The House of Vans Party’s Over

Sure Was Good While It Lasted

House of Vans landed in a nondescript warehouse on the north Brooklyn waterfront at just the right time. Williamsburg, just to the south, was rapidly transforming into the sort of place you were more likely to find a Jamba Juice than a sweaty rock club, its live music venues dwindling to essentially just the Music Hall. Vans set up shop with a three-ring-circus of a performance space just when we needed it most.

We were lucky to have it as long as we did.

HOV embodied a sort of controlled chaos that fit right in. You might wander in any given weekend and see a living legend, performance art, half-pipe aerial display, a hardcore band with gigantic electronic beats and a lead singer in a wedding dress covering Bad Brains, discover your new favorite band or maybe all of the above. When it closed in 2018, clearing out of the warehouse as if it were never there at all, there was a shock of appreciation that when through those who had experienced it. As Laura June Kirsch, one of the HOV photographers we spoke to about what those seven years were like, put it, “We were lucky to have it as long as we did.”

Whalebone Magazine connected with HOV photographers Bryan Derballa, Kirsch, and Jonathan Mehring, who between them covered the entire history of the space, to get their POVs on HOV in Brooklyn.

It was complete chaos in there with skaters flying around in every direction.

Photo Bryan Derballa

HOV house photogs share memories of some of their favorite nights at the Brooklyn venue

Follow @lovebryan, @laurajunekirsch, @mehringsbearings

Brian Derballa:  I was hyped when HOV opened. I’m a skateboarder, so I always loved the brand. And I was living in the neighborhood at the time. It was exciting but I definitely didn’t realize it would be so impactful on the culture.

Jonathan Mehring:  I was blown away at such an amazing skatepark in the neighborhood. It was complete chaos in there with skaters flying around in every direction. It was crazy and I love shooting action, so it was a great fit. I felt right at home.

Laura June Kirsch: The space is huge. It’s a completely unique space that also had that giant skate bowl in there and the big outdoor patio. You can’t beat that in the summertime.

Photo Jonathan Mehring

Derballa: The best part about shooting there was just getting to be at these epic parties all the time. Hundreds of people would be waiting a line that stretched for blocks down Kent Ave and I would roll right up on my bike, flash a pass, and get in.

Mehring: Generally all the House Party nights were insane. Tons of people totally letting loose, both in the skatepark and in the VIP room. That’s where they held open mic nights that would frequently erupt in to mosh pits and general hi-jinx.

Almost every band I wanted to see came through there at some point in time.

Derballa: When I first moved to Brooklyn in the mid-2000s, there were free shows every weekend in the summer—at McCarren Pool or Williamsburg waterfront. But that started to end as all the condos moved in and took over. HOV really filled that niche. Almost every band I wanted to see came through there at some point in time.

Kirsch: It was always so fun to walk in there and see what was added or what new art buildout was there was.

Photo Bryan Derballa

Mehring: It was such a diverse crowd every single time—it really blew me away. I loved that about it.

Derballa: Each summer there would be a hardcore show that would bring a very distinct crowd. They were great to shoot though. There was always so much audience interaction, crowdsurfing, and stagediving at those shows. Sometimes it would just be all skaters, which was fun for me.

Photo Bryan Derballa

Mehring: The best parts of shooting there were the crowd and energy everyone brought with them. It was such a positive atmosphere and creative people were drawn to it in abundance. So it was always a pleasure to see what crazy outfits and makeup people would come up with, and not even just the performers, the attendees, too. That was really sick to witness.

Kirsch: They really created a whole culture around it.

Derballa: I spotted icons of my childhood like Muska and Lance Mountain at various parties. But mostly, it was just a good cross-section of cool kids in Brooklyn looking for a good time, loud music, and free beer. It was always good vibes.

Ratchet By Nature. Photo Jonathan Mehring

Mehring: The Anti Hero skate night when Bad Shit played was pretty memorable. I have a photo of a guy sliding across the middle of the circle pit on his face, feet fully in the air, no hands. It was brutal. Beer cans flying everywhere. It was probably the most insane night there that I ever saw. Not the most crowded but the wildest for sure. Some of the bigger bands got crazy, too, but in a much more managed kinda way. People were crowdsurfing and making the bouncers work their asses off, but the difference was that there were bouncers. The Anti Hero night there was no one regulating. I feed off that kind of energy way more.

It was brutal. Beer cans flying everywhere. It was probably the most insane night there that I ever saw.

Photo Johnathan Mehring

Derballa: Future Islands played shortly after their Letterman performance and there was a lot of excitement around that. I remember Dinosaur Jr. did a surprise show and I made all my friends come.

Kirsch: Seeing Blondie there was incredible. And to meet Debbie Harry was insane in the best way.

Gwar splatters the crowd. Photo Bryan Derballa

Derballa: GWAR was amazing. I’d been hearing about their shows since my older cousin explained it to me at age 12. It was amazing to finally get soaked in blood shooting through an underwater housing on their Halloween show.

Kirsch: If you haven’t seen GWAR you need to go do it. Vans made these awesome special shirts that were white on white for that show at House at Vans, so when GWAR sprayed blood on the crowd, it really showed.

Charles Bradley. Photo Laura June Kirsch

Derballa: The Mac Demarco-Charles Bradley show was a really great mash-up. I’m glad I got to see Charles Bradley before he passed. What a legend!

Kirsch: Charles Bradley is such an incredible performer and he went and hugged every member of the crowd after he hugged me.

Derballa: The Dinosaur Jr. show was probably the highlight for me. I actually wasn’t shooting that night and just got to experience it as a fan. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. Even though no one was really doing it during their show, I climbed up during “Feel the Pain” and had an epic crowdsurf. I was up for at least a minute just getting passed all around. It was an incredible feeling. After shooting so many other people do that at HOV for years, it was nice to finally get a turn.

Tony Alva. Photo Jonathan Mehring.

Mehring: Probably Tony Alva frontside airing in the bowl is my favorite shot. It ended up being a Vans poster and I got to shoot a living legend that night, so that was pretty cool.

Derballa: I love the shot of Mac Demarco air-drumming while crowdsurfing. It’s just such a good moment and it’s a hard thing to capture in all that chaos.

Mac Demarco. Photo Bryan Derballa

Mehring: The last night really felt like the end of an era. It was super busy too though, so I didn’t really feel like it was any different until the product toss at the end of the night. That was a new thing and it was clear they wanted to give away all the gear they had so that made it sink in a bit.

Kirsch: The fact that it was around as long as it was is amazing.

Derballa: HOV was really special. It provided so much to the community of skateboarders, artists, musicians, and general cool kids in Brooklyn. From an indoor skatepark on snow days to a screening room for new films. Plus all your favorite bands. For free! For years!