The Downward Spiral: Paradise by Dimes Square

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 Montez Press Radio photographed by Taylor Ervin
 Montez Press Radio photographed by Taylor Ervin
 Montez Press Radio photographed by Taylor Ervin
 Montez Press Radio photographed by Taylor Ervin
 Flyer for Montez Press Radio
 Flyer for Montez Press Radio
 Flyer for Montez Press Radio
 Flyer for Montez Press Radio

A love letter to Montez Press Radio from Dean Kissick

 

Last year I wrote that what makes New York thrilling aren’t its exhibitions, which nobody seems to find that interesting at the moment, but the artists and strangers and assorted characters that you talk to on nights out here. Most gallery openings are little more than good places to find some friends to journey into the night with. “As soon as I started to hang out in the art world,” a historian told me recently, “I stopped caring about art. I go to an art opening and literally ignore the paintings. They don’t register, I don’t care about them.” Voice of a generation! Anyway, I’m not here to complain about how the exhibition format feels completely exhausted, but rather to suggest an alternative: if conversations are what’s exciting right now, why not just launch a community radio station? Montez Press, an arthouse publisher since 2012 with outposts in London, Hamburg and New York, has done just that.

 

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Last summer, Anna Clark, Stacy Skolnik and Thomas Laprade took over Mathew Gallery’s old space in what’s known as Dimes Square, on the Eastern edge of Chinatown, built a radio station, and hosted a month of non-stop programming. This year, they’re running the station over the last weekend of every month, plus all kinds of special events. Sometimes they move around (they recently drove their pirate radio RV cross-country to broadcast from Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair in Los Angeles), but usually you’ll find them on the second floor of 46 Canal Street. Most shows are recorded live in the studio, and doors are wide open to the public whenever they’re on air. Anybody can pitch a show of any kind, so it’s not only inclusive, it’s weird as hell: if you remember to tune in, or turn up in person, you’ll likely hear experimental playwrights, Chinatown activists, queer insurrectionary poets, no wave performance groups, Latino rappers, classical musicians, punk zine publishers, reading clubs, librarians and archivists, indie presses and techno labels, skate critic/art historians, art critics reviewing art reviews, and who knows who else. And if you forget to tune in, you’ll just have to wait until next time. I have no idea who most of these people with shows are or what they’re going to do. Every day’s a mystery stream, but one that’s thrown together by poets, artists and musicians, not broken corporate algorithms. Rather than waffling on about community-building like so many others, they’ve just gone ahead and built one.

 

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Montez Press Radio’s that rare sort of independent space where anybody can come in and nobody’s trying to sell you anything. When the live programming ends around midnight, it sometimes magically transforms into the best place to hang out Downtown: a place where you can bring your own drinks, rather than paying bar prices; where you can drink red wine and not have to worry about splashing the artwork, because there isn’t any; where you don’t have to worry about OBJECTS for a change. In March I had to run out for a bottle before closing during Angels in America’s gig in the front room, so I just listened to the live-stream on my phone. For once the psychedelic 1960s vision of a pleasantly networked future was working. They sounded powerful and menacing in person, but poppy and sweet across the airwaves in the wine shop around the corner on Essex Street, where a bottle of Barolo costs just $20 and they’ll pop it open for you as well. “My boss is a very honest businessman,” says the cashier. Daniela Lalita had played a DJ set earlier. On my way back the Angels stopped singing. Montez resident Young Adult played “Out of Space” by the Prodigy, whose singer had recently killed himself, and I ran up Canal Street knowing it was going to be another wonderful night. Later we played Scott Walker, who had also passed away, and climbed out onto the rickety wrought-iron fire escape that feels like it’s going to fall off the side of the building and crowded together and smoked, suspended in the air between tomorrow’s stars and the just departed.

 

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Sometimes whole nights of programming are given over to other collectives. Last month I went to a record launch by Cammisa Buerhaus’s label Wild Flesh, which crescendoed into a choral aria by the warmly glowing windows overlooking the street. The month before, for “A Rain of Light & Death,” a night of Iranian film and performance put together by Ala Dehghan of neighbourhood gallery 17Essex, Sadaf H. Nava performed live violin and noise and sang in a translucent green dress in a nearly pitch-dark room. Afterwards I got high on the sofa with some friends. At one point my buddy stood up, walked around the room and, what felt like ages later, came back and announced, “Standing up is a bad idea.” It was spring, the city was full of white cherry blossoms and everybody was stumbling delicately around on ketamine. My pal said you could go to doctors in Midtown and pay around $1,000 to have some injected into you as treatment for depression. Socialites were circulating tips on how to smuggle yours onto boat parties on Instagram Stories. I stayed on the sofa. At some point I looked up and a man in an iron mask was mingling with the crowd. There’s always a good mix of friendly faces and more wild, rogue elements hanging around the station, which brings together the best elements of the 18th-century salon and the 19th-century Baudelairean opium den. And really there aren’t so many welcoming, comfortable, weird public spaces where you can go and dissociate from your body for a few hours and have those conversations that continue long into the night. 46 Canal Street feels like one of those places that will come to define a certain moment in a city’s art scene; like how parties at the Bussey Building once were for me, or how I imagine Times Bar or the Silver Platter used to be for others. What makes evenings out and live broadcasts great, is a constant flow of chaotic ideas and surprises. So if you find yourself in Chinatown during the last weekend of any of the year’s remaining months, at any time, climb the stairs, open the door, you could find anything going on in there.

 

DEAN KISSICK is a writer based in New York and Spike's New York editor. A new installment of The Downward Spiral will be published online every second Wednesday a month.

Montez Press Radio goes live again from June 27th to 30th.

Heike-Karin Föll’s book Speed, published by Montez Press, will be launched at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, on June 22nd, and Dean will be there to give a reading.

 

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