DIY – the scene that creates itself


Why the best way to fight capitalism is to put on free gigs:

Live music is a blessing so it is no wonder that since the birth of punk in the 1970s, people have been doing it themselves; putting on their own shows and creating their own scenes regardless of the conventions of the mainstream. D.I.Y was born as a rejection of consumerism, an attempt to create something pure, something uncorrupted by the greed of the music industry. Today, we see a return to this ideology. 2014 alone saw the closure of such seminal venues as The Blind Tiger in Brighton, The Cockpit in Leeds, as well as The Peel, Madame JoJo’s and Buffalo Bar in London. With more and more live venues closing down people are seeking an alternative, taking things into their own hands, and doing it for love rather than money.

D.I.Y music is about self-sufficiency. It is recording, producing and marketing your own music, booking your own shows and doing your own merch; all with limited means. A great example of this is Royal Forest, an experimental band from Austin, Texas. Their album Spillway is a combination of field recordings, the locations of which comprise of an aeroplane flying over Texas, the depths of a WWII submarine and the midst of a lightning storm in the Monahan Sandhills. The band recorded, produced and released the album themselves on their own D.I.Y label, King Electric.

However, arguably the most exciting thing about D.I.Y music is the D.I.Y scene it inevitably creates. America seems to be thriving with such at the moment; Speedy Ortiz heralding from Boston’s scene, while Twin Peaks emerge from Chicago’s. The consensus of such bands is that D.I.Y creates a community that is inclusive, stimulating and above all supportive. Yet D.I.Y is not confined to the wide streets, large houses and cavernous basements of America. Leeds saw the birth of Eagulls (pedantically described as ‘post-punk’ (a word that thoroughly annoys me and is in need of a replacement immediately)) in dubious house shows and basement gigs. Furthermore the band’s first release Songs of Prey was on cassette, a D.I.Y medium that is far from obsolete. Looking back to the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s, cassettes like zines were a rejection of consumerism and an embrace of communal creativity. Burger Records (“the answer to what happened to Rock ‘n Roll” Kim Fowley) follows this ideal, releasing music on cassette and unknowingly reinvigorating the format. The label began as a way to put out the music of their own band Thee Makeout Party as well as their friends’ Audacity. Now they have over 500 artists on cassette, even reissuing long lost masterpieces like Roky Erickson’s Evil One, as well as continuing to support Orange County’s thriving garage scene.

So what about London? Where’s the D.I.Y ethic, this communal goodness? Well the answer is everywhere, especially in the South East; you just have to know where to look. The Fat Whites’s notorious Slide-In was my introduction to the scene. Suddenly, I realised live music didn’t have to be confined to the protocols of specified venues; that in actuality a pub, a basement, a living room provided the exact right kind of claustrophobic excitement that live music thrives off. As I went to more and more gigs I began to see the community inherent to the music, and experience the belonging it fostered. Now I could distinguish Bat-Bike from Meatraffle, Telegram from Sleaze, Pit-Ponies from Phobophobes (all names which never fail to amuse my parents).

In 2012 the Live Music Act declared that live performances in venues holding fewer than 200 people could be staged without a special entertainment license. This was an attempt to claw back the diminishing and ever necessary D.I.Y scene. January of this year saw Independent Venue Week, a celebration of small music venues across the country. While Palma Violets took on Scunthorpe (er – that’s a town in North Lincolnshire apparently?) the Fat Whites returned to Brixton, to The Windmill.

However London’s D.I.Y scene is not confined to the growing yuppie kingdom of Brixton. There’s Steez, the non-profit art community whose monthly gigs are predominately held at the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham (sign the petition to save it y’all). They preach that everyone’s art deserves a place in which it can be nurtured for real, without the profiteering, just for the love, the ethic at the heart of D.I.Y. There’s Mickey Smith, the founder of the Chronic Love Foundation, there’s Rye Wax, there’s Trashmouth Records and there is any number of D.I.Y families I have yet the fortune to discover. 

So why write this article? Apart from my general enthusiasm, the rationale lies in going to arguably the first show true D.I.Y show I have ever seen. It was Thee MVPs 2.5th D.I.Y show (the 0.5 attributed to the fact it was the first venture outside of the MVP house in Hackey Wick). It was BYOB, £4 for four bands (The Whig Whams, Ex’s, Thee MVPs and Twin Peaks (the latter two of which both have music out on cassette – hook it up)) and it was in godforsaken Bow Church. The show was organised by Thee MVPs frontman Charlie Wyatt in a rehearsal space under a gloomy railway arch. It was here that I got to taste the real blood of true D.I.Y. This wasn’t a pub, or a specified venue, it was a space utilised because the bands wanted to play. It wasn’t about money or overpriced pints; for once it was truly just about the music. Stripped of the barriers and high stages of larger spaces, the audience and the artist merged. As Twin Peaks’ Cadien Lake James said I just prefer it, there’s no obligations no sound guys, no techies and no stage, just us and the crowd connecting like friends with no separation.’ So it was that as the screaming vocals of Twin Peaks filled up room and I fought for the better position with the Whig Whams lead, forbearing to save my now thoroughly bruised knees from the edge of the stage. The crowd was righteously inexhaustible, the confined space exasperating their excitement and aggression. Where Charlie Wyatt had bent his body over in tight embrace of his guitar, then jumped into the crowd to stage dive, Twin Peaks were slightly more reserved though nonetheless vigorous in delivering song after song of garage-punk and rock ‘n roll. Somehow it was completely different from any other show I had been to, it was emphatically independent; more like a house party than a gig, the merging of the bands with their audience more natural and complete.

Thus it seems D.I.Y is far from over. It’s everywhere, it just needs to be found, supported, celebrated and loved. With the dominance of consumer culture forever being forced down our throats, it is now more important than ever to nurture these little moments that are outside of the logic of capitalism. So go out and find some D.I.Y music, even better start something yourself. Embrace the D.I.Y ethic, do something you love, forget about the money and start living.

written by poppy, 18, LDN


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