The Mayor of Sound City
When Kikei moved into a Williamsburg rehearsal space, he thought he'd be living music 24/7. Problem is, he was right.
Sound City, the rehearsal space where I play music, is an all-hours complex located in North Williamsburg near McCarren Park. Technically it is two conjoined buildings, with over thirty separate rooms and bands of every possible shape and temperament. Matt and Kim used to play here, so did Interpol and, according to the Sound City website, Biohazard. The rooms vary in size, but the walls are thin everywhere. If you share drywall with a metal band, or an industrial noise duo, or both like I do, you’re forced on many nights either to cut practice short, or engage in a kitchen-sink type loudness war on par with the final battle scene in Ernest Goes To Camp. Usually the other bands win.
Directly across the hall from my space, and sharing a wall with the same noise duo, lives a 30-year-old man who goes by Kikei. He has no affiliation with Sound City, and his own band, Living Days, rehearses at a different spot. He has lived in the complex by choice since February 2009, and with the management’s blessing since May 2009. ”Eric Clapton locked himself in a room for one year and played guitar, and this was my vision too,” he says.
The Miami native has floppy curly hair and thoughtful glasses. He favors button-down shirts and speaks in well-enunciated sentences with romantic tendencies. He sees bands break up regularly, often before they even get a chance to record. “There are songs from my New York experience I’ll never be able to hear again,” says Kikei. “I can only remember them, or hum them in my mind.”
Kikei goes to sleep around six in the morning, and wakes at around eleven or twelve. Bands rehearse throughout the day, but the building becomes quiet again around 1:30 at night. “When the place is empty, that’s when I play,” he says. “I’ll jam and I’ll go crazy here by myself. I have my good jam every day.” A bathroom outside the Sound City business office on the second floor has a shower head on a wall. Water goes all over the floor, but Kikei has his showers daily.
This past Saturday Kikei invited me into his room. It is a white-walled space with high ceiling painted blue, about 11 feet wide by 14 feet long. A twin mattress sits right on the carpet in the far corner, made up and with a considerable number of pillows on top. The room is clean, with keyboards and guitars along the walls and put away in their cases. There is a lava lamp in a different corner on the ground, and a small black and white Sony monitor that Kikei uses as a night table.
The room’s prominent piece is an enormous painting of an angel. It is about five feet wide by eight feet high, and takes up the entirety of one wall. The angel is naked, with large breasts that she covers up with her hands. Her head is thrown back as if she is being assumed back into the heavens. It was painted by Rado Ivanov, the charismatic Bulgarian artist who founded Sound City. “He never liked this painting,” Kikei says.
Two egg crate patches are glued on the other two walls, but they are useless against the outside sounds. The noise duo, a young This Heat-influenced band called Yvette, have just begun rehearsing. The drums seem to be setting off MIDI triggers, which let loose deep, long tremors that reach all the way out into Sound City’s loading dock. ”There is a horrible sound that they can make,” Kikei said. “It sounds like you’re hitting a hammer mallet against a metallic — no, it sounds like Wolverine slicing through metal.” The band has only released one seven-inch, but Kikei is able to hum their forthcoming discography. ”It feels like death creeping up on you,” he says. When it is just too much, he leaves the building and watches the Hasidic men play baseball across the street.
For the times he has no place to go, Kikei has invented what he calls the White Noise Solution. A vintage Fender amplifier someone left behind when moving out of Sound City is connected to his iPhone, which has a program called White Noise. “I pick the one that says airplane travel,” Kikei says. Suddenly the room fills with the thick sound of a plane engine cutting through the air. Kikei pays $950 a month to live in Sound City.
It can be scary at night, he says. “I was walking outside and I went to go to the bathroom. As I’m outside on the loading dock, I start to see these very big drops on the floor. I think it’s blood. It’s so vibrant, so fresh. I start to see this huge trail of blood on the floor. I’m walking, following this trail. These drops are just getting bigger and bigger. They were thick. They had hills. They were hills of puddles. I get to the bathroom and it’s just blood everywhere. I have the pictures. Want to see them?”
Kikei detaches his iPhone from the amplifier. The photos are of the first-floor bathroom, the one most tenants use. The sink and floor are soaked, even the mirror and toilet seat. The amount of blood is mesmerizing. “That was the first thing that made me feel like maybe I’m not living in the best place,” Kikei says. This September, he hopes to move in with his older brother in West Village.
Photo courtesy of Kikei.