Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bad Apples: Fourteen

Part nine of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on non-music related hang outs. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: Organise something that doesn’t involve music so we can all hangout and chat without shouting over bands. Maybe you could just make a flier saying to meet somewhere and we could have a picnic? Having a picnic with your mates – cool. Having a picnic and inviting everyone in the scene, even those you don’t know – a way to break down barriers and preconceptions, build community, get to know each other better, break out of our comfort zones, start new projects, let each other know what we’re up to. From talking to older punx, it sounds like this used to happen (thanks Nath).

2017: This post is an edited group discussion inspired by fragment #14. Ben plays bass in Latchstring and books DIY shows as part of the A Public Disservice Announcement collective. Geraldine as involved in booking punk shows as part of the STE collective (and its afterlife). Jordan co-runs Circle House Records, books shows as part of DIY Exeter and plays as Phaedra’s’ Love. Kristianne is a spoken word artist involved in the DIY Southampton zine fest. Enjoy.


Ben: Yeah, I really like this idea. If we’re talking specific about a punk community, loosely described, that community should if it’s really well functioning, in my mind, be getting together to do things outside of just putting shows on, whether they’re just nice socialising things or a lot of punk communities branch off into activist networks. I think holding an event like this would be a really good sign of a very, very healthy community. And just really pleasant. Like more than anything, just super nice [laughs].

Geraldine: It would be great. I think what might have an effect from the older ones of us is that there’s just so much other stuff going on, but yeah in theory, we’d be up for it and be happy to help organise whatever. I haven’t really [been to a previous Southampton punks picnic]. It’s just I think there was more people. I think everyone just saw each other a lot more than they do at the moment so – it just kind of happened because everyone was out anyway and there were fewer responsibilities and what have you and not everyone’s got children but a lot of people got kids now and yeah, people used to be together a lot more anyhow because there were a lot more gigs going on, people involved in groups putting the gigs on so it was just more – I think it was just easier. But if we could do it and get a lot of people out, it’d be brilliant.

Kristianne: We are doing it next week, it’s not a picnic, but a Christmas pizza. I invited people that I guess I know and I’d never say if somebody said to me can someone come along, I’d never say no so there are people coming that I don’t know cos other people said “can I bring this person with me?” But the food thing aside, doing other things, there are small pockets of it happening. Like Libby is amazing at this kind of stuff and we’ve done knitting nights, we have done just helping Libby make stuff nights, which is getting stuff for Libby done but also people come together and sit around. I’ve used that kind of idea enough to help me with DIY [Southampton], to get things ready for it where I said “who wants to come and help with making all the signs that we need to make?” or doing this or doing that. I think the really big thing that is really difficult about this is finding any one date that everyone can do, and like, if you don’t mind putting and doing something and saying anyone can come to this and people can invite whoever they think might be interested, knowing that you might be sat there with one other person. If you don’t mind that then that’s cool and I’ve done that some nights.

Jordan: I’m not against this but I’m very sceptical of it because so many times I’ve seen this kind of thing happen or even really involved with shows like the house shows, it often turns into an excuse for a piss up. A lot of house shows I’ve been to even have just become like a house party where everyone’s drinking and there’s some bands playing in the corner. Everyone’s outside and like, there’s 5 people watching the bands in the living room and it’s kind of weird. There’s a punx picnic that happens every year in [a city in the West country] and people come all the way from Cornwall, Devon, Sumerset, all around really, people have been to it for years and years and everyone goes – and I went last year and it just a load of people in leather jackets drinking cans of Strongbow and not really actually doing anything productive or anything.


J: What I like about certain scenes and certain communities and certain cities is that you have these kinds of friendships all based around an actual place, like a venue. And I guess in Southampton you don’t have that as much. Where I’ve spent the last 3 years in Exeter, no shows in a DIY punk manner or any punk manner really happen outside of the Cavern in Exeter. Once every six months you’ll have some really weird occurrence where there’s a gig going on in a coffee shop upstairs somewhere. But the Cavern is like the basis of it and in the daytime it’s open as a vegan café. And it’s kind of this place that never really closes, it’s always there, you go down and you discuss “shall we put on a show?” or “do you want to make a band?” There’s a big, big long table at the end of the bar and anyone can sit down and chat, there will always be people working there. There’s loads of workshops that go on so you might come in one day and there’s a zine making workshop or learn to use a typewriter for the first time or something, you know. In terms of money, I’m not 100% certain who covers the costs, if someone’s got a typewriter and a load of paper or whatever and they say “do you just want to play around with a typewriter and things?”, it’s as simple as that sometimes. And sometimes it’s a whole new thing with loads of people in there selling zines and things like that, or you know someone’s doing a zine making class and things and the only costs they’ve got to cover is some paper. The Cavern stays open, would be open in the day time as a cafe regardless whether there’s a workshop on or whatever and making some money from people buying tea and coffee and stuff.


Phil: I wonder how DIY Southampton fits into this, what we’re talking about here, cos one of the things I was interested in is this present in other spaces? I was thinking about club nights, because you could pretty much guarantee most of the Southampton punk scene of a certain age would be at the Rhino on a Wednesday, you know, when that was open so it’s almost like we didn’t need to go sit in a park, do you know what I mean? Or when the Alf was there, we knew that you could go to the Alf whether you were into the bands or not, most people would be there. Do you see DIY Southampton as a space where people go hang out and make those connections twice a year?

