Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bad Apples: Four // Five

Part three of a series of posts reflecting on almost a decade of DIY culture - focusing this time on crafting and projects with a local focus. For an introduction to this series, click here.


2008: We live in an age of mass production. Millions of identical consumer items roll out of millions of factories. This means that I can get a cheap TV but it also means that there’s a weird flawless uniformity to things since they’re all made to the same blue-print. That’s probably OK if you’re making cars but wouldn’t it be cool if each one of those records you’re making was slightly different? That’d show that a bit of thought and love had gone into them. I’d also probably treasure your shitty demo more if it was a unique one of a kind thing that no one else had exactly the same.

2017: Revisiting this, one of the things that jumps out at me is the proliferation of shit that’s marketed as artisan or bespoke which I’m pretty sure wasn’t on my radar, and certainly wasn’t the in-joke it is now, when I wrote the fragment. It’s interesting but sort of obvious that the drive for something “authentic” as opposed to generic and mass produced can be so easily be part of a marketing campaign. The DIY version of this is the collectible commodity that ends up flipped on Discogs or held in some airless collector stasis...  

I wasn’t exactly thinking of craftisvism – but I was thinking of a less alienated process of making something, or at least a closer relationship to the item produced than something that rolled off the factory line. It’s easy enough to make things unique after all when your producing dozens rather than hundreds of items, so why not hand decorate whatever it is you’re making so that the imperfections or deliberate quirks make each one different?

This to me seems something of statement of intent; something that says the person who made this actually touched and hand finished what your holding as opposed to it being made in a factory far away from the label or publisher or writer or whatever, who never even knew it existed bar as a number in a spread sheet or in a financial return. In that way, if you really stop and think about it, buying a hand numbered zine makes it much more personal than the majority of books on your book shelf. Its clear that someone touched what your holding and it meant enough to them to hand alter it, rather than the easy myth that it suddenly appeared in the world without any labour.

There’s of course limits to this; you aren’t going to use a tooth brush to flick paint on 50,000 tapes but you might 50. So it also says that whoever made this is small. Small might not always be small forever and small doesn’t mean “not shitty people”, but generally speaking, in a world where we celebrate endless growth as the ultimate goal, it’s good to stand up for the little guy - particularly if it’s through refusing to compromise that they stay little.      

All this seems to be going against the grain of things. When you can leave a chain store in one city, fly half way around the planet and have the same experience in the same chain, to empathize difference and craft-person-ship, even if it’s on an insignificant level, is probably worthwhile still.


2008: The internet is great and so is the postman. We can talk to the world from our homes and more importantly I can hawk my useless crap globally. I send this shitty zine to Canada and Australia! WTF. But wouldn’t it would be cool if sometimes we deliberately just wrote for our local scenes and didn’t try to get any bigger than that? You could write songs about your mates or how your town is a hell hole and everyone would totally get it. Another good thing about keeping things small is communication – if people know you’re writing directly to them, they might be more likely to communicate back and create dialogue. A good example of this kinda logic is the STE Bulletin – this primarily exists as a listing for Southampton people so they know what’s going on locally. And handy it is too.

2017: Rich STE on the STE Bulletin:

“Think Globally, Act Locally!” was the cliché that we took to heart in the S.T.E. but all clichés are at least grounded in reality. Sometimes this internationalism was literal – I remember after one gig our house being full of Americans, Germans & Norwegians along with us reserved Englishmen. At all times though, we took a localised slant on ideas, words, music and actions from all over the world. Sometimes these influences took a while to disseminate to Southampton and these days global communication is much more instant but the principle remains the same.


Here’s a thought experiment for you. For arguments sake, let’s say that a scene is a community of people with an active interest in something. Community is a rightly contested word, but in this case it is a bit of a zero sum concept – you are either part of it or you aren’t, it something that has a border and you sit on one side of it or another, no matter how permeable that might be. These sides don’t have to be in competition, they can be fluid and there doesn't have to be a value judgement about which side is best. But for our purposes, you’re either in or out.

How do we describe that boarder? If we approach it as dividing off a physical space, it’s probably most familiar. It’s a geographical area, a building, a neighborhood, a space, a city. But it’s also possible to describe community in terms of time – a bunch of people coming together from/in no fixed geographical location for a period, perhaps to achieve a certain task. The boarder of the community here is temporal – it didn’t exist before a certain point and doesn’t exist after a certain time. Another concept of community is unity through a shared interest or activity. Here the boarder is between those who have the required interest in (for example) pop punk and those who don’t. Some communities combine all of these boarders. That’s OK for our purposes.

The experiment is this: having this very simple definition of a community, what happens if you take your creative project and either erect, move or tear down one of those boarders? What happens if you make those walls invisible or insurmountable, distant or close? For example, what would it mean to be in a band that was bound to a physical community that was defined by a particular city? What would it mean if that same band wasn’t tied to a particular community based on interest?


It strikes me that part of why some of the outcomes of this experiment seem ridiculous is because we’re conditioned to think that growth is a good thing. Putting barriers and limitations on what we do doesn’t make much sense in that context; if we’re looking to maximise some sort of audience, to open up new “markets”, then choosing not to do something you could do, choosing not to grow as big as you can, obviously runs counter to that. If we measure success in numbers, in size, in units then this fragment is even sillier. 

But should we always be doing that? What do we miss when we think this way? What relationships do we undermine and water down? What opportunities and practices do we overlook that could reflect a fulfilling way forward for our projects?


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