Nowadays, when you speak to so many over a certain age group, they’re so against going to nightclubs. It’s not that they don’t enjoy music, or dancing. It’s the headache of the rudeness and disrespect at the door (providing you’re not dropping hundreds for bottled service or have an ‘in’), but there’s also the literal headache from the pounding sounds once inside. When you’re much younger, these are the adventures of youth you’ve got to go through, after all, everyone else in your age bracket is going, right? Well, not really. Enter Analog BKNY, exit the headache of the ‘noise’ inside and out - for the young and old. Owners Michael Bruno and Craig “Shorty” Bernabeu have been around nightclubs in NYC all their lives, and in many capacities - as security, DJ, working with promoters, engineering the sounds, you name it, they’ve done or been a part of it, and during the most definitive times in dance music throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s as well. So it’s not surprising that decades after, they’re running and operating Analog BKNY, one of the most hidden nightclub gems of the world. Guess where? Yep, Brooklyn, NY! On a quiet Friday afternoon, just as the bartenders were preparing the bar for yet another upcoming night of nonstop pulsating dance music for The Bunker X Sonic Groove: Adam X, Dasha Rush, Orphx & Patrick Russell, later on that night, I caught up with them both to listen to the depths of their unique twist on why Analog BKNY, still not even a year old yet, provides one of the best quality sound systems throughout North America. And yes, I got a test-drive of the sound with no one around prior, which needless to say, my ears welcomed and then, my body revisited their space later that night to experience - - among a sea of people (mostly frolicking in the center of the dance floor), a genre of music I’m not even into. But, somehow I couldn’t find myself leaving ‘til past 4a? Let’s blame this one on their sound.
Q. What separates this space in sound, from the countless of others across NY, or the world for that matter?
Michael Bruno: What separates this venue sound-wise is everything, right down from the door. The minute you walk in you're not getting spoken to rudely by security. Everybody's being addressed in like an adult, like a human being, in a respectful manner. So your experience starts there and I'm a big firm believer in the experience starts at the door. OK, then from the door once you open up to the dance floor, it's not only the sound, it's the lights and a combination of the staff working inside, even the people serving you drinks. You know it's way different, you know we're not stuck up. We don't have a no camera policy. Here, you know, we have nothing to hide. A matter of fact, we want to show the room, we want to show the world, why would we want to hide that? Everything together makes us unique.
Q. So you're not going on this practiced culture of exclusivity, which is very typical of many clubs and is the norm?
Bruno: No, no way. Oh no no, this is a living room, this is home. You know, this is our home, also your home. Thus the house. You know that's what we want to actually put out there and have people experience. You know I'm tired. I've been in the business now twenty-five years, I've worked in management, I've worked running security for a lot of the major nightclubs you know, I'm very well known. That's why the kids, customers come here - I call them kids now 'cause I'm forty-five (he laughs). I worked all these doors and I saw the failures, all these venues fail...I mean listen, you're never going to get a 100% happy customer base because we're all human beings. But it's OK, I welcome everybody. I welcome criticism, I welcome everything you know, it makes you grow but I don't have a pompous attitude as to where you know, I stand up and say, you know, ‘screw you!’ I'm not bottle service boulevard, we don't come in and have everything so regimented. When people come to a venue, they're looking for what? They're looking for euphoria to get away from work, their work-week. They may have had anything ranging from arguing with their spouse, they may have had a bad day with the kids...
Q. Or lost their job!?
Bruno: Right, exactly. Listen, music is therapeutic. It's been proven scientifically. Cures ailments. You know and it raises the endorphins in the brain. It just gets you going. We want that, we want to give people that experience the right way and stimulate them from all angles you know, and we try to make everything unique. You know, the lighting but especially the sound. And you know, one thing that I've hated over the years? I saw people go from not wearing earplugs and now I would I be working the door, working security and here comes somebody, 'ah you know where I can buy some earplugs?!'
Craig “Shorty” Bernabeu: I've recently seen in a local club here in Brooklyn, bartenders wearing shooter-muffs to protect their hearing.
Bruno: Yea, shooter-muffs at a nightclub!?
Shorty: I mean that's really bad.
Bruno: This is what is behind pure digital sound, digital sound...you know what binary numbers are right? Well then, you take the binary numbers, they're stripped down right. So compensation for the ear is at a higher volume, so what's happening is every binary number is actually smacking (claps and smacks his hands hard, repeatedly), smack smack smacking your eardrum! So this is why these kids need earplugs. Now here, we're more efficient on energy because we're running analog and it's pretty much almost a true replication of your actual live sound.
Shorty: So with everything here, it's the SBS Slammer System and it's one of a kind, handmade analog, hi-fi sound system. The amplifiers are one-off and handmade, the cabinets are one-off and handmade, the processors are one-off and handmade. We're using vacuum-2 processing here for warm-up, to give richness and texture to the music.
