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Death of the IG Party Flyer

Magazine Rack

A night with the Wedding Planners, an NYC collective with roots in hyperpop using email lists, zines, and word-of-mouth promotion to build a scene outside of social media and streaming.

By Anabelle Johnston


Everything, from the thick billows of hand-rolled cigarette smoke to the keg full of halfway deflated beer, was pulled from a coming-of-age movie. The ground was littered with discarded red solo cups, the walls lined with buckets of paint. It was like I had stepped back in time—or out of time—but due to the “no phones” mandate the bouncer gave at the door, I couldn’t check. Instead, I flipped through a stack of 30 handmade zines, skimming prose and poetry. As indie-pop artist Jacob Geoffrey (last name Sayat) took the stage (a dark blue tarp) and started tuning, I wandered aimlessly through the dimly lit warehouse, searching for my friend who had invited me to “this thing he got an email about.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but the event was the third in a series hosted by the Wedding Planners, a ragtag group of musicians, artists, and writers with roots in the pandemic-era hyperpop scene. The group has no official social media presence and is virtually ungoogleable. Instead, they promote their events with a collection of handmade zines and an ever-growing email chain, emanating outward from a core of recent NYU grads and LGBTQ+ music kids in Brooklyn. It’s a far cry from the attention-seeking promotional strategies I’d become accustomed to in New York City, which is largely the point.

The Wedding Planners was started by Sayat and artist and writer Madeleine Birdsell, two friends from Columbus, Ohio. For years, they and an extended group of hyperpop artists from across the U.S. had listened to each other’s tracks on SoundCloud and hyped each other up on Discord, but they hadn’t really established a community offline. Three years of pandemic isolation had made it increasingly clear that the internet wasn’t a particularly hospitable place for artists and scenes. So when members of the friend group finally made it to New York—often by way of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU—they were determined to develop the in-person scene they never had. And though their music was still brimming with brash synths and digital distortion, the Wedding Planners wanted it to be as offline as possible.

“We began this just wanting to play for each other,” Sayat said.

In February 2023, as many friends and recent graduates converged on New York, Sayat and Birdsell made a group chat where they could throw around ideas and jokingly named it “Wedding Planners.” Throughout that spring, a group of seven, spearheaded by Sayat and Birdsell, crammed into coffee shops and tiny apartments to outline their vision: a hyperpop underground that borrowed more from the Ohio punk scene than the digital forums where the genre took seed. Inspired by the DIY shows her sister attended back in the midwest, Birdsell wrote the introduction to the group’s first zine, Stop Recycling, early that year. “Inside is some stuff that people wanted to show you,” she wrote. “It’s for you! It’s for us! We just ask that you keep it off the internet. In the spirit of zine culture, we’d like to keep it physical, local, and real.”

“Hyperpop was maybe the most online a scene has ever been; the internet was the location, the city where hyperpop blew up. The next logical progression of the scene is to tether it to a real place.”—underscores

When the hyperpop musician underscores picked up a copy of Stop Recycling at a Mercury Lounge performance by Stevie Bill, Jacob Geoffrey, and Diva Smith, she recognized it was time to take her friendship with Sayat off Soundcloud and work with the group to make something happen. “Hyperpop was maybe the most online a scene has ever been; the internet was the location, the city where hyperpop blew up,” she wrote in an essay that she circulated among friends a few weeks later. “The next logical progression of the scene is to tether it to a real place.” Before long, underscores had become a member of the Wedding Planners and used part of her record deal to purchase a PA system for the group, making it possible for them to program anywhere.

Starting in May, the Wedding Planners began throwing events at venues across the city, including the Living Gallery in Bed-Stuy, Bobby’s Night Out in the Lower East Side, and an office space on Mercer. Eventually, the group set up near-permanent camp at a plaster studio in Bushwick run by founding member and musician alesloveletters’ father. From there, they threw events nearly every week through the summer of 2023. The warehouse was essential to anchoring the Wedding Planners to a geographical place, achieving the physicality Birdsell envisioned. It also allowed the organizers to develop a rhythm—and eventually, to begin experimenting with multimedia installations featuring video art, painting, photography, and poetry.


