diy ethics

I love the DIY ethics of punk. You wanna be in a band but have no musical ability? You wanna put on shows but have no money? Wanna make a zine but you have no writing ability? Wanna draw but you can’t draw? Go do it, do what you want to do, the scene is full of people who don’t meet societies standards, we don’t need to be up to societies standards. Doing things is good, so do things! People that do things inspire other people to do things!

Bad Vibrations: The Sisters of Mercy, Psychic TV, and the Complicated Legacy of the 1960s Counterculture

“We were all wired into a survival trip now… This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create…a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody – or at least some force – is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.”


Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


The Sisters of Mercy and Psychic TV are both bands defined less by their intentions and more by their reception. The Sisters are synonymous, perhaps more so than any other group, with the protean subcultural and aesthetic label “goth.” Many different types of bands had been unwillingly tagged “gothic” throughout the early ‘80s, but by the time “goth” became codified as a self-identifying subculture at the end of the decade, it was the Sisters’ approach that was agreed upon as the paragon of the style. Their moody bass-driven sound, featuring gloomy baritone vocals and pulsing drum machine beats, provided the sonic blueprint for the countless gothic rock bands that abounded in the early 1990s, while goth fashions, previously more punk-derived, shifted to mimic their look: long black coats, long black hair, sunglasses, leather pants, paisley, broad-brimmed “preacher” hats. Every aspect of the Sisters – from their icy, scything guitar leads, to Andrew Eldritch’s delivery, to the staid Caslon Antique fonts used on their record covers, to their songs titled after women’s names – was imitated to the point that these became not just conventions of the band, but conventions of the goth genre. 


Psychic TV, a loose collective revolving around Genesis P-Orridge, can never quite crawl out from under the reputations of its members’ previous and subsequent industrial projects. Psychic TV is the band Gen formed after Throbbing Gristle broke up, or the band Peter Christopherson and John Balance were in before Coil. These are dark, grim, and scary projects, and consequently, Psychic TV is often contextualized as one more player in the dark, grim, and scary industrial milieu, their principal distinguishing characteristic being that they were also leaders of a genuine cult, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, that didn’t shy away from scary Manson/Jim Jones overtones. The industrial aesthetic that Gen and Peter had created in Throbbing Gristle was impersonal, colder than cold, a kind of futurism anxiously preoccupied with issues of mechanization, regimentation, totalitarianism, power, and control. Its music is a bleak, fractured, challenging soundscape fashioned out of what were then unprecedented experiments with electronics, overlaid with often improvised rants on often shocking topics.  


Both the Sisters and Psychic TV are understood as dark and cold. Both are seen as major players in subcultures of the ‘80s and ‘90s, identified with what they spawned. But what spawned them?

Punk raged into existence in 1976 denouncing everything hippy and everything ‘60s. It claimed it was Year Zero of a pop-cultural revolution, with all the old dross tossed out. Some punks viewed the 1960s counterculture with contempt as a co-opted and failed revolution. Others were too young to experience it, and simply found the detritus of its popularized and recuperated music and fashion boring and outmoded. Aside from a hardening and sharpening of the fluffy, flared aesthetics, punk sought to wipe out at least two major aspects of the 1960s counterculture. The first was the notion of “rock stars” as geniuses, high on a stage, their legends sacred, their guitar-wizardry to be adored and their profound poetry to be pondered. Johnny Rotten spat, “I don’t have any heroes – they’re all useless.” The Dylans, the Morrisons, the Joplins, the Hendrixes, the Jaggers, the Lennons – they were poncy, self-important divas. Punk, at least rhetorically, if not always in practice, sought to destroy the divide between performer and audience, to demythologize the rock star, or perhaps to offer the opportunity to be mythologized to any kid in the street with the gall to learn three chords, dress up, and form a band. The second reviled notion was that of some transcendent solution, sought through consciousness-expanding drugs, communal living, far-out theories, mystics, gurus, free love, frolicking together nude in the fields. Punk was cynically secular, harshly realist, and very much in the world. It spat about hate, war, frustration, boredom, alienation, unemployment, riots, fights – what was going on under the Westway, in Brixton, in the suburbs, in Belfast, in the Falklands. At most it might have pretensions to political radicalism, as least it wanted to get pissed and destroy. But it agreed things were shite and laughed at anything that wanted you to have faith and lift off into the clouds of peace, love, psychedelia, self-realization, and enlightenment.


