This Restaurant Wants You to Lie on the Floor and Listen to Music for 5 Hours
Lying around in blankets is just part of Indoors at Nowadays' boundary-pushing mixture of live music, record-spinning and delicious food.
"People are definitely coming to, like, get cozy," says Justin Carter, co-owner of Indoors at Nowadays in Ridgewood, NYC. He's talking about Planetarium, a new "immersive hi-fi listening session" held at what's either a music venue with rare dedication to food, a restaurant with rare dedication to music, or both.
Whatever it is, it's beloved enough to have crowd-funded over $100,000 for a sound system that’s getting put to some unusual uses. That's because Indoors at Nowadays is the latest iteration of an ongoing project by Carter and co-owner Eamon Harkin, who are also the DJs behind the city's long-running Mister Sunday and Mister Saturday Night dance party series (and its accompanying record label). The parties, which strive for inclusivity with ground rules including an active ban on "racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic comments; touching you didn’t ask for; verbal or physical violence; and anything else of that ilk," found a permanent outdoor space when the pair started Nowadays in 2015, followed by its Indoors complement in 2016.
Along with food from Henry Rich (of Rucola and Metta), Indoors at Nowadays features not one but three audio systems so painstakingly put together they've been written up in Vogue. Its two-home hi-fi setups are where, Carter tells Food & Wine, he brings his personal vinyl collection to play when events aren't happening. But that massive crowd-funded rig provides sound on weekend nights, when the communal seating area is cleared for either dance parties, or the more subdued Planetarium series.
Often DJ'ed by Carter, Harkin or fellow DJ Josh Dunn, Planetarium creates a five-hour musical experience by mixing recorded music with live bands in an unusual way. "It's not like all of a sudden the DJ'ed music stops and then the live set starts and goes for 30 minutes and then everybody claps," Carter says. Instead, Planetarium aims for a seamless integration of the two, and Carter proudly recalls how once, a friend asked him what record was playing, and in response, "I pointed at the vibraphone player that was playing live five feet away."
It's a concept he's considered for a while: that not every kind of music actually lends itself to the standard live show format, where a band plays a longform set on a stage to a standing crowd. But it was really driven when Carter released his own album last year, and couldn't quite fit it into any events. “There’s one track on the record that would maybe make sense at the early part of the evening at our parties," he says, "but really it's more music to get lost in."
To give you an idea of what kinds of music fill those five-hour sessions, he cites a warm, looping cover of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room” by British artist Jacob Collier as the “one song that always springs to my head when I think of Planetarium." And, he adds, no one would be surprised to hear minimalist classical composers like Arvo Pärt or Steve Reich (whose looping rhythms influenced electronic and dance music to come), or pre-war blues like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson. The most recent Planetarium was based around the Voyager Golden Record, and accompanied NASA's 1977 space-bound compilation of humanity's greatest tunes with "other interstellar music."
"Obviously that's a very niche thing," Carter admits, "but I think good food makes it easier for people to approach the other stuff that's not as straightforward." To facilitate the immersion into that sonic experience, Planetarium asks listener-diners to remain silent while between the four speakers around the floor, and stay at a low volume outside it. Also, blankets. "We used to do planetarium as a once-a-month thing in a private loft," Carter says, "and tell everybody who wanted a blanket that they had to bring a blanket."
But now that it's moved to a permanent space, Nowadays has bought 50 yoga blankets to share, and still encourages people to bring pillows, blankets, sleeping bags or whatever else will make them feel comfortable sitting or lying on the floor. And while Carter has yet to see any full-blown forts, he has seen huge stuffed animals used as pillows, and even an inflatable bed that resembled a "giant marshmallow." If you're planning on bringing together food and music for five hours on a floor, this seems like a pretty thematic choice.