Rock, DJs, and the Nineties: A Thursday @ H0L0 in Ridgewood, Queens

Here are the steps to get to H0L0 in Ridgewood:

  1. Take the L to Halsey and take a wrong turn by going left. Check your map. Yes, there’s Trans Pecos. It’s the other way.

2. Walk into a bar called “The Deep End.” It’s the wrong place, but a pretty cool bar.

3. Get to the end of the block and check your phone. You’re next to H0L0. Look for the people smoking outside a metal door in a brick wall. Open the door. You made it!

There are more stairs. H0L0 is basically in the basement of a basement. Upon descending the broken, cement stairs, I encounter a man with a trombone. He holds it nonchalantly in the graffitied landing. We make eye contact in the backlit blues, as if to confirm, yes, this is what we do now.

At the bottom of the stairs, the DJ explodes into a white wash of glittering lights and trance beats. A handful of people are leaning against subterranean pillars painted a Gap Store-white, ostensibly keeping the ceiling from collapsing.

Yes, you’ve arrived at H0L0. And yes, those are zeroes, not O’s. Get it right.

The bar at H0L0 appears to be 100% reclaimed pirate ship, a DIY affair with a crimson block next to the counter that glows like Sauron’s forgotten refrigerator. Behind the DJ, there’s ocean-purple light emanating from the wall. And, just past the unlabeled bathroom doors, an ominous curtain is hanging in the shadows.

I settle on a stool and let the creative energy flow through me, marveling that eighties synthwave is somehow mainstream now. At least as mainstream as H0L0.

In the corners, people hunch-squat on stools, absorbed in their phones. I feel slightly offended by the fact that they can possibly take a venue like this for granted. We’re in the basement of a basement. A man is playing free DJ music with crazy lights. But no, still not enough stimulation.

This is just the bar at H0L0. As the night wears on, other music acts will play. But I came here for a specific show, so I go into the backroom.

1. Realworld

The first band that plays is Realworld, a name that elicits the flannelly, rock-rap, punky, grungy, alt rocky images of the 90s. It’s just about impossible to find the band through a Google search and I feel a sense of woe for their uphill battle when it comes to search engine optimization.

Even when I find an article about Realworld and I discover it’s one word instead of two, I only find a Reverbnation page of another band from the early nineties named Realworld.

Realworld hits the stage like a shockwave. The first song, “Get Busy”, is a powerful rocky anthem that captures Realworld’s energy right from the start. This is a band with a direction, and that direction, as the Bandcamp page says, is “nostalgic escapism.”

I’m transported back to the late nineties scene, with the music reflecting the strong rhythmic backbone and crunchy guitars and funky bass that was so distinctive to the era. prominent in bands like Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and 311. But there are contemporaries, too, that I’m reminded of – specifically the neo-punk sounds of Turnstile.

Nineties revival is real – and Realworld does a great job of bringing that spirit back to life while breathing new life and a unique energy into the sound.

2. Hellrazor

Hellrazor, at first a name that seems better suited for a metal band, is seen in a different light when considering the word “razor.” This is a spiral. We know “Hellraiser” movies. That’s about raising hell. If you think about “Hellrazer”, well, “to raze” means to demolish. So you’d be destroying Hell. A Hellrazer would be a good thing.

But Hellrazor? I imagine shaving disasters. A blade that’s too sharp or too dull that gives your razor burn. A mild version of Hell, to say the least. I’d be remiss, too, not to share Tupac’s “Hellrazor” to add to the discussion.

In fact, Hellrazor’s Bandcamp reveals a page with a Bible quote. So there goes the hellish razor burn theory. We’re talking about songs that feature “loud guitars, gnarled vocals, and lyrics that glorify life’s darker side. “

Thus, the rabbit hole of indie band names.

Hellrazor blasts out into the stage with a very grunge renaissance sound: picture a 2019 blend of Nirvana guitar (“Very Ape” from In Utero will get you there) with throbbing bass lines. There are math rock elements, dissonant math rock vibes, and a few sprinkles of Nine Inch Nails.

While Hellrazor started as a Rancid cover band, there’s something experimental to the sound, a longing and sensitive cynicism, that occasionally reminds me of Brooklyn’s Grooms.

The nineties revival is, of course, completed with an on-screen interview of a 90s era Les Claypool projected above the band the whole time.

3. Citris

Citris closes out the night – this time as a two-piece . Since seeing solo Citris performances a few times at the Knitting Factory & missing a show a long time ago at Gold Sounds, one can’t help but be impressed with the strength of Angelina Torreano’s vocals when climbing up and down power riffs and hooky choruses. And the fact she can do both at once.

It was great to see the pairing with drums. The rhythm is tight and the sound is clean and clear. There are danceable grooves and alt rock moments. With the incisive, caustic-but-sensitive lyrics and modern rock sounds, Citris has created a truly original, contemporary Brooklyn rock sound.

At times, the alt rock vibes and sultry vocals remind me of Boston’s (defunct) Harris Hawk, while some songs from the first LP, “Panic in the Hampton Bays“, hit the spoken word fever pitch of Garbage. But it’s in the tender, world-weary defiance of “Driving Me Crazy” where you can hear all the elements that comprise Citris.

On the Ninenties

Back in the pillared bar, I drink a beer. I listen to the trombone player tell the bartender that the sound is too loud. The singer makes sounds like a cat giving birth while the synth player blorps and bloops against the high ceilings. People are still on their phones. When the sound stops, all that’s left is the gravelly hipster mutter about topics like bad friends and the average income in the Bay Area.

I think that, in Brooklyn, the nineties are still happening. The music sounds alive. The sounds are strong, polished, familiar, and strange all at the same time. Then I realize I’m in Queens. And I wonder if “nineties revival” is an actual genre or it’s just the catch-all for neo-grunge and alt rock that isn’t Foo Fighters.

Then, a guy rolls out clothes racks of custom-stitched shirts. I buy one, wondering how he got them down the stairs, before wandering into the back room, where a DJ has started. People pour in and a smoke machine fills the air until it’s impossible to know where I am or what year it is.

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