The first generation of punk, for all its apocalyptic proclamations, produced little more than sped-up Chuck Berry riffage. But its rhetorical pose opened up the doors for all types of unconventional music, convinced all sorts of people that they could do things for themselves, and built up an underground audience that could be led off in any number of directions. In that sense, practically, the Sisters of Mercy and Psychic TV could never have gotten very far were it not for the punk precedent and the way it informed the musical culture of the 1980s. That said, neither band could be said to have been born out of punk, or ultimately to have very much in common with it aesthetically or ideologically. In fact, both bands, in drastically different ways, looked back to, and continually meditated on, relived, and reinterpreted the legacy of that very period that punk had worked so hard to stamp out: the 1960s counterculture.


Sisters vocalist Andrew Eldritch is well-known as a vain, arrogant, self-aggrandizing diva. But this should come as no surprise, despite the fact that he’s nominally a product of the post-punk era: look at his Lou Reed sunglasses and his Jim Morrison leather pants and his Mick Jagger sneer. His lyrical opacity recalls Leonard Cohen, and his amphetamine-tense delusions of grandeur recall Bob Dylan. He makes no secret of these influences – the Sisters’ battery of covers is drawn from the canon of late-‘60s/early-‘70s rock, from Dylan to Cohen to the Velvets to Hendrix to Hawkwind. The Sisters of Mercy shunned punk’s egalitarianism and DIY ethics to strive for the cult of personality that surrounded the “geniuses” of the ‘60s. They wanted to be BIG – as Lennon put it, bigger than Jesus. When formerly-punk bands like the Clash got big, cries of “sellout” abounded, and icons like Joe Strummer had to nervously balance their status as “voices of a generation” with some sort of feigned humility and professed populism. On the other hand, Eldritch was unabashedly aloof and condescending and freely oozed this artistic megalomania that flourished in the ‘60s when major label stars could still be countercultural heroes, but was scarcely tolerated in the wake of punk.


^ A young Genesis

Genesis P-Orridge was a devotee of psychedelia and all its most extreme performance-art-bent permutations long before punk, and indeed long before Throbbing Gristle. If psychedelics push your consciousness to the limit, strip your ego bare, often nightmarishly confront and crumble your preconceptions, Throbbing Gristle could certainly be said to be truly psychedelic music. Psychic TV was just Genesis returning more explicitly to the actual origins of what lurked in the theoretical background of Throbbing Gristle’s distracting ominousness: the 1960s counterculture. When Gen started Psychic TV, s/he also started a magical order, thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. This functioned largely as a “cult” – individualistic in its rhetoric and fairly accessible to potential members, but inescapably recalling the profusion of “cults” that flourished as a result of the counterculture. 


Unlike punk, which revolted against its deceptively permissive era by saying “no” to as many things as possible, the ‘60s counterculture revolted against an explicitly repressive era by saying “yes” to all kinds of weird and freaky things. “Mind-expanding” psychedelic consciousness left a generation seeking something to fill the void left by having all the traditional, materialistic illusions of square society shattered. They sought answers left and right, something to give a new transcendent meaning to the naked existential panic produced by the drugs. Even Christianity experienced a loved-out, longhaired resurgence (dig “Godspell”), but mostly hippies looked to mystic systems that seemed unfamiliar and exotic, thus more exciting and potentially possessing insights into the real shit that the sleepwalkers of straight society couldn’t grasp. Many seekers followed Timothy Leary in placing faith in the psychologically revelatory potential of the trip itself. Many turned to some permutation of Buddhist practice or followed Hindu gurus, their imaginations piqued by the wisdom of what they assumed to be the sage and more spiritually pure East. Others got into more home-grown alternative religions, becoming druids and flocking to Stonehenge, reconstructing witchcraft as a nature-based pagan cult, or pursuing the great work of ceremonial magic, making Aleister Crowley a posthumous superstar. Many simply became susceptible to any kind of superstition, grabbing into the mixed bag of divination, astrology, ESP, conspiracy theories, Atlantis, crystals, and UFOs. Some, in their suggestible, drug-addled openness, became enraptured with the idiosyncratic doctrines of charismatic demagogues, the most famous of which being that man whose excesses supposedly killed the idealism of the ‘60s, Charles Manson. 


