Well, not completely, but when I think back, it seems like a lot of the more interesting local shows end up being in semi-sketchy venues that have to exist under the radar. I know people who find these shows exclusionary, but I think there is something valuable about repurposing residential or other spaces for creative activities. That’s not least because it avoids the overheads of hiring a dwindling number of venues (that we should still support so that they don’t dwindle further...) and enables the creation of spaces where the values expressed are progressive. And let’s be honest – there’s something deeply satisfying about going into work on a Monday with stories of hidden bolt holes filled with punx going off to the best bands no one’s ever heard of. Ever seen someone crowd surf in a bedroom in an inflatable boat?
I know that’s a utopian reading, and I’m sure that I avoid the downsides of shows such as this – I’ve not put a show on in a living room since the early 2000’s so I’ve not had to deal with houses being trashed or hats being passed around that end up light on funds; it’s not me who is opening up my home to strangers. I’ve never had to deal with angry neighbors and I’ve never lived next to a house where a punk band is playing full blast on a Sunday evening. I’m also experienced and privileged enough not to be intimidated by standing in a strange space and I'm comfortable enough not to seek approval.
In fact, I don’t always want to be in a bar now I’ve redefined my relationship to alcohol so eating gelato or skipped pastries or drinking a coffee whilst watching a band is in many ways preferred. This gets lost sometimes in the arguments around exclusion – yes, you do have to be in the know (which I not always am / care to be as the years tick by), and it’s up to promoters and bands to balance the tensions between avoiding it being an elite clique and the sort of unwanted attention that a public event can attract. But maybe your bar show is exclusive too, to those people who would prefer not to be in a club space orientated solely towards drinking, to those who don’t have the funds to access those spaces in the way that feels most comfortable, to those with child care issues who might want to bring their kids.
If we have to deal with these tensions then maybe there are creative ways to do it. I was struck by a conversation that I had with a co-conspirator who pointed out that whilst a few dozen of us were watching a bunch of new bands in an undisclosed location, there were probably other small groups of people making their own spaces and culture and having a good time all over the city that we didn’t know about, in both public and hidden spaces. It’s not the same as having a show with hundreds of people at, but I’m wary of measuring things in terms of numbers anyhow. I used to watch the stats counter of my projects go up until I realised what I was substituting it for money as a measure of success. This is the quantitative measure; what about the qualitative? What about measures of success that aren’t based on numbers but on how much fun you had, the community you felt or those transcendental moments where something a band does really fucking clicks with you and it’s like someone walks on your grave?
So. Here’s an idea for free: a ticketed event at a hidden location. On the day, an email is sent to ticket holders with the venue’s address. A set portion of the ticket money goes towards printing up pin badges and post cards which are mailed to everyone who attends. On the post card is a download code for a live recording of the show. Everyone who was quick enough to get involved gets a memento of the occasion, a reminder that they were in on the secret. For those who didn’t attend, the message is this: you were welcome, and you’ll be welcome next time. But you’d be welcome to go off and do your own band and your own show and we could support what you do.
Part of hardcore punk is taking a supposed negative and turning it into a positive, or at least making the most of what you have and not letting it slow you down. If we’re going to be secretive, let’s take ownership of that. If we find ourselves sheltering in the cracks of their city, let’s make it about having a special, unique experience. Let’s make it not about being elitist but about those conversations with confused workmates that remind us that what we do is far from mundane. The best things happen in secret.
(Well, some of them).