“Do-It-Yourself” venues are increasingly under scrutiny due to recent high profile incidents and closings at DIY venues. Here we lay out a case for and against the continued widespread existence of these venues.
DIY venues don’t do a glamorous job. For almost all of them, they’re never going to be a world famous destination, and they’re never going to be cash cows.
Yet they’ll always be beloved in their local communities and within their own niches. They’ll always be playing an important and necessary role in the discovery and development of artists.
DIY venues sometimes pop up organically and sometimes with intention, but the thread connecting all of them is the spontaneity and ephemerality of their existence. Most of these venues are meant to be temporary, oftentimes occupying a space that was originally meant, and may still yet be meant, for another purpose.
The problem is how increasingly hard it is to find these places because their existence is being threatened.
DIY venues do sometimes operate in a grey area of legality, and while people usually equate that with danger, these venues are not inherently dangerous. Instead, they serve as a place for artists to push the boundaries of expression and their own art.
Places for innovation are necessary. The biggest problem with letting capitalism be the driving force behind the music industry is homogeneity. Already it’s been pointed out time, and time, and time again how similar popular music sounds. DIY venues strive to break that and maybe more so strives to break what defines the performance of music and what a venue can do. Bree Davies of Westword describes the creative freedom afforded by DIY venues well:
Things get broken, climbed on and lit on fire; miniature parades and puppet shows might go down the same night that a grindcore band plays. There are generally no rules — other than “don’t be a dick” — at these kinds of spaces, lending to the notion that artists can take their art to a level a traditional venue wouldn’t allow.
It may seem like a cliché to discuss the corrupting influence of money, but that’s exactly the structure in music that DIY venues can subvert. There are typically no booking agents, promoters, venue operators, or other middle men at DIY venues. The money collected are suggested donations. The bands are so unknown, they’re really there for the exposure and the experience. That raw authenticity is what people know they’re going to get.
I don’t mean that to disparage the money in music though. The bands play these venues because they seek greater fame and notoriety so they can play “legitimate” venues. The middle men are important facilitators of the music industry. Don’t fall prey to the fantasy of the starving artist, even in DIY venues each person involved has a goal in mind.
But it can be exciting to meet someone at the bottom, at the start of their journey, and to grow alongside them. DIY venues serve that important point in the lifecycle of an artist or band that is seemingly impossible to serve by the music industry itself. And thus it pushes innovation in an industry that could otherwise get staid and homogenous.
There are legitimate concerns that people should have about DIY venues. In a less than regulated atmosphere, problems of the nightlife industry like noise, property destruction, underage drinking, and drugs are amplified. The solution is not to stamp them out. The solution is for municipalities and authorities to work with them to give them a space to exist legitimately while remaining authentic.
Now read the case against DIY venues.