Meditations on DIY and the Reunion of We Were Skeletons
Posted: by The Editor
We Were Skeletons were never meant for the masses. The trio’s exemplary navigation through their genre’s foremost characteristics (angular melodies, start/stop rhythms, and rewarding buildups) immediately set them aside as a unique powerhouse during the explosion of the Pennsylvania DIY scene at the turn of the decade. All of these aspects filtered into a very niche pocket of fans. The band were too serrated and rough for the exploding alternative scene in the area spearheaded by acts such as Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, and Balance & Composure. So while those bands skyrocketed to bigger venues and bigger tours, We Were Skeletons found themselves at home in dimly lit basements and garages with microphones draped around ceiling beams. This raw element was where they began to curate their own DIY ethos, and subsequently find out how the music scene is sometimes held up on broken ideals with outdated methods.
We could chalk it up to naivety, but that’s not the point of this piece. Today is the day that We Were Skeletons came back—arguably one of the most revered screamo bands of the last decade. A band whose life from conception to indefinite rest was entrenched in the core values of the emerging PA scene. To what degree of activity, they’re not quite sure, but they’re starting off with two shows:
Friday January 10 – Lancaster PA (with Kids, Booksmarts, and youcantgettheseincanada)
Station One Center for the Arts (411 W King St) – 8pm – $10
Saturday January 11 – Philadelphia PA (with Soul Glo, Capacities, Everywhen)
Everybody Hits (529 W Girard Ave) – 8 pm – $10
After that, we’ll have to see what happens. During these years of inactivity, the band was given time to reflect on touring various countries and what it was like being a cog in the music industry machine. These years of reflection have given them some insight on how DIY birthed this vessel for their dreams to come true, and where it also fell short.
During one of my phone calls with vocalist Rafael Diaz, we spoke about a quote taken from an Ampere lyric sheet that was heavily influenced by the words of the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant:
“For us, being involved in punk/d.i.y. is not the means to an end, it is both the means and the end. It transcends music and extends to all areas of life. It is creating, sustaining and contributing to an alternative community that we believe in. This collaborative effort is truly remarkable to be a part of and its very existence is inspiring to all of us.”
The actual quote refers to humans being an end in themselves, so how does that apply to our little slice of the scene? De-commodification. In Diaz’s experience, DIY sprouted as a counter-culture, but had its growth stunted and now nearly acts as a faux-capitalist society behind closed curtains while we preach the opposite. While this may conflict with your idea of what our scene is and why it exists, it’s important to be reflective and objectively honest if we truly want it to flourish like it seems to in our minds.
DIY has become sort of a clubhouse. We all found it while looking for an escape from the real world, a means to get away from everything we hated and could not support. So why are we all miserable and struggling to stay afloat? Why does choosing your passion mean sacrificing stability and well-being? Diaz thinks that once we started to settle into the clubhouse, the general consensus shifted to “this is enough” and we moved on. When We Were Skeletons were touring in Europe, the difference in their scene was astounding. The overseas DIY scene had more realized values, more accountability, and existed in harmony with other communities instead of at constant contradiction, as we do now.
Some of us are going to house shows less and less because cops continue to infringe on our lifestyle and indie venues can’t afford to keep their doors open. Most of the bands that make it to those bigger stages had to break out of DIY and into the mainstream scene (remember it being a means to an end?) and even when they got there, still found themselves struggling to find it sustainable. De-commodification is the first step: decrease a dependency on getting to “stardom” level just to make enough money to pay your rent. We all created DIY as a vehicle for change, and we really haven’t changed anything.
We all know how to immediately identify a punk space. Usually some spot that looks entirely forgotten and abandoned by the outside world. DIY has always been rooted in the side of the oppressed, the under-served. The world has turned its back and left us with breadcrumbs, and we’re so conditioned by it that we’re grateful to get even a slice of bread (This venue has a working PA system? No way!). Something that shocked We Were Skeletons while touring overseas was playing in various community centers that were government funded. Art is a huge part of so many of our lives, so we should be granted resources to explore that from our government. Imagine the difference we could make if all the towns without any places for bands to play were given a stipend to support a community space, not even necessarily for just music.
