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NYC Knitting Factory to be moved

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 6:27 pm    Post subject: NYC Knitting Factory to be moved Reply with quote

The New York Times reports: Jared Hoffman has a vision for the Knitting Factory: smaller, leaner and outside of Manhattan. Far outside.

For 21 years the nightclub has been a symbol of downtown New York music, gaining an international reputation for an eclectic, finger-on-the-pulse aesthetic. At the Knitting Factory’s original location on East Houston Street on the Lower East Side, and at 74 Leonard Street in TriBeCa, where it moved 14 years ago, jazz has mingled with punk, avant-garde rock, hip-hop and underground sounds of all types.

But Mr. Hoffman, who took over five years ago, is betting on a plan for the future that will involve a lower local profile in Brooklyn and a big role in two cities distant from downtown New York in every way: Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash.

This week the New York club, the headquarters of a company that also includes a club in Los Angeles, won community board approval to begin moving into 361 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the former site of the Luna Lounge. In TriBeCa the Knitting Factory has three performances spaces, the largest holding 400 people, but in Brooklyn it will have only one room, for 300 or fewer. Two weeks ago “Knitting Factory Concert House” signs went up outside larger halls in Boise (capacity 1,000) and Spokane (1,500) that the company recently acquired.

“We don’t have to be the biggest kids in New York City to be the Knitting Factory,” Mr. Hoffman, 45, said in the Leonard Street front room one recent afternoon as a parade of tattooed young men lugged in the night’s cargo of amplifiers. “What we do have to have is a pipeline that brings us the most exciting new music from the cities where the newest, most exciting new music is being created.”

The survival of the Knitting Factory may depend on a big change. The Leonard Street building was recently sold, and while the club’s lease runs through next July, Mr. Hoffman said it has no future in increasingly upscale TriBeCa. And though its once-renowned bookings have remained strong in niches like hardcore punk, noise-rock and independent hip-hop, the club has slipped down the status ladder as newer, sleeker rooms like the Bowery Ballroom have become popular. Blank spots have begun to dot the Kniting Factory’s calendars, along with once unthinkably unhip events like battles of the bands.

“The Knitting Factory has struggled to define itself ever since it lost its emphasis as a center for avant-garde jazz,” said Tom Windish, a booking agent whose roster includes indie stars like ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, HOT CHIP and JUSTICE. “The quality of the lineups went down as the distance from their roots increased.”

In New York competition for bookings has grown fierce with the rise of a turf war among the dominant concert promoters, Live Nation and The Bowery Presents, leaving less powerful clubs squeezed out.

The Los Angeles branch of the Knitting Factory, which opened in 2000, is also struggling. Next week it faces a public zoning hearing over a building-use permit that could result in its closing, though Mr. Hoffman said he was confident that the issue could be resolved.

“The Knitting Factory is very much a labor of love,” he said. “Not a lot of people are getting paid in full.”

To secure a steady source of revenue Knitting Factory Entertainment, the parent company, bought a majority stake in a Boise concert promoter, Bravo Entertainment, in 2006, and acquired the rest last year. The deal included the clubs in Boise and Spokane as well as a touring business that has taken the company into head-scratchingly new territory. In the last year it presented Elton John, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor and LeAnn Rimes at amphitheaters and arenas in Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and other states.

Those may be incongruous bookings for an organization that made its name with noisy fare by the likes of John Zorn and SONIC YOUTH. But Mr. Hoffman, the company’s president, said the business in the Northwest brings in about 60 percent of its annual revenues of $19 million, effectively subsidizing the New York and Los Angeles rooms. And in the Internet age the company says it is also developing an audience in a quickly growing region that most of the touring industry pays little attention to.

“If it happened last night in London, New York or Chapel Hill, these kids know about it the next day, thanks to MySpace, Pitchfork, you name it,” Mr. Hoffman said. “The music is getting there, but no one is bringing the live music there.”

The programming in Boise and Spokane is more conservative than in New York and Los Angeles, mixing alternative acts like OTEP and THE FAINT with decidedly mainstream offerings like Ted Nugent and PUDDLE OF MUDD. Mr. Hoffman said his goal was to “continue to expand into the heartland” with more concerts and more clubs, and to use the Knitting Factory’s reputation to draw acts through its clubs in the Northwest.

Michael Deeds, an entertainment writer for The Idaho Statesman, said that while the clubs have been successful, the company’s imprimatur is not necessarily the reason.

“It just isn’t a household name outside of L.A. and New York,” Mr. Deeds said. “Obviously it’s known among huge music fans for its cutting-edge acts, but if you’re in the other 48 states, people don’t know much about the Knitting Factory.”

The business in the Northwest may be keeping the company afloat financially, but Mr. Hoffman said that the programming in New York and Los Angeles remained important in maintaining the integrity of the Knitting Factory brand.

Before it made a bid for the Luna Lounge space, the Knitting Factory tried to stay in Manhattan. Mr. Hoffman looked at a space on 14th Street between Avenues A and B, but there was a zoning problem, he said.

The Williamsburg location, which Mr. Hoffman said he hoped to open in “four to nine months,” will bring the club closer to a young audience long ago priced out of Lower Manhattan.

And to develop new acts it is deliberately getting smaller. As part of the renovations of the Luna Lounge, Mr. Hoffman said, capacity will be reduced, to lessen the pressure to draw big audiences every night, and bring the Knitting Factory back to its roots as a club that could take risks.

“In very exciting ways it would be a return to the old Knitting Factory,” he said. “We want to do something smaller and more radical and more revolutionary again.”
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