K: I do, I know they do, I already know they do because that’s what people come back to me saying, people come back and they say “We met one year ago at DIY Southampton whatever number it was and we’re still together today” or “I did my first ever” – Josh Jones did his first ever reading, he came to DIY Southampton 2. I spent a whole load of time helping him make a zine when I wanted to go watch somebody else do something else. Two DIY Southampton’s later he came and preformed and then Jordan’s doing tours with him. I know it works which is why it makes it really difficult to say “That’s it, we’re not doing it anymore”. Cos I don’t feel like it, it’s mine to say that with in some respects and people do come and spend the whole day there. And people of all different ages which always amazes me that people that walk in and then you see them there for 2, 3, 4 hours later still there. And some people come in they watch their friend play and they leave, or they come in, they have a quick look round and they go. It’s that kind of fluid, that space, which is why I guess it’s grown quite a lot.

B: That year that a couple of social workers brought a day care of people with physical and mental impairments down to experience it was one of the nicest things I’ve seen in Southampton – it was wonderful, it was really, really cool.

K: What is nice about it is that without trying, it has become diverse of its own accord. So it would tick everybody’s boxes for any kind of an event and I don’t doubt if we wanted to apply for funding for it we would get it, but that’s not what it is about because then you have to answer to somebody else because that’s their money that goes into it and they want to know what you’re doing with it. It is about that space that Tim provides for free at Planet Sounds just being somewhere lots of people can access, and now we have like the Science Room people come in and [being an] actual part of the event, twice now. First time, first two times they did a table and last time they were actually part of the event, they had a science room there on the Saturday, so even more people who aren’t necessarily into the music or the arts came and we’re part of it. So I know that it’s growing like that, but again, people are like why don’t you do it next month? Cos you wouldn’t get 170 people walk through the doors every month for one thing –

G: When we stopped doing the Hobbit gigs, we were getting what, 30 people out if we were lucky, we used to get like 80, 90. And the amount of time that goes into organising a gig with 8 bands and that and it’s just – and then you can’t book bands from far away if you’re only gunna get 30 people in cos now that, when Rich was single, on his own, it was different, he often lost money on gigs, the STE they lost money. People grow up and get more responsibilities don’t they, so I can’t put on a gig and risk losing £150 because I can’t bring somebody down from the north of the country and not pay them their petrol.


Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Bad Apples: Thirteen

Part eight of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on door prices. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: Back when I first started going to shows, there used to be two door prices. One was for those people in work, and the other was usually a pound or so lower and for those people who were unemployed. It was a system that worked on trust and honesty. I don’t know if it was successful – I haven’t seen any one do it at show for a while and I used to get sick of asking if people were waged or unwaged – but I like the idea that as punks, we try to support each other in hard times and try to give subsidies to those who otherwise might be put off coming. Naive? Perhaps. Other ideas for creative door tax include – raising the price by fifty pence and giving this extra money to a charity. Offering discounts to people who donate tins of food for the homeless (both the STE and Andy Fairfight have done this in the past to great success).

2017: This post is an edited group discussion inspired by fragment #13. Ben plays bass in Latchstring and books DIY shows as part of the A Public Disservice Announcement collective. Geraldine was involved in booking punk shows as part of the STE collective (and its afterlife). Jordan co-runs Circle House Records, books shows as part of DIY Exeter and plays as Phaedra’s’ Love. Kristianne is a spoken word artist who also runs the bi-annual event DIY Southampton at Planet Sounds. Enjoy.


Jordan: There’s a lot more divisions in a society which stops one having that disposable income in order to go to a gig than waged or unwaged. I don’t know if that’s an age thing because a lot of scenes I actually play to are university based. So when I first read this, it wasn’t something that seemed wholly relevant to me. And I recognise that is completely privileged saying that but instead of the things like putting the price down by a pound, I like donation shows and it’s based on honesty, people just put in what they can. And even in a more honest setting, when you have the tin of money there, you can put in a fiver and you take out a pound without someone watching you like a hawk. Cos asking people if they’re waged or unwaged, that can seem a little bit intrusive to some people who might find that really sensitive to be asked that. And that’s why maybe that honesty thing is really great. Or instead of having like I said the two pound suggested donation, we put on a queer punk fest in Exeter earlier this year and we had suggested donation £3, £5 , £7 and underneath it no one turned away for lack of funds.

Ben: I’ve not got many nice things to say about Barrow in Furness, but a lot of the hair dressers have got an unemployed rate for hair cuts for people who are going for job interviews. They have an unemployed rate and everyone else rate and I see that as quite a similar thing. I largely agree about the honesty situation –I feel deeply uncomfortable asking anyone “waged or unwaged?” I don’t think anyone should feel awful because their unemployed but you can’t help it if someone does because people are taught that they should feel bad about that. I do think out of all of this there’s loads of permeations as to how it can be done well or badly, that no one turned away for lack of funds is pretty much the prime thing that – it would be odd if I found anyone that disagreed with it. My thing I’m concerned about is how to implement it well and in a way that’s relevant.

