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  • Writer's pictureBella Ve

Indie Sleaze Reprisal

A quick note from Hailo:

I met two of the Hot Literati ‘24 writers at a show my mate put on for the debut of their EP. I was a little nervous to meet them because I wanted them to like me and I felt like they had narrative advantage, like I had to live up to something. I was a little intimidated by Bella because of her natural confidence. After Victoria got into a car, Bella and I shared a quietly eager goodbye. I wondered what, if anything, I could teach her this year. I got the sense that I would be learning a good bit from her. I think we all will.

The three of us shared a nice evening:

Here is Bella’s version of it:

I’ll get to the point straight away. I’m a native New Yorker and so by nature I’m jaded, I’m jaundiced, and I’m generally better than everyone (I’m kidding) (kind of). Having said this, it should come as no surprise that I’m walking through Bed-Stuy with a self-hating superiority. The streets of Bed Stuy are crawling with transplants, i.e. hipster kids with cool clothes and septum piercings. They’re actively gentrifying the neighborhood. And while I myself am not a gentrifier nor a transplant, I sure do look like one. I’m a young kid wearing what I hope are hip, cool clothes and it can be hard to differentiate myself. I don’t hate transplants, but I do hate to be mistaken for one.

Sometimes I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that art, and artist communities, often coincide with the reordering of neighborhoods. Artists are broke, so they move into affordable places to make their art. Artists are also cool, so by the effect of osmosis they make a neighborhood cool and desirable and noticeable to rich people. And once those rich people catch wind of that coolness, they move in and rents start to rise. It isn’t long before the identity of the neighborhood is transformed, and the original inhabitants face displacement because they can’t afford to live there anymore. These places, and what they once were, cease to exist. Bed Stuy is smack in the middle of this process. And here I am, caught in the crossfire.

My greatest fears include heights, death, and egg salad. To be perceived as an out of towner is chief among them. Walking into the one room venue where I’m meeting Hailey and Victoria, I think to myself, well, this is it. Bed Stuy’s gotta be doomed if the cool kids are hosting their techno shows here.

Cool kids are, by definition, cool: they are naturally beautiful, charismatic, and stylish, are equal parts aloof and ethereal, boast effortlessly glamorous Instagram profiles, wear sunglasses at night, and have a general aura of popularity.

Hailey isn’t there yet and neither is Victoria. I’m not nervous about meeting them, except, I am a bit worried they might be bitchy, because I cannot stand bitchiness, and what is it they say about never meeting your heroes? I’ve been reading Hailey’s blog for a long time now, and even though I feel like I know her I know that I don’t. I’m here all alone, and time is moving slow, and it’s painful to be by myself in a room full of cool kids. But people are just people, and I’m a person too. So I try to make friends.

My first two attempts are flops. The person to my right is uninterested in talking to me. The person to my left is making me nervous because he’s an average looking white boy in a Carhart jacket, and by God if my first instinct isn’t to fall in love with him. But that’s not the point of tonight. I turn around and make surface level conversation with the girls sitting behind me, and it turns out they are Interent friends meeting for the first time. I don't tell them that I’m doing the same because I don’t really feel like explaining and I also don’t really think they’d care.

I spot Hailey from across the room, and I have to stare for a while to make sure it’s her. Now we’re making prolonged eye contact, and I wonder if she remembers what I look like. It’s clear I’ll have to make the first move. Squeezing through the people sitting to my former left and right, I make my way over. She’s in a giant fur trapper hat, and a huge camo printed t-shirt that says Hot Literati on it. She stares blankly for a few moments after my wavering “hello.” I can feel my heart drop. I tell her my name and her face lights up. She gives me an excited “hey!” and we’re soon passing get-to-know-yous back and forth. Victoria joins us soon after. Thankfully, neither of them are bitches. I can tell it’ll be an easygoing night. We make jokes and try to connect on common ground, like how our first exposure to the Rocky Horror Picture Show was through the Glee episode.

The music begins and I have to remind myself that this place is but a step up from the DIY shows I frequented in college. For every act I find enjoyable, there’s about ten I find excruciating. But it takes courage to perform your art in front of a room full of strangers, and so I admire them anyway.

In between sets kids step out for their smoke breaks, even though lighting up inside is clearly not out of the question. Hailey asks if we want to as well. I say I’m taking a break from partying, it’s dry January (though before the end of the month I’ll start calling it damp January), and Hailey giggles. “Partying isn’t a prerequisite to joining Hot Literati,” she says.

The cold stings my cheeks and it feels good. The windows of the venue have started to fog up from the heat inside. We stand in front of the barber shop next door and I watch the guys inside laughing at a joke I can’t hear. On a trip to the deli across the street, Hailey struggles to communicate her preference for blue raspberry sour straws with the guy behind the counter who only speaks Spanish. Bed Stuy still has all of the hallmarks of old New York. It’s got a barber shop, a real one, rather than a charming and delicate hair salon. It has a deli where English isn’t the first language, and maybe isn’t even the second language. Vestiges of the neighborhood hang on. But for how long? I wonder.

Hailey asks what we think of the night. “It’s very Brooklyn,” I muster up, and we laugh, because it is. She asks if it would be right to say that I grew up in the era of indie sleaze and I say, yes, I grew up at the epicenter of it. In my own post-gentrified part of Brooklyn, the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint were once hot spots for artists, cheap beer, and cool venues like this one. Today we are the proud home of a Whole Foods across from an Apple store next to an Alo Yoga.

This place, in Bed Stuy, is about as hipster as it gets. It reminds me of Brooklyn, my Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn that I never got close enough to touch. I was too young to go to shows like this one. By the time I aged into it all of the one room venues had closed down, or started charging high covers, or were replaced by expensive boutiques that no longer catered to the needs of the young working artist class.

We go back inside the venue and I look around. Burnt palo santo sticks lay on a table near the front and I smell them mixing with clouds of weed smoke. The music is so loud I could swear my ears are bleeding. Kids drink cans of booze out of paper bags and I see the Strawberitas I sipped with my friends in public parks when we were fourteen and experimenting with alcohol for the first time. I’m reminded of being young and being in New York. That’s what these people are now. That’s what I am. We’re just kids.

Later, Hailey endearingly tells me that I’m a hater but that's why she picked me. I think that’s what it means, to me, to be a New Yorker. I’m not necessarily a hater but a skeptic. Territorial might be the word. And as sure as I’m skeptical and jaded and jaundiced and all the rest, I’m still hopeful. I’m still excited for the year I’ll spend writing for Hot Literati. These thoughts settle into me then, when I’m walking home after the night is over and the rain is falling ever so lightly that a mist casts over the streets and the cars. Everything seems a little bit more romantic, and there's a mural which says BROOKLYN, and I’m smiling.


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