s going to warm everything up big time, and stir the pot.”

King Conqubine performing at Trans Pecos (photo by Erez Avissar)
King Conqubine performing at Trans-Pecos (photo by Erez Avissar)

Eric “Sporting Life” Adiele of hip-hop group Ratking is a born-and-raised Washington Heights artist who curates for Trans-Pecos and will also be playing on Saturday. Aside from meeting Todd’s qualifier of “people who are awesome right now,” Ratking is expected to also draw a local fanbase more likely to spend their Saturdays at skate parks than MoMA PS1.

“I think there’s something that can be done about bridging the gap between the transplants and people who grew up here,” Adiele says of New York’s many DIY scenes. “We need Puerto Ricans in experimental music. We need black kids. We need white kids. We need everybody.”

Todd’s reasoning is similar, but he also carries some obvious moral weight about his past ventures’ influence in gentrification and the establishment of the Brooklyn we know today.

“I think for the most part, the people that it affects have no say, which is sad,” he says. But with mega-sized condos being erected around the corner, Todd believes that Trans-Pecos will be the least of his neighbors’ worries.

His rationalization doesn’t ring so much of apology as it does of determination. He takes a realist’s approach, recognizing that there’s no way of appeasing everyone, and that striving too hard to do so can amount to “lip service” and a sacrifice of integrity.

The yard at Trans Pecos (photo by Maximus Comissar)
The yard at Trans-Pecos (photo by Maximus Comissar for Brooklyn Spaces)

So far, Todd thinks Trans-Pecos has navigated these prickly issues without compromise. Drewchin describes a recent encounter where she was joined by a gaggle of Hispanic teen girls while rehearsing at a local park. She persuaded them to come to her show that evening at Trans-Pecos.

“I was starting the King Conqubine set when I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone dancing super hard so early in the set,” she describes. Spotting the girls she’d met earlier that evening near the front, she realized they had riled up the entire crowd. “They raged it right up front for my whole performance,” she recalls with affection.

Next month, a cafe serving breakfast and lunch will open in the space. Todd describes his plans: “The idea is there will be people out here laptopping away while these community programs are going on,” he says, before adding, “And if they don’t like it they don’t have to come.”

The performances curated by Trans-Pecos and Showpaper for the 2014 New York Art Book Fair will take place all day September 27 at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Queens).

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