Geraldine: The whole waged unwaged thing goes back thirty years to the mid to late 80’s. Thatcher’s Britain - when I suppose generally a lot more people coming to shows were unemployed. That’s where it stems from, the politics of the time.


G: It did get to a point where people would ask to be let in for free and then go and buy six pints at the bar. That didn’t go down well. So that was kind of managed, as it were. Gigs that have been organised by people that I know, people that genuinely qualify as unwaged were let in at a discounted rate or let in for nothing on the grounds of you wouldn’t want people to miss out on seeing bands who couldn’t afford it, but there’s a certain amount of human nature isn’t there that if they don’t have to pay, some people won’t.

Kristianne:  I really kind of feel like if you want to go to the show, that’s your first thing, you know, so if it’s in a venue where you’re gunna make sure you’ve got money for a couple of pints, you buy your ticket and you make sure that those bands that are travelling get their petrol and get fed and are able to get to wherever they need to go to because that’s their job, you don’t turn up at Tesco’s and say I don’t work so I’ll just pay for a little bit of the shopping  – the way I see it, it’s a luxury to be able to go out and see bands playing, it’s a nice thing to do and when I haven’t got much money, I’ll go and I’ll have water at the bar. That is just my opinion on it. And I know it’s not a popular one. I’ve had times when I’ve had no work, when I was at university as a single parent with a child and no family support. When I really wanted to go see a band, I found the money to go and do it. If there is a good enough will there is a way. And I really think the world is unfair, you know, and sometimes it’s really hard to get a job. But there are so many things that we live within our lives these days that we consider that we should be entitled to. You know, we all have to have mobile phones, we all have to have, I don’t know, satellite TV and I just think actually we don’t. And perhaps we shouldn’t.

B: When we were talking about fragment 13, we were talking about the value that we ascribe to things and that its totally fine to need a “luxury item” to get by – what if you were to put a gig in that content? In terms of someone really needing that thing to get by, like reading a book or listening to a record or getting some food they need to make a really nice meal – just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a quality of life that involves enjoyment and I would say that having two separate door prices would be a way of allowing that. I can draw a parallel between those two things that we’ve discussed and I found it interesting on the one hand you were very pro the former but saw it slightly differently for the latter  –

G: It’s two slightly different things, isn’t it? You’re swapping something you don’t need any more and you want somebody else to be able to use it rather than it going in the bin because you don’t want it clogging up the house. But if you’ve got a touring band, they need to get round the country and they need to get home –

K: And they need to be fed and they need to pay for the maintenance of the vehicles touring with them. But, and I do see where you’re coming from Ben, I totally feel that going to a gig is a bigger luxury. We do need music and the arts to stay well. But when you need something that much, you can find ways to participate in it, to get access to it that don’t require other people having to stump up those costs for you.

Phil: One way of thinking about it might be that one of those things you desperately need to get by might be a sense of community. Money that stops you going to a show is kind of a tax on your ability to access that community, isn’t it? In some ways. I just wondered if that kind of is worth thinking about in that sense. I’m thinking when I used to go to shows regularly, I’d walk into the room and I’d know like 75% of the people there, but there would be no other context where I would have that. If I couldn’t afford to pay to get in then I wouldn’t be able to access that particular resource.

B: Particularly as you get older, cos people don’t hang out as often any more cos they don’t make the effort to do so. But if I need a big jolt of socialisation, which I need quite a lot, I’ve learnt that the older I get, the more I notice that I don’t hang out with friends as much, I would hate to be a lot less waged. And it wouldn’t be the case that I didn’t get to see a band I wanted, it would be the case that I don’t get to go and have a shared experience with a lot of people which I needed.

G: If you’re saying £5 or £4 if you’re unwaged, is a pound really gunna make a difference to whoever’s paying in? If you really wanted to go, are you gunna pay £4 but stay at home if its £5? When it started, it was £5 waged, £3.50 unwaged, which made a bigger difference 30 years ago than it does now.

K: Probably used to get a pint and a bag of crisps for that! [laughs]             


G: I’ve been at donation shows before where there’s been three of us there and we’ve put £10-15 in, and people are shocked. But I’d pay that £5 each for DIY on the door of a show. If I was seeing 4 bands in a house, what’s the difference? Other people just like put a pound in. If a pound is all you can afford, then fair enough but if that gig had been in a pub and you’d have paid £5-6 to go to that gig in the pub, then you could put more than a pound in.

K: I’ve been to shows where people have collected next to nothing because they’re relying on their mates that come to the show to put some money in and they’re all just more interested in the fact they’re getting hammered on cheap beer. And I’ve done the same as you, if I’m at a house show and I’m seeing 4, 5, 6 bands, I don’t have a problem with paying £5-10 that night. I’ve seen people go “Woah, are you sure you  want to put all that in?” And I go, “Yeah, it would cost me more if I was at a venue because I’d have to pay a fee to get in on the door and to pay their stupid drinks prices!”


