How Haustoria DJ Collective is building Astoria’s dance music scene from the ground up

'It sounds cliche, but if you want to do something, just build it and do it,' says Haustoria's Dan Simkin.

How Haustoria DJ Collective is building Astoria’s dance music scene from the ground up
The back room at a Shillelagh Tavern during a Haustoria rave in April, where a group of local DJs are birthing a new dance scene that doesn't involve going to Manhattan or Brooklyn. (Photo by Charlie Finnerty)

48th St. is as quiet as any other Queens residential block might be at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. Aside from a middle-aged man grabbing a late night case of beer from a corner deli and the fluorescent flood lights washing over Bryant High School, the whole neighborhood is asleep. But in the back room of an old Irish pub only a block away, Astoria’s house-techno scene is beginning to thrive.

Haustoria, a collection of Astoria DJs dedicated to building a techno scene in their home neighborhood, is still in its infancy. This time last year, founding members Robb Fauci and Jacob Henry didn’t even know each other’s names, but tonight The Shillelagh Tavern is packed from the front door to the back wall with locals eager to watch their sets.

“It's kind of insane to see,” Fauci said. “I know it's not like Madison Square Garden numbers, but watching it from where we're at, it was just four months ago that we were playing to, like, 10 people.”

Astoria’s indie band scene has been slowly building for years, fueled by groups like Miguel “Meezy" Hernandez’s Astoria Music Collective. Haustoria is looking to build off that legacy and take things in a new direction. Henry is a veteran of the local band scene and first attempted to bring his DJ sets to Astoria as a followup to his band’s concerts.

“We would DJ after some of these shows and we would just clear the room. It would be a full show, like 70 people, and then everyone would leave. We were like, ‘F**k we suck,’ ” Henry said. “I realized we had to just throw our own events and put it out there that this is for dance music, not for the rockers.”

Henry turned to social media, appealing to Astoria’s active Reddit page in search of anyone else who shared his passion for dance music and connected with Fauci, who had also been putting together raves himself. The two met at a show and immediately began to share ideas for how to build their vision with other DJs and enthusiasts.

“The reason I wanted to start putting on shows is because I didn’t want to leave Astoria. I wanted to stay here.”

“We have so many DJs from all different walks of life and everyone brings just such a crazy unique experience with that. I just feel like this neighborhood has not had that in a long time,” Henry said. “We are really bringing in, I truly believe, a multicultural, multiethnic thing in this space that represents Astoria.”

From left to right: Kyle Joseph, Robb Fauci and Jacob Henry behind the DJ deck at a Shillelagh Tavern Haustoria rave. (Photo by Charlie Finnerty)

Kyle Joseph, Fauci’s longtime musical partner, helps with the curation and creative direction of branding and event production. While many current neighbors might not be accustomed to the late nights, Joseph said he sees Haustoria as rebuilding a club scene that predates the rapid development of Long Island City and the influx of Manhattan commuters in Astoria.

“I remember back in the day, I would go to Long Island City a lot to different warehouse parties. It was a really cool budding scene,” Joseph said. “I'm just really happy and excited that house music and techno music is alive, well and thriving in Queens where I live. I think it proves that people love Queens and they want to be in Queens for more than just eating and drinking.”

Raves in a residential area

Deuce Stenström outside Shillelagh Tavern during a Haustoria rave. Organizers say they are mindful the raves don't upset Astoria's residential neighborhoods. (Photo by Charlie Finnerty)

One challenge that comes with hosting raves in Astoria is avoiding upsetting neighbors on residential streets near venues that have traditionally been sleepy pubs or sports bars that close earlier in the night.

“We don’t want to bother anyone. There’s been some times when the neighbors call and we will turn it down. There’s a thing of ‘We don’t want that in this neighborhood’ and I do get that,” Fauci said. “But at the same time, there is a lot going on in this town and in this country and people need a release. Shillelagh has been here for a long time. People complain about the new music we’re bringing in and people were probably complaining about the new music they were bringing in in the 1980s. It’s a cycle.”

Deuce Stenström, one of the DJs who responded to Henry’s original call online, said Haustoria’s success is built from group effort of people pitching in when they can while balancing their day jobs.

“We have a med student, we have a social media marketer, I'm a stagehand on Broadway shows, Jacob is a video technician, Robb works in construction,” Stenström said. “We run the gamut of all kinds of different professions and things.”

Join The New York Groove as a member and get access to bonus content, swag, community events and more. Sign up today!

How the show comes together

Despite their grassroots origins, Haustoria is ambitious in its production value, building elaborate sets with custom projected visuals, lights, fog and smoke machines.

“We put in a lot of work for this, we spend all night building these things,” Henry said. “It’s not just a table. The last event, Robb brought, basically, a construction scaffold to use as a DJ deck. We created this whole Mad Max looking thing.”

