Skip Navigation

Collective words

the diy ethic

Pretty much everything that I do these days is influenced by the DIY ethic. It's a way of living, working and co-operating that is inherently radical, and it not only works against the things I oppose, but actively creates an alternative.

When I want a haircut I do it myself. I find scissors from the kitchen drawer and chop away, occasionally watching what I'm doing in the mirror. When I get frustrated that magazines aimed at me are full of beauty tips and diet plans, I do it myself and create an alternative. I write a zine and fill it with vegan recipes and stories about my life and drawings of whatever I feel like drawing. And when I turn on the radio and realise that the pop songs they are playing mean nothing to me, I find and become part of a scene that makes music addressing things I find important,not just being in and out of love.

The first time I became part of a coherent network of people working without the concept of profit was when I started writing zines. To make a zine you write whatever you want, turn it into a booklet and find a way of scamming photocopies. Then you swap it with other zine writers, sell it on for near cost price, give it to your friends, leave it on the bus… anything you want. Most zines are made in the writer's bedroom, and most zines have no adverts. Those that do advertise other DIY enterprises – tiny record labels, badge making business run from someone's living room and other zines.

The DIY ethic creates a community, teeming with ideas and enthusiasm. People do things because they are filled with passion, not for a payslip at the end of the week. Today I spent 9 hours at Matilda, scraping flaky paint off the damp walls of the basement. If I was being paid to do this so that the space could be turned into luxury flats, I would slack off, cut corners and complain constantly. If I was being paid less than £7/hr I would probably quit. But the idea of a new gig venue in Sheffield, a place to try and realise some of our ideas and a space that would help nurture the independent music scene was enough to keep me scraping when my knuckles were grazed, my eyes full of dust and my stomach growling. To put on bands without compromising is so much work. Unless you have the resources and support to work within a squat or social centre (like Matilda), you'll probably have to put on gigs at pubs, which are benevolent enough, but only tolerate you because of the money you make them on the bar.

To me, music without a DIY ethic has no soul. It is music used as a means to an end – the end of fame, or money, or influence. I believe in music as an end in itself. True, some of my favourite bands are pushing an agenda – of feminism, say, or anti-capitalism. But I believe in political music too, and corporate bands preaching politics are like companies branding their sweatshop t-shirts rebellious and counter-culture. And staying independent as a band is in itself is a political act, because it is a rejection of the temptation of money and convenience in favour of integrity and autonomy. It is refusing to be sold and manipulated and turned into a product. Because there is no suggestion that major labels have any interest in music beyond its earning potential. They are businesses and businesses seek profit. This is not my opinion – it is how things are. EMI does not chase your band with a chequebook because your music makes them feel alive, or because your lyrics seared to the very soul of the A&R man at your gig. EMI are after your band because they think that you will make a strong enough brand to make them some money.

And let it be known that if a band does sign to a major label, it is not the case that it is their personal choice, or their luck, or none of my business. Because every DIY band that signs to a major is standing on the backs of the thousands of people who stay independent. They owe every penny of their royalties to the people who worked for free to let them be heard in the first place. The people who put them on, gave them their sofa to sleep on, reviewed them in their zine, lost money putting their record out,drew their artwork and supported them by going to gigs.

Money corrupts and it pollutes communities like bleach in a stream. Bands who choose the money are placing it above sincerity, passion and belief. Zines that take major label advertising negate every word that they print. Anything that you write, play, sing or draw once you have chosen the money is meaningless because it is now a product, and you are creating a brand instead of art.

I work hard to contribute to the DIY scene, because I believe in it, and it repays me many times over by inspiring me, entertaining me and giving me hope. I will not work to help market music, to promote a brand, to help someone, somewhere makes a large profit. Major label bands have chosen their path and they can work within the world that they have opted for; a world of competition and exploitation; a sanitised world of immaculate dressing rooms and high ticket prices; a world of distanced fans and idolisation.

Our city is filled with venues for these bands, because they make money, and there will always be space for people who want to make money. It is the other people who have to fight – those who are motivated not by money but by their music and their community. Capitalism makes no space for the DIY scene – we just take it. And when we oppose capitalism and its fetishisation of money, we must embrace that which undermines it. And the DIY ethic, with its currency of energy, does undermine it.

diy music as resistance

Being involved in DIY music means a hundred different things to a hundred different people. To some it is nothing more than an amazing sound; to others rebellion; and at the furthest end of the spectrum, a means of resistance in our daily lives. For me it is the latter two that interest me most, and is how I have conceptualised my involvement. From a need in my youth to push against the boundaries that suffocated; to try and express a frustration and disaffection that I couldn’t articulate; to a growing awareness that the world was unjust and the fundamentals inherently wrong. It is a system I didn’t want to be a part of, and DIY music gave me the means of expressing our rejection of it.

