When I meet people who are as enamored by the music of LVL UP as I am, they usually fall into two categories: individuals involved in some capacity within the DIY scenes of the greater Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region, or current/recently graduated college radio DJs.
These two categories are by no means all-encompassing of the Double Double Whammy All Stars’ fan base – given LVL UP’s recent tour supporting Japanese Breakfast, their support is undoubtedly farther reaching. However, I’d reckon the particular appeal of LVL UP’s music to the specific aforementioned demographics best speaks to the band’s strengths – their incredible work ethic in frequently playing at spaces along the eastern seaboard, and the youthful, experimental rock spirit embodied in their expansive discography.
It’s why seeing their last show at the Bowery Ballroom this past Friday was such an intensely emotional experience for many in attendance. To see a New York band like LVL UP, a project fostered in dorm rooms and spaces within the SUNY Purchase area, command the audience that they did during their seven plus year run and then call it quits, felt to many like the end of an era. Their farewell transmission was more than just the ending of one successful DIY project, but rather a benchmark event that represented the cessation of an awesome period of independent music and the beginning of something new.
Jonah Furman of Krill, who reunited to open for LVL UP alongside Philly’s Yowler, echoed this sentiment succinctly during a moment of sparse onstage banter last Friday. “LVL UP had a key role in cohering this music you all like… and they should be immensely celebrated.” It was a prescient statement coming from him, given the similar comments made three years ago about Krill when they played their last set at Brooklyn’s Silent Barn – a space that is itself no more.
Furman’s comments ahead of LVL UP’s swan song, a raucously fun, discography spanning set that went well past midnight and included deep cuts from Space Brothers and Extra Worlds, radiated not as the macabre moping from one finished project to another, but rather contextualized LVL UP’s conclusion as a necessary facet of the passing of time.
Independent projects will come and go – it’s an inarguable facet of DIY. But to hang onto the past in melancholia ignores the forward momentum set in place by longstanding stalwarts of self-starters; while the music of LVL UP was always exciting, enigmatic, and weird in the best way, the duality of their legacy comes from the foundation of their record label, Double Double Whammy, which has served as a platform for new artists like Hovvdy and Florist (both of whom absolutely rip). Their ability to congeal and further new, good music will extend well beyond the conclusion of the project that served as an impetus.
That being said, the remaining lingering depression I feel regarding the conclusion of LVL UP is best contextualized by the period in which I “stanned” the hardest. As a young adult in a city far away from home, I discovered their music during a period of immense personal change. It was a time that was equal parts exciting and terrifying, in which I was lucky enough to immense myself in a culture of defiantly different musicianship. LVL UP was a big part of that – not just for myself, but for many other musicians, writers, and artists that I met who were going through a similar change, and whose creative spirits were furthered by the unapologetic do-it-yourselfedness of four guys from upstate.
When LVL UP played their last song, fan favorite “The Closing Door,” it resonated as the natural conclusion of one period and the beginning of another – “I can’t see the floor, until you open the door, until you remember to let me in and pray no more.” I feel incredibly lucky to have had their music as I walk from one room to the next.