 Construction equipment from Fauci’s day job has been repurposed as a DJ booth at Haustoria events. (Photo by Charlie Finnerty)

Key to these elaborate set designs is Dan Simkin, Haustoria’s production manager and designated “sound guy.”

“Dan is literally a wizard, a genius electrician,” Fauci said.

“I’ve seen this guy open up a speaker and just solder something and fix it on the fly,” Henry added.

Simkin said he had never worked production at a venue before but is a self-described “tinkerer nerd.” Like everyone involved in Haustoria, he fills multiple roles as needed throughout the night, trading off turns behind the soundboard, programming visual projections, fixing equipment on the fly and — of course — playing a set behind the decks himself.

“We’re doing what people were doing in the DIY scene of the 90s,” Simkin said. “Instead of waiting to get a residency at a club, we’re actually putting on these events and building it on our own, even if no one shows up.”

Haustoria finds itself somewhere between the quiet restaurants of Queens and the exclusive clubs of Brooklyn, always making sure the door is open to anyone interested in stopping by.

“I’m noticing the more we throw these shows, I'm meeting people who are like, ‘I would never come out to something like this, I'm so happy you can do it in the neighborhood. I can come with my friends, I can come alone even, and feel comfortable,’ ” Fauci said. “We want people to feel safe. You know, indulge in what you’re going to indulge in. As long as you are there for one common purpose — to see music and dance — then I think you're gonna be fine.”

While some promotional material may suggest a friendly rivalry with Brooklyn’s clubs, the inspiration and support Haustoria draws from their contemporaries in Kings County have been crucial resources in building a parallel scene in Astoria.

“We always want to have our roots here,” Fauci said. “The reason I wanted to start putting on shows is because I didn’t want to leave Astoria. I wanted to stay here.”

“We just saw the scene in Brooklyn and we were like, ‘Why can't we have that here?’” Henry said. “We even put in some of our ads, ‘Don't go to Brooklyn, stay in Astoria,’ because that’s the whole thing, but the reality is, we love Brooklyn. We are inspired by everything there, a lot of us work in nightlife there.”

DJs take turns running lights and production software at the back of house between sets. (Photo by Charlie Finnerty)

Keeping Haustoria accessible for locals

The Haustoria shows are free, and Fauci said they're going to try to keep it that was for "as long as we possibly can."

"When I was growing up going to raves and festivals and stuff, it was always about finding out where the next free one would be at or the after parties," he said. "Always free. It keeps it more underground and less elitist.”

“When you’re younger, you get excited just about creating something and sometimes we lose that as we get older."

Earlier this year, Haustoria also hosted its first open-deck night where anyone could come by and take a turn DJing, outdoors under a bridge by Citi Field.

“A super scrappy kind of set up. We rented a generator and it was just friends of friends, very small scale,” Simkin said. “That was the first time we all got together to do an event and it was just a couple of people under a bridge.”

Through these open deck nights, Fauci and Henry said they see Haustoria as a launching pad for new DJs.

“Some of these DJs have never even spun in front of a live audience before,” Henry said. “There's all these open mics in Astoria but there's not that opportunity for a DJ, I certainly never had that. We want to foster new electronic musical talent.”

Haustoria’s biggest show to date was at Medusa Art Studios on Astoria Blvd. with over 350 people in the crowd. Katie Grammes opened Medusa five months ago as a variety event space and first hosted an event with Haustoria in February.

“I’ve been excited we can grow together,” Grammes said. “When you’re younger, you get excited just about creating something and sometimes we lose that as we get older. I can tell when I work with them that it’s just gonna be about creating. It’s just the excitement of being able to have an audience that I think makes them special.”

Looking forward, the Haustoria team hopes they can serve as an example for others in the DIY space as their own work continues to grow.

“The Brooklyn scene started 15 or 20 years ago as little loft parties with 15 to 100 people. It didn’t happen overnight,” Henry said. “And maybe this is a little bit illusions of grandeur, but we are inspired by that kind of arc. If we just keep our heads down and put in a lot of consistent work, maybe this could really build into something."

“It sounds cliche, but if you want to do something, just build it and do it,” Simkin said. “This is something I wanted to do since I was a teenager and I never did it. I hope that it inspires other people to take creative pursuits. Just get out there.”

The next Haustoria event will be June 22 at Bohemian Beer Garden. Follow @haustoria_presents and @medusaartstudios on Instagram for updates. 

Tips for keeping your house music in order
As NYC’s club scene heats up for the summer, staying plugged into performers across the city is the most reliable path to a good time any night of the week.

• Sites like nyc noise track underground and DIY music, arts and organizing events.
• New York DJs like Zillion, Moochie, yazmine rosario, Mil-house, SHOWCASE, KENDOLLAZ and wev are acts to keep an eye out for. •For those looking to follow the underground band scene throughout the boroughs, check out Oh My Rockness for up-to-date event postings.