By Meredith Webb
Welcome to another edition of Hot Noise where this week we will be focusing on the lesser-publicized but just as exciting borough of Queens. Yes, yes we all know Brooklyn is uber-out-of-this-world cool right now and Long Island and New Jersey are home to some of punk rocks finest, but what about Queens people? What about Queens??
This beloved borough has spawned some of the finest musicians in history including rock’n’roll royalty THE RAMONES, SICK OF IT ALL, hip hop’s RUN DMC and more, and one man is doing his gosh darned best to get this neighbourhood back on track and on the musical map. Richard J Parker – head honcho at Taking Back Queens – is an avid music fan who got off his ass and decided to do something positive for his borough and the musically-inclined youth within it.
“The Taking Back Queens initiative originally started in 2003 based on the idea that my friends in pop punk/emo bands from Queens would book shows here and get acts from neighboring Long Island and New Jersey to come through Queens” he explains. “But suddenly all the labels at the time like Victory, Drive Thru, Vagrant, Fueled by Ramen, they were all going after the Long Island and Jersey acts. Or they were giving them opportunities to play with Jimmy Eat World and Alkaline Trio at the Wayne Firehouse or the Hicksville VFW. I looked at friends’ bands I knew and thought ‘You know, with a little bit of elbow grease we could have that too.’ So I started booking shows in New Jersey with half the bill being Queens bands and half being our NJ friends who made sure there was a crowd.”
Though these early days proved fruitful Taking Back Queens took a prolonged hiatus, only to be resurrected by Parker not so long ago.
“Its most recent incarnation came to be when I saw a pop punk band about a year ago in Brooklyn that reminded me of the years 1999-2000, when I first really got into this kind of music. I did some poking and prodding for the next year or so, studying bands, going to shows more frequently, and then said ‘You know what… we have to be able to do this again somewhere in Queens.’ I had the time and the passion and decided to bring it back.”
Booking bands in a city like New York is no easy task and can make even the most seasoned booker run for the hills, but Parker has stood his ground regardless and is truly in it for that old cliché – the music.
“I have absolutely no musical background other than being a fan” he admits. “I wanted to be a writer most of my life, and I always respected how punk rock meant you could write a song and get it to your audience so fluidly, without the more arbitrary revision and publishing hurdles you have with say movies or prose. There’s something very organic, raw, and full of passion there. And to this day, I hear the drumming to a good skate punk band and still think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I imagine myself rocking out and playing Tony Hawk. I want to put on Vans and cargo shorts and go get a burrito before going to a show. To get in a pit and make an ass of myself skanking all night. Of course my body and age don’t always agree with me, but feel lucky I haven’t mentally outgrown any of that.”
Being a punk rock kid myself the above is something I can truly relate to – except for the fact I was completely shit at Tony Hawk. I was more of a Tekken girl myself. But I digress…
And so the Taking Back Queens ethos was born. The initiative has been going strong throughout the borough of late and averages 2 shows per month, all of which are all ages. In a city which caters heavily towards 21+ shows and can often leave kids high and dry when it comes to music, this comes as a refreshing change.
“There has to be a kid out there who reminds me of “teenage me” who probably needs shows in his life.” says Parker. “Even if it’s just to not go to them, that presence of a scene needs to be there to reject. There are other promoters running other spaces and doing a bang-up job elsewhere. I’m focusing on keeping our (Queens’) cog in the big machine running the smoothest it can. I’m 29-years-old now. This is me giving back, chaperoning school dances for people who hate school dances.”
And what do the kids of Queens think of all this?
“The initiative has been received pretty well” Parker says. “We’re proud to be a drug and alcohol free-space and are sponsored by a truly great afterschool program called Windows of Opportunity. They are all about empowering tomorrow’s youth and inspiring change. WOO has been collecting a very modest take from the show’s door sales and has already put it back into the space – replacing its PA, soundproofing the room, even setting up a fully functional booth in one of the back lofts. Past that they’re looking to set up a makeshift recording studio where new bands – for example high school students who don’t have jobs or savings – can produce a demo for free or even get hands-on experience in engineering recording other bands. So WOO and TBQ plan on having a long-lasting relationship with the youth in this borough.”
Not bad for a fan-based initiative. It seems TBQ and WOO are definitely spearheading positive change in the Queens borough and giving kids the chance to showcase their talents and learn the tricks of the trade, something that may have not been so present prior to their incarnation.
“There was always a scene before we started doing shows – to think otherwise would be arrogant and disrespectful” admits Parker. “But a lot of these spaces are bars or legitimate venues that are in the business of making money.
Nobody begrudges them for that, but it creates tense situations where a high school band (for example) can’t build a following because the only local shows are 21+ and usually have some sort of crowd draw requirement. Most bands in Queens do not have that kind of following because they’re not to that standard yet. I feel their needs to be that all-ages feeder system for venues to know who is worth booking. It’s like a food chain and we’re very happy to serve the role we do.”
So it seems the Queens community is super supportive of the work Parker and co are doing, none more than their venue of choice, The Hollis Woods Community Church.
“It may be a church, but it’s clean and it’s run by awesome people who are musicians. They fully understand the culture and personality types of bands and kids who come to shows. That’s always refreshing” explains Parker. “It has risers we assemble into a stage, it has a backstage area for load-in, it has stage lights and potential for a sound booth, it has tables and couches for the bands to sell merch. Whenever a band comes to play they’re so moved by the fact we go out of our way to take care of them and let them play this church basement that, if you didn’t know better, you’d swear was DESIGNED to host punk rock shows.”
Is there anything this church basement doesn’t have?! I think I read somewhere that Jesus loves punk rock so none of this comes as a surprise to me.
With Richard J Parker being the punk-rock messiah of Queens that he is, who better to ask than he for the low down on music coming from this fine borough, past and present. Take note my children, for the following is a Queens testament on how to rock the flock.
“I want you to ask me this question again in a year because I’ve always said today’s opener is tomorrow’s headliner…” proclaims Parker. “Gone by Friday (pop punk in the vein of Blink 182 and Face to Face), Little Lucy (experimental groove-rock in the vein of Frank Zappa), The Habit (by way of Brooklyn but friends with all of us), Go Big (by way of Long Island – think The Partridge Family meets fun. meets Ben Folds Five), and Your Boy for Life (“white boy” hip hop served with a dose of wit and sarcasm). These are some up-and-comers you should definitely keep an ear out for.”
Any old favourites we should know about?
“Unstoppable Death Machines (noise-punk wizards), Endwell (hardcore band that’s been doing their thing well over a decade), The Unlovables (sugar-coated bubble gum pop punk), A Moment’s Worth (by way of the Bronx, but with members tied to Queens), and Patent Pending (by way of Long Island – played the Billboard Music Awards last year)”.
So there you have it folks. Go forth and spread the word of Queens – for it is good, and it is great.
https://takingbackqueens.tumblr.com – https://www.facebook.com/TakingBackQueens
https://eisenbergacdmy.wpengine.com/main/ – https://www.facebook.com/wooinc