G: Food donations doesn’t happen round here that often now, it did used to be more common and Charlotte in High Wickham does it at the Phoenix and gets an awful lot of donations there. I think the pub let her have the space for free but then obviously she can’t charge on the door so she just does food donations. And the other place I’ve seen it done recently is Wonk Fest. They do an all dayer thing up at the Dome in Tufnell Park – there’s free food there all day for everyone that attends and then there’s donations for a food bank. You do have to pay in as well but there were like two massive wheelie bins full of food and they were overflowing and there was just heaps of food, it was really successful up there. So that’s really good. Adding 50p on, I mean, that’s fine long as you trust the person whose gunna hand the money over. Cos there was a famous benefit show where that didn’t happen in Southampton [laughs] that still gets mentioned now! But yeah, so that’s fine long as people don’t take the piss. Which is basically, what all of these things are, aren’t they? Don’t take the piss.


Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen 

Friday, 22 December 2017

Bad Apples: Twelve

Part seven of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on swapping. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: Swap things. I’ve got a book or shirt I don’t want. So do you. Maybe we could get together and trade. Maybe we could get a few people together and trade? Also, I like the idea of people contributing or sharing things to cover the costs of an event. An example of this is a potluck, where everyone brings a meal so that one person doesn’t have to cover the cost. Or the scavenger hunt I planned years ago where the entrance fee was something we could give out as a prize.

2017: This post is an edited group discussion inspired by fragment #12. Ben plays bass in Latchstring and books DIY shows as part of the A Public Disservice Announcement collective. Geraldine as involved in booking punk shows as part of the STE collective (and its afterlife). Jordan co-runs Circle House Records, books shows as part of DIY Exeter and plays as Phaedra’s’ Love. Kristianne is a spoken word artist who also runs the bi-annual event DIY Southampton at Planet Sounds. Enjoy.


Geraldine: I’m all behind the theory of swapping, I just got a problem where Rich likes to keep everything he’s got! [Laughs] There are some things I like to keep because I really want them, but if I’ve bought and read a book from a charity shop, I’m quite happy to give that away or take it back to the charity shop. But Rich will even keep those books! [Laughs] In ten years time I don’t know what our house is gunna look like!

Jordan: Possessions are kind of a weird thing and people in these scenes have really different views. Some people can read a book and say “someone else can have it” but a lot of people – and I kind of find myself in this boat, it’s not about finances, I like to have something with me. If it’s say, a record I love but I’m not even using it much, I love the fact it’s sitting there on the side of my bedstand.

G: It’s not a financial value. Rich will listen to records and even though he’s had them years, he’ll have that cover and he’ll be looking at the artwork and the words and it’s the whole package. So we’d never be able to rip that collection and get rid of the physical copies because to him, it’s not just the music that he really enjoys.

J: I like when you play in bands you swap a cassette for a cassette or a t shirt for a t shirt. In a world where everything’s about money and value, its nice to just strip that back and actually just relax about it a little bit more. It gives more value to the things you own - it gives sentimental value. 

Ben: People ascribe different value to different things, like I would ascribe a personal level of value to my record collection and I can’t see me any time soon getting rid of that. I don’t feel the same way about books and DVDs. DVDs I go “I’ll watch that a couple of times, I can probably find that online” and I’m quite happy just like, Googling a ripped copy of the film online, whereas I don’t feel exactly the same about a record. I like having a record, even though I’ll have the digital version to carry around with me.

Kristianne: For years I never thought I would get rid of a book. Books were sacred like vinyl, really special. And then I just realised that things were piling up everywhere and actually, my head couldn’t cope with it all anymore. And I kinda went, “you know what, I have to do something about this” because actually, I need to be well and I can’t be well with all these amazing books around me. I started pulling out books I thought I could give to people I thought they might like, then I realised that was going to absolutely wipe me out. So I just went, “no, I’ll do it and see what happens. I’m not gunna die.” And I kind of did it and actually, it was quite freeing and it lifted quite a lot of weight off of me.

B: I’ve got a very few books where there’s a story about how I came across that book that’s extraneous to the contents of the book. So like my copy of ‘The Mountain inn’ by Guy De Maupassant, I was reading a book where the main character of that book was reading the ‘Mountain Inn’, it was woven into the narrative. When I finished that book, there was at Boscombe bus stop a 50p book table. The top book was ‘The Mountain Inn’ by Guy De Maupassant, so I’m never getting rid of that. But I’ve got way more stories like that about records and I think that’s why I probably ascribe more value to my records and I’m probably less likely to turn up with a carrier bag full of them and say “help yourself”.

K: There are some things that I’ve kept. I’ve got books that are signed by the author with little messages inside them, there are some sequences of books that I have read over and over again that I know I will read again and again and again, fiction that I love reading and can lose myself in. And I won’t get rid of those because I know I’d only have to buy them again. And I have a lot of very valuable kind of art books that I think “oh, I could sell all these and make loads of money”. And then I’m like “I really like it so they go back on the shelf!”

G: I could go through our books and cull them, I’d be quite happy to do that… But the records would only go in an emergency situation, if we were desperate for the money. We’ll get our records out, and there’s tickets in them, there’s letters from people when you had to be writing to people and reading zines to know what was going on. And you’d buy something and you’d get the record and it’d come with a little note and I would always keep that note in with the vinyl – I’ve got little notes from Dick Lucas – and yeah, and then all that are in there so it’s like you say, it’s the whole, it’s the whole story of how you came by it. And it’s not just going into HMV and buying it or downloading it, it’s so much more assessable music now then there ever used to be. If you weren’t involved you didn’t know what there was to buy. You had to be involved and engaging to know what was going on, to know what was out there and what was happening. And when you drop out of that it’s hard to get back into it again. You have to put the effort in don’t you? So having a lot of the records and stuff is tied up in the effort you put into engaging in the scene. Which is why they’re so important. Because they’re like the history of a lifetime.


