Culture

How to Start a D.I.Y. Venue: The Story of XPO 929

Culture

How to Start a D.I.Y. Venue: The Story of XPO 929

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When XPO 929 first opened its doors to the public in January 2010, it must have been easy to see how the place was a D.I.Y. punk’s wet dream: a cavernous four-story building with open floors, high ceilings, a basement and a back alley—all in accessible part of Brooklyn that was unspoiled by gentrification and impervious to noise complaints, as the neighbors were mostly commercial and already subjected to the regular roar of the overhead JMZ subway lines. If there was ever a place to start a music venue, this was it. What was less apparent from the outset was the amount of work that would be necessary to get the building at 929 Broadway into working condition. “We were naively audacious in a ridiculous way,” says Jonny Aquadora, one of the founders of XPO 929, and its current manager.

The building had been standing since at least the 1930s and bore the marks of almost a century of use and abuse. Every time it rained, water fell from busted pipes in the ceiling, spurring on the rampant mold that was eating away at everything wooden, including the collapsing staircases. At various times, 929 Broadway had housed a furniture shop, a hardware store, a restaurant, and, most recently, a party supply store. Its basement was filled with broken furniture, rotting wooden pallets, rusty old tools, National Geographic-caliber spiders, and hundreds of boxes of Halloween costumes, party decorations, and novelties. But before XPO 929 could be repaired, cleaned up, or even leased, Aquadora needed money.

Opening The Glass Door

“I came to New York to play music, did a couple of different jobs, and wasn’t able to make music or do anything I wanted,” says Aquadora. At 31, he still looks like a prototypical punk, with long brown hair and tattoos down to his knuckles, but he’s soft spoken and frequently pauses between his words, creating an air between that of a contemplative intellectual and a dazed stoner. “In New York, it’s so hard because the cost of living is higher, and you have to work so much to make it that you never have time for anything else.”

A Michigan native, Aquadora left college in 2000 to pursue music full-time, as one of the founding members of the post-hardcore band Brazil. He parted ways with the group in 2001, starting a solo project, Aquadora, that eventually landed him in Burlington, Vermont, where he met a girl and settled down for four years. During that time, he ran The Narthex, a venue that doubled as his home. It was this experience that Aquadora drew upon when figuring out how to make it in New York while still being free to make music. “I had to look for a place where I could live, and other people could live and that we could use as a venue.” It was a simple enough plan, but it came with one huge hurdle: how to do it without any money.

Still, Jonny was able to make it work. In December 2008, he rented out a space in Brooklyn that came to be known as The Glass Door, named after the inconspicuous entrance to the venue/recording studio/home of eight. “We got the place, rented out the rooms to other people, and then used that paper for the space. That was a gamble because we didn’t have the money when we got the place. We literally spent four or five days putting up Craigslist ads, got the deposits, paid the rent and it worked.” Looking back on what made The Glass Door successful, Jonny sums it up simply: “Blind determination and no foresight.”

After passing through the literal glass door at street level, visitors ascended a narrow staircase to the second floor, which led to a hallway covered in graffiti, cigarette ash, and the occasional empty beer can. To the right, there were locked doors which led to venue’s six bedrooms for its eight-ish residents. Toward the rear, the space opened up to a large room, which served as a recording studio and an event space for shows and parties. And for the 11 months it was in operation, The Glass Door did well—too well.

“We recorded a lot in the space during the daytime and put on shows during the night. Two or three or four times during the week, we had shows. The shows started getting bigger, and we started having parties. It was more than the owner wanted,” says Aquadora. In late 2009, The Glass Door’s landlord attempted to evict Aquadora and the rest of the tenants. They countersued on the basis of the building being a complete shithole. Aquadora eventually settled with the landlord and left. The settlement would provide the seed money for what would eventually become XPO 929.