Doing It Ourselves: On DIY music communities

Earlier this month, the AHRC hosted their Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff. Whilst I’m not a part of any of the research teams involved in this, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out about some of the work being carried out under this particularly broad banner. In particular, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the fact a gig was happening in Clwb Ifor Bach, as a part of the conference. Although I make a point of researching what I love, and arts and culture and music have formed the main body of any academic research I’ve embarked upon since my undergraduate dissertation considered themes of place and identity in the music of Elbow, this seemed like a complete collision of worlds for me. In a past (and possibly future?) life, I embraced the DIY music scene of Manchester and set up a zine/club night called Pull Yourself Together. It expanded into gig promotions, an independent record label, and a collaborative set-up of DIY promoters called Postcards From Manchester, so the fact that this AHRC-funded gig was a celebration of DIY music networks piqued my interest. As did the fact it was being run by a combination of a promoter-friend in Cardiff (Will Steen, aka The Joy Collective), a band I’m pretty enamoured with in Bristol (Trust Fund, aka Ellis Jones), and a researcher from The University of Manchester who works on – amongst other things – the networks of cultural scenes (Mark Taylor) – for more information about the work behind this, visit the Understanding Everyday Participation website.

A Bristol & Cardiff DIY Scene, courtesy of Dr Mark Taylor and Ellis Jones

A Bristol & Cardiff DIY Scene, courtesy of Dr Mark Taylor and Ellis Jones

The gig seemed to be a great success – I brought down a load of my old zines which seemed to interest people, local bands and record labels peddled their wares, and Gwenno, Totem Terrors and Trust Fund provided plenty of musical entertainment. The inter-mingling of conference delegates and usual Cardiff gig-goers didn’t happen with that much ease, but I couldn’t help but feel pleased that an event like this could happen in conjunction with a high-profile conference. What’s happened since, though, has really begun to grab my attention. The social network analysis (SNA) graphs (created by Mark and Ellis, sections of which can be seen in this post) got people talking around Cardiff’s music scene: who was on there, who wasn’t, and what would happen if you really tried to map the entirety of Cardiff and Bristol’s DIY scenes (answer: the graph would be so dense it would merely resemble nodes hovering over a black cloud). It started conversations about who embraces the term DIY, and who sees it as unimportant because it’s just ‘something we do’. It’s made some of us think about the cross-pollination between these cities separated by a national border; is this musical inter-mingling happening in both directions? Or is one city more pro-active than the other? Much as with the question of street art I considered in my last post, some felt that Bristol just seem to make things happen a bit more, although there isn’t necessarily a great body of evidence to back this up.

SNA Visualisations, courtesy of Dr Mark Taylor and Ellis Jones

SNA Visualisations, courtesy of Dr Mark Taylor and Ellis Jones

Ten days later, and around a hundred of us are spending our Saturday in Jacobs Antique Market, watching numerous bands who are predominantly Cardiff- or Bristol-based. Quite a lot of us had been in Bristol the night before to see three of said bands, and there’s a real sense of excitement in the air. It was just one of those days that made you feel something was happening, and that whatever it was, it was important, at least on some level. Towards the end of the night, one of the promoters (from Cardiff’s Reeks of Effort collective) gave a little speech. He was clearly overwhelmed by the response the day was getting, and wanted to shout about the love he felt for the DIY community he felt he was a part of: of the support, the friendship, the camaraderie, and of the way we could make things happen if we really wanted to. Then, the following day, one of the same bands and some configurations of members of others played a free show over in Gwdihŵ. The conversations went on: what a great week it’s been for music in Cardiff, how much is happening in Cardiff and Bristol, and how much that can enthuse others. At least one band is being formed off the back of this enthusiasm. Many others are certainly being talked about. Hopefully more shows like Saturday’s will occur. And it’s all about the networks, even though nobody is thinking about it cynically enough to view it in this way; it’s the saturation point that tips more people into getting more involved more of the time. Perhaps not everybody who plays in their own band or puts on their own shows or writes their own zines would badge themselves as DIY. Perhaps the term isn’t necessary. But from a starting point of that Connected Communities show in Clwb, I for one have begun to re-evaluate my own feelings on DIY: the past weeks have reminded me why I love what comes out of these communities, and how they change my life for the better.

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