All of these points are not answers, but conversation starters. We Were Skeletons does not know how we’re going to fix the scene and nor do I, but this is where we can begin. We need to take risks by putting our values into the forefront of our vision and chasing them relentlessly until things start to change for the better.
In recent years, so much has come to light about manipulative and dangerous people in the industry. Illuminating the injustice instead of turning a blind eye is a great start, but we need to keep going. Where does our accountability process actually end? We cannot continue to bring offenders to public trial without establishing a set of rules and guidelines for determining chances of rehabilitation and changed behavior, or mere exile. We are essentially kicking offenders out of our clubhouse and turning away, leaving them to repeat the same behaviors with no direction for change. This isn’t to say that we should become more forgiving—but we need to take accountability and be more responsible with our vigilance.
Another big issue with DIY is the sustainability within it. Readers of The Alternative who graciously donate to our Patreon are the only source of income this site has. Most musicians are still working “real” jobs to help fund these passions. Didn’t we create this nook to escape from that life? The only way we’ll ever be able to achieve that is for DIY to become the catalyst; to create and drive that change into the community that made us this way. Without pushing these changes into the society that we want to see, we’re just stuck in park.
We Were Skeletons owe all of their success to DIY. Despite its shortcomings, the space we have created fosters individuality and acceptance to a degree that we just don’t experience in the outside world. We see kids working every day to make these ideals we’re writing about a reality, they just can’t do it alone. The most resounding thing I got out of these phone conversations with the band was that there are so many of us here, doing this thing, right now. And too many of us are suffering within this scene just like people outside of the scene are. So how are we going to bridge that disconnect? The band wants to offer up an honest conversation about what they got wrong during their original run, and how kids deep in it today can break the cycle.
We hope that this can continue to be an open conversation. We’re nothing if we’re not together, and together we can do whatever. We all deserve better. The kids just getting into this scene deserve to see us as activists pushing our ideals forward, and be inspired to join us. I’ll be honest, I’m not completely sure how we can fix all the problems and pitfalls we encounter, but I am hopeful. The resilience and strength of this community has proven time and time again why we discovered it and were so intrigued in the first place. And we still are making some great moves:
Last month, an open letter from musicians to Amazon was signed by over 1,000 artists pledging to boycott Amazon’s upcoming music festival unless they terminate any and all contracts currently in place with ICE, the military, and any other government agency committing human rights abuse. You can read more about it and, if you are an artist, sign the letter Here.
Earlier this year, The Alternative‘s founder Henderson Cole proposed a complete revision of the music streaming industry that would properly pay artist royalties through a government run tax funded music library. The idea was mentioned in a weekly newsletter on music streaming called Penny Fractions and you can learn more about that Here.
L.E.A.D. DIY has been a huge inspiration to us since their inception and are working incredibly hard to spread awareness and increase safety measures at shows for people with epilepsy and lighting sensitivity, learn more about how you can get involved Here.
Half Access has been tirelessly updating their database of venues (with your help too!) and their accessibility information, and as this database grows they can use that data to make strides improving accessibility in places that need it. Learn more about them Here.
If anyone has any thoughts on what we talked about in here, The Alternative will always be a platform that fosters open conversation and collaboration between our contributors and our readers, and if you need a refresher on the screamo powerhouse that is We Were Skeletons:
In the 5 years We Were Skeletons were active, their discography spanned three splits, various EP’s, and two full lengths, the last of which being Blame & Aging, frequently regarded as their strongest effort. Blame & Again saw the band focusing more on restraint while also merging technical skill with catchy songwriting. We Were Skeletons proved release after release that they truly had a unique formula for simultaneously impressing and intriguing the listener. And they did so while maintaining their DIY values.
Chris Musser // @ChrisMustard
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