Genesis was neither unaware nor in denial of this dark undercurrent of psychedelic consciousness, nor of its potential for psychological manipulation. In fact, early Psychic TV reveals a fascination with the Process Church, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones, sampling their speeches in “Neurology” and on the Themes records, and playing up the creepy cultish aspect of the TOPY, shaving their heads with the severity of monks and wielding their “psychick cross” like a parody of a processional crucifix – a fairly clear continuation of the ambiguous taboo-teasing of Throbbing Gristle. 


But for all this self-conscious engagement with the grim death toll of ‘60s idealism, Gen was not a cynic. S/he remained a seeker. The TOPY was not a simple social-experiment trick pulled on the gullible – they were serious about developing and promoting a new way to live, a new path by which to liberate one’s consciousness from the dull routines of mediated modern life, perhaps not as miscellaneously mystical as many of the ‘60s cults, but certainly in the same vein. Gen’s Temple had a basis in the western occult tradition, with Burroughs/Gysin bits thrown in about applying the cut-up technique to life in order to disrupt systems of control, married to Austin Osman Spare-derived chaos magic, including sigils and sex magic, all with a lot of fun, participatory trappings like wearing symbols and getting tattoos, wanking on the 23rd, staring at TVs to trip out, and, of course, the musical soundtrack of gigs meant to be shamanistic rites. They pushed a professedly positive message, laying out theories and practices for participants, and as time went on, their aesthetic and approach became increasingly explicitly hippy and trippy.


The Sisters of Mercy, on the other hand, were openly contemptuous of any of the “mystic fallacies” of the ‘60s counterculture, and balked at any notion of a transcendent path. Their “Alice” – perhaps a burnt-out version of the Alice from “White Rabbit” – portrays a failed seeker, reliant on drugs to tell her that the world’s okay, seeking illusory self-definition in crystals and tarot cards. The Sisters do engage with psychedelic states, but for them, it’s a raw-nerve psychological nightmare. Consciousness stripped bare, the quotidian world made alien, they harbor no illusions about new ways forward, new meanings to fill the void. No one is tending the light at the end of their terrifying tunnel. “The Body Electric” recounts a fear trip reminiscent of Dr. Gonzo’s bestial acid-fuelled suicidal freakout in the bathroom of Fear and Loathing. We see this drug casualty flailing in death with walls, the psychedelic state not some cut-up method to liberate life, but a weirdly self-imposed trauma which one has to survive. The Sisters dwell in the grim meat-hook realities awaiting failed seekers: on their black planet, when you tune in and turn on, you burn out in acid rain. 


For all their preoccupation with the scary Mansonite potential of the counterculture itself, PTV or the TOPY never really accepted the world’s realities as grim – they maintained some faith in a heightened state, a method by which to escape the world. Charles Manson spoke of “getting the fear” – pushing yourself into paranoid states of extreme tension and terror in order to reach a new kind of liberatory high, one of his methods being breaking into houses to surreptitiously move furniture around without waking the residents. Perhaps the ultimate heightened state, by this line of thinking, is murder. This kind of darkness piqued PTV’s interest, but it was all still a species of seeking, of following an esoteric theory out of the mundane and into some maniacal nirvana. 


