On the opening night of Northside Festival’s music portion last Thursday, the masterminds behind Brooklyn’s shared performance space, Unit J, celebrated their official extension into a record label.
Unit J is a collection of six guys who converted their Bushwick loft into an intimate concert venue and shoot space. They’ve created a tight-knit music family hosting several shows a week in their home.
The launch party, hosted by House of Yes, featured a screening of videos shot at Unit J and live performances from a lineup completely curated by the label. Alternating between a main stage and a small acoustic stage, the lineup showcased BR Mackie, Amos Rose, Quincy Vidal, Chanese Elifé, Unit J co-founder Dru Cutler, Jadon, Mama Juke, The Rusty Guns, and Revel in Dimes – artists who all have played many shows at the loft.
Interview with Unit J co-founder, Dru Cutler
I had the opportunity to speak with Dru to learn a bit more about the venue, the label, and the plans for the future.
You all share a collection of different talents. Had you seriously collaborated on any performances or multimedia projects before coming together to renovate and create Unit J?
Oddly enough, I didn’t know a single person here before I moved into Unit J. My girlfriend moved to the Midwest and I had only one week to find a new home. I stumbled across this empty warehouse that was looking for another roomie.
We all moved in on day one and met each other. We were rolling the roommate dice, really. We had five dirty couches, a giant pile of unopened boxes and an LED TV sitting on the floor playing Game of Thrones on loop. Our hot water constantly turned off and strangers were regularly sleeping on our floor. It was a miserable place.
It took some time to find a cluster of artists who shared a similar vision, which has been my message from day one. Forget where we are, let’s talk about where we’re going.
Fast forward a few years and we’ve all collaborated closely. We actually get along quite well. I recently made a music video called Familiar that was premiered at the Palm Beach International Film Festival.
My roommate, Pete O’Hare, shot the video, and we created some of the final scenes right here in our living room.
I imagine having guests over all the time could get exhausting. How often do you host performances at Unit J? About how many people can it hold or do you typically allow?
We had a New Year’s Eve party that had about 130 folks, it was insane. Jam packed. Armpits and elbows. Needless to say, people broke shit.
We’re very careful about the amount of events and type of events that we host. It’s not just a venue that you can show up to on a Tuesday night and demand entertainment. We have a high bar for the folks that play here. They’re part of the extended family.
We focus on talented artists that will ultimately sound good in our space. Remember, Unit J is essentially a concrete box where the audience is less than 3ft from the stage, so it can’t be too loud.
What led to the decision to expand from an intimate venue to a full-blown label?
We kept meeting talented folks and having conversations about the challenges of being an independent artist. The idea was quite simple: what if we work together collectively instead of competitively?
The idea of a “record label” is constantly shifting in today’s digital world. We think of it more as an umbrella for us to collectively work under.
How did you go about picking the roster of artists for the start of the Unit J Record Label? How much are you looking to expand this roster over time? Are you focusing on any particular genres?
In order for fans to trust our label, it’s important that we continue to curate heavily. We’ll continue to grow slowly and organically over time.
There are plenty of Brooklyn artists who have the look, fantastic voices or incredible music chops. None of that matters if they can’t write a song that connects with people. Songs are the soul of the artists and gems of the label.
Beyond that, we embody a gritty DIY spirit. Millennial artists can’t be lazy. They have to get their feet soaking wet, their hands filthy dirty and be hyper-confident when talking about the business of music.
These are artists that we — and any label — would look for.
Could you tell me a little bit about the shoot space in the loft? Is it usually used in collaboration with the music scene for videos and promo shoots or is it a separate entity?
We rent the space out for shoots and private events. We’ve hosted dinner parties, music video shoots, birthday parties, film screenings, record listening parties and more. It’s a perfect balance of living room comfort and professional studio.
What are you most excited about with the official launch of the label?
Short term: Meeting more talent. Long term: Pressing records on vinyl.
You can learn more about Unit J’s new label and upcoming projects here and stay tuned for posts about upcoming shows at the loft.