Jersey City has a new destination for live music. And fittingly, it’s in a building steeped in music history.
512 Quantum Sound, at 512 Paterson Plank Road (where Jersey City Heights abuts Union City), opened in 2019 as a restaurant and lounge, and almost immediately found itself shuttered due to the pandemic. Now, it has successfully reopened, and cousins and co-owners William Martinez and K.C. Mathias have turned the building’s second floor lounge into a live music venue that will regularly host an eclectic mix of mostly local acts.
“I understand what it’s like to be a musician, what it’s like to need a place to play, and how hard it is to make it to the top,” said Mathias. “And this place has an aura that musicians understand. It has a history.”
Coming up, 512 Quantum Sound and ANDA Presents will host “Hiphop Medley” on Aug. 5, a night of rappers and beatmakers including Ri, Voidness, Dutch Kills, Dae the Video, Parker Gandy and others, with guests Marco Plus and Jake Fonda.
Heartbreak Papi, an R&B performer from Camden, will co-host on Aug. 13 when the club and A Night About Music collective present an eight-act bill that includes Jersey City’s Ali DeLeon (who sings in English and Spanish), Jersey rapper The Plug Dino, tri-lingual Newark entertainer Hippi Africano, Van Allen (known for his indie/hip hop mash ups) and youthful soul/pop singer-songwriter Nate Ouellette from Westwood.
“Most of these are young artists, I’m giving them their first opportunity to do a show,” said Mathias, who acts as host or co-host, introducing the acts and welcoming the crowd. The shows at 512 Quantum Sound have no cover, in order to encourage attendance.
Originally built as a chandelier factory in the late 1800s, the two-story building at 512 Paterson Plank Road took on new life in 1981 when Reggie Lucas, best known for producing Madonna’s debut album, bought it and opened Quantum Sound Studios. (Lucas is remembered with a plaque on the corner of the building.)
Grammy-winning producer Andy Wallace mixed albums for Helmet and Rage Against the Machine at Quantum Sound, and superstars like INXS and Queen Latifah recorded there. In 1999, Lucas sold 512 to Timothy Gilles, who renamed it Big Blue Meenie; Gilles’ studio became a home base for some of the biggest-selling emo and punk bands of the decade, including Thursday and Taking Back Sunday. Over the years, 24 gold and 10 platinum albums were produced or mixed in the building.
Enter Martinez and Mathias, first cousins who grew up in the neighborhood and had a successful construction business. “We knew this neighborhood, we remembered when Jersey City Heights had a bar on every corner,” Mathias said. “All that was gone and we wanted to help bring it back. Originally, we wanted to open a little pub, a place on the corner where people could come in for a beer and some food.”
The pair had purchased a liquor license but couldn’t maneuver through the red tape necessary to open a bar in Jersey City, despite trying several locations. “Tim Gilles wanted to retire and, originally, he had the building and a vacant lot a few blocks away that he was trying to sell,” Mathias said. “We wanted the lot to build our pub but Gilles wanted to sell us the building.”
At first, the pair demurred. But eventually, after seeing the studio and learning of its history, they found themselves hooked. It took several years to raise the money to buy the building; years more to renovate it. “We kept asking Tim Gilles to be patient, and he waited for us,” Mathias said. Then, almost as soon as 512 Quantum Sound opened, the pandemic brought everything to a stop.
“We were in panic mode,” Mathias said. “We didn’t have any idea what we were doing when we opened the place; we were learning the restaurant business as we went along. And then we had to close, but the mailman kept on coming, bringing the bills. When we started the business, we had no intention of doing live music.”
Live music came into the picture after 512 reopened and Jacqueline Smith (of the social media site JCMusicScene) had a showcase cancelled at the suddenly shuttered JSQ Lounge. “She asked us if she could move her show here, and we said yes,” Mathias said. The showcase went so well that the idea of turning the second floor lounge into a music venue became a no-brainer. Now the space has lighting and a sound system, and word is getting out that it’s a new place to play.
“Bands reach out to me and I book them, and I like to think I’m building something here,” Mathias said. “The idea is to give them a place to play and then bring them back and have bigger shows.” Since the venue’s liquor license can be transferred to other locations, Mathias noted that he’s even considering doing a large-scale show at someplace like the Jersey City Armory with national acts.
So far, the venue has hosted a variety of music, including Latin bands, alternative rock like Hoboken’s Rio the Messenger (who Mathias thinks has a huge future), several A Night About Music showcases, and a metal/industrial bill that included Jersey City’s Trash Executioner, Eye Defy and Dark Matter. (Jersey City doesn’t have a big metal scene, but everyone in it turned out that night, it seemed.)
“That was the heaviest metal show I’ve ever thrown,” Mathias said.
Another night of heavy rock is being planned for Aug. 25, with the return of Dark Matter and Jersey City’s Lost Echoes booked so far.
The first floor restaurant and lounge of 512 Quantum Sound commemorates the building’s history with murals of Madonna and other stars who recorded there. The second floor has an almost sci-fi theme, with psychedelic projections behind the band area, lots of neon lighting, and futuristic lighted panels behind the bar. The lounge and a rooftop space are also available to rent for private parties, weddings and other events.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy when we bought this place,” Mathias said. “I’d like to prove they were wrong.”
For more on 512 Quantum Sound, visit facebook.com/512QS.
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