Q. And that's not the norm throughout most nightclubs right?
Shorty: No, nobody's using this.
Bruno: Everybody else has all these digital rack drives, digital rack drive processors attached to all these amps. And soundboards attached to amps, it's crap. You know, you're going through all this, just to get here (motions with his hands). It's just ridiculous.
Q. Is it that people don't want to make that effort, or is it that it just boils down to these other nightclubs really don't have that knowledge?
Bruno: I think people lost touch with the old knowledge and tried to build...I'm not saying digital is bad, you know? But everybody got so caught up in it you. They sort of didn't look back at the old, you know and with digital, look at what was wrong with it - the pros and the cons to it. They just moved forward to digital, kept going with pros and didn't look at the cons is what I'm thinking. And I feel with the old stuff, it's like when people tried to reinvent the wheel. There was no need for it. You know the analog systems used to work, they ran efficiently, they ran well. We'll give you a test drive in a little while, I'm going to let you stand in the middle of the dance floor. And I would give you the music of your choice but you're going to feel the warmth and difference in sound. People forgot that, they've gotten lost. So, looking back, I came into the room and I looked around the room. This is the old SRB Brooklyn which later became Sankeys Brooklyn. Both places. Pretty much well, SRB, he closed on his own accord. When Sankey's Brooklyn came in they attempted to make this an underground music venue that tanked within three and a half weeks. Yeah weeks, they also had financial issues and when I came in after, this place was destroyed. It was graffiti, lights going everywhere, the sound system had been pulled out and it was just screwed up in the bathrooms, you know it was too much noise. Nowadays I feel that everybody worries about visuals on walls and everything else, you know, the aesthetics. But not dancing. So what I did was take like about ten gallons of black paint and with a spray gun and just went to town (he laughs). For even the outside of the building. And the reason for that is for two things to happen. I wanted a marriage between sound in the center of the floor and also the lighting in the center of the floor. You know so that there would be no outward distractions. Everybody makes a big deal about facing the D.J. That's great you know, they are our talent. But they forget about how all of this got started, you know. Soul Train for instance. What was the big epicenter of Soul Train? You never saw the DJ in Soul Train. It was all about the dancing, it was all about the music, all about the sound. We sort of came together and we brought this back. You know, we made the focus - the dance, the movement, the vibe.
Shorty: It's all about delivering a brute force hi-fi, sonic experience you can't get anywhere else without destroying your eardrums or getting hearing fatigue. You can be in here for hours and you don't even feel like you're in a nightclub.
Q. What, to the average person, should one know about the difference between the analog platform in sound, to others?
Bruno: You know, they'll will feel it. When we turn this on for you, you'll feel it. You will have all the different bandwidths underneath you coming to you at once, without the ear-fatigue. You know, you'll notice that in most nightclubs, people usually try to run off the dance floor! After a little while, believe it or not, they want to go off. Psychologically what's happening, it's called protection. The body does three things: it protects, corrects and defends itself. All right. It sends a signal to the brain and says, 'OK, get - away - from - here' and that actually happens! Here, you come in, the system's on, you don't leave the floor. It's a magnet.
Q. As a designer, do you get requested to set up, install and curate any one-off events as far as the analog sound?
Bruno: We have, we have been asked numerous times especially after we opened the venue. But we're trying to keep it home here. You know I mean why why go off anywhere else. You know let people come in, but we are open too.
Shorty: Of course we're open to venturing off by bringing the product as a permanent fixture elsewhere, but we're not a mobile sound system. Yes, but we're open to nightclubs buying the product for permanent installation, when opening up a new spot etc.
Q. Is there a challenge in working with the many different artists that pass through Analog BK, who may not fully appreciate or utilize the space's ideal sound?
Bruno: No, not at all. No, not at all. I mean every artist that we've hired here from the minute they walk in... First of all, the booth was designed by him (points to Shorty) and he's a DJ you know, I'm also a DJ myself and we did the Q. & A. ourselves to ask, ‘are we comfortable in this booth?’ You know everything's been done, from rubber on the floor to make it easy on the joints, and more. We really want to make sure also, there's a couch back there too. It's like a mini-apartment, we're actually sticking a fridge back there in a few weeks too.
Q. So because of the space, this whole sound quality thing being so unique like no where else, is that intimidating for talent coming in at times?
Shorty: If they don't have experience.
Bruno: If you have a rookie deejaying here, you'll see it. It has happened. You know usually you don't know, but you still welcome them, they all learned and we all know, you know - everybody needs a break. To come in and you know get that one shot in the big room here, actually we work with them. We work with everybody. We work with a lot of major promoters in the city, as well as abroad, where DJs want to come just to experience it. So it's been really refreshing. You know it's been good, knock on fake wood (he laughs)!
