Lofty ambitions make the Lo-Fi a reality


March 08, 2007|By SAM SESSA

The new Lo-Fi Social Club in Brooklyn began the way most great live music venues do -- as an idea that took on a life of its own.

Graphic designer Neil Freebairn complained with his friends last year about the Talking Head closing and the city's shortage of live music venues and art spaces. Then Freebairn heard about a warehouse for sale in Brooklyn and decided to turn it into a club.

"As soon as one person decided to do it, everybody else picked up the torch and got involved," said Freebairn, a 31-year-old who lives in Hampden. "It just took one person to start the ball rolling. Everybody else I knew took it from there."

The result is a fitting successor to the Talking Head -- an intimate space with solid sound quality and better parking. It's set to plug the hole the Talking Head left.

With its chipping white paint, the outside of the club doesn't look like much. When Freebairn took over the place, the inside was even worse. Ceilings were caved in, the electric system was shot, and the hardwood floors were scratched and dirty. It had been shop space for mechanics during World War II and had sat abandoned for some time, Freebairn said.

Freebairn and his friends worked nights and weekends to fix the place up in time for a big New Year's Eve bash. They sanded and refinished the floors, rewired, installed new bathrooms and put fresh coats of paint on the walls. Freebairn said they would work all-nighters and then go to their day jobs the next morning. As a result, they worked themselves sick.

"I had to go to the hospital," Freebairn said. "I wound up having pneumonia. I was forced to take a month off and recover."

The club's first show was New Year's Eve 2006 -- the night of the Talking Head's last concert. The Lo-Fi was purposely closed in January to give Freebairn and the others some time off. Then, they started booking mostly the same kinds of local and national bands that played the Talking Head. The indie rock-heavy roster also includes electronica, folk and electro-rock.

Freebairn said that right now he's happy to fill the place and isn't too worried about turning a profit.

"It wasn't supposed to be a money-making venture in the first place," Freebairn said. "We figured as long as we break even, we're always fine. We all have day jobs that we're all proud of. We're all in bands, we're all artists. This is just more of a community-oriented venture."

While the Mount Vernon arts crowd and Hampden hipsters might gripe about the Lo-Fi's location (it's out of biking and walking range), Freebairn said suburbanites definitely like the spot. It's on South Hanover Street in Brooklyn, which means they don't have to drive downtown.

Thankfully, there is plenty of parking in a lot next door and across the street -- something the Talking Head needed.

The atmosphere inside is laid-back and fun. It's all one floor, broken up into several rooms: one with a pool table and fireplace, another with a small bar and a third with the main stage area. The whole club is still pretty clean, which is probably because it's new, but I hope Freebairn and the rest of the gang will keep it in decent shape.

The small area in front of the women's bathroom had a dressing table with a mirror and a couple of chairs. A lit cigarette burned in an ashtray on top of the table, and a half-deflated blow-up mannequin sat in one of the chairs. If that is any indication, the Lo-Fi will do well in Baltimore.

The only part of the decor I question is the weird black squiggly shapes that are fixed to the walls. They're too small and too far apart to fill the rooms well. But the most important part of any club is the sound quality, and the Lo-Fi does not disappoint. It has a warm sound that carries into all three rooms but doesn't overpower.

Early on, when Freebairn was trying to come up with a name for the place, it was clear this wasn't just a one-man job. Every name he thought of was shot down by his friends. They ended up naming it the Lo-Fi Social Club, which he originally objected to but now likes.

"Even though I started this, it automatically became not mine anymore," Freebairn said. "Once everybody else got involved, it became a group effort."

The Lo-Fi Social Club is at 3403 S. Hanover St. For a list of coming shows and more information, go to

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