The grim dead-end of the ‘60s that piqued Andrew Eldritch’s interest was not the convoluted guru gibberings of Manson – it was the eruption of latent yet very real violence at the Altamont Speedway concert. “If there’s a part of history where rock music stopped for a second and we began,” says Andrew, “if there’s a point where the seeds of what we do were sown, it’s probably Altamont, ‘cause it encapsulated everything wonderful at the time…it’s when the trip turned sour.” The Sisters reveled in the real danger of Altamont, when the Hells Angels “security,” who the hippies had naïvely thought to be countercultural brethren, exacerbated with their brutal thuggery the drug-fuelled mania that was already starting to drive the audience to violence from the inside. Altamont wasn’t about working to transcend the ego, it was about baring the id. As the Sisters riffed in their calculatedly dark version of “Gimmie Shelter,” “rape, murder, is just a kiss away” – under the desperately clung-to veneer of free love and peace and consciousness-expansion for two bucks a hit, there was not just creepy cult potential, but an impending spontaneous, violent freakout, drug-crazed whackos wandered too far out on the precipice, slathering, brawling, degenerated to the level of dumb beasts. That was exactly what delighted Andrew’s perverse sensibility. 


But as the Sisters started wearing motorcycle jackets and claiming to use bikers as security (Lemmy’s entourage?), as their amphetamine logic was telling them there was nothing but the knife to live for, Psychic TV, now sans Pete Christopherson’s atonal influence and with a real rock drummer, Matt Best, adding structure to Paula’s tribal poundings, were covering “Good Vibrations” in a burst of deliberate sunniness. The video showed them in beads and bright colors, playing with a fish, dancing in a convertible, and frolicking on the beach.


It wasn’t a mocking piss-take either: they’d dedicated themselves to damn-catchy, harmony-laden “hyperdelic” pop music (often covering ‘60s icons like Dylan, the Floyd, Marianne Faithfull, the Velvets), hoping to use it to create the soundtrack for a film about Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This incarnation ditched the glowering, disciplined monk look and went full-on hedonistic Merry Prankster, painting their bus on their US tour with “Even Further.” For a TV appearance supporting their Brian Jones-worshipping pop song “Godstar,” they’re decked out in multicolored peacockery, and Gen makes explicit reference to the cultural sea-change taking place in the post-post-punk mid-‘80s, noting happily that it’s acceptable to talk about the ‘60s and psychedelia again.


Of course, there has always been something creepy – creepier than all the Sisters’ dry ice – about that unflappably cheeky, cheery psychedelia. PTV’s Magickal Mystery D Tour era approached the skin-crawling smiliness of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” or the early Pink Floyd. Gen even recorded a version of “Are You Experienced?” sung by he/r young daughter, Caresse. This sing-song psychedelia is perhaps so unsettling because it reminds you just how much the psychedelic state is like childhood – everything is bright and weird and wonderful to the imagination, but meaning is uncertain and fragile, and almost anything is as liable to terrify as it is to delight. It’s somewhat shocking to hear grown adults reduced to this vulnerable state. 

But while PTV was trawling through ‘60s pop’s back pages, a new drug – ecstasy – dropped like a godsend into late ‘80s Britain along with a form of hypnotic dance music imported from Detroit called acid house. Gen had full faith in this peace-and-understanding pill, and got involved in popularizing this style and scene. Acid house-by-way-of-PTV became the true new UK counterculture, and its optimistic emphasis on DIY communal raves where people blissed-out on MDMA could get lost in thee infinite beat led to the dubbing of the summers of ’88 and ’89 “second summers of love.” In an interview from 1990, Gen admits that s/he was eager for a psychedelic dance music to modernize the spirit of the ‘60s for the high-tech age, and misinterpreted the name of the Detroit sound – the “acid” actually referring to the “acidic”-sounding frequency modulation of a Roland 303 – as referring to LSD. It’s no wonder Gen hopped on he/r misinterpretation of the acid house train. Instead of muddling around some rarified version of “ritual music” on an imaginary heathen earth populated only by the few seekers who survived the punk days in twisted, mutant form, s/he could be part of a rebirth of the original phenomenon: music that was authentically, inescapably ritualistic because it demanded the communal participation of masses of smiley-face-plastered kids orgiastically dancing in sunny fields. 


