Right off the bat you should know that I work in the music industry. For ten long years I’ve worked right in the rancid belly of the beast. Stop reading now if you’re easily offended.
Still here? Good. Guilty secret off my chest, now, we can begin. Despite my pay check coming from the EVIL EMPIRE (big capitals to enhance the monolithic depravity) I’ve also spent the past four years as part of a DIY collective called Rip This Joint and the past two years co-fronting (that means two front-men, like The Blackout, but obviously less shit) a bunch of noisy perishers called It Often Takes A War. You won’t have heard of us. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’m the fucking Batman of DIY – by day capitalist pawn (porn?) suckling at the teat of musician misery, by night be-cloaked vigilante protecting the playing rights of the musical underclass. Except it’s not really like that. Nothing’s that straightforward, edges are always blurry.
I stopped working as a buyer of a leading high street music retailer (it’s the one that’s still (just) around) back in 2007 completely bored of working with ruthless major labels on talentless “projects” (a platinum disc for James Blunt’s debut album resides somewhere at the back of a cupboard – the shame can never be erased) and took a job running a small online indie recordshop. Still working within the industry but a little more on my own terms. Around the same time my best friend (who’d just formed his first post-hardcore five piece) was contemplating organising his own event on a Sunday afternoon in a little known bar in Camden. With no real awareness of DIY or any “scene” but with enough sense to never want to play a traditional promoted night again he put together a tidy little line up and asked me to DJ between sets.
That’s how it all began. Venue issues, a name change and a growing list of bands that we just “had to get on” culminated in the emergence of Rip This Joint. A monthly “Not-For-Profit” night held (until recently) in a Camden basement more used to polite versions of Jazz and Blues than the rowdy excursions into noise that has become our staple. It turned out to be the perfect escape from a day job dealing with major labels and bands beginning with “the” and it gave us enough ammunition to make sure we always stayed out of the mainstream, highlighting and supporting the acts that were truly alternative.
The premise was simple: A great little (non-traditional) space that would surprise and confound any who ventured down (dragging bass cabs down the stairs has always been a delight). Cheap entry (only £2 and no guest list – despite being asked for one several times to begin with) with all the money going straight to those that play (those on tour and those from out of town taking precedence – spread the love and the money!). Each night curated by band’s involved with the organisation to ensure constantly surprising line-ups and, most importantly, a friendly attitude to all that came down. We weren’t the first to try it by any means but our aim was always to foster a community of likeminded punters, musicians, photographers, artists and other DIY “promoters” (I hate the word but it’s hard to think of an alternative) and, by fuck, I think we managed it. Since we began a host of bands who have been RTJ regulars have branched out on their own. I Hate The Kids in East London, End Of Radio in Camden, Motherboy out in Kent to name but three. Maximum respect to every one of them.
To me that’s what it’s all about. This fledgling scene of ours is a family, dysfunctional at times yes, but a family nonetheless. A support network, a feeling of trust and a warm embrace that is quick to welcome anyone in. This isn’t a clique or an old boys club. It’s important that it’s ever growing, developing, maturing. That’s why when we book new bands we encourage them to get involved, chat to us, get drunk with us, become part of our merry band of minstrels. Stamping out the attitude that you play a gig, get paid and go home is paramount to the survival and success of all of our nights. Leave that narrow-minded philosophy of selfishness to the Hoxton-set. Bands that don’t watch and support their fellow travellers need to be versed in the etiquette so that they feel part of our world, go out and build their own night, spread the word and start their own little family.
After a couple of years in the background of DIYdom my best mate came to me again with another bright idea – form a band. Now, those that know me will be aware that “centre of attention” courses through my body like a stick of rock. But co-fronting a band, now that was a different matter. Thankfully, they persevered with my early growlings and eventually in early 2010 we played our first show in the attic of a local rehearsal studio, free entry, bring your own booze and a like-minded line-up of noise-mongers (Dethscalator and Art Of Burning Water). It was the perfect debut.
The band had pretty rigid ideas about how we would go about our business. We wouldn’t play traditional promoted or pay-to-play shows. We wouldn’t play shows that had an entry fee of over £4 (exceptions were all dayers where the extended line-up justified it). We’d always give our cut of the door money to out of town bands when we were playing London (in the hope that the gesture would be reciprocated when we played out of town, it doesn’t work like that sadly). We don’t advocate violence at our shows, but we’ll gladly jump off speaker stacks, climb into ceilings and clatter each other to within an inch of our lives for your entertainment (don’t try this at home kids). We’d always watch all the other bands on the bill (no matter how excruciatingly bad they were). We’d turn up on time (sometimes difficult) and always share gear and we’d always, always put in as much effort as possible no matter how small the crowd, how lousy the sound or how bad a day we were having. People had come to see us and goddammit we’d make sure they remembered us. We wanted to set an example, to prove that a little respect to others would go a long way in promoting our DIY ideals.
Like many of our forefathers (and mothers?) we’re not a politicised band in the traditional sense. Instead our overwhelming raison d’être is to chronicle the human condition. To hold a microscope up to the ways in which we treat each other in love, hate, lust and violence. I suppose that’s where we fit into the DIY aesthetic. We may not live the hardcore DIY existence (we all have regular jobs – some of us in more evil industries than others you may remember) but we are all about advocating respect within the community. Taking care of one another and forming life long bonds between our brothers and sisters in arms.
The revolution is here and it’s working. But you knew that already….right?