J: I’m a promoter but I feel myself very like graphically impaired in the sense I just can not create like a poster that’s good. If I have a friend who’s really good at design, they can make a poster and that’s their way of contributing to that show, and if I got a really great graphic designer in that’d be very expensive for me so they get free entry.

G: The STE worked a bit like that didn’t it – Ad always used to do the posters mainly and Rich would do most of the organising and then everybody flyering and what have you.

B: But with swapping to say get entry to a show, I can’t see that would happen beyond people who are able to do something to make the show work. You wouldn’t charge those to get into the show would you because they’re part and parcel of organising that event. I don’t see how it can be any broader than that.

G: If you need to pay the bands, swapping’s not going to work is it? Because you’re not going to find something of value to them that’s gunna help them.

J: Circle House records has quite an expansive distro of records put out by different labels. And we never buy those tapes from different labels to stock them in the store, we give them four of our tapes, they give us four of their tapes and so all the people that are interested in our label are able to find out about those bands and records etc. And I think things like that in swapping can actually really help to support bands bit more.


K: I like swapping and away things I don’t need… I do it a lot. I also like that idea of if I’ve got a skill and I swap it with you then somewhere down the line you might help me out. I don’t think there’s enough of that going on, I don’t think there are enough people participating in that kind of pool of swaps and gives. Some people are doing a lot of it though like Libby with clothes swap and Curb with the food and that’s a bit what I try and do with DIY Southampton, give something away because I can pull all those people together. And Tim at Planet Sounds gives me that space so between us we are giving away quite a lot. 

B: It’s a way of explaining the concept of mutual aid to someone. You have someone doing an event and you’re not expected to bring and drop something off but you can still take something. Everyone can get together and to participate when they might not have the means to. It breaks down barriers to access so that people can still have a good time even if they’re unable to put in like everyone else. There’s a meme doing the rounds where it’s loads of animals all cooking dinner for each other. All the different animals are saying “I’ve got a carrot”, “I have stock”, “I have like, cutlery”. And then one animal goes “I don’t have anything” and they go “But here’s a spare bowl, here’s a spoon, there’s enough for everyone”. And it’s like it’s cute and it’s overly simplifying something but at the end of the day, that’s what it is.

K: When I take stuff to swap, I’m not looking for something in return. If you’ve got stuff and you don’t want it and somebody else does, I’m cool with that. I go to every clothes swap and I always take stuff. But I never take anything away because I don’t want to take something that I don’t need for the sake of taking it. I’ve got what I need, not everybody’s in that situation, which is why I like it and I support it. It’s the same with Curb, I’ve always donate and have something to eat with them but I’m not going to take away loads of stuff just because it’s there necessarily. If we were sat around the table now and I brought a big pile of books to swap, I wouldn’t care if I went home with nothing. I’d be really happy seeing those things go somewhere else.

B: I think within a community, it relies on people to self regulate. There’s a big difference between one day not having anything to bring, but you see something and you go “I really want those,” that’s fine. But if this happens regularly and you’re always a person who always takes and never gives, it’s down to that community of people to say “how do we resolve this situation because this has become something that isn’t quite fair.”


Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Interlude #2

This blog post is (sort of) a further reflection on some of the ideas shared in Interlude #1. 

I first heard of Nelsen Algren because of Dillinger Four, where he pops up in the words to DoubleWhiskeyCokeNoIce:

Nelson Algren came to me
And said celebrate the ugly things
The beat up side of what they call pride
Could be the measure of these days

If Dillinger Four liked Nelson Algren, I figured that he needed to go on the ‘to read list’. But it was a decade and a half later that I borrowed Never Come Morning off of a band mate, having had Algren pop up in some reading I’d been doing. I don’t want to spoil it for you by giving away the plot but Algren’s 1942 novel is one of the bleakest, nastiest things I’ve read in a while. The protagonists get fucked. Horribly. Obviously since I find grimness strangely cathartic, I was well into it.

But it’s the interview in the Seven Stories imprint that I want to talk about here, specifically a quote from Algren. I’m not really one for passages sticking with me, so this one was a novelty, a gem hidden in an otherwise forgettable interview from 1963:

Innocence is not just the lack of something. Innocence is an achieved thing. You can’t be unworldly without first being worldly. I mean anybody can be unworldly, I mean just duck the world. But to be innocent in the best sense is to have the kind of unworldliness that comes out of worldliness, to be able to see how people waste their whole lives just to have security (p.295).

I posted these lines on Facebook without really thinking them through and a friend replied, prompting a back and forth that amongst other things underlined the deliberateness of the words Algren speaks. Posting a quote on social media has the strange effect of decontexualising the words and gives them a life apart from the text they originally appeared so perhaps this is inevitable; not only is it apart from the original text, it’s also not like the people posting are sat on the bus flicking through sources when they reply on their smart phones. This is a useful observation in that it underlines how easy it is for those memes that float around forever with a couple of ‘meaningful’ lines nicked from something could be quoted out of context or against the authors intended meaning like I ended up doing by accident.

