In New York, the DIY scene has flourished once again
New York has a lot of underground scenes. Hand-lettered posters are given out in attic venues, Sharpie X’s mark hands, and everyone ends up back at that bar they always end up in. At one such bar, Milo’s Yard in Ridgewood, Queens, just on the border of Brooklyn, P.E. are DJing for the night. The bandmates mingle with the rest of the customers. Someone showers a girl at the bar with air kisses, then mans a turntable to change the record. Another musician gets up from one booth and immediately sits at the next for a chat. People laugh and take photos together and seem to relax, despite the Instagram post declaring it an Event.
In New York, the DIY scene has flourished once again, supported by a community of musicians, and P.E. – the Brooklyn-based band consisting of Jonny Schenke, Veronica Torres, Jonny Campolo, Ben Jaffe, and Bob Jones – are new to the landscape, even if their individual members are all veterans; a mix of musicians from two beloved bands, Pill and Eaters (hence the acronym). Their upcoming album, Person, out March 6 via Wharf Cat Records, is a major and celebrated step in the community they’ve joined and serenaded over the last decade.
P.E. officially came together when neither Pill nor Eaters were available, so a few artists from each took over the entertainment for a friend’s party. “There were enough people that were like, ‘Woah that needs to be a thing, how is that not a thing’ that we kind of convinced ourselves that it was worth pursuing,” Campolo says, gesturing to the rest of the band, all gathered on a cold, gray afternoon in Schenke’s studio in Greenpoint. That party was June 1, 2018. The morning after, Wharf Cat emailed them begging to know if there would ever be more.
The band did get together more, playing shows and experimenting. They collected raw materials of improvised sounds – Schenke, the calm, reassuring, leader-type, distorting synths; a vacuum cleaner making rounds on the carpet; Jones, quietly sunny, and his dog playing in the studio. “It was so open-ended and playful from the very beginning, like getting goofy in a way that neither of our other bands did or maybe felt like they could,” Schenke says. “So I think it allowed us to explore, consciously or not, just the things that maybe we always wanted to try.”
The band all found a fascination with the in-between sounds of life while recording: radio feedback, the static of an old TV between channels. At times, Person is reminiscent of the ’80s, the result of each band member’s relationship to media consumption in their childhoods. There’s a paranoid nostalgia in the record, with clashing synths and scratchy echoes bristling under Torres’s vocals.
Campolo, squinting through round eyeglasses, is the emotional barometer for the band. He describes the record as “darkly optimistic”. It’s melancholy but gives listeners permission to dance and release their anxiety without ignoring it. While there’s so much darkness in the United States now, P.E. explain there’s also power in expressing yourself despite it. Catharsis under the clouds.