In the clubs: the ND

Booker for for­mer film sound­stage calls the East Austin space ‘Elec­tric Lounge 2.0’

Austin American-Statesman - - MUSIC - — Chad Swiate­cki

At first blush, the for­mer film sound­stage that now goes by the name of the ND doesn’t look like much of any­thing. It’s es­sen­tially a gi­ant con­crete-and-gird­ers cube.

And that’s ex­actly what Mike Henry likes most about it.

‘It’s al­ways evolv­ing and can be a mil­lion dif­fer­ent things,’ said Henry, who part­nered with own­ers of East Austin’s 501 Stu­dios to open the ND (for­merly The In­de­pen­dent) in late 2008. ‘It’s a chameleon and you can do just about any­thing with it, which lets us be open to just about any idea for a show, as long as there’s a cer­tain level of qual­ity to it.’

That ‘we’ll try any­thing’ men­tal­ity has helped the ND be­come one of the city’s most in­ven­tive and for­ward-think­ing venues since it re­branded it­self fol­low­ing this year’s South by South­west con­fer­ence.

In that time it’s hosted na­tional tour­ing acts and scads of lo­cal bands just like any other space in town, but when­ever pos­si­ble added wrin­kles to give shows a spe­cial edge and ap­peal. Like a May lo­cal bill that in­cluded an at­tempt to set the world record for the largest robot dance, com­plete with cos­tumes.

Or Henry’s fa­vorite, a cel­e­bra­tion of rap star Dr. Dre’s birth­day that fea­tured mu­sic by DJ Mel, a video ret­ro­spec­tive on the venue’s gi­ant screen wall and au­di­ence mem­bers drink­ing 40-ounce bot­tles of malt liquor, com­plete with fit­ted koozies.

‘The days of throw­ing four bands up on a stage and charg­ing $5 a per­son … that’s not very com­pelling any­more and not what I want to do,’ said Henry, who booked Austin’s revered Elec­tric Lounge un­til its clo­sure and now pro­grams the ND with the help of cre­ative di­rec­tor Krissi Reeves. Weekly po­etry slams, im­prov and theater and more fill out the cal­en­dar, and the pair plan to have the ND ac­tive five or more nights a week by this fall.

While the vast space can be tough to en­gage with — es­pe­cially in the case of a sparse crowd — when it’s packed as it was for a show­ing of the World Cup fi­nal match, it’s as lively a place as you’ll find in town.

‘I call it the “Elec­tric Lounge 2.0,” be­cause I still want to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for the artist and the crowd than you find any­where else,’ Henry said. ‘Now you’re a cu­ra­tor as much as any­thing, and so the whole cal­en­dar speaks to what the room is and what it’s about.’

Thao Nguyen

The ND at 501 Stu­dios uses the spar­tan space as a blank can­vas, book­ing eclec­tic shows such as a cel­e­bra­tion of hip-hop icon Dr. Dre that in­cluded a video ret­ro­spec­tive pro­jected on a wall.

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