VIA puts down Pittsburgh nightlife roots at 6119

| Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 4:44 p.m.

For the past two years, the VIA Music & New Media Festival has helped put Pittsburgh on the map for ambitious, forward-looking new music.

While plenty of other festivals spend all year building up to their main event (and have staff working on it year-round), VIA isn't content just sitting and waiting for it to roll around again.

Instead, VIA actively presents one-time events at venues all over town, all year long. Now, they're opening a permanent venue for smaller events (and parts of the festival) in East Liberty, called 6119 (“sixty-one nineteen”).

“It's BYOC — Build Your Own Club,” says Lauren Goshinski, who runs VIA with partner Quinn Leonowicz.

“We're not interested in running another bar or straight-up club. It's intended to be more like a ‘Gallery 2.0' — with some of the amenities of a club,” she says.

VIA has become synonymous in town for a certain hard-to-define kind of music, not limited to a specific style or genre. They've staked out a sort of imaginary middle ground somewhere between the gallery and the club, art school and house parties, the instantaneous ether of the Internet and cracked pavement of Pittsburgh. Their signature presentation — pairing music with cutting-edge visual/video artists — also sets VIA events apart.

The grand opening for 6119, on Friday and Saturday, brings two VIA favorites back — French hip-hop producer Onra and Mexican beat-maker Toy Selectah, who missed the last VIA Festival because of illness.

Onra creates humid, hazy, nocturnal hip-hop out of samples ranging from vintage funk to '60s Chinese and Vietnamese pop. Toy Selectah blends hip-hop, moombahton (combining Dutch house and reggaeton), reggae, traditional Mexican/Columbian cumbia and other rhythms ricocheting through the Mexican club scene. Later this week, VIA is hosting another show at Gooski's in Polish Hill, featuring psychedelic drone-rockers Blues Control with locals Fogged Out and Gangwish.

Although East Liberty has gone through an amazing transformation in recent years, attracting new residents, restaurants and stores, the traditional main drag on Penn Avenue is still plagued by vacancies. 6119 is between and above several abandoned storefronts, inhabiting a long-empty upstairs space with a checkered history as “all kinds of seedy clubs,” Leonowicz says.

The last VIA Festival took place on nearby Broad Street — indoors and outside. East Liberty Development Inc., which owns 6119, pitched the space to VIA as a possible venue.

They had already been thinking about just such a move.

“We were getting tired of carrying our sound equipment up the stairs (at other venues),” Goshinski says.

6119 is a long, slim room with a stage/dancefloor area at one end, and a bar along one wall. Big, newly painted white walls ought to be perfect for video projections.

It's a fairly rough, no-frills space, but it took a lot of effort just to get it into this condition. When they first checked it out, it smelled terrible, and had a decade-old drink sitting on the bar.

“It had dark-purple walls with glitter everywhere,” Leonowicz says.

6119 has a catering license instead of a regular liquor license, which enables alcohol to be served up to 52 nights a year. Bar nights will be presented by the Round Corner Cantina. The space will be available to other promoters, artists and organizations for rental.

“It's going to be half-club, half house party,” Leonowicz says.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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