DIY or Die

A glimpse into a growing music culture.

By Bruce Hamilton

When you think of “DIY” what comes to mind?

Perhaps you picture your father ripping a basement wall apart, claiming he can fix the damn water leak himself.  Or maybe a comic convention-goer, donning a homemade Master Chief costume, complete with a working Nerf-bullet-shooting battle rifle. Or the ashtray your mother made using her knowledge of ceramics.

The one thing these images have in common is that they all depict people doing things themselves, as in, without receiving professional help.  In the context of this essay, DIY is an acronym that reflects a lifestyle that is associated with punk music and extreme left-wing political activism.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, bands like Crass, Bikini Kill, and the Dead Kennedys were setting a precedent for what DIY would become. Besides pissing off parents and getting kicked out of everywhere, the aforementioned bands were famous for introducing a certain ethic to the music scene that involved (or at least seemed to involve) a detachment from the typical run-of-the-mill music industry.  It didn’t matter if their instruments were out of tune, or if they said things that made people mad, or ruined the image of the record label they were signed too. It reminded the audience that they were human, too, and they certainly were not perfect by any standard.  The aforementioned bands all had a political agenda as well, being one that leaned very, very far to the left.  Most music has, does and will lean to the left.  This really isn’t that remarkable.  However, Crass was a group of outspoken anarchists. Bikini Kill was made of a bunch of feminists.  The Dead Kennedys had penises on their albums covers (That point was not relevant but I thought it was worth mentioning/absolutely hilarious).  And these bands didn’t keep their mouth shut when it came to anything.  The uncompromising messages from these early punk groups would later prove to quite influential, considering they were the precedent for groups who took the punk mindset to an entirely new level.

Fast-forward thirty years. It’s 2011. The President is black, computers can recognize your face, and you can buy music without even going to the music store.  There are also a plethora of musicians touring the country as we speak. Butt these musicians aren’t selling out stadiums, or even playing in small clubs. They are performing for small groups of people in houses and apartments.  The owner of the residency will cook food for the band and let them stay there for the night. The show is free, and if you want to, you can play a few songs for the crowd before the show officially starts.  There is no stage; the shows usually take place in living rooms or basements. You can talk to the band before and after the show if you want.  Hell, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the host; show up anyway.  This is the essence of a DIY show.  Everyone is on the same level, literally and figuratively.  Anyone can play a few songs if they wish. These ideals are a microcosm of the ideal anarchist society. No leaders, just equality, hospitality, and a bunch of kids doing what they love.

Now let’s pinpoint the date: October 21, 2011. This was the night of the first house show I ever attended.  I heard through Facebook that Inky Skulls were playing, along with a few other bands I hadn’t heard of. A guy named Adam was hosting at his house in Northampton, Massachusetts, about an hour away from my house. My best friend and I drove there (with my dad and his dad in another car, to assure that this place wasn’t a crackhouse or a prostitution ring).  We arrived, and our fathers concluded that this place was safe enough to stay for a few hours. They left.  For those four hours, I felt as free and as happy as I ever have.  Just a bunch of punk kids singing their hearts out, listening to what others have to say, and making new friends. I mean, how often is it that you go to a Metallica show and get offered homemade pasta?

Conclusions: 1) The first wave of punks expressed the freedom prevalent in today’s DIY culture.  2) An ordinary DIY show represents the ideals of your average DIY-er.  3) DIY means peace and hospitality.  Go find a show in your area and sing your heart out for a few hours. You won’t soon regret it.

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