Mike Stuto – former booker at venerated East Village live music venue ‘Brownies‘ since early 1994 – is somewhat of a celebrity in the NYC rock scene. He’s credited with giving starts to now-royalty names like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Death Cab For Cutie, The Strokes (need I go on?). Since these glory days Brownies has closed but has reincarnated in the shape of The HiFi – now one of the East Village’s best low-key rock bars. The HiFi has maintained that strong connection with the NYC music scene and stands as a clear-as-day representation of everything that has summed up both Mike and Brownies over the years.
Supper is gearing up for an epic CMJ Music Marathon in 2014 and we couldn’t think of a better brain to pick when getting to the bottom of what makes a good young band, a great venue and the state of the NYC music scene in general.
Who is your band-to-watch at the moment? Do you see anyone out there who has the potential to really explode?
“I love Parquet Courts and Ex-Hex and I’d love to see Future Of The Left get their due. And I’m STILL waiting for The Figgs to be recognized for being so perfect as a live act. Is it douchey and snide to say I don’t care who gets big? Because I don’t think about it much, to be honest. If I like a band and have access to their recordings and shows, that’s big enough….”
You played a major role at Brownies during an important part of history for rock music in NYC and in general. What did you see in the bands you booked before they were huge?
“I think I had a pretty unique perspective (as would anyone in that position) because I saw the hype from the front row – or I saw the hype develop; so I got at it from a different angle. Anyone who thinks they can really predict who’s going to make it before they can sell 100 tickets to a show is fooling themselves. Its totally unpredictable – and that’s a good thing. If you could really manufacture hit bands, that’s all we would get. And while The Monkees and The Sweet were great, I don’t want to live in a world with all manufactured bands…. I never would have thought that Interpol would be successful and I was sure that Skeleton Key would be huge. That said; The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were pretty safe bets from day one. Way too much charisma to be denied….”
What do you think it was about Brownies that made it such a hub for quality young bands?
“I think we were fair, I think we tried to put interesting and cohesive bills together. I think we championed stuff we loved as much as anyone, I think we had sound people who cared, and I KNOW we were very honest about money.”
How has the music scene changed in the East Village since Brownies became HiFi? Is the East Village competing with the Brooklyn scene?
“I don’t know that there is an East Village music scene anymore. I mean, what kind of young creative people can afford to live here? And as for “The Brooklyn Scene” – there has never been just one central scene in this city. Every form of music exists here in a somewhat healthy state – and no matter what you’re into you can usually find kindred spirits. That’s what separates NYC from most other cities – Its not monolithic at all. Everything has a place here.”
How was the process of morphing Brownies into The HiFi?
“It was a very blurry month (just one!) when my credit card debt quintupled. Looking back I don’t know how we did it so quickly.”
Do you think atmosphere and vibe are important elements at any bar? If so, how does this manifest itself at The HiFi?
“Vibe is everything in a bar. I hope we have a good one here. I’ve never tried to mimic what other bar’s are doing, or whatever the latest interior design trend is. I consciously try to make the bar feel like a place I would want to hang out. The best feature of HiFi, I think, is that its obvious that SOMEONE put love into it. That the someone is me is incidental.”
What is your favorite record on the HiFi Juke Box?
“Impossible to answer. There are over 4000 albums in there…. I can tell you that my list of favorite artists includes Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Spoon, Lloyd Cole, Elvis Costello (until about 1995), Tom Petty, Superchunk, Death Cab For Cutie, The New Pornographers, The Minutemen, The Figgs, Gram Parsons, Talking Heads… and a bunch more I am not thinking of. Too much amazing stuff out there to worry about favorites ; It ain’t a competition.”
Finally, what is your favorite record to spin when you’re cooking?
“Can’t say I have a specific one, but last night I made roasted chicken with rice and steamed vegetables while listening to Close to The Edge by Yes. They’re much cooler than people think!”
Check out Mike’s 46 track playlist packed with tunes regularly on the Spin at The Hi-Fi, NYC.