Journey with us through the depths of what one Yelp reviewer called “the slagathor daughter of a rat-infested swamp monster.”
I’m from NJ. North Jersey. Welcome to my photo diary!
I dig music… a lot. I also dig photography… a lot. Over the past few years I have spent countless late nights photographing shows at the staple venue of the DIY music scene in NJ (and perhaps the Northeast): the Meatlocker.
A quick glance into the garbage can evokes all emotions one can expect to find at the Meatlocker on any given night (seriously, go there on a Tuesday): a few too many hand-crushed beer cans, a (hopefully) empty box of Fruit Roll-Ups, a couple of greasy red-and-white checkered paper food trays (with some fallen french fries scattered about), one plastic water bottle, a ball of scrunched tinfoil that probably held someone’s pre-show midnight munchies, a sweat-drenched clump of paper towels… and that’s just the surface layer of the two feet of stuff below, all of which rests comfortably in this trash-bagless fifty-five-gallon drum whose inner walls look like a Pollock. I love it all. This is, of course, the essence of the Meatlocker: exuding the illusion of garbage in the most eye-catching of ways, ultimately creating the perfect performance environment for North Jersey’s (and America’s) rising garage bands. It’s the place for the unpolished. It’s a beautiful, raw display of directionless talent. It’s a whole bunch of dirt and rock and pressure that every once-in-a-while buffs out a gem. It’s fun as hell. It’s the Meatlocker.
Endless collages of stickers line all surfaces… I will refrain from describing them for obvious reasons. The floor is a little sticky. It is freezing outside, but I’m sweating (at least not as much as that drummer).
I thought heat rises and cool air falls, but this basement defies all norms of physical reality.
The Meatlocker is located in the downtown area of the suburban town of Montclair, NJ. It’s in the basement of some conglomerate of eateries and juice bars. It used to be a real locker meant for, shockingly, meat.
Before I left for school there was a full mannequin that just chilled around the venue; it must be completely tatted-up or dismembered by now. The whole place can fit about 100 people, maybe. I feel like it’s always a fire hazard down there, even if it’s a smaller show. It’s alright, though; it’s all part of the experience.
Who put all of this here? Can such an aesthetic be deliberate?
Supposedly, the Meatlocker has been around for years. Over a decade or two. But I haven’t gotten a clear answer from anyone on that end. Pretty much any type of band or artist plays here. Punk, folk, rap, metal, lo-fi, noise, blues. Anything from the most electric to the most acoustic to completely stripped-down. The Meatlocker is the place to be, to dance and scream and kick and flail… or hug the walls.
There’s even an old couch. There used to be a car seat (like, the whole seat from some mid-2000’s minivan, not just a booster seat for a child).
There’s usually a wavy-haired DJ keeping the music grooving between sets, playing pretty much anything from someone’s extensive 45 collection. While bands are setting up, people mingle, go upstairs for a slice or a cigarette, or check out the endless merchandise tables.
It’s not uncommon to see other local rising artists of any medium at the Locker, selling and sharing their pieces, or painting something original right on the spot.
Most of the bands that come through the Meatlocker stay anonymous, and there is something beautiful about this lack of commerciality.
There is a sense that people are there simply for the sake of being there.
Of course, the Locker isn’t for everyone… check out these eloquent quotes from some Yelp reviews of the venue:
“You’re going to leave feeling gross and uncomfortable.”
But what if I’m always gross and uncomfortable…
“Welcome to the dirtiest dump-dungeon you’ll ever meet. This slagathor daughter of a rat infested swamp monster wrapped in a cement coffin reminds me of the time I did heroin inside … Charlie Sheen’s future rotting corpse, only to later be dumped in a trash bin, covered in embalming fluid, and lit on fire with a burning hoverboard.”
“If I could give no stars, I would. this place is just terrible… the dirty ripped up furniture… I will never set foot there again.”
…and my personal favorite:
“The people there are stupid, maybe too stupid.”
If you’re like me, I’ve never been so intrigued to see a slagathor daughter of a rat infested swamp monster so up close and personal; and two-and-a-half stars on Yelp is a perfect score in my book.
Everyone is in the present at the Meatlocker. All the performers seem to be especially alive. The energy is almost always great and sustained for the whole night (sometimes 4 or 5 different bands play half-hour sets), and while there is no obligation to stay there for the whole show, people usually stick around.
One of the coolest vibes at the Meatlocker is that any given artist playing on any night may strike gold in their careers at any moment. Some bands that have made relatively successful careers after playing at the Meatlocker: LVL Up, The Front Bottoms, Pinegrove, Hodera, Modern Baseball. Be on the lookout for many more… (My personal top picks in the scene right now are Tula Vera, Sunflower, and Jean Pool)!
You can find out upcoming shows and contact the owners of the Meatlocker for booking by visiting their Facebook page.
Visit the Meatlocker in person, located underground: 8 Park St, Montclair, NJ 07042.