To me, our lives were more than being an economic input in the capitalist system: an obedient consumer, and a passive citizen. Surely there must be more to life than this; more to being a human being than eating, sleeping, working and consuming? Human potentiality must…it must extend beyond this?

The DIY music is about creating counterculture – counter to the mainstream culture that systematically de-humanises us. It’s our big ‘FUCK YOU’ – fuck your rules, traditions, roles, morals and greed. This isn’t what we are about, we demand more, both for others and ourselves. But as this counterculture is something that will never be given to us, we strive to create it ourselves. The DIY ethic is a clear expression, within our limited means, that we don’t need those with power and all the resources; we can do what ever we want. And when we do exactly this, this is what becomes our resistance. No matter what it is we do, it is the start of taking back control. As music is our passion, and gives an immediate means of self-expression, and of drawing people around us, this is where we start.

It is not a bad place to start, either. Music, and art more generally, throughout history, has been the means through which humans have communicated ideas and values, tried to convey and construct meaning, and articulate the inarticulate. It is through music and art that we most potently define and express who we are. Therefore, those that control music and art, control the means by which we define ourselves, the construction of meaning itself and the values and ideas we express. Without authentic communication of meaning, we are no more than inanimate objects. By taking control of the production of our music, this is our start of an authentic discourse on what it means to be us.

You may ask yourself, as I have done countless times, other than as a means of self expression, how else is DIY music a form of resistance? We hang out at gigs and buy records and zines!? To me it is recognising the context with in which we do this. Within a culture that suffocates, we create space to explore ourselves; within a culture that engenders ignorance, we question; within a culture that causes pain, we care; where there is conformity we aim to encourage diversity. We can ask people to dump their conditioning of age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality at the door and participate in a space where this is all meaningless, where there is only one identity, and that is to be human. In an alienating world, we strive for community.

Do you remember how the first gig made you feel? The ache in your stomach, the tingles from the bassline down your spine, the sudden feeling of power and of belonging. The liberating feeling that you had stumbled on something that was more important to you than career, success and material possession? The very fact that this meant more to you than all these things is a manifestation of your resistance: you are no longer enslaved by society’s demands and expectations. They work hard, consume hard, where as we live hard: play music; organise shows; write zines; agitate; express ourselves and strive to be completely out of control.

It is easy to think that this a small and only ever a symbolic gesture drowned in the enormity of the problem. But reclaiming your life, or even just aspects of it, and taking control is more than symbolic: you only have one life – one chance to be, so why not do it to its fullest, unfettered by societies limitations? On the other hand, think of our networks around the world. DIY music is global, and beyond this, the idea of DIY counterculture and creating forms of resistance in our lives is truly global and timeless.

DIY music can be a form of direct action – we take action to create alternatives; and when viewed in this way it can become a powerful feeling. It can be something that extends beyond our own lifestyles, a tool we can use in the wider arena. We can use it to make real and lasting change, to not only give us the lives we desire, but to help others achieve their desires as well and create the world they want to live in.

the kids will have their say: the philosophy of all ages shows

There’s not actually alot of writing about the concept of All Ages gigs and to be honest the ethic may be taken for granted by many people involved in independent music or for some, it may not be an issue at all. Besides “All Ages” as a practice and method may be wrapped up within the DIY ethic for many, but there can be subtle differences between the two. Over the years many DIY events have had age restrictions, particularly in the UK due to them taking place in rooms above pubs or in pub bars themselves. Infact many subcultural events are wrapped up within the concept of ‘pub culture’ and for many organisers and gig goers the pub is a vital component of the show.

With the space we have created at Matilda for gigs we hope to create a space for everyone with the concept of ‘All Ages’ events being a practical realisation. While many 16 year olds have managed to sneak into pubs for gigs, All Ages events specifically open the barriers to youths that have no chance of looking 18. Music should be accessible for all and that should include music in the live setting. It seems strange that there should be a barrier to accessing music. Why should music be limited to people of a certain age. Worthy issues such as equality, prejudice, sexism and racism may be enunciated by our fellow scenesters yet the issue of age or access to underground music by those younger than “pub age” is not touched upon. Hopefully with this gig space, we, or you that are going to book events can provide a space for youth. A space that has no concerns over bar sales for every event. No issues over ‘underage patrons’’. No more landlords to worry about.

When I think of the concept of all ages shows, bands such as Crass and Minor Threat come to mind. Not only did both bands distance themselves from the corporate rock dominated music scene, they also both pursued an alternative route to the nihilism of thier contemporary punk rock scene and embarked on an inclusivity that included an awareness of youth involvement. Both Crass and Minor Threat performed in alternative spaces such as church halls, squats, Trade Union centres, Workers Clubs – anywhere that an event could be held. We hope that Matilda will become another such space that DIY will thrive and youth will be encouraged to become involved. If you keep the youth out of your scene its going to eventually grow old and die.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by Helen Back on 2006-01-13 18:44:09.
Content is available under Attribution-ShareAlike --