Since the early 1980s, Do It Yourself (DIY) Culture has revolutionized independent music in the United States, with glimpses of breaking through to the mainstream. Rather than going through a major label, more and more bands are self-releasing their music to a wide variety of audiences. The music industry is getting a major facelift when it comes to who controls the distribution of records. Smaller record companies are getting in on the action too, it seems like there’s a new label being started up with a roster complete with a handful of new bands everyday. With social media, the Internet and the progression of modern technology, it’s possible to run your own record company from the comfort of your bedroom. Completing a somewhat DIY “Holy Trinity” with bands self-releasing their music and indie labels starting out of the woodwork daily, many live music venues have also adopted the DIY ethic when it comes to how they are run.
One of the most famous underground music venues in the world today has made the DIY movement relevant since the mid-80s and is also a hub for West Coast punk rock. This establishment is known as 924 Gilman Street. It’s an all-ages, not for profit, collectively run, music/performance club and community space located in Berkeley, California. It’s operated by volunteers and offers monthly membership at the small cost of just $2 a year. Members can make decisions and work to improve the space as a whole, with meetings taking place at 5 p.m. on the first and third Saturday of each month. There are three main rules for anyone who attends a show at 924 Gillman Street: no drugs, no alcohol, no violence. Any bands that are viewed as racist, misogynistic, homophobic or on a major record label are banned from performing and the artists that do want to play must submit a copy of their song lyrics before booking a show. The historic venue has been a launching pad to success for legendary punk bands Bad Religion, Bikini Kill, Operation Ivy, The Offspring, NOFX, Screeching Weasel, No Use For A Name, Dropkick Murphys, Fugazi and Green Day.
Over on the East Coast, Brooklyn, New York has become a hub for DIY venues with places like the Monster Island Basement located on 112 River Street, Glasslands on 289 Kent Avenue, and Death By Audio on 49 South 2nd Street. New Brunswick, New Jersey has a burgeoning basement music scene that fully adopts the DIY ethic, with no corporate sponsorship present. Bands like The Bouncing Souls, Thursday, and Screaming Females got their start playing in these basements and now have devoted cult followings. Another destination on the east coast is the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island, with places like AS220 and Firehouse 13 in Providence and Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket.
AS220 is located in downtown Providence, RI on 115 Empire Street and has been a cultural haven for ‘the Creative Capital’ for over 25 years. The venue serves as an art gallery and performance space and takes pride in being all ages and showcasing original music. When you enter, you’ll see signs everywhere saying that there are no cover songs allowed and only songs written by the band performing are allowed. Local bands always get first dibs when it comes to booking a date on the AS220 stage and they have to submit a form that states that they’ll be abiding by the venue’s original music policy.
Every summer since 1995, AS220 throws their annual block party on Empire Street called Foo Fest, which is a fundraiser for the local community thats aided by many sponsors from around the Ocean State. The festival features many local acts and independent musicians from all over the world, with bands like Javelin, Math The Band, What Cheer Brigade, Lightning Bolt and the remaining members of the Sun Ra Arkestra performing in past years.
Firehouse 13 is located on 41 Central Street on the west end of Providence and also serves as an art gallery and performance space that showcases original music. The building itself is an old firehouse dating back to the mid-1800s and has been vital for many art students in the city to showcase their work along with local bands looking to start out.
Machines With Magnets is located on 400 Main Street in Pawtucket and along with being a live music venue, it also is an art gallery and a recording space for bands to make their own albums. Both of these DIY Venues are vital to Providence’s diverse music scene and art scene, being an open arena for any artist who wants to present their talent to one of the most eccentric audiences on the East Coast.
Since rising from the punk aesthetics of the late 70s and early 80s, DIY has been a cultural phenomenon that has spread across the American landscape with no signs of stopping. More bands today have more control over their music due to self-releasing their material to adoring fans, indie labels are started daily out of people’s houses and venues adopt the DIY ethic to support original music and their local scenes.
DIY has risen from starting out as a revolutionary idea to now becoming the norm for bands to conduct themselves when it comes to getting themselves exposed. The DIY movement has become a way of life for many musicians around the world and is on its way to becoming the predominant way of life for their fans as well.
Written By: Robert Duguay