In an underground music scene, throwing events is no small order of business. It involves a venue, lots of accommodating and patient people who work at said venue, money, and people on Facebook who won’t rake you over the coals for shoving event invites down their throats all the time. Get roped into making it a weekly event, and watch the stakes skyrocket. It’s a lot of thankless work, which is why it’s rare for most repeating events in any dance scene to surpass more than a year or two.
While many successful parties are thrown by tight-knit crews of veterans with long-lasting friendships, other times you’ve got people who come together with entirely different backgrounds…and somehow manage to still make it all work. Make it New is an example of the latter. With this night you have the likes of a “purveyor of agoraphobic stoner bedroom techno” from Worcester, a 20+ year local veteran with a ridiculous vinyl collection supposedly from Three Way, Tennessee, a DJ prefers to keep it all in the box using just a laptop who will lead you to believe he’s from Baltimore, a guy who’s currently scoring points with glowing write-ups from Resident Advisor and FACT Mag, another dude who used to book entirely rock and indie bands, and finally the visionary and jack-of-all-trades who hails from Kansas of all places. And that’s just the ones currently involved with the night, not the alumni who have either moved on (or away) since Make it New’s 2004 inception.
A gang of quirky personas who play as hard as they work
While each of these dudes may have different personalities, musical tastes, and degrees of “veteran” status here in Boston, their involvement has been part and parcel to our local backbone. The guys I’m hinting at (respectively) are Coralcola, Alan Manzi, Baltimoroder, John Barera and promoters Alex Maniantis and David Day. All six of them prefer to stay out of the spotlight at their night, letting the darkness of their venue (The Middlesex Lounge) push them into the background while the music takes the spotlight. And patrons don’t seem to be complaining.
Even camera flashes are quite rare in the darkness that is the Middlesex
But what is it that has kept these guys going, when there were surely enough tempting opportunities to just say “fuck it” and throw in the towel? “Club support has been pretty crucial”, started David Day when I recently spoke with him and Alex Maniantis over email about the longevity and success of the night. “When turnout was light or a DJ was cranky in MiN’s early years, JB and Nate from the Middlesex had our back and believed in the night. Club support goes a long way in maintaining a night over such a period of time. When I get on the mic and say “tip your bartenders” I mean it. They work hard keeping our crowd happy.”
Keepin’ the patrons happy ain’t always easy
Maniantis was equally as enthusiastic to give the Middlesex staff the hat tip they obviously deserve: “It’s really a big family. JB (in the beginning) and Nate really understood what we were going for. As well as their security team (Dave and Primus); those dudes know what’s up and I cant thank them enough for being so damn cool and keeping it positive.”
Following that, Maniantis echoed my sentiments above about Make it New’s overall aesthetic: “MiN is about being NO frills”, he stated matter-of-factly. “We don’t rely on gimmicks. We don’t do bottle service. We keep the lights off in the room and about the music. Period.”
Eats Everything doesn’t even get bottle service at Make it New. But free donut service, on the other hand…
Make it New was faced with plenty of obstacles in their fledgling days. In 2004, “EDM” was only an acronym for “Enterprise Data Modeling”, something I doubt required any knowledge of Serato or Traktor. Hell most were using Final Scratch back then. The economy was in better shape, but dark clouds still loomed over the post 9/11 landscape. Many veterans were starting families and moving on, while the energetic kids who were supposed to replace them were off in other venues indulging in indie rock and emo. “Luckily our crowd in those early days consisted of post-graduates and Doctoral candidates (from nearby educational institutions), so we were sort of shielded from brutal economic times”, stated Day.
Both Wall Street and Electric Avenue, two entirely different levels on the economic food chain, suffered quite a few shake-ups in 2008. When the real estate bubble burst that year, investors frantically sold their stocks, while DJ’s who lost their day jobs frantically sold their vinyl collections too. The overall musical landscape made a dramatic shift towards electro house and dubstep. Many weekly events were wiped completely out of existence because of these seismic shifts, but luckily Make it New didn’t skip a beat.
But how was that accomplished…was it due to consistency, or a complete re-invention?
Focusing on quality allowed them to persevere even in the tough years
“Well for us, consistency has been key”, said Day when discussing that turbulent period. “The night isn’t beholden to any one genre, just newness. The consistency is constant reinvention. As Brian Eno famously said, “repetition is a form of change”.” Maniantis had quite a bit to add to this as well: “It’s definitely not about booking a certain genre for us. The only consistency we strove for was to keep the room moving and energy positive. We do that by carefully selecting the guests we bring to the night. We’ve had DJ’s like Matthew Dear come in and knew from the get go it was going to be good because he’s a storyteller and a positive guy.”
