Rock is Dead: Rock Your Halloween with Unit J

Unit J
Mama Juke is one of the bands performing this year. Photo courtesy of Paige Russo Photography.

Unit J is a Bushwick-based organization that, for the past four years, has rocked Halloween. Anyone who attends one of their NYC-based events can expect to see killer costumes, incredible live music, and lots of room to dance exhaust your skeleton!

Past “Rock Is Dead” shows included: A 10-piece David Bowie Cover Band, The Clash, The Ghost of Patsy Cline, The Beatles, Music from The Big Lebowski, and The Talking Heads. 2019 marks the first year that UNIT J will do a SECOND show at Red Lion in the heart of the West Village. The concerts take place on October 26th and 30th!

Unit J is one of the most collaborative initiatives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, that has grown into a thriving community for artists that have showcased in Brooklyn’s Northside Festival, SoFar Sounds, and SXSW. Among the bands playing at the event is Mama Juke, a group that is proud to describe its music as a gumbo of New Orleans influenced blues, blue-eyed soul, funk, and folk. Jon Wert is the drummer of Mama Juke which is also one of the organizers of the show.

Unit J
Unit J is a Bushwick-based organization that organizes NYC-based events with costumes, live music, and lots of room to dance! Photo courtesy of Paige Russo Photography.

Recently, Jon discussed the show and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into music and what drew you to rock in particular?

Jon Wert (JW): I got into music as a little kid because my family played music around the house and sang along all the time.  Later as a teenager I got into playing drums because it was just so darn fun, and progression with it was limitless. Unlike math class, or science, where you learned one lesson at a time, the more I learned with the instrument the more I just kept exploring. Eventually I really got into rock music because of the unique feeling of power and expression, and because of good old-fashioned teenage angst.  1990s alternative rock in particular will always hold a place in my heart and shape my playing.

MM: How did Unit J start and how would you describe its style?

JW: The right people at the right time moved into the place together, all creative people working within the arts with diverse skill sets, and they all were interested in transforming the place into a venue/rehearsal space/gallery/etc. Enough friends and colleagues got involved and quickly a scene sprang up, and it’s been building ever since.  In terms of its style as s venue for a concert/party it’s laid-back, comfortable, but gritty, a good place to go to see a great show and mingle casually at the same time without commuting to Manhattan. It’s taken on an identity that’s very much a product of the people who live there and the nearby community that hangs out there.

Unit J
The night is full of live music, costumes, and other fun. Photo courtesy of Paige Russo Photography.

MM: Why does the Halloween season appeal to you so much?

JW: People like to party and get weird on Halloween. Get more out of the box than usual. It’s a great excuse to put a lot of work into making a sweet show! And since we had the idea of doing an annual Halloween show four years ago it’s been a tradition, one of the biggest shows that Unit J puts on.

MM: What can guests expect from your concert?

JW: Tons of high-energy, soulful and rocking music. It’s a very Halloween-themed environment. Plenty of costumes, space to rock out on a crowded dance floor or take the show in from comfortable nooks throughout the room, and space to decompress outside in what is still a fairly low-key, off the grid block deep in Bushwick.  Really a live music dance party that outclasses 9/10 venues in NYC, in my humble opinion!

MM: This started in Brooklyn, so what has the move to Manhattan been like?

Unit J
Unit J is an organization that is based in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Paige Russo Photography.

JW: There are a lot of musicians involved and we like to play shows! We’ve been fortunate to establish relationships with places like The Red Lion as bands to the point where we are able to work with them to allow Unit J to present shows around town consisting of many of our closest musical collaborators. It’s been fun! I think it’s just been about developing trust with music bookers and then discussing doing something special and basically taking over the venue for the evening for a Unit J Presents show.

MM: What kinds of costumes have people attended in?

JW: All kinds!  Really, like all kinds of costumes.  I was Luigi once, that was cool! Also, a zombie Beatle once when we played a set of all Beatles tunes.

Unit J
Halloween is a busy time of year for Unit J. Photo courtesy of Paige Russo Photography.

MM: Do you have other creative projects coming up that you would like to discuss?

JW: Yes! Mama Juke will be releasing a 3-song EP very soon that we’re stoked about.  In fact, everyone involved in these bands has a lot of irons in the fire and I’m excited about all of it.  I’m really proud of the broader scene of musicians I know associated with Unit J and/or NYC in general that are putting great work out there these days.  I feel like it’s our own personal little renaissance era in terms of what we’ve built up so far and what’s coming soon.

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Rock is Dead IV – The Halloween Show at Unit J-October 26th

Unit J Presents Rock Is DEAD IV at The Red Lion-October 30th