Q. We've all been to crazy festivals, great energetic performances and wildly impressive shows - what's the ultimate show experience or memory for you here?
Bruno: All of it, all of it, I can't say that one night has gone by, do you agree?
Shorty: Yeah pretty much and I mean I think each artist has got own way of doing things.
Bruno: They all bring their best foot forward when they're in here. They're all very memorable.
Shorty: You have the WRECKED parties which are over the top, you have David Morales, Louie Vega, we just had Black Madonna, before we had Kerri Chandler, Harry Romero, we can go on. We can remember it now like it was day 1 from the day we opened (March 6, 2016). We started off doing one-off events to get the word out, but as a nightclub weekly, we really started off consistently in May (2016).
Q. I know in particular that 1970s Jamaican sound of roots, dub and sound systems shaped a lot of electronic music of today. I'm assuming you've passed through a few different waves of generations in trends, culture and movements in music - what's really exciting about this time?
Shorty: Indeed, so true - that’s the foundation. Well, for starters, now it's OURS. WE create the brew.
Bruno: And not only is it ours, what's exciting for me is the mesh that's going on right now. Back then, it was very divided, very separated. It was either young or old, it was really divided heavily on genres, even as far as different house (music) genres, you know. Now, pretty much everybody goes out, it's one big community. You know it's not as separate, not as divided and I love that, I love the fact that everybody is together you know that they commune, right now for lack of better term, you know, and in one space.
Q. What do you think is the main catalyst for that, just time or what's your take?
Bruno: Society has progressed, to a certain extent to where we no longer fear race. We no longer fear each other or we don't look upon each other as lesser of a human being because of? You know, race or ethnicity or anything of that sort. So that merging, that bridge-crossing that we have, you know everybody coming together under one roof. I mean, yea, I've seen episodes and thank God here, in New York, we're a melting pot of the world. New York City, God bless! But we're united by sound, united by music. Time and time again, people have discovered that. It's great when I'm on the floor and I see someone who came down from Connecticut, meeting up and bonding with somebody from Jersey, meeting and exchanging thoughts and ideas.
Shorty: There's people that flew down from England, Germany, Montreal, just to convene here. It's amazing how it all plays out.
Bruno: Brooklyn was always an ignored borough. I mean, I actually did security here when it was SRB, I ran the security here. And all I told Arden the building owner, you have a dream boat here, you just don't know it yet. And here we are, years later.
Q. You spoke about the positive of now. Anything in particular you miss or has been lost about yesteryear's music scene or sound that's not really around today?
Shorty: It is around today, the SBS Slammer (he laughs)!
Bruno: Well, sound-wise as far as tracks themselves, everybody's using synthesized instruments as opposed to live instruments in recordings. I feel that, that's been lost.
Shorty: Louie Vega has implemented a lot of live instruments in his recordings, so it's still out there.
Bruno: Yea, it's still out there, but it's too few and far in between. Now, anybody with a laptop and headphones and a program can produce, it's a bit too easy. There's no pieces and values to it you know, I mean it's out there you have the ones that actually are musicians that come into this, incorporate it, but (pauses) it is what it is. We appreciate everything here. Everyone should be admired for just stepping up. Just for stepping up, it takes courage. Just to stand behind that booth, it takes a lot.
Q. What about non-electronic music, is there a certain movement or lane for artists/genres interested in the analog sound even performing at this venue?
Bruno: Yes, yes, absolutely, yes. There's been a marriage going on. You have a lot of people that are marrying live instruments with electronic sound. They have like a a drum machine with the synthesizer, but with the live guitar. So it'll be like a rock/techno/hybrid type deal, and then there's different people that come in here and do ambient live music or modern chamber music, with instruments and our stage's set up, mics are set up and we run it right through the analog system and the replication on it is amazing. You know, we're set up pretty much for anything. We don't get a lot, but it is that we get a few shows like Andy Stott, Demdike Stare. One was techno and the other was ambient, and people loved it!
Q. IF, just if you could name two artists that come to mind that define this venue or the analog sound, who'd those be for you?
Bruno: The definition has been made by every artist, large or small that has come through here. I wouldn't be able to give you one, or two. I can tell you that everyone playing on here we appreciate and love. I will never be able to answer that you know, like honestly, I love them all equally. Music is universal and it's been forgotten. We're not close-minded, if you are, stuck on one genre, you're not a venue, you're not really into what music is about. I thank everyone, each day and everyone that came - big or small, because they've become a stepping-stone for us, to know and learn different sounds, letting us experience difference sounds through this sound system.
Shorty: The club owner's mentality has always been, as long as it's loud, is all they care about. Let's put up some flat screens, stock the bar, etc. We've done the opposite, I don't like it loud, I care about definition, I want clarity, I want dynamics, imaging. We've taken every measure to make sure they dynamics are right, from the time you walk in that door, and they just gravitate towards the space.