Just like in those guides it’s almost impossible to capture the immensity and diversity of a city like New York. A street in Brooklyn itself would be worthy of its own feature. Alas it’s impossible to discover this entire music scene in just a singular trip.
What every beginner exploring New York should know though is that they’re stepping onto some seriously hallowed music turf.
The city is considered as the birthplace of hip-hop, Latin, freestyle, behop, salsa, disco, punk rock and new wave. Not that anyone could ever provide definitive proof of the birth of those genres there is no denying that major music innovation and scenes have sprung up in the city just as easy as one of its many sky scrapers.
Even as other American cities like Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco rose in their popular music prominence New York has always been first and foremost at the epicentre of contemporary music.
While Tin Pan Alley saw a conglomeration of music publishers at the turn of the 20th Century the garage rock revival in the early 2000s and the recent explosion of indie demonstrate that the Big Apple has never lost its musical touch.
Either the world has followed the city by association or New York was so in touch with what was popular around the world that when a genre sprung up in NYC it generally sprung up everywhere else too.
Just look towards the explosion of garage rock courtesy of The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the early 2000s and then the indie dominance – whether that be electronic, rock or pop – from acts like LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, MGMT and The National to name but a few.
But what about this city titan makes it so special? Surely history can only carry you so far?
In an interview with Tone Deaf Sydney duo High Highs gave their opinion on the magic behind New York’s music scene.
“The main reason NYC brings out something good creatively in people is that you’re surrounded by extremely hard working people in your field and also in related fields. For example if you’re doing something different and you’re doing it well your path can cross with other highly motivated musicians, artists, directors, designers etc. Then good collaborations can happen. There’s urgency in the air that stimulates a will to work hard.”
While we only scratch the surface here on the indelible music culture of one of the world’s most famous cities the following should serve as a good introduction to this music mecca.
Go Crate Digging At The Thing
1001 Manhatten Ave
When it comes to crate diggers size does matter. The bigger the store the more crates to dig. The more crates to dig the higher the chance they might find something special. The Thing is crammed with $2 second hand vinyl in every which way possible. It’s messy and it’s disorganised so if you suffer from a little OCD its best you steer clear from here. Otherwise jump in and see what you can find!
See The Best New Acts At CMJ Music Marathon
Think of it as like Austin’s SXSW but on a smaller scale. Not that CMJ is small at all, in fact in encompasses a large amount of New York’s venues, but this festival doesn’t take over the city in the way that SXSW envelops Austin. The premise though is very much the same. CMJ books up and coming acts from around the world and gives them a chance to rise above the blogosphere haze. CMJ is the perfect way to get a taster of New York’s music venues and music style conferences without the mass hysteria you get at SXSW.
Read our festival guide to the event here.
Remember John Lennon At Strawberry Fields
Central Park West at 72nd Street
In Grand Central Park this memorial to the late great John Lennon is just one of the many attractions dedicated to the musician around the world. Often you’ll find a frenzy of photographers trying to capture the flower laden mosaic of ‘Imagine’ here. But it’s hard to deny just how the appeal of such an attraction. The site of Lennon’s shooting is now a beautiful 2.5-acre area that celebrates what the man gave to the world throughout his life.
Catch Haerts In Their Hometown
The world probably doesn’t need another indie pop group, but if the world were to have a choice it would want this four-piece over the rest. Releasing their debut EP last year HAERTS picked up significant buzz across the States the synth heavy outfit are quickly building becoming a heavily touted new act. Whether they can deliver the goods on their debut is something only time will tell, but things are looking good from what we’ve heard so far.
Let Go Of Your Hard Earned Cash At Bleecker Street Records
188 W 4th St
Your “classic neighbourhood record store” has been around for twenty years with vinyls, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, turntables, posters and merchandise all on offer. Priding itself on a collection of brilliant new music and classics the staff here are more than happy to help you find what you desire. Located near Washington Square Park Bleecker Street has threatened closure due to high rent in recent times, but with a collection like this we can only hope that it’s around for the next two decades as well.
Catch A Local Gig At Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen St.
Characterised by its red bricks as much as its intimate setting this music venue has long been a haven for rising folk, jazz and blues acts. There are three stages and little enough room to make you feel like you’re close without being suffocated. The sound system is solid and the vibe is always relaxed ensuring that the music is always centre stage.
See Teengirl Fantasy Live In NYC
Judging by their name you’d expect this Brooklyn duo to sound somewhere between the fields of punk and pop, when in actuality their dream laden synth scope is more likely to put you in a haze than wake you up. Having released two albums since they formed Teengirl Fantasy’s latest EP, Nun, should see them further increase their reputation for introspective electronic instrumentals.
Experience The Reverence Of The Apollo Theatre
253 W 125th St
It is reported that an estimated 1.3 million people visit this music institution a year. That incredible figure would barely warrant a bat of the eyelash among those who know the history of this fabled theatre. With acclaimed performances from James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder The Apollo Theatre built a reputation on providing some of the best music performances in NYC and it still does to this day.
Find The Vinyl You’re After At Rough Trade NYC
64 N 9th St
Known for its string of shops across the UK, its first American venture was opened in November 2013. Why it’s mentioned here instead of the many other record shop institutions in New York comes down to the rare event of a large-scale record store opening in the current music climate. That and the fact it’s actually very very cool inside. With rows and rows of vinyl in a warehouse of shipping containers it shouldn’t take too long for Rough Trade NYC to build up plenty of reverence.
See The Infamous Chelsea Hotel
222 W 23rd St
Most notably famous for the being the scene of Nancy Spungen’s death there’s much more music history to this hotel than just a dark chapter in the life of Sid Vicious. Before the Sex Pistols singer lived here the establishment was known as a writers haven where Welsh poet Dylan Thomas died of pneumonia in 1953. Afterwards the likes of Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen and Madonna would make Hotel Chelsea renowned for housing all sorts of famous creative types.
Witness A New York Gig At The Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey Street
From its exterior this music venue doesn’t look like one of New York’s most revered music halls. However with the 550 capacity venue filling regularly since it was converted into a music space in 1997 some of the world’s biggest and up and coming acts have made pit stops here on their way to stadiums. The venue’s reputation isn’t hurt either by its appearance in the films Coyote Ugly and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Hear The Men Play Live
Five albums in five years and it doesn’t seem like The Men are going to drop off the radar anytime soon. The punk band continue to explore their more melodic side with the release of 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits and the acclaim it garnered signified an increasing love of the band from the critics perspective. And ever since the breakthrough of Open Your Heart their fan base started growing at an event faster rate.