In Bushwick, Brooklyn, the newest music-centric DIY venue is the product of music professionals venturing out on their own. It has a stage, state-of-the-art audio-video recording equipment, and you’ll be sure to hear Slayer.
But it’s the dulcet tones of a Seattle-made Slayer V3 two-group espresso machine you’ll be listening to in its attached cafe, FirstLive CoffeeHouse. Open for just over a month now, the cafe is slinging Gimme! beans via drip, espresso, and Kyoto-style cold brew, and works in harmony with the FirstLive music and livestreaming venue.
Brooklyn has long been a destination for music creators. And of late it’s been on the forefront of New York’s specialty coffee coming-of-age. But FirstLive marries the two explicitly, tying together FirstLive’s music venue guides, production business, and appreciation for good coffee.
Coffee and music are both social solvents, bringing people together. And while the overlap of the two isn’t as universally understood as, say, coffee and office drudgery, they’re definitely intertwined. Just look at Steve Albini’s documented affinity for Kopi Luwak and Dave Grohl’s well-documented hospitalization and coffee addiction. Lots of singers cut their teeth on the standard “Black Coffee”. Maybe you’re a fan of the Descendents’ “Coffee Mug”; or perhaps Blur’s “Coffee & TV” is more your speed. You might even enjoy the novelty of “The Coffee Song” among the uncountable others. At least one academic-leaning paper has been written about the appearance of coffee in music.
Whether it’s the DJ pouring the rosetta in your latte, or the lyricist penning lyrics over their fourth cup, coffee has likely been behind the scenes of some of your favorite music.
When pressed on the link between coffee and music, FirstLive's founder, Danny Garcia, shared his experiences from his time as a road sound engineer: “I’ve toured with several bands, and I’ve been all over the place; and every musician—everybody I know—they have their own coffee ritual. It’s amazing. One of the first things we do when we go to a new town is look for the best coffee.” From what he’s seen, it’s a near-universal experience. “Music people love their coffee.”
It’s that ritual and the ability for music and coffee to bring people together, that sparked Garcia to open the cafe. He wants to give music people that great coffee experience he knows they look for, plus a little something more. It’s a space to have coffee and talk about music. “Like the Parisian left bank in the early 20th Century,” head barista Nick Fraser semi-facetiously explained. (Naturally, he's a musician/DJ/producer/Bushwick resident himself.) An ambitious comparison, sure, but only half-joking. The team hopes FirstLive will become a true hub of New York City’s music performance community.
Garcia’s excited about getting to know the industry side of coffee from an appreciator’s perspective. He draws parallels from his music engineering background to making coffee; an appreciation of technical acumen and attention to detail are important to both music and coffee production.
The opening of the cafe was a year in the making, but once they started rolling, everything began to come together serendipitously. Fraser came into the picture after he saw Garcia working on the then-unopened FirstLive Coffee. Fraser needed a job and Garcia needed someone to sling the coffee; the two hit it off. Musician and technician talent is literally walking in off the street; in addition to his own experience, Fraser cited two patrons who ended up being featured on-air by the FirstLive team: Sphie, a local musician/regular, and Cam Galpin, who came in for coffee but left his demo after a compelling conversation.
The shop entrance opens on the cafe side of the business, with a fairly spacious counter area and two small tables for patrons. The low-profile buildings of a heavily mixed-use stretch of Bushwick means plenty of light. Almost immediately, visitors will encounter a straightforward, narrowly focused menu for the coffee and pastry options. Rather than name all of the variations in espresso and milk ratios, they took a page from NYC predecessor Ninth Street Espresso (who themselves read Prufrock’s playbook) and just offer “espresso and milk,” allowing the experienced Third Wave drinker use of the lingo and removing naming convention confusion for everyone else.
And unlike the marble or poured concrete of many a Third Wave shop, you’re likely to notice the counter was built using music gear trunks. A closer look around the shop and you’ll see audio equipment like mics and earphones on display, some of which will soon be available for sale online from FirstLive. The walls are painted to match the color-coded borough demarcations in the FirstLive NYC venue guidebook, adorned with the names of neighborhoods where you can catch a show any night of the week.
The space is so enmeshed with the music side of Garcia’s FirstLive business it’s almost like a theme cafe. But all of the A/V equipment isn’t just for show; this is a studio. They’re set up for streaming interviews and performances in the rear of the shop, helmed by team member and technician Ariel Zino. As young as they are, they’ve hit the ground running with an archive of content already available at their Livestream site, with Daniel J. Morrow booking and interviewing the talent. Expect a regular schedule of interviews and performances in 2016. Utilizing Blackmagic Design Studio with an 8-input switcher for video capture and streaming, alongside a 40-input Behringer X32 Producer, the current 4-camera HD setup will soon be upgraded with five 4K cameras, placing FirstLive ahead of the curve for internet broadcasting.
The FirstLive brand is intended to go beyond its current inception. The guides will expand past New York and Austin, and the cafes will ideally follow. The goal is to have FirstLive Coffee spaces just like NYC that can showcase acts performing in various cities, live streaming introductions to the bands that are touring through the venues cited in the guides. Garcia believes strongly that “it’s very important to connect live music venues and artists,” and he wants FirstLive to be a physical and digital hub to make that happen, over good coffee.