Saturday, 11 February 2012

DIY: Protection Racket

Image by The Print Project

Today I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends about DIY - and not the sort that involves drill-bits and rawl plugs. It got me thinking about the DIY nature of Fictions of Every Kind. When Sam & I started Fictions of Every Kind in September 2010, I don't think it occurred to either of us to try and run it in anything other than a 100% DIY way.

"Do It Yourself" culture is hot these days. Everybody wants a bit of it, from bloody-minded diehards like me, to big business. A lot of people seeking careers in creative industries like to misuse the DIY label as a means of getting a 'foot on the ladder' upwards into their chosen career, whatever that might be. It's a much-overused and frequently misused term, and I'm not here to try and write the rule-book on what it is and isn't. All I can tell you is what first interested me in DIY, and why I think it's important.

Back in the late 90s, there was a very active emotional hardcore & punk scene in Leeds. Much of it centred around the LS6 area, where there were a lot of interesting bands. The scene was lively and diverse: gigs in basements and living rooms, sold-out all-dayers in 300-capacity rooms in Joseph's Well, as well as 3 or 4 busy gigs a week in tiny upstairs rooms in The Packhorse. There was always something to do, and you could lose a couple of decibels of your hearing every night of the week in one place or another.

What was really interesting about a lot of these gigs was the way they were organised. They were never run for profit. Promoters put shows together because they wanted to see the bands; they wanted to bring a band from Europe or the US, and they'd bring them to Leeds as part of a tour, pairing them with local bands. The bands weren't trying to make their living from it - they would usually be happy to get their petrol money, and an even split of the door take. The promoter usually took nothing, and nobody went home feeling aggrieved that they'd been ripped off.

Neither were the gigs arranged for career gain. Many of the bands (though not all) were committed to the DIY ethic of putting out their own records, organising their own tours, and of staying firmly in the underground. The reason a lot of bands did this is because staying DIY allowed them to play whatever music they liked. It meant they could work towards making their own sound without worrying about whether it would 'sell', and in the process be truly in control of what they did. It allowed bands to create the sort of innovative music that could never possibly have existed under the corporate interference of a major record label.

The atmosphere at these gigs was often very different from that at mainstream gigs. There was often a feeling that everyone had a 'stake' in the night; the audience were as important at the night as were the bands. It made everyone feel included. Put simply, DIY at those gigs meant doing something for love, not money; for fun, not career. It meant inclusion and community.

The ethics Sam & I learned in those late-90s days in the basements of LS6 are the ones we carried over into the way we organise Fictions of Every Kind. We do it because we care about it, and we will always try to organise our nights in a fair way. We are:

Not for profit Everyone who organises Fictions of Every Kind - myself, Mason, and Ian (no longer Sam, sadly, as he's moved away to London) is a volunteer. We don't make money from it, and we don't ever intend to.

Not careerist Everybody involved in the organising party is a writer. We started the night because we know how lonely it can be, and we wanted to give writers the chance to socialise. Literary events aren't always organised by writers - many are organised by 'arts professionals', whose job it is to organise 'arts events'. We run Fictions of Every Kind because we love it and because we care about it; we don't do it because it's 'part of our job', and it's not intended as a stepping stone to greater things for any of us.

Affordable and for the benefit of the community We keep our costs low by seeking out affordable venue hire, and by not selling tickets. Where there's a door charge, people pay on the door. When we do have fliers and posters, they're photocopied or letterpressed as they're needed. We keep our door prices low because we want Fictions of Every Kind to be accessible. Sometimes we do have to charge on the door, and when we do charge it is always either to pay for the cost of venue hire, or to pay the invited speakers or sound engineer.

Inclusive and fun Dammit, we started this because we were fed up of having nobody to talk to about our work, and we were sure that there were writers all over the city who felt the same way. We don't want our invited speakers to be a bunch of middle-class, overly-educated white guys, because life isn't all about middle-class, overly-educated white guys, and we don't want to perpetuate the idea that it is. In fact, we're almost aggressively inclusive. We want you to feel at home. We're the anti-clique.

Being DIY is integral to Fictions of Every Kind. It means that we can operate in a way that we think is fair and ethical, and be completely non-corporately driven. We always strive to put on good, entertaining nights, and do our best to treat everybody well. If you clicky this link here, it'll take you to a nut-and-bolts blog post on how we organise things. (You're welcome).

Thanks for reading, and I'll meet you over by the self-tapping screws in B & Q.

Currently reading

All Quiet on the Orient Express Magnus Mills

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