Groundbreaking big band music from the heart of Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn Babylon

Danijel Zezelj, Darcy James Argue

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At the dawn of the 20th century, Brooklyn is being targeted by real estate developers with plans to build the world’s highest tower right in the centre of the New York borough. When master carpenter Lev is commissioned to construct a carrousel to crown the skyscraper, he finds himself torn between his ambition and his loyalty to the community. Brooklyn Babylon is an urban fable which unfolds wordlessly. The performance combines the haunting animations and live painting by graphic and comic artist Danijel Zezelj with the exciting, cosmopolitan polyphony of Secret Society, an 18-piece bigband led by Darcy James Argue – regarded as one of the great North American jazz musicians of the new generation.



Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
verhaal, animatie, live painting
Danijel Zezelj
video design
Jim Findlay
direction consultancy
Isaac Butler
Paloma Young
lighting design
Scott Bolmanregie
creative producer
Beth Morrison Projects
commissioned by
Brooklyn Academy of Music for the Next Wave Festival
with support of
The MAP Fund, een programma van Creative Capital gesteund door de Doris Duke Charitable Foundation en The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

A new work of originality, power, and beauty that left an audience slackjawed.

Studio 360 (United States)

background information

Brooklyn Babylon is a multi media production combining music with projected animations and live painting. It's a wordless narrative telling a tightly constructed story of a city which falls prey to the vanity of its mayor and the greed of a group of real estate developers.


The music for Brooklyn Babylon was composed by Darcy James Argue and is performed by his 18 strong big band Secret Society. Inspired by steampunk (a genre which combines fantasy and science fiction with historical settings, notably the Victorian age – hence 'steam') Argue's music shows that the dance orchestras that ruled the Swing Era never went extinct, but remained a popular and vital part of the evolving musical landscape. The result is a fresh new brand of big band jazz, giving this musical form a very modern, contemporary sound. Argue's music is rooted in the timeless works of the legendary pianist, composer and band leader Duke Ellington, but also betrays such diverse influences as minimalist music, Sonic Youth and balkan brass. For their first album Infernal Machines (2009), the band was nominated for a Grammy. The story for Brooklyn Babylon was written by comic book artist Danijel Zezelj, originally from Croatia, who also created the projected animations and will perform the live painting. Zezelj has created a series of grim, dystopic images of a city in decline, which are projected on a large screen above the big band. He employs sharp contrasts and dark shadows to create a style which reminds one of the silent films of the 1920's, the Russian avant-garde from that era and German expressionism. Both Zezelj and Darcy, who hails from Vancouver in Canada, have adopted Brooklyn's melting pot as their new home. With Brooklyn Babylon, they wanted to tell a story about the importance of a sense of community in the lives of people


The story is set in the City of Brooklyn in an unspecified time period — a mixture of the near future, present, and past. The city is a megalopolis, spiked with smoking skyscrapers, chimneys, tubes, cables, and wires, spreading wide, high and deep.


The main character is Lev, a master carpenter. Lev was originally an immigrant, but he has lived and worked in Brooklyn for many years with his granddaughter Mara. His speciality is sculpting wooden figures such as horses, dragons, elephants and gargoyles. One day, Lev is commissioned by the mayor of Brooklyn to build a carousel to crown a huge skyscraper to be built in the centre of Brooklyn. The skyscraper is to be the highest in the world. The mayor has thought up this megalomaniac project with a group of real estate developers. For Lev, it is the biggest and most important commission of his career. Too late he realises that the neighbourhood where the skyscraper is being built will be completely demolished; and that he himself has unwittingly worked on a project which has obliterated the part of Brooklyn that he held so dear. All the same, Lev keeps on working on the project. Then, on the day the skyscraper is to be opened and his masterpiece is to be unveiled, it turns out he has a magical surprise in store...


Darcy James Argue (1975) is a Canadian jazz composer and band leader. In 2009, Argue and his 18 strong big band Secret Society caused a sensation in jazz with the release of their debut album Infernal Machines. Argue mixes old-school big band music with new, post big band era  instrumentations, effects and technologies, calling it steampunk jazz.


Infernal Machines was nominated for a Grammy. Argue was included on more than 100 best-of-the year lists and won Best Debut honors in the 2009 Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll. Argue has topped the Rising Star: Composer category in the DownBeat Critics Poll for the past two years, and he has won the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards for Large ensemble of the Year and Up & Coming Artist of the Year.


A native of Vancouver, and former member of the Montreal jazz scene, Argue moved to Brooklyn in 2003 after earning a Master’s Degree in Boston while studying with legendary composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer. His awards include BMI’s Charlie Parker Composition Prize and the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award.


Danijel Zezelj (1966) is a visual artist and author of animated movies and graphic novels, Zezelj was born and raised in Croatia and moved to New York in the mid 1990's. His comic books and illustrations have appeared in many magazines across Europe and the US. His work has been published by DC Comics/Vertigo, Wild Storm, Marvel Comics, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s Magazine, Grifo Edizioni, Dargaud and Hazard, amongst others.


Since 1997 Zezelj has created multimedia performances with his wife the saxophonist Jessica Lurie, in which they merge visual art and live music.

In 2001 Zezelj founded his own publishing house and graphic workshop Petikat in his native Zagreb. Zezelj lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.