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Saturday, 9 July 2016

DIY music: death by a thousand sincere announcements

So there I was, at a small gig (about 25 people) in a small venue in Brooklyn, NYC, when ... the singer in the band starts rambling away on the mic between songs. It happens quite a lot. People in bands with "stuff to say". Not necessarily a bad thing - depends what they're trying to say and how they're saying it.

But ... it's kinda dangerous. Long-winded on-stage communications are a sure-fire mood-killer. Ya gotta get it right. Anyway, this was slightly different. He wasn't thanking the other bands (dull), expressing his gratitude to the promoter (also dull) or advertising his band's merch stall (dullest of all). Instead our loquacious New York entertainer began an extended soliloquy on "how great" it was to be part of "DIY indie-rock culture".

For real! This over-sincere Williamsburg dude droned on about "DIY culture" at regular intervals throughout his band's entire set. Even by the very low standards of most stage chat, this was exceptionally cringeworthy stuff. By the third or fourth time I wanted to charge up and grab the mic off him. PLEASE STOP! Was he doing it as some kind of twisted performance art? Tormenting his audience with sincerity until they snapped and caused a scene?

I dunno, people eh? Lest I be misunderstood, I'm the first to extol the virtues of so-called DIY music culture. It's undoubtedly where it's at, and has been for decades. As far as I can tell, there currently seem to be some very good DIY-type venues, promoters and artists in the UK, in New York, in Tokyo, in Italy, and doubtless in numerous other places dotted all over the world. Cool. But no need to shout about it.

Punk, lo-fi, outsider, alternative, squat, community, grassroots: call it what you will, it's a healthy thing and fosters a lot of great music. But phew, it can get suffocating. The Brooklyn gig had one of those hand-written bar signs that - like a lot of chalkboards outside cafes these days - specialised in cloying cutesyness. "Always tip you bartender. Be cool out there. And don't pee on the bathroom floor", said this one. Even worse, a gig I went to in northern England recently had an actual mock "commandment" tablet onto which were written the rules-cum-principles of the venue. Knowingly ironic, but still ... rules for niceness?

At gigs I dislike boorishness as much as the next twee indie rock kid, but ... please stop hectoring or suffocating me like this. Being "shushed" at quiet gigs is bad enough. I think I can just about disport myself in a non-offensive fashion without having to be be reminded that your gig is extra-specially "safe", "inclusive", fully-progressive and just won't put up with bad behaviour. Back off you rule-makers.

No, I'll keep going to these gigs (despite my complaints, they're frequently my favourite ones). But please spare me the ten commandments for "cool behaviour" and stop preaching from the script of "DIY indie-rock". I might be twee and and utterly non-violent but even I have my limit. Cool, yeah?

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