Max Cooper in autograph-signing mode, 2012
It can be argued the overall economy and electronic music scene are better in 2014 than 2008, but only when asking Day and Maniantis about the changes they’ve seen locally in the past decade do their strides locally really start to come into focus. “International artists are finally recognizing that Cambridge and Boston are great towns for parties.” exclaimed Maniantis. “Years ago these headliners were few and far between, but geographically we’ve since turned out to be a great stopover city. We may not have a ton of venues but the energy and enthusiasm at the parties in this city make the underground really thrive.”
While things change, other things remain the same as well. Maniantis went on to exclaim the media coverage Make it New has consistently gotten from the beginning. This includes the Boston Music Awards, where they have been nominated for the “Best Dance Night” award this year. Day also gave many of Boston’s veterans the head nod: “People like Bob Diesel, Bruno, Lenore, KC Hallett, and Pat Fontes set the stage for us; they’re all continuing to play out and stay relevant to this day. And Alan Manzi and Baltimoroder as well; the day they hang up their headphones it will be a sea change. I don’t see that happening anytime soon though.”
Bicep’s first Boston appearance, 2013
Even with ten years on the resume, a packed venue almost every single week, and world-class headliners (including the likes of Breach, Roman Flugel, Martyn, and of course Tiga who will be playing the “official” anniversary show), Make it New still encounters obstacles from time to time. One of the hottest topics in Cambridge has to be gentrification. Corporate entities are buying up property all along Mass Ave, with independent boutiques and bars forced to shutter in favor of Starbucks, Walgreens, and Dunkin Donuts. Even MIT’s recent expansions have hit close to home, as they’ve been buying and demolishing property surrounding every side of the Middlesex Lounge. I was keen on asking Day and Maniantis their thoughts on gentrification, and how it may affect the night in the long term.
Someone remind Ben UFO not to look at the construction cranes outside the window
“Well for one I personally got priced out of Cambridge, so even as the founder I now live far away”, stated Day. “The crowds seem a little better off and maybe even a little better looking, but aesthetically, they have joined us in our journey. At one of our residents nights a party bus rolled through and we were all concerned they’d want to hear top 40 from the 90s or whatever. The birthday boy comes up to the booth and says: “I have a request…I want you to play as deep as possible—deep house and techno all night long.” And we all looked at each other and said: “We can do that!””
Looking further down the timeline reveals some other ideas Day and Maniantis have had brewing in case someone decides to turn the Middlesex’s entire block into a research lab or Wal-Mart. “The dream is for Alex to get his hands on a club and book it all week long,” said Day. “Alex is a strict professional and the industry knows it at this point. He has the clout and ability to make a club rock all week. Middlesex is dope, it’s like a giant wooden speakerbox, but nothing lasts forever. Someday, one day, Alex will get his own club. It’s fate.”
Soul Clap taking control of the wheels at the Middlesex, 2011
With both the hindsight to observe where Make it New humbly started, as well as the foresight to see where they may boldly be heading, it’s great to watch them become part of a very select group of promoters managing to keep a party going for a decade. While I wish Day and Maniantis all the best, I wanted to close by asking both of them to reflect on their favorite DJ performances there, both from headliners as well as locals.
“Oh daddy, that’s a tough one,” started Day as he conjured up the early years before Maniantis was involved. “In my era, the Wighnomy Brothers’ U.S. debut was a stand-out. We screened my movie Speaking in Code earlier that night so they got to see it. Then they blew the lid off the place. Barack Obama was recently elected and I remember them playing the entirely of his acceptance speech over the course of the last thirty minutes, riding the beat. It was special.”
Jacques Greene, certainly a crowd favorite, 2013
David proceeded to discuss his favorite performance in recent years: “Once Alex became involved and MMMMAVEN was launched, I feel the first appearance of Jacques Greene stands out the most. He played a wildly-diverse set, from dancehall to hip-hop and house and more. It represented a big change for the night and a very good turning point. I vividly remember how much I wanted every night to be like that, it was very sexy. Also, Make it News during the Together Festival every year are always special…Andres in 2013 was incredible.”
Alex also agreed with David on the Wighnomy Brothers and Jacques Greene’s sets alongside Daniel Avery’s one during Together week 2014.
As far as local DJ’s go? “Mike Swells”, exclaimed Alex. “It was a special treat to have Mike back last month.” David went on to shout out the performances former resident DJ Volvox used to play there before moving to Brooklyn. “She was crucial in a lot of ways to the night—from creating the flyers and logos, to coming into her own as a DJ. I’m not surprised she’s become a big deal in Brooklyn. Her aesthetic and dedication to the craft is unique in many ways…a badass, straight up.”
With that said, Make it New celebrates a decade of grooving in the dark this Thursday at the Middlesex (512 Mass Ave). Tiga is returning following his still-talked-about set from The Sinclair last year, so it would be in your best interest to get there early. Come by to toast these guys for ten years of hard work keeping the underground scene thriving!