Part one of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture.
2017: I spent almost a year kicking around Canada. When I came back in 2008, I started a free zine entitled Bad Apples after a post card I saw proclaiming that 'it only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel.' BA was a double sided A4 sheet folded in 4 to make an A6 pocket sized mess of tiny type that came out every couple of months. It lasted 4 issues, plus a transcript posted on a local internet forum for issue #5. It then had an afterlife as a poorly compiled anthology that I took to Australia with me in 2010.
I found a long section of fragments from #5 entitled 'Some shit to think about' on an old external hard drive and I've decided to republish it for a third time as a series of monthly blog posts. Including this introduction there are 18 sections. If I revisit this at the rate of two a month, that should be 9 months worth of writing.
Its cliché to proclaim that the past is a foreign country, but my I often find it difficult to unlearn hard lessons - and unread game changing books/unhear mind-blowing records - and put myself in the shoes of who I was. What I find particularly interesting therefore is that by accident, I've already started a conversation with myself by adding to this piece when it shifted from appearing on southcoasthq and became a print zine with the BA anthology. In these blog posts I want to add to this article a third time, so that not only do you get to see the changes I made two years after it originally appeared, you also get the thoughts of the author 9 years later.
What I'm hoping to do here is explore three things:
Firstly, what I was thinking at the time which I don't think was that dramatically different from the punx around me. Secondly, to show how technology and other factors superseded quickly some of what was written. Thirdly, to provide a window into what's dropped by the wayside since then. I'm not arguing here that anything is worse (or better) now but more that I wonder if any of these points will strike readers as original, controversial or coming from a radical direction that might be worth resurrecting.
What follows is a disclaimer of sorts from both earlier versions of this article. It seems like a good way to begin; if I could talk to me in 2008, I'd suggest that I chilled the fuck out because no one cares. Worryingly, this followed on from an electronic version of my per-zine that was so self censored that it basically too scared to express an opinion. It was mental illness creeping in around the edges and in 2011 I finally ended up on meds. Which is another conversation for another day.
2010: This article appeared in Bad Apples #5. This zine never got beyond being a transcript posted on the internet. I don’t even have the original word file. I did find it online though and this article was the only thing really worth saving. I’ve kept it pretty much as I found it, with a few 2010 edits [made obvious].
To quote the intro to the zine, this article was written in the context that it:
2008: “...is a list of ideas and thoughts that I don’t totally agree with but are things that I’ve been thinking about over the years. Some of them are contradictory. Some of them clearly wouldn’t work on a large, uniform scale. Some of this people are already doing. Please read it more as a spring board for your own thoughts rather than the gospel as written by Phil Chokeword, something to call me out/rip me over or as a personal criticism. It’s just a bunch of shit I thought/read about/stole and might even think is too dumb to act on. I’m not saying your band, label, zine or show is shit. If I was, I’d totally say that to your face instead. Some things are about pluralism and dialogue - there’s room for more ideas than just mine or yours. Take an idea and roll with it. Or not.”
2010: That disclaimer stands though it seems a bit epically cautious to me now.
2008: If you knew a good band was going to split up tomorrow, you’d go to the last show if it was in your town, right? And you’d probably dig it, knowing that this was your last chance to do so, right? So what if you knew that band was good and was only EVER going to play one or two shows or deliberately played only once or twice a year? Wouldn’t every show played be like the last show? Whilst we’re thinking about good things coming in finite packages, you can only stretch ideas so far before they reach their natural conclusions. This is why the fifth CD you put out probably won’t have as many gems on it as the first. So what if you only agreed to make one record with your band. And that was it. No watered down ideas, redone on album 3 not as well as on that first 7”. And wouldn’t you want that to be the best record you could write, so you’d make sure there was no filler too.
2017: The Say It Right Writers Circle I facilitated worked on this principle and was conceived as a 12 month project; when it seemed hard to steer it over the line, the finitude of it meant that it much easier to keep going because there was an end in sight. It psychologically was more manageable because it wasn’t going on forever.
In a purer sense, I'm sort of haunted by this idea, even though I've never put it into practice with a musical project. The general trajectory is that even bands that start for the crack of it end up moving towards being more serious as they progress. I was and am concerned about projects peaking and keeping on going until they dissolve into shit art, acrimony and posturing where really, all anyone wants to hear is that first 7 inch anyhow.
I wonder about projects that have too much time/money/infrastructure/ego invested in them so that they become zombie institutions, no longer fit for purpose but too big to fail, like some sort of DIY RBS. What does it mean when spaces, bands, zines, collectives can’t be fully reformed but drift on, not quite what they should be, no longer meaning what they did but not quite falling over, taking up space and energy?
The opposite of course is equally problematic. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to see that impermanence is the state of things; nothing lasts forever, and new things start all the time. But what would it mean to advocate the continual tearing down of projects as they pass their high point? What does it mean to clear out dead wood to make space for what comes next? And what if what comes next is dog shit?