Op-Ed: The Weakening DIY Scene

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It is my belief that the D.I.Y. scene is weakening.

Did I really just write that? As a member of the DIY community myself, I find it hard to believe that I feel this way, but I think the unity and energy within this music scene is weakening. Something is going wrong, and needs to be addressed and corrected. I’ve traveled the country with multiple bands on DIY tours, and I’ve witnessed many facets of this community: shows in houses, punk spaces, record stores, basements, bars, venues and even the great outdoors. This post has nothing to do with the music community itself really, but everything to do with how it has been acting during shows. I want to provide my prospective, and maybe begin a discussion on how to appropriately modify things for the better.

I once read that DIY shows are a way to escape from the reality of the world. This is true and important, but I feel these shows should be more than just an escape. Perhaps even a welcoming artistic community? As Brian Walker of the Philly band A Day Without Love wrote in a beautiful essay entitled Being Black In A White D.I.Y. Scene,

“I have had to censor my genuine feelings on topics because of the lack of empathy the scene has, which goes deeper beyond racism. The DIY scene claims open mindedness but practices frat boy mentality. Too many of the same bands playing at the same houses in front of the same people. There is such a lack of cultural diversity and understanding coated in alcoholic blissful ignorance to a point that makes me sick and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Now as I write this, I admit I have had my fair share of blunders. I have had many instances where I let alcohol claim my mind. I’ll own up to those. But there’s an underlying point made in that quote above: there are uncomfortable atmospheres within DIY music scenes (created by both musicians and fans) that make these shows less about the music and less enjoyable for music fans. This is a problem. I can’t comment with a clear conscience about the injustices involving racism, sexism and others (seeing as they do not exactly target me), but as Brian mentioned, it is a tremendous downfall that it is even apparent at all. Furthermore, we should continue to listen to what victims have to say. We should be aware of how we are acting at shows, especially in regards to singling people out because of any number of reasons. This should be a community with open arms.

I recently witnessed an incident on my home turf of Denver, Colorado that really affected me, and probably drove me to write this post. As a native of the state, I was happy to see a show happen here, but sadly from what I saw, I feel a majority of the community here would rather find another reason to smoke marijuana than actually watch bands performing. I saw 40 people sit outside the venue while the bands were playing. Sure, one could argue they were listening, but what is that? These were people who paid money to support bands, what are they doing outside the venue? My mind was blown, not because many people wanted to smoke pot, that is fine, but there is something deeper and more important that is being lost when the people there to see the music don’t care about the music.

When I see a crowd meander outside my heart drops for the band. What a shitty statement to make. “I am going to support the two local bands, but not the one that drove here to play to me.” I get it, basements can be hot, it can be crowded as hell, maybe a band is a bit less interesting than the other, but when you walk out on a band think about the message it sends. It is a huge disrespect and disappointment for all of the musicians who traveled in a van for 8-9 hours through the middle of nowhere to play for you. Not only does walking out hurt the band, it also makes the statement that the music, and really the entire local DIY music scene, really isn’t that important to you. This is poison inserted directly into a scene’s veins, and it is made even worse when it appears the music is secondary even to the bands themselves.

A crowded show is an anxiety nightmare, making it understandable why many fans and musicians resort to drinking and drugs. But when band members decide “I’m a fucking rock star so I am going to get so shitfaced that I can’t even play” as I’ve seen happen in multiple states with different bands, what sort of message does that send to the attendees of the show?  If it doesn’t matter to you what the set sounds like, why should attendees care?

But that is how we were taught, right? Stories, movies, and books have all told us about ‘drugs, sex & rock n’ roll’, but is that really what we want our music scene to be in 2016? I’ve watched band members spending more time attempting to sleep with people at the show than conversing with their actual fans, or to make matters worse, attempting to sleep with their fans. If that’s the kind of story you want to be sharing with your friends about your ‘rock star’ lifestyle, then so be it, but you’re the root of the problem. The DIY music scene is currently drowning in scandals. Not only are these disgusting events that ruin victim’s lives, but they soak up the headlines and obscure the fact that the rest of us are here to produce and enjoy art! It’s time to stop this mentality that tour = unlimited freedom. It’s a lie, it should never have to come to this culture, and we would be better off without it.

With that being said, there are the offerings of the ‘rock star life’ that are valuable and amazing and should be encouraged: sightseeing, making new friends, and the cathartic release one has while playing music. Those are awesome incredible things that make a musician’s career so enjoyable even in times when money is scarce, and that is not to mention the positive effect that an artist’s music can have on others. It’s jaw dropping and absolutely inspiring, watching individuals working tremendously hard to be themselves, to be free within their own creative identity. They are willing to accept sometimes horrific atmospheres just for that one chance that someone will hear their music and fall in love. These are the things bands should put emphasis on and music fans should encourage.

Maybe the bands don’t care because the fans don’t seem to care, or maybe the fans don’t care because the bands don’t seem to care, but without a doubt it is a cycle that is making the DIY music scene worse and worse. I am not trying to say I do a better job. I am just addressing the problem as I see it with the hope that things do not get any worse.

There has got to be a better way. Maybe I am being a bit over dramatic, but the overall point is I feel uneasy with how things are. There are many great music fans out there, and more incredible dedicated bands than ever, but if we let our music scene be destroyed it will all be a waste. As fans, we need to give bands our attention, as musicians we need to give music our best effort. If we reform this culture we can stop the cycle and make DIY shows a place that everyone can enjoy. We are all here because we love music. Let’s show our love.

Hopefully, this post can start a conversation so we can begin changing things in the community. When a band asks the crowd “What ways can we change the DIY community for the better?” they shouldn’t be met with silence. They should be met with people ready to show their awareness, ready to not discriminate and most of all, eager to make a change.

I’m ready to start talking.

– Sean

Editor’s Note – This post is our first official Op-Ed on The Alternative. While all music discussion and reviews are opinion, Op-Ed articles are meant to be a place where our contributors can express their own views and ideas. All stances taken in Op-Ed articles are the opinions of the author and are not meant to represent the opinions of The Alternative. I hope that through these pieces we will be able to open up a discussion on a number of issues.