Art: Rasmus Svensson

In a way, this scene is just the latest iteration of a familiar New York tale. In the book This Must Be The Place: Music, Community, and Vanished Spaces in New York City, writer and walking tour guide Jesse Rifkin chronicles the phenomenon—seen everywhere from the West Village folk scene of the 1960s, to the Tribeca loft scene of the 1970s, to the indie music scene in Williamsburg in the 00s and 10s—whereby artists enter a neighborhood and build a new artistic scene there, only to get get displaced by the wave of hype, foot traffic, and gentrification they unwittingly help facilitate.

Looking back on the last 60 years of NYC music history, Rifkin describes this process as a sequence of four stages:  “1) A small tight-knit community of mostly white musicians making oppositional, marginal art settle in a neighborhood primarily inhabited by a longstanding ethnic community. 2) The music is promoted through a network of small, shabby venues. 3) Increasing attention to the scene draws in entrepreneurs looking to exploit the music and the neighborhood for their own gain. 4) The scene itself collapses, with a handful of artists elevated to fame, and many more fleeing the city because they can no longer afford their neighborhood, which has been taken over by wealthy Johnny-come-latelies who displaced all the people responsible for the things that made it appealing to them in the first place.” Viewed in this light, the Wedding Planners’ under-the-radar tactics can be seen as an attempt to protect the scene from the inevitable.

In her essay, underscores had outlined some ideas of her own about outpacing this phenomenon, referencing how streaming services and labels fueled the commercialization of hyperpop by “[lumping] people into a scene via a playlist and [championing] the most marketable acts. Industry interference is something we should actively be trying to outrun,” she wrote. “And the solution, I believe, is making our events as lame as possible. When an A&R guy is asking around for cool events to go to on a Saturday night, our show should not be in the conversation. [...] These shows should be janky (or as Gabby puts it, boof) and cringy, because, if we think about it, that’s what a lot of us inherently are…”

The Wedding Planners’ “if you know, you know” approach may recall the homemade zines of the 1960s Village folk scene like Broadside and Sing Out!, which connected audiences to artists and shows with articles, reviews, and sheet music. Or David Mancuso’s invite-only Soho Loft parties of the early 70s, which offered a safe space for members of the city’s burgeoning, intercultural house and disco scene. Or, more recently, the efforts of Todd P,  a promoter whose early embrace of the internet mailing list as a promotional tool played a pivotal role in incubating the North Brooklyn DIY scene of the past two decades, creating a digital hub where fans of all ages could find shows that were off the (musical and geographical) beaten path.

“Everything was fucked up after COVID. The hyperpop scene was dying. Everyone was freaking out about Dimes Square and Perfectly Imperfect. With the Drunken Canal and Meet Me in The Bathroom and Freakquencies, there was this sense of urgency around physical media. We wanted to throw a basement show but without all of that snarky, ironic, faux-counterculture stuff.”—Matt Lorence

But the Wedding Planners’ project is also a response to a particular moment. To hear them tell it, the group was reacting to the post-pandemic corporate party hellscape that seemed to stretch out all around them, dominated by multi-sponsor Instagram-flier parties and thirty-dollar cover charges. “Everything was fucked up after COVID,” said Matt Lorence, a DJ, artist manager, and one of the founding members of the group. The hyperpop scene was dying. Everyone was freaking out about Dimes Square and Perfectly Imperfect. With the Drunken Canal and Meet Me in The Bathroom and Freakquencies, there was this sense of urgency around physical media. We wanted to throw a basement show but without all of that snarky, ironic, faux-counterculture stuff.”

