Part ten of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on acoustic music. For an introduction to this series, click here.
2008: Work out how to go acoustic. Then you can play ANYWHERE. One of my favourite shows ever was GGA acoustic in Tommy’s living room. Clearly this doesn’t work if you sound like CROSSED OUT.
2017: This post is an edited group discussion inspired by fragment #15. Ben plays bass in Latchstring and books DIY shows as part of the A Public Disservice Announcement collective. Geraldine as involved in booking punk shows as part of the STE collective (and its afterlife). Jordan co-runs Circle House Records, books shows as part of DIY Exeter and plays as Phaedra’s’ Love. Kristianne is a spoken word artist involved in the DIY Southampton zine fest. Enjoy.
Phil: This fragment was written when there was a house show scene in Southampton but it wasn’t an electric house show scene. There was this sort of sense that if you put an electric band on in someone’s house you were gunna get shut down pretty quick. And I don’t know if that was ever founded on anything other than the idea that it was something we shouldn’t do. But it was definitely something that didn’t really happen. I can think of maybe 2 houses where like electric bands played but it was literally like mattresses over the window, kind of expecting to get shut down territory. So the fragment was about “how do we do house shows with punk bands that aren’t singer song writers?”When I was in Gordon Ganos Army, we built a drum kit out of tupperware and we had an acoustic guitar and we had a really small bass practice amp that I was running my bass through and we played those spaces where people would normally play acoustically. We played the conservatory at the Homested and we played a living room in Portsmouth that was fucking mental, probably one of the best GGA shows that I played. I was asking if we can do this in this context why can’t other people? Also I’m not the biggest fan of folk punk cos I don’t feel like for me it lived up to its initial potential in terms of like just doing shows in fucking weird places. Like so I can remember putting on a show on the common and I can remember seeing videos of Blackbird Raum playing like in a BART carriage. I was just like “man, this is cool!” you know, because it’s like doing something specific with the fact you don’t need electricity. But that doesn’t happen enough.
Jordan: I really like what you were saying actually about gigs in the park and things like that, I’d love to see more of that. I don’t know if many of you know about the Grafton Street busk? It’s organised by a singer-song writer called Glenn Hansard who was like the star of a musical called Once. He organises this busk every year on one of the busiest High Streets in Dublin. And he gets members of the community who are quite famous as folk singer song writers such as Damian Rice and they raise money for local homeless charities. It happens from about 7 to about 11 every Christmas eve.
Ben: Fragment 15 ties in to 14 a lot with me about holding events in certain spaces. I think of the common, the idea of the “common” and public land, at some point, it’s not going to be “the commons” anymore. So the spaces in which you have the opportunity to do certain things like that are gunna be lost. And a lot of people that moan about losing “the commons” very rarely actually use them for anything. So in my mind, these two are maybe not the way you intended it, but for me they are different sides of the same coin.
Kristianne: I’ve asked punk bands to do DIY Southampton and they work out how to make themselves acoustic so they can play it – I had a house show where Young Attenborough played a acoustic set and they were a punk band. They wrote a xylophone into it. Maybe they didn’t do it more because no one asked them to, but I’ve seen Just Blankets, who are some members of Young Attenborough do similar stuff since. Sometimes you have to put it to somebody that this isn’t a way you can function. We want you to be part of this, find a way to do it.
Geraldine: Its gunna depend on people’s creativity as to whether people can do that. Whether people are prepared to play a set of tupperware drums. I mean I’m all for it. But some people wouldn’t wanna do it. And that’s up to them isn’t it, they can say no…
J: I used to busk loads. Cos I live in Torquay which is a very touristy place. And on the harbour side are all the pubs and clubs and when I was sixteen, on a Saturday night I used to go down and sit outside Debenhams and Weatherspoons from about ten pm until two am and I’d make hundred quid and I’d go back home. It was so good, I’d just play Wonderwall 7 times in a row [laughs]. I used to busk in the day time, we used to sit outside Primark and it’d be 7 people having a cool jam. I think that’s maybe more of a small town thing, I don’t know, or a hippy Devon thing.
P: In terms of getting moved on if you did that in Southampton, one of the things when I was in Vancouver, there was a flyer for a guy that was putting out a poetry book and he was doing like a bus stop reading tour. The flyer had the times when he was going to be at certain bus stops so that obviously deals with the issue of being moved on because he was moving himself on. He was doing a tour of the city.