Nonetheless ‘innocence’ is not the first word that springs to mind in the final line in particular – ‘wise’ or ‘wary’ make more sense. I wouldn’t pretend to really know what Algren means by this word (the interviewer acknowledges that he’s hard to pin down on this) and I wouldn’t pretend to be well read when it comes to his work. I’m also not a theologian or any other an, ism or ist who might have some sort of informed handle on the meaning of ‘innocence’. It’s not much of a revelation then if I reveal that I found myself pulling interpretations about why these lines are quote-worthy out of my ass...


Starting with the obvious, innocence is a minority position – to be innocent in the terms posed is an “achieved thing” and therefore presumably not something easily obtained. I would argue as well that by describing it as an achievement, in its “best sense,” innocence is something to be considered positive. Finally it sits in a vague contrast to wage labour, at least in its worst form, by having the power to see through “ people waste their whole lives just to have security.”

 If innocence is thought of in terms of naivety, then there could be a sort of tragic aspect to the quote. If worldliness is equated to having tried to get by doing something against ones nature and being experienced enough to move away from this, then innocent-as-naive means coming out the other side with the belief that another way is possible. It is unworldliness in the sense of a faith in another world and being of that other (better?) world.

Naivety is not automatically a bad thing – perhaps a certain amount of naivety is a required to try to live a different life than the secure one the innocent considers a “waste”. If we knew how difficult a path that could be, if the difficulty and failure was really understood, would we start to walk it with the same sincerity? Is it possible under a totalizing capitalism to sustain a consistently radical life at all? If this innocence was ‘lost’, would it become clear that the alternative route taken was a stitch up too? This negative interpretation feels true to the novel and the protagonists’ naive dreams of escape, although here it’s firmly in terms of personal rebellion/redemption rather than any revolutionary aspirations. It’s tragic in the sense of running towards a fire exit that’s bricked up.  

Taken to a logical extreme, the implications of this are fucking terrible - a kind of paradox where the choice is between knowing how life is wasted on false solutions and doing it anyway or looking for another way to live that ultimately is equally pointless but you just don’t know it yet. It’s knowingly wasting your time versus wasting it unknowingly, doing something hopeless knowing it’s hopeless versus doing it with false hope. This ultra-bleak reading seemingly puts the innocent outside of “ people waste their whole lives...” but it’s a false outside.



Since this is meant to be a blog about hardcore punk, let’s bring this back to DIY in its most radical sense. This interpretation seems to dovetail nicely with the academic concept of “productive failures” I referred in my previous post. It’s pessimistic and ideologically charged argument to proclaim there is no ‘outside’ of capitalism, the attractions of post-modernism not-withstanding. Certainly it won’t be found as a form of practice unless it’s searched for. Since I’m not super smart and I can’t be bothered to read any more right now, I also don’t understand how acts where different logic prevails fit into this argument, like all those Facebook Events promising that no one will be turned away for lack of funds. This seems to me to overtly challenge the underlying logic of profit-is-the-bottom-line/if-you-can’t-afford-it-fuck-off neoliberalism, albeit using a platform that seems more evil every day and in a venue that’s probably a profit making space. Is this just marking the limits of what can be currently done? COMPLEX.

It’s also important to remember that many critics of capitalism either try to live up to its demands and find them impossible or are hobbled from the start – it’s not always a choice position. Hope that fails is better than no-hope that doesn’t try, perhaps not materially but certainly in terms of the quality of how our lives are lived. If we only get one shot, might as well make it an interesting one. Regardless, no one’s going to find a better way of doing things unless they try and we might as well get tinnitus whilst we do it.

Of course, this reading assumes that we’re trying to tear down capitalism. The moving beyond meaningless labour could equally apply to setting up a vegan cafe (for example) and the naivety that this would be easy to do and always more enjoyable than a life of office temping. Naivety as positive is also an interesting inversion of infantilisation – if this means belittling radical ideas as ‘childish’, then this reading of innocence counters it by suggesting that a degree of naivety is needed to see an alternative path beyond a dissatisfying “security”.

Algren, meanwhile, thought he was talking about getting fucked over by Hollywood.  

 (Normal service will resume next month).       

Monday, 2 October 2017

Interlude #1

Books on punk, particularly academic ones, often feel problematic unless they focus on a particular scene in detail and do the leg work to put the voices of those involved front and centre. The Ballerina and the Bull, by Johanna Isaacson, doesn’t at first glance even seem to be a book about punk given its subtitle “Anarchist Utopias in the Age of Finance.” I probably wouldn’t have picked it up at all if I hadn’t read an extract about the Bay Area on the Repeater blog, but I did and I eagerly awaited its arrival before demolishing it in a couple of days.  

I don’t want to go into all the reasons why I found it a difficult read, but I do want to take a month off from my usual writing to pull out a few key (academic) concepts that I think are useful for understanding my own relationship to DIY.


