So, we all saw what happened with the Oakland fire. The hard truth is that it could have been any of us. I only found out about how severe the fire was while I was in a DIY space. It’s a simple reality of being involved in underground music. If your taste in music is at all relevant and you have even remotely interesting taste then you’ve been to a DIY space and probably played a show there. Everyone interested in rock and roll, hip hop or really any other genre of popular music from the last 100 years owes a debt to DIY art spaces. We all know how dangerous DIY spaces are and we’ve al been sitting there late at night realizing how fucked we would be if it all fell apart. So why is it that DIY spaces hold such an important space in independent music and what can we do to help them maintain their crucial place in society? After the fire a lot of things feel like they are in flux and we all have to come to terms with it.
DIY spaces matter because they are a consequence free space, at least in terms of scene cred. They let you hone your craft in front of people who willingly have a shitty quality of life so that they can focus on their art. They don’t really expect people to go to shows there (though it’s appreciated when they come) and they are never pay to play. At the same time there is often a built in crowd of worn out artists who want to spend time in the space to work and take a break to catch some cool tunes. So it gives you an opportunity to practice playing live in front of supportive punks who understand what this scene is about. It gives you an opportunity to share your craft with the people who won’t judge you for sucking but will rather help you figure out what you need to do to improve. DIY music has always relied on these spaces, from jazz speakeasies to punk houses they are what has always driven the arts, at least true art and not schlocky corporate bullshit.
Furthermore they let you embrace the inherent danger of independent music. This isn’t a lifestyle for people who want to live to a ripe old age. Either you die in a punk house fire, your van flips or some drug addict friend stabs you. Hell maybe you are that drug addict friend. Punk houses and DIY spots in all of their rickety danger are a symbol of how nihilistic this whole thing is. They remind us that everything we take for granted is bullshit if we’re not willing to enjoy some band whose demo we spun two times on Bandcamp. I know that seems like it’s expecting a lot but when you see the people who truly have success and who are truly humble throughout then you are going to realize what actually matters. There is a certain gives no fucks magic to a good DIY spot – you realize exactly how dangerous it is, but you keep going because the scene around it is that vibrant and the clearly illegal bar is that cheap. You gotta love it.
So it should come as no surprise that organized bodies kind of hate them. They are dangerous, rickety and oftentimes support art that could be categorized as subversive to say the least. That’s why we’ve started running into some serious issues with the Oakland fire. Suddenly the public eye has turned onto these vital spaces. They have realized that our artists have to engage in life threatening decisions just to express themselves in a way that isn’t fucking sanctioned by teachers and policemen. Think about what that means for free speech – scary right? If we close down these spaces then everyone will suffer, there will be less art and inspiration and instead we will have to suffocate under waves of crippling devastation and realize that our community is a lot more fragile then we care to admit. The punk house is what we all rely on merely to express ourselves which is why time after time we need to daub those sacred words ‘no cops’ onto our flyers.
We need to give back to these spaces though. Though the rent is often paid by the people who live there they need regular patrons. People who if they want to go out don’t go to a fucking poser bar but rather go spend some cash at a show – even if they don’t care about it. You need to keep true to the punk rock lifestyle, inviting people to these shows but making sure that they are cool about it. Remember, posting the address to a punk house online is never a good idea, nor is taking too many pictures of the outside. Governmental forces WILL and HAVE gone out of their way to close these spaces down. They aren’t stupid – they know just how dangerous these places are. They want them to be shut down not just because there is the potential for tragedies but also because that art is inherently a dangerous ting and embracing that could lead to movements that threaten their stability. I know that sounds kind of conspiracy theory nut job-y but such is life.
So yeah – go out of your way to help out your local DIY space and realize that they are the very embodiment of the DIY ethics that our entire scene was built on. DIY art spaces are the be all and end all, both the beginning and the end of the punk rock rebellion. They are where legends start out and big bands go to die. We need to embracetheir life giving force and the way that they dictate a scene and can killus all if the hands of fate swing that way. Remember – everyone who remains real, even dudes in your favorite big bangs hang out at DIY spaces all the time and they are always dangerous. Rock and roll was never meant for the faint of heart and if you’re not ready to embrace the madness you might as well pack up and go home.
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