K: Number 3 and Rat Haus obviously – all the noise! No mattresses on the window. I would not put on a show like that in my house. I really like my house and I’ve seen the way that people treat the fucking house when they go into those shows. And there seems to be a different level of respect with house shows when it’s an acoustic house show as opposed to a full band house show.
B: The entire mood has changed. I think that the way the sound affects the people in the room is the way they will maybe act in that room. And also the particular bands they put on at Rat Haus were party punk bands. I don’t think it’s unfair in saying that that the bands they enjoyed listening to are conducive to an atmosphere of crank the amps, get your beers out. I’m not saying they should have to put on bands they don’t like, I’m just saying that’s probably why people don’t trash acoustic house shows but damage happens when you put a band on.
K: But the same people were coming to my house shows that were going to those house shows.
J: I think there’s a huge difference, from the excitement of an acoustic show to when I put on a hardcore punk band. I see a massive difference in numbers in attendance – hardcore punk gets more any day of the week because I think people go to an acoustic show, they sit there, you know, have to be quiet, respectful. And I mean, I love it, but not everyone does because you get you know, young sixteen year olds coming in for their first ever punk show or whatever and their friends are pushing each other around, and they’re having a great time and they’ve got an adrenalin thing and they think “wow this is great! I want to come back to this.”Whereas if they were sitting at an acoustic show, I guess they’d kind of think “this is a bit boring, I don’t get the same thing.” Which I’m not endorsing “that’s what a punk show has to be” or anything, but I’m saying that that’s something I see in a lot of people that they really need to have or get excited about. And I definitely will say that I’ve been more excited in myself about going to see a fast punk band, cos there’s this, I don’t want to say dangerous because that’s horrible, but there’s this like air of it’s all going to go off in a minute, like it’s all gunna go crazy, it’s like a wild show. And its just not the same when you go and see a calmer show.
B: Energy is dictated a lot by volume and tempo, regardless of if something is intense or if the crowd is vibing to it or not, volume and tempo, it’s a cheap way of doing it but it’s an easy and effective way of creating an atmosphere.
G: You do generally get more energy with like a band playing. But then if you’d seen Tim Barry playing the Joiners then easily you get same amount of energy.
B: If we were to put on an acoustic act and it was purely an acoustic bill, I’d imagine that we wouldn’t get the numbers through the door, I don’t know why. If we had someone like Ryan Harvey, say, come over from Baltimore and play, I would definitely put him on but I’m well aware that we’d probably make a loss to make it worth his while because we wouldn’t get the numbers.
K: I have a question. Why would you only do a hardcore show or an acoustic show, why are people so afraid of mixing stuff up?
G: We do mixed bills. We came back from holiday and the gig was the following week and the floor had cracked in that room in the Hobbit. So we did it in that concrete space outside the room, it was all sheeted off to try to keep the noise in. And Kelly Kemp played that for us and at the end, Rich said that he thought Kelly was the most punk person or band that played that day, she played unplugged and she was brilliant, really good. But we often had El Morgan and Kelly both play and other acoustic people play those shows.
B: We also mix bills - we’ve put on El and Dave Miatt, but I also think that an incredibly important aspect of putting on a gig is flow and currating the line up to build up to something. If I feel like they’re going to put a massive pin in the balloon you’ve been inflating in terms of how that line up has been progressing on the day then the acoustic act is going on early regardless of whether they feel like they should go higher up the line up. And I would probably be livid if I was an acoustic artist, I would probably get really wound up about always going on first and having the fewest people see me.
K: That’s why at DIY I’m like it goes music, spoken word, music, spoken word and I do that throughout the day on the stages. I kinda know what you mean about building up to something but why can’t you build up to some really good spoken word or some really good acoustic? I genuinely do not get this “this keep it all separate” shit, like I’ve asked a particular festival whether I could come and do spoken word and they were like “we’ll have to talk to everybody about whether or not we can have spoken word”. So I do have a bit of an issue personally. But also I can go and watch a band play and then watch an acoustic act - I don’t mind, it doesn’t have to end with really loud mental music at the end of a night, I can start with that and move to something else.
Jump to fragment (links added as fragments are posted): Intro // One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine // Ten // Eleven // Twelve // Thirteen // Fourteen // Fifteen // Sixteen // Seventeen