There are two types of people in the world, or at least in New York City: those of us who enjoy getting home as the sun rises, and those who eventually find themselves ballooning with existential dread and remorse over it (“What am I doing with my life?”). Cen, the 28-year-old bassist and vocalist of emerging Hudson Valley shoegaze band Soul Blind, falls firmly in the former camp: He knows the bodega will be open when he stops by on his way home—bleary-eyed and haggard—for his bacon egg & cheese while all the fresh-faced nine-to-fivers begin their day.
Cen (who, like Cher, only goes by his first name) and 26-year-old guitarist Finn Lovell both moved to New York City in the past two or three years—drummer Steve Hurley and guitarist Justin Sarica still live upstate—and have really taken to the whole “city that never sleeps” mythos. They are regulars at the outer boroughs’ best down-and-dirty techno joints like Basement, Paragon, and Bossa Nova Civic Club, drawn by the pounding beats, the colorful characters, and a car-free existence that allows for all-hours raging: “[The Hudson Valley] didn’t facilitate anything like this. The nature of staying out till five or six is kind of hard when you live that far away and gotta drive home,” Cen explains. “I feel like this is definitely a kind of music where you have to be there and feel it more so than just, I don’t know, kicking it at home.”
While discussing an interview with the band, they suggested “a night on the town with Soul Blind.” Seemed easy enough—I’d lived in NYC for nearly a decade, deeply involved in the city’s nightlife both as an employee and active participant, and these guys just got here! Plus, I had spent the better part of the summer testing my stamina with a few über-late nights at some of the world’s most famous clubs in Berlin, returning to the States in September an insufferable caricature of my former self, pretentiously pointing out NYC nightlife’s many inferiorities. All this to say I was no stranger to indulging in the occasional all-night bender. I’d breeze through this. They wouldn’t know what hit them.
On the other hand, as far as worthy opponents go, Soul Blind aren’t exactly not foreboding. Cen and Finn are still twentysomethings, after all, not yet aware of the physical limitations that present themselves after 30. I might be laid up for a few days after this; surely they’d spring out of bed fresh as daisies the following morning (afternoon?). And with the band’s rising popularity, they’d been on a heavy touring schedule for several months on the release of their latest record, Feel It All Around, which presents a very solid intro of a Koi No Yokan-era Deftones sound for fresh ears, or a nostalgically appealing reinterpretation for those of us old enough to remember. They just got back from touring Europe, for chrissakes. Sure, they might be exhausted, but they’d spent weeks training for this very moment.
On a misty and cold Friday night in January, it’s finally time to put up or shut up. I’m dragging a little bit; the tripledemic finally came for me this week, and I’m trying to bounce back from a nasty head cold. I’m behind in my life duties—my apartment is a mess, I have no groceries, and I’m still congested. This is a tough job, I remind myself as I apply my mascara, but someone has to do it. I wolf down a stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich, throw my shitty camera into my fanny pack (for some reason I thought, for the sake of “vérité,” I should be my own photographer—wrong!), and venture into the night.
I meet Cen and Finn at a bar in Ridgewood, Queens. This seems a rather on-the-nose place to begin our evening, given Ridgewood’s new dubious status as the “fourth-coolest neighborhood on EARTH” (I wonder if the bons vivants at Time Out magazine have ever actually been to Ridgewood and met all my grumpy old Polish neighbors). In a lot of ways, Ridgewood is the refined older sibling of Bushwick, the younger sister who steals your clothes and posts fit pics in them for you to see on Instagram. Maybe it’s the fourth-coolest place to live in New York City.
Someone who’s into, like, indie rock—where you stand there and look miserable—might not be able to relate to these extreme forms of loud music
We break the ice over Modelos. I talk to them about classic ’90s sounds and records, and the band cheerfully discloses that they’ve got fans who remember those sounds from the first time around, as well as plenty who are nostalgic for a sound they never actually experienced firsthand. As we start to talk more about musical influences, I ask if they’ve always been into dance music or if it’s a hobby born of their new environment.
“I wouldn’t say we’re influenced from that directly with Soul Blind, but I think having a broad palette of influences is good,” Cen says. “I think more so the live thing of seeing how a crowd interacts versus, like, a mosh pit; with dance music you still get a very high-energy, crowd-interactive space, and just seeing that difference and how they are similar even though they are polar opposites musically. Maybe someone who’s into, like, indie rock—where it’s just, like, you stand there and look miserable—might not be able to relate to these extreme forms of loud music. I think techno is more accessible than hardcore, but you still get the freaks in both places.”