The event felt distinctly DIY and, despite the NYU affiliation and multiple mentions of Berlin I overheard while waiting for the bathroom (it seemed everyone had just returned from a two-week stint), was incredibly sincere. Photos were discouraged; it turned out the $8 I paid at the door actually went to the Brooklyn Community Foundation, a “community philanthropy” nonprofit; the signup sheet for their email list ran out of lines for names. For a while, I stood in the back of the warehouse next to someone who was perched in the venue’s single visible chair, wielding a broomstick to deter anyone from getting too close. I took this as a challenge, and plopped on the ground beside them, making small talk about my warbled crush on one of the photographers loosely affiliated with the event. They humored me, even as people approached one by one, as if paying their respects.

“That’s underscores,” my friend whispered with near-awe when I returned. “She’s on the cover of Lorem right now.”


Art: Rasmus Svensson

Over the course of several hours, the music moved between registers within the broader indie-pop and hyperpop umbrella, before descending into a series of informal DJ sets by organizers and friends. The performers—which included bedroom pop artist Scarlett Taylor and folk-ish singer Rose Paradise—wandered off the tarp-stage and into the audience, clutching their microphones and gesticulating wildly. “I swear I saw Timmy Chalamet slide in her DMs,” alesloveletters crooned on an upbeat synth track titled “Finding Love on Raya.”

“Wedding Planners sort of started as a training program for musicians who hadn’t yet had opportunities to perform,” Birdsell said. “Because everything started online, the shows were almost an afterthought. When they actually got onstage, people would just play their tracks and kind of bop around. We wanted to give people a chance to experiment without worrying about creating some permanent public image.”

The Wedding Planners aren’t the only young promoters leaning into a more community-oriented approach. Clara Joy is a musician and event planner whose genre-bending house-shows, often thrown in collaboration with Antonio Gustavo and requiring people to dm for location, have generated something of a cult following in the city across different age groups and music tastes. When she put out an open call for performers on Instagram, Joy was surprised to find that people had a “real need for DIY spaces and communities,” and set about making that possible for an eclectic group of artists including K Porcelain, Sourdough, Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos, Tamio Shiraishi, and the Beak Trio.

“The shuttering of venues due to COVID and gentrification turned artists towards house shows and experimental collaborations,” she said. “Musicians and audiences needed experiences that weren’t attached to these failing institutions. With every show we want to create something that is colorful and strange, moving from soft indie folk, to broken saxophone noises, to weird bluegrass-punk. And we can do that for ourselves.”

Uptown, Columbia University-based collective Xenia hosts DIY shows in the (“I-hate-to-say-it-but-dark-academia”) house of the arts-oriented Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, an opportunity that organizer Chambit Miller seized on as an undergraduate in the organization. The events themselves have drawn audiences from beyond Columbia, who are motivated by the low cover charge and performances in non traditional spaces. “Space is political,” Miller says. “In all likelihood, we’ll probably never have access to a venue like this again.”

“Our goal was never an ‘i-D’ write up. We just wanted to play for people who wanted to be there. And people kept showing up, week after week.”

But how long can this moment last? Semi-secret shows and anti-Instagram promotional strategies hold obvious appeal for audiences who want to be in on something, so how under-the-radar can these projects stay? And if the Wedding Planners do manage to stay relatively offline, can they stay afloat in a scene that is as expensive and competitive as New York? For now, they seem unconcerned with that, focusing on building community and giving musicians a place to play. “Our goal was never an ‘i-D’ write up,” says Lorence as I write them up. “We just wanted to play for people who wanted to be there. And people kept showing up, week after week.”

The Wedding Planners’ show ended early, just past midnight, out of respect for the neighbors and the plaster business. A vacuum was unsheathed, and the artists took down the stage while about a quarter of the audience lingered to help clean. I stayed behind on cup duty with an overeager Philadelphia transplant who had just moved to Greenpoint and was “stoked about the food scene.”

The keg was wiped down, the floors swept, the equipment packed and tucked in a corner. Someone proposed a bar, and we all shuffled down Flushing in pursuit of a beer below room temperature. In an almost deserted backroom, I danced for a while with a guy who told me he would do a much better job than the current DJ. On my way back to Crown Heights, Birdsell gave me the last remaining zine to take home.

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