The globe-trotting hipster empire Vice Media helped make Williamsburg, Brooklyn, what it is now, taking offices there long before the neighorhood gentrified into a mecca for music, food and young people. Suddenly, however, Vice is finding itself the target of hostility in its own backyard.
At issue is Vice's expansion in the neighborhood, which involves moving into 60,000 square feet of real estate that has housed the indie music clubs Death By Audio and Glasslands. Both are closing. Some took the changes as a sign that Vice, which has grown from a Montreal magazine into a Brooklyn-based multimedia company backed by Silicon Valley venture capital and Rupert Murdoch, has changed as well, somehow dislodging itself from the scene it helped to build and popularize.
During one of Death by Audio's final shows on Tuesday, Tim Harrington of the band Les Savy Fav took the stage with "Suck It Vice" written across his body.
Last week, during a do-it-yourself art show at Death By Audio, someone painted "Fuck You Shane" on a wall, presumably a reference to Shane Smith, Vice's co-founder and CEO, as reported by Brooklyn Vegan. It was painted over.
And similar messages have bounced around social media.
I am nothing of a nostalgia hound, but sometimes it's clear cut: losing Death By Audio fucking sucks, and VICE is the fucking enemy.— Tofurkorey Beasley (@coreybeasley) November 18, 2014
Ad Age's emails to Glasslands and Death By Audio were not returned by press time.
Vice says it will back musicians and artists in Williamsburg as much as ever.
"Vice has been in Williamsburg for 15 years," a spokesman said in a statement. "Over that time very few companies have supported the neighborhood's independent bands, artists, freelancers and creatives more than Vice. As we move into the new space we will expand our efforts to support the same community we always have in new and larger ways."
All of this might seem like a non-event for Vice, which is valued at $2.5 billion with investments from Mr. Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, A&E Networks (which is owned by Disney and Hearst) and Technology Crossover Ventures. It has rolled out a news channel on YouTube, won an Emmy for its HBO series, struck a plan for a TV network with Canada's Rogers Communications and just announced a new music site with Live Nation. This week, it hired former Obama administration official Alyssa Mastromonaco to serve as chief operating officer.
But Vice bills itself as the "Time Warner of the streets," a counterculture version of traditional news companies like CNN or The New York Times. Keeping the "streets" in the equation will only get harder as the company grows.