If the early-‘70s Free Festival scene – a DIY safe place for the remaining freaks to turn on – was the diffused and democratized outgrowth of the ‘60s counterculture, acid house was the equivalent in relation to PTV’s hyperdelic magickal cult revival. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Mercy, however unwillingly, spawned goth rock in a way somewhat equivalent to how ‘60s psych rock spawned early-‘70s heavy metal. If the Free Festivals, and acid house, represented the communal, grassroots legacies of the ‘60s, heavy metal, and goth rock, were chart-scaling big business. By the end of the decade, the Sisters were pop successes, with a host of offshoots and imitators, most famously the Mission and Fields of the Nephilim, and hordes of devoted, black-clad, longhaired fans. 


These groups were the Led Zeppelins and Black Sabbaths of their day. Fields of the Nephilim threw in Crowley references and black magic window-dressing à la heavy metal, but this was as far from the TOPY’s magic-as-rigorous-psychic-self-help-system as titling a song “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was from being initiated into a practicing Wiccan coven in the ‘60s. The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘60s rock dalliances ended up in much same place as ‘70s rock: with major label rock stars pushing doomy vibes to an appreciative fanbase. Psychic TV’s obsession with ‘60s psychedelic seeking ended up much the same as well: a bunch of kids in fields celebrating sex, drugs, and smiles.

I was asked once again to explain my views on ‘punks dress punk’ and all that so here’s a more in-depth explanation. Yes, I have learned a lot more and educated myself on this, so don’t come for me with that immature “hahaha you used to be sOoO PC your ideals are different.”

People can love punk music and not be punk at all. DIY ETHIC IS A MASSIVE PART OF PUNK SUBCULTURE. People have literally died for wearing punk clothes. If you want to call yourself a punk, adapt the attitude and take some pride in what you wear. It’s perfectly reasonable to like our music and be a casual listener, but don’t come on tumblr with a thrifted blue denim jacket with a single anarchy pin and claim Sid Vicious’ reincarnation. Take advice from people, learn how to make your own shit, etc. I’ve been in a year-long hazing state within the scene and trust me when i say that its a part of the culture and its important to keep the edgy poser kids from claiming punk. You really do not need to be slathered in fuckin studs, but put some work in your gear and wear it out of the house and in the pit once in a fuckin while. 

If you want to be apart of the subculture, fucking act like it. Punk isn’t your yuppie day job or a costume to be worn when you’re feeling particularly edgy.

Interview: Osa Atoe

New Orleans

In 2008, Osa Atoe was touring around the country with her punk band New Bloods. When we met her, she had changed gears, steering her focus to concentrate on the kind of art you can hold in your hands. She makes her life and living now as a terracotta potter in New Orleans, Louisiana, her color palette vast in its temperature if not its hue, both defying and defining the heat of the city. 

Osa’s bowls and dishes are elegant vessels, radiating with a staccato drum beat of angle and line. The geometric patterns in her ceramics recall the drawings in Shotgun Seamstress, Osa’s self-published zine about Black punk and political activism. A passion for personal and societal transformation, DIY ethics and the vocalization of the under-represented are the driving forces in everything she does, manifesting themselves in media as disparate as terracotta, punk and art historical essay. Her work is her voice: loud, unfettered by form and resounding in revolution.

We spoke to Osa about the relationship between punk music and ceramics, what a vessel stands for and the richness of New Orleans’ craft heritage. 


Portland punk band New Bloods.

What is your relationship to the the process of creating pottery, especially in relationship to punk and DIY aesthetics? You mentioned that you’ve been a punk musician since you were 19. Does that play into how you make ceramics now? 

I think I always wanted to work harder on punk bands than I actually could while collaborating with people. I was always very clear about the fact that I wasn’t in bands to make money; I wanted the music I was making to be purely about expression and participating in the legacy of punk and American indie rock. Unfortunately, I think that when you’re not getting paid for your craft, it can’t take as high a priority in your life. You’re always spending such a large chunk of your time working for money to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head. I would’ve loved to work on being in a band as hard as I work on pottery, but when you’re working with other people, you have everyone’s schedule to take into account. In the end, the longevity of your project also relies on multiple people.

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You don’t have to “dress punk" to be a punk but rejecting mainstream corporate brands and stores by practicing DIY ethics and culture, while simultaneously supporting your friends and favorite bands is punk as hell in my eyes, and gives us a lot to bond over.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN BANDS OR WRITE BIG ZINES BUT OVERALL, I THINK THAT I ALWAYS FELT LIKE THOSE PEOPLE WEREN’T BETTER OR MORE PUNK THAN ME, THEY WERE JUST DOING SOMETHING AWESOME. IT’S LIKE WE’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER SO I’M HAPPY FOR WHATEVER EVERYONE ELSE DOES- BECAUSE I GET TO ENJOY IT TOO
— 

-Brea Grant, from “Beyond The Music: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values” by Joe Biel


Right on, Brea. This quote reminds me to have more confidence in myself, and that making music/ art/ zines isn’t a competition or a hierarchy that I’m automatically at the bottom of. She also echoes my cheerleading call to “keep making weird shit, people!”

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VIDEO: La Dispute at the Howell Opera House, November 22, 2008

7 1/2 years ago, the group that would eventually become Fusion Shows first hosted the band La Dispute.  I can remember it very clearly.  LD drummer Brad Van Der Lugt had been filling in on drums for a radio rock band called Broken Sunday, and for a few years, we had been bringing them to Livingston County.  He kept telling me “we’ll have to get my actual band out here someday”.  Eventually, we worked it out, and we added the band on to open Monte’s EP release party at the Howell Opera House on September 29, 2006.  Also on the crazy multi-genre bill were Bringing Down Broadway, Tips, Apathy For An Enemy, and The Story Changes.  

They arrived first, before any of the other bands.  The band that was scheduled to play first that night was running late, so I made La Dispute play first.  I did so many awful things to bands in those days, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing.  There was probably 20 people in the room when they played (the show ended up selling out, but it was late arriving crowd - ahhhh the good ol days), and La Dispute ripped through a short set of what was likely songs from their Vancouver EP.  

We brought them back to play the two biggest Blue Collar Booking shows in 2007, kind of as an “I’m sorry”, and also because I really liked them, both as musicians and as people.  They played the February SayHy Radio birthday bash with The Hard Lessons, The Killing Moon, Ender, and more, and then played at Skate-A-Que at Meijer Park that summer.  I remember watching their mid-afternoon set at Skate-A-Que, and Jordan noticed someone with their back turned to them, chatting with a friend while they played, so he snuck up behind him, jammed the microphone in the unsuspecting dude’s pocket, latched onto his leg like a toddler getting a free ride, and screamed lyrics through the dude’s jeans and into his leg.  It was one of the funniest moments I can ever remember at a show, but also just showed a showmanship that can exist even in a band with such a great punk, DIY ethic.  

From those high-energy sets, we built the band to eventually be able to sell out a series of two Opera House shows, that rank among some of my favorite memories to this date as a promoter.  On one of them, my mom showed up to the show, and if any of you know my mom, she’s not one for loud music or whatever.  But she showed up randomly just to say hello right before La Dispute went to go on stage.  I told her “Mom, you have to experience this band”.  I gave her a pair of earplugs, and she stood with me behind the band on “stage” (the Opera House didn’t have a stage, just an open floor), and she refused to leave until it was over.  She was really amazed to see the amazing outpouring of love and connection with the band’s lyrics that marked a La Dispute show.  

Overall, tonight’s show will be the 21st show my companies have hosted with La Dispute somewhere on the bill.  That includes 4 straight Bled Fests (2008-2011), opening and then headlining slots at every venue in Livingston County, headlining shows across the state, a support slot with Frank Turner (we knew that was weird, but we didn’t care), and a bunch of other shows.  

So fast forward to today.  The band has done it their way, all the way through.  I’ve never been so proud of a band’s success, because all along the way, they’ve always taken care of everyone they come into contact with.  One of the most selfless and truly team-oriented bands I know.  The new record is amazing (pick it up if you haven’t already).  I’m so excited to see my friends tonight, and to celebrate what live performance is all about.  It’s bittersweet, because Kevin Whittemore is leaving the band after this tour, and it’ll be my last time to see him play live.  I love that dude.  

Thanks for being along for the ride.  Let’s take care of each other tonight and have an amazing evening!