With this, the evening has a bit more direction: We will go where the freaks are. Ironically, we have an indie rock pit stop along the way: heading to Trans-Pecos to catch their friends Sugar Milk open (1) for new Chicago buzz band Lifeguard. We see a few freaks, among them an individual with a spiked-up mohawk straight out of Max’s Kansas City circa 1977. Trans-Pecos is a small venue, known for its greenery—potted plants hang from the ceiling, and musicians play on stage next to a huge monstera tree—and harsh Fast Orange hand cleaner in the bathroom (2), which will remove even tar or rubber cement from your skin (you know, obvious problems when you’re checking out the new indie darling). It was founded in 2005, long predating Ridgewood’s newfound hip reputation, which becomes all the more apparent when we meet some girls outside who say they’ve never been here before but really like the trendy Vietnamese café that shares the building. I’m reminded of the passing of time.
There’s a lot of excitement in the air, namely for the rising success of Lifeguard. Finn points out that all the members of the band look vaguely like Finn Wolfhard (his namesake??), pulling a photo up on Google Images, which is to say they are very young. One of them is wearing a Pavement T-shirt, which seems way too perfect. They’re good, though, and with their youth comes more youth—Trans-Pecos hosts a lot of all-ages gigs, and my heart is warmed by the awkwardly pogoing teen girls in the front of the crowd. A few Tecates and one tequila shot later, the show is over and we’re on to the next thing.
We trek down Wyckoff Avenue toward a bar called Old Stanley’s (3), all of us ripping on our respective flavored nicotine pacifiers. It’s only about 10:30 or 11 at this point, which is still much too early to go to the techno party, but I’ve hit my stride and have shaken off the demons from earlier that night. We’ve got some time to kill, and luckily, it’s emo night! (Am I being sarcastic? I’ll leave that up to you to determine.) Emo night is the sort of event I wouldn’t admit to attending intentionally, but when I’ve stumbled upon it, I’ve rarely been disappointed. Everyone rolls their eyes but finds themselves singing along to Tom DeLonge. Cen and Finn tease me when I know all the words to Brand New (yes, I know he’s canceled. It still kind of slaps). It tracks, though—when I was listening to Death Cab, these guys were listening to Slipknot and System of a Down. Finn and I meet in the middle and both deeply enjoy it when the DJ plays Joyce Manor’s “Constant Headache.” By 1 a.m., we’ve assembled a squad and it’s time to hit the club.
We pile in some Ubers and jet over to the other side of Bushwick to dance at Paragon. A newcomer on the scene—and sister venue to Bossa Nova Civic Club—it’s a sexy space. The floors are covered in checkerboard tile; blue, pink, and purple neons bounce off the stark white walls. It has the feeling of a church. Head across the dance floor (4) toward stairs that lead up to the DJ booth, which looks over the crowd like an altar. Here we find our beloved freaks. Skinny pale dudes in Balenciaga-knockoff wraparound sunglasses gyrate wildly in their mesh tank tops, while girls wrapped in chains and harnesses teeter on their four-inch platform boots. Cen and Finn let loose, jerking here and there to the heavy bass with more rhythm than a mosh pit would allow.
I’ve now achieved a certain equilibrium—several drinks in but far from tired. I’m taken by the beauty of it all, how the oddballs from all walks of life seek out other weirdos and what that means to them. Cen was right when he said it’s no different from a hardcore show—we’re all just trying to find where we belong. But just as I’m getting lost in the music and the *vibes*, the lights flicker on. Everyone slowly stops moving, looking around in a mix of bewilderment and disappointment. It’s only 3:15! On a Friday! What nonsense is this? But it’s no joke, and soon thereafter we’re shouted at with some variation of “I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here.” The bouncer herds us freaks out unceremoniously.
We walk down the street toward the dive bar Birdy’s, the inevitable destination to cap off a night in Bushwick that ended prematurely. But by 3:46 a.m. we are pushed out of there as well. I say to the guys that there’s nothing I hate more than being corralled, that I just want to drink my piss beer in peace and then I’ll go home, but there’s no such luck. And so our final destination becomes my roach-infested rent-stabilized apartment in Ridgewood, where we rehydrate and listen to Coltrane and Marvin Gaye records on my tinny Crosley while we unpack the fake news rumors that Tina, the famed purveyor of greasy breakfast plates to all of Bushwick, died earlier this month. The sky begins to lighten, and I tap out and send the guys home around 7 a.m. As they leave they say I did good. I feel neither existential dread nor remorse, but am acutely aware that there’s nothing in my stomach but an ungodly brew of Tecate and Modelo, so I order Sausage McGriddles on Grubhub and scarf them down before spending my entire Saturday in a dimly lit room. I hope Cen makes it to work on time. Or maybe I don’t. Would that mean I won?
I guess staying up after last call feels like some sort of personal duty, an urge to keep alive the propaganda about this city that we’ve been sold in movies and on TV shows: NYC never sleeps, people wear stiletto shoes on the subway, and you’ll definitely fall in love with someone while reaching for the same container of oat milk at the Bowery Whole Foods. Regardless, the band and I have both been able to keep that promise. Soul Blind kept up. The freaks kept up. Even I kept up. But New York City didn’t.