Building Failure: Writing about Mordam Records and its relationship to the economic boom in San Francisco, Isaacson notes the impermanence and precarious nature of punk institutions and projects as they come up against the limits of neo-liberal economics – such as Mordam being priced out of its warehouse space by gentrification (p.65). Borrowing from Lauren Berlant, the notion of ‘cruel optimism’ is useful:

The optimism in these moments of the “crisis ordinary” can be seen in the vibrancy of these social experiments, but the “cruelty” of this situation is that attachment it allows is to a problematic and precarious object or situation (p.66).

DIY punk projects are exciting and offer new possibilities but are also almost always going to end in some sort of disappointing failure, even if that’s only a winding down or stagnation. Our excitement is for something that is unstable because it can’t fully move past the limits of living under neo-liberal capitalism and its “crisis ordinary”, the daily problems we all face trying to make ends meet. This precariousness of course isn’t limited to our projects, but also of our own lives:

..the fantasy of the good life characterized by economic success has been disrupted by contemporary crisis and the “fraying” of fantasies such as meritocracy, upward mobility, job security, intimacy and political and social equality (p.65). 
As the economy continues to pretty much tank, the amount and type of change in many of our lives can make it hard to keep something going long term. This makes me think also of cities where universities supply a constant coming and going of people involved in projects. Basically you’re pinning your hopes on something that is exciting because it offers a break from the usual bullshit but is unstable from the outset, as anyone who has tried to keep a DIY hardcore punk band together will tell you.

These “productive failures” though are complicated in that they may provide other positives. They can show the invisible limitations of what is currently possible, not as a way to show that our ideas are impossible but to show that there are walls we never knew existed that we somehow need to work out how to smash through:

As Stacy Thompson points out... a productive failure... highlights larger structural contradictions and the impossibility of true independence from the system (p.67).

The discussion in The Ballerina and the Bull focuses on Lookout! Records. Echoing themes that I’ve drawn on throughout this blog, for Issaacson, Lookout! was a failure in terms of not being able to economically challenge the commercial music industry. But with this failure comes success in that for a while it was able to exist outside of a lot of that economic model and for bands involved in the label – who were unable to make a career of it but none the less avoided contracts and were paid a better split on royalties than bands on commercial labels - the ‘work’ involved was considerably less shitty because it was something that they did for reasons other than paying the bills. So in losing one thing, something else was gained, which is a question that I often ask myself: what am I losing here if I adopt this practice or that piece of technology or buy in to this institution (or whatever)? 

The labels failure to maintain its original business model (ugh) at least keeps visible the issues with the music industry that motivate a lot of DIY labels so that the critique isn’t lost. I feel like Lookout! is a poor example, chosen because the whole chapter is focused on the Bay Area. But the point still stands. Every project that collapses and burns out is at least an:

...idealistic failure [that] “preserve[s] the possibility of a potential social organisation that [does] not yet exist.” Unable to overturn the current system it “render[s] its logic visible and suspect (p.68).”

I.e. we might not win but by existing regardless, we call bullshit on your shit and one day, we’ll find a way to fuck you up.       


I Don’t Want To Grow Up: The rhetorical power of infantilization is hinted at throughout book but expressed most clearly at its end. I can’t explain it any better than this quote:

Anti-capitalist gestures and hopes deserve anti-capitalist analyses that don’t fall into the easy neoliberal rhetoric of “maturity” and “realism”... The rhetoric of immaturity has come back in force with reaction to anti-austerity movements in Greece, Spain and elsewhere, with such infantilizing tactics as that of Christine Laguarde, president of the IMF, demanding, during negotiations with Greece, to speak to “the adults in the room.” This discursive infantilzation of struggle is part and parcel of a long legacy that bridges colonialism and neo-colonialism, as entire nations are economically conquered in the name of “civilising missions” to control supposedly child-like peoples... Instead of supporting these dichotomies between youth and maturity, we must analyse characteristic “youth movements” with what Ernst Bloch calls “militant hope,” keeping alive alternative logics and potentialities (p.136).

Wordy, right? But how many times when we express some sort of anti-capitalist DIY logic or practice are we told to be realistic, that we’ll grow out of it or that we’ll look back and see ourselves as naive and stupid? It’s a way to shut things down – ‘shush, the adults in the room are talking’. 

One of the points that I often come back to is how in my late twenties, I felt like I had to reassert myself against the logic of a world that seemed to be saying ‘time to stop fucking around, your an adult now’, as if I’d had my 10-15 years of hard fought space and I should throw my soul out the window and become an estate agent. It helps to understand this as a rhetorical tool of capital rather than personal failure next time people start talking about their mortgages and you wonder if it’s ok to ask if you can move into their shed.

Anyone remember when we used to believe that music was a sacred place and not some fucking bank machine? Not something you just bought and sold? How could we have been so naïve? Well, I think when all is said and done, just cuz we were young doesn’t mean we were wrong.         

