Opinion: DIY Is The Answer

By Al Janusis

If you wanted to be in a band and start playing shows, why would you wait until someone else gave you permission to do so? The entire point of music is that it is a vehicle for self-expression and if that means it is constrained by an outside party, doesn’t that compromise the entirety of your artistic vision? Although there are plenty of acts out there willing to run the established gamut of venues, there are a number of others who do not wish to aspire to another’s artistic goals. If you don’t want to be judged based on a set of criteria that you believe does not apply to you — if you don’t feel at home within the system in place — what’s a band to do? DIY (do-it-yourself) is the answer.

An introduction to DIY can occur in numerous ways. Matt Cuthbert, vocalist of Toronto screamo band Foxmoulder, founder of now defunct record label A Mountain Far, and U of T alumnus recalls hearing the stories of Minor Threat tearing apart record packaging to discover how to glue together their own. “I would assume,” Cuthbert said, “that what a lot of people get encouraged or drawn toward is more often than not we have no real concept what we’re doing.”

Getting your hands dirty certainly can be intimidating, but there is comfort in finding other people willing to do the same. Lauren Boyko, an OCAD student and member of folk-punk group Stick and Poke, spoke to this and stated that it was at the encouragement of her friends that she entered the world of DIY. “The importance of newcomers is great so the scene can remain strong.” She went on to say that “this community gives you support in whatever you endeavour and encouragement to all in all ‘be yourself’.”

Luke Huszar, a second year Cognitive Science student at U of T and guitarist of math rock/shoegaze trio Piles and Piles, explained that it was his brother who brought him into the fold. “My brother has been in bands his entire life and I would always make it a point to go to their shows. His current band, The Sharpest, has been around for like 6 years now and they always played a lot of DIY shows in Boston and Amherst.” Above all, the people he encountered made him all the more willing to return. “Just getting to hang out with like-minded people and enjoying music I love in an up close and intimate setting was ideal for me.”

Within Toronto there are number of spaces that specifically cater to DIY-minded bands and the communities they wish to foster: Soybomb HQ, The Shop under Parts & Labour, Double Double Land, Izakaya Sushi House, and Skramden Yards. These places are what Cuthbert describes as “playgrounds for a group of people to gather and do their artistic things.”

This is a major difference from the city’s bars and music halls where the atmosphere is often affected by their status as businesses. “Whether we’d like it or not these professional entities feel like an entirely different world. It’s like a parallel dimension in a way,” said Cuthbert.  He never imagined using booking agents or promoting agencies in his creative endeavours and so researched what it is they exactly do in order to do it himself. This is the spirit of DIY culture — have a hand in every aspect of your project and you have more control over your agency. Cuthbert explained, “The professional capacity of people whose job it is to book shows—talent buyers—they’re really not doing much work. A good promoter is one who really does a good job of getting the word out there, but for the most part it’s the bands who do that.”

Perhaps you have taken an interest in DIY now and are considering booking a show, but a lingering question may remain: if you do not know someone already in the community, how do you get involved? Boyko suggests, “Attend a lot of shows in the genre of music you wish to book. At these shows talk to many people and make as many connections and friends as possible.”

Huszar elaborates further: “Once you get your name out there it becomes easier to find shows. Just from putting our EP on bandcamp/4chan/reddit we got invites from bands all over asking if we wanted to play shows.”

Lucratively utilizing online resources especially bears importance today where most bands, DIY or not, are publicizing for themselves through Facebook. In the digital age, everyone’s become more DIY-inclined, but the true measure of difference comes from the entirety of the artistic project. Instead of relying on record labels, eschewing them in favour of online distribution hubs like Bandcamp give bands more control over the property rights of their written material. There is no fussing with contractual obligations; the music simply is yours. As an artist, why wouldn’t you desire that?

The most wonderful aspect of DIY is that while it may seem to be intimately connected with a small number of underground genres and communities that follow them, in reality it is nothing more than a method to allow for the most amount of room to determine your goals. It is a tool that injects a surge into the community it fosters because it is quite difficult to be apathetic about your project when, in order to properly get across the noise coming from all the available channels, you have to be your largest supporter. So go out and silkscreen your own t-shirts, open your basement to four bands this Friday, pass around a hat to cover the door charge, and enjoy the camaraderie.

This article appeared in Demo‘s January 2014 print issue.

Al Janusis is a second year student from the Metro Detroit area studying English. When not reading, writing, or watching films, he often can be found wandering around Toronto in hopes of finding a show under ten dollars.

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