It's been a while since I've been motivated to write anything that wasn't "I play on this release, please buy it"
When three members of The Exploding Hearts lost their lives when their van crashed driving home from a show in July 2003 many of my peers could relate. We’d all been there; long drives late at night, desperate to get home to our own beds, going back to work on two hours sleep after returning from tour, pushing ourselves to physical limits.
With the news of the fire at Ghost Ship in Oakland and the – at time of writing – death of 36 people in the space there is not one of my friends, be they producer or consumer of culture, that doesn’t understand the tragedy that’s occurred and hasn’t recast their own personal involvement in DIY culture with new endless “what if…” and “it could have been any of us”.
It could have been any of us.
We’ve all been at the dangerously overcrowded post-fest show in the local DIY space, unable to even go to the bathroom, suffering varying degrees of anxiety attacks in our hard won inches of space, we’ve all been to a venue that was a concrete underground bunker with one wooden staircase to enter, those of us in bands have all loaded gear up the rusty fire escape – the only way in or out – into the third floor apartment over the bike repair store, and those of us not in bands have all been to that space, carefully edging our way past smokers in Discharge shirts hanging out on that one rusty fire escape we all have to use.
It could have been any of us.
But it wasn’t and let’s not take that away from the members of our community that lost their lives in the tragedy last weekend in Oakland.
I’ve talked about this before, but as I get older my interests in music and culture rarely lie strictly within genre lines anymore, they lie within the methods we create, perform, reproduce, or consume culture. My interests over the last few years have taken a sharp turn towards the spatial, an aspect of culture I was always involved in, but went by largely unnoticed or uncommented to me. It was a natural progression; how else do I explain my continued interest in how culture is produced, whilst being frequently disappointed with many of the cultural products that are produced? How do I find ways to understand the necessity of punk when most punk means little to me now? How do I frame the politics of punk when they’re barely present in lyric sheets, when bands are regularly being called out, and when the digital era makes the means of production and distribution something that everyone does regardless of intent? Is there even any point in framing a politics of punk in 2016?
To me the politics of punk that are consistent are the politics of space, the politics of producing space, the politics of producing culture within our spaces. These politics are not new and they are definitely not exclusive to punk, they’re a facet of all cultures that are outside the field of large-scale production, from Sound Systems that have their roots in Jamaica in the 1950s, to late 80s UK Acid House culture, to the huge network of squats and autonomous venues of Europe, to the warehouse scene of the Bay Area and much more beyond these examples. Culture requires space, culture modifies the space it is created within, space modifies how culture is created and consumed, how culture is shared and participated.
So frankly, I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like the music that was playing at Ghost Ship on December 2nd 2016, it’s not relevant; these people were doing the same shit we do. They were regulars in our world too; in 2016 there is significant overlap between cultural fields, that strict separation is long gone. These are our people, our community, our politics, our strategies, our tactics.
In times when cities promote competition and economic entrepreneurship, and make decisions based on cost-benefit analysis and not social need, when gentrification means barely anyone can afford to live in cities, when development means there is a rental crisis, and our spaces to do anything beyond drink expensive cocktails, buy refurbished driftwood coffee tables, or line up to buy artisanal bread at the farmer’s market are gone how we create and experience culture matters. How we work towards collaboration over competition, how we work towards collective interests and not towards reinforcing the same atomized individual experiences, how we pursue politics that don’t commodify individual identities, these all matter. How we produce knowledge and culture matters. How we promote alternative economic and social practices matters.
What is happening in Oakland is a tragedy on multiple levels, this isn’t kids dying at a rave, this is not carefree hedonistic millennials perpetually in search of the next high-risk, low responsibility thrill.
This is one hundred fucking percent not that.