Friday, 1 September 2017

Bad Apples: Ten // Eleven

Part six of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on putting on an “event”, writing letters and some thoughts on electronic communication. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: I’m into the idea of an event. By this I mean something that’s a big one off. Let’s make some effort to make the night something to remember! Why don’t you get everyone to dress up in smart clothes for that local band show and do a punk prom, complete with prom king and queen… Or maybe you could bootleg the show, take peoples contact emails and then send them a copy as an mp3/sendspace link… Or get a piñata. Drunk punks with baseball bats would be interesting…Or I once read an old Crimethinc pamphlet [2017: note that referencing Crimethinc in 2017 does not imply endorsement...] about this kinda thing. In amongst the usual purple prose there was a rad idea which basically boiled down to seeing how many bands could play in a finite amount of time (eg: an hour)… Or a local punk house sometimes builds a fuckin slide on their stairs out of wood. That’s something to see and remember though I doubt it’d pass a risk assessment… So yeah. The ideas are pretty endless really once you think about it. (And kinda dumb too).

2017: This fragment partly inspired a previous post entitled The Best Things Happen in Secret. I won’t add to it, except to underline that the ‘payment’ I get from playing in a band isn’t financial. It’s getting to see other cool bands I didn’t know existed, meeting good people – and crucially, having a story to tell. I want to go into work on Monday with the wildest anecdote about my weekend, even more so now I’m sober and I can see that there’s sometimes a laziness about using drinking as permission to do something ‘crazy’. The most memorable punk shows are often the ones that are most removed from your parents’ idea of what a gig should look like. Putting on fancy dress to get drunk doesn’t count either (fuck right off).


2008: Write a letter. Yeah it’s slow. Yes it costs money. Yes it takes effort. But all that shows you care. It takes no effort at all to write a comment on my Myspace page, and that’s totally cool. I know were all busy and you might not have much to say to me beyond “are you going to that CIRCUS ACT show?” And I think that any way to communicate and keep people together is a good thing. But it’s much better to get a letter someone had to sit down and write, and then put in an envelope with beer mats, post cards, mix tapes, and other free shit they collected. You get something permanent you can look at when you find it in a shoe box in 2030 and it showed that someone cared enough about you to do something the hard way for once all those years before.

2010: I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. It bums me out that instead of a pile of old letters, I’ve just got a bunch of saved emails and texts.


2017: I can’t remember the last time I sent a letter that wasn’t just a note in with a zine or mix CD-R.

It seems like a lot of digital communication is throw away. By this I mean that despite permanently sitting on a server somewhere, it’s somehow lost to us much quicker than analogue forms. Of course verbal communication is and always has been instantly lost whether its face to face or over a phone, but it seems to be that there’s not really a digital equivalent of keeping a shoe box full of letters that you might rediscover one maudlin afternoon and retread moments you decided were important.

I suppose that you might have an old email account with a saved messages folder but as we move from platform to platform, what happens to all these old interactions? I recently shut down that Myspace page without a second thought. Most of the messages I lost were banal of course but what about the ones that weren’t? SMS is even worse. Who keeps a stash of old Sim cards and working handsets to flick through on a rainy Sunday?

It’s not just personal history that’s hard to access. What will social historians look at? How will our grand children construct family histories? What will be the 21st century equivalent of finding a stash of letters in a house clearance? It seems a paradox that as more and more data is harvested forever – intrusively and against our wishes - our meaningful access to it long term is less and less. 

Although capital inserted itself into our communication before – after all, you had to buy a stamp and some stationary – it seems a markedly different relationship now. If I send you a letter, its then yours. You have it, theoretically until it rots away. But that old Myspace message is something else in that it remains mediated by the platform – you have to log in to access it. It’s a bit like having to go to the post office and show ID every time you want to reread a letter.

You can probably find a way to save it in another format, maybe there’s a way to archive your text messages in another device or platform, you can definitely print out a hard copy of an email if you like. But you probably aren’t going to, meaning that instead of a one off exchange, a corporation has a permanent mediating role in you accessing it. That’s something that’s become normalised, but really – it’s pretty odd. 


Just so you know. That banner image on the Facebook event you used as the only form of promotion won’t be adorning anyone’s wall, flyer collection or retrospective scene photo book either.


I don’t believe in ghosts, though sometimes I need to remind myself of that, just as I don’t believe in other superstitions but I’ll still rub the foot of Ted Bates statue on the way to a match and refuse to say anything positive in case it jinxes my team. But I’ve often thought that if I’m wrong and I end up coming back to haunt you motherfuckers, I’d probably end up haunting a hand set.

Are haunted phones a thing? It probably should be if spirits haunt the places where emotionally intense things happened. If ghosts are remnants of strong emotions that haven’t quite dissipated, then I’ve certainly got a pile of broken mobiles kicking around that I’ve poured love and bile into.

If you think about it, the kinds of wonderful, painful, ecstatic, regret-soaked conversations that our for-bearers had to have face to face in their stone hovels we can have on the go. That lingering energy would be a kind of decentralised haunting, not tied to any particular location now that we can break and fix our own hearts on buses, walking through parks, in train carriages, supermarkets, cars, lunch rooms... The other person isn’t even there. The location is inter-changeable as long as there’s signal. The tool that makes it possible though is constant. We’re pouring all this intensity into a little box of plastic and wires. All this epic psychic energy captured and chucked out into space - there must be something left over.

These obsolete, rundown phones are “dead.” Language hints at the possibility of a haunting already.



(I should write you).

Some of the observations in this piece were inspired by the excellent book 'Filling the Void' by Marcus Gillroy-Ware. 


Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen