DIY Is Dying
DIY - or “do it yourself” - is more or less what the underground music culture was built on. Bands booked their own shows, pressed their own vinyl, hand-folded and -glued the jackets for the vinyl, made their own t-shirts, recorded their own music on their own equipment and put it out themselves. Bands staring out would play in garages, basements, lofts, anywhere they could get their name out.
A post from Matthew Nix, a resident at the Swerp Mansion in Chicago, has just hit the DIY Chicago Facebook group:
“Hey. I live at Swerp Mansion. Short version is, the space is over. Whatever rumors you heard about someone’s mom calling the police are true. Getting permits to go legit is next to impossible and we all like living here too much to be homeless. Thanks to everyone who saw a show, supported the bands, played their heart out, and helped make this the best two years of our lives.”
It seems that this has been happening a lot lately. Recently, hardcore outfit Code Orange Kids headlined the final show at West End, a DIY venue in Ashtabula, Ohio. On the Grand Rapids, Michigan stop of their latest tour, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, Pity Sex, and Dads played the last show at a DIY venue called Turtle Den. What they didn’t know is that they also had played one of the last shows at Chicago’s Swerp Mansion.
This is not coming too far after the closing of Alderaan, another Chicago DIY spot, and The Handsome Woman, a DIY spot in Willimantic, Connecticut, where The World Is have performed, practiced, and recorded in multiple times since their inception.
It only takes a few angry people to ruin a culture. With the combination of digital music sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and ReverbNation allowing simple and easy ways to release your music into the world and independent record pressing plants like Pirates Press allowing the same in a physical manner, DIY culture is even easier and more popular than it was in its prime. With the Internet as a whole, discovering music is much easier now too. Not only that, but it becomes much easier to book shows and let people know where and when they are.
As a DIY musician, this scares me. There’s a lot that has to be done to try and play a show at a major venue. I’ve played the Township once, and a lot of my fellow musicians have played there many times. Swing State, a hookah lounge in Lake Villa, was one of the first out-of-the-suburbs venues I’d ever played at. I just found out last night I’ll be playing at the Bottom Lounge in August. I know people who have played at Martyr’s, the Metro, House of Blues, and Subterranean. I’m extremely proud of all of my friends that have had the chance to play these venues, and I’m extremely excited to play one myself. But to get shows at those places is such a, for lack of a better term, “corporate” process.
It is so much more fun and a much better experience to show up to someone’s house, donate $5-10 for small, touring bands, and get together in a tiny space and see a bunch of locals play together with some cool, out-of-state acts. It’s easier to meet people, make connections, and get everything set up. It’s a much looser environment. With larger venues, there’s so much more to take in consideration, and it’s less likely you’ll get invited back to those spaces. At a basement, garage, or loft space, you know the people that live there, you establish a new relationship, and you get to hear such great, independent music in the process.
What’s going to happen when all the DIY venues disappear? What’s going to happen to bands trying to get noticed? You can keep creating new spaces, but what happens when those finally get closed? Bikini Bottom is a newer space in Chicago, whose first show hosted I Kill Giants and Old Gray, two fantastic emo/post-hardcore bands from the Northeast. Who knows how long that will last though? Gnarnia in Chicago is one of my favorite places to see shows in the city. Run by Erik Czaja of Dowsing, Kittyhawk, and Pet Symmetry, I have met some of the coolest people there and seen so many great bands, like Modern Baseball, Trust Fall, and Brighter Arrows. It’s such a relaxed environment, and if I ever get to play there, I’ll be much more excited to perform there for a first time than if I got asked to play somewhere like the Bottom Lounge again.
Unlike most problems discussed in underground music, you can’t blame the cops and you can’t blame the government. The cops are just doing their job responding to the complaints and the government is irrelevant. It’s a pretty brash statement to say we should blame the parents, but I can’t think of anyone else that’s causing these venues to shut down. Obviously, it’s not all of the parents, but as I said before, it only takes a few angry people to ruin a culture. With every phone call made, another DIY space closes, and that’s one less space bands have to promote themselves.
If you take away our venues, you’re not just taking away a basement, or a garage, or a loft. You’re taking away a place where people come together and experience the birth of new music. A place where up-and-coming musicians can begin pursuing their dreams. A place that you tell your friends about and they come out with you and enjoy themselves so much that they’ll come back again, no matter who is playing. DIY is dying, and if we wanna keep it alive, we have to be perseverant. We can’t keep letting these spaces disappear. Nothing illegal goes on in these spaces. The people that run them make it very clear that there is a strict absence of drugs and alcohol, and the shows follow their curfew and time constraints.
The people that are causing these spaces to shut down are still in the pre-1970s/80s “You kids and you’re rock and roll music!” mindset, and these are the people that are ruining our culture. As the venues die, we have to do whatever we can to keep the music alive. If that means everyone allows bands to play at their house, then so be it. If every house is a venue, we have nothing to lose but our hearing.