A beginning autoethnographic reflection

Hello! I’ll be aiming to update this weekly from now on, as I move from literature reviewing into more active writing and the start of data collection. The next few posts will be about situating myself in relation to my research. 

To begin with, I thought I would briefly outline my own identity intersections and personal history of participation in DIY cultures, as it is my own networks that enable me to undertake this work and therefore influence the forward direction of this research. As an individual, I would identify myself as a working class, queer/bisexual, disabled, white, British, cisgendered woman. Through scholarship and bursary funding, I have been able to access a high level of education (MA and this PhD study) and professional employment as an archivist – which in turn has allowed me to access markers of middle class status and more cultural capital than my original background affords.

The intersections of my class, sexuality and disability have often made me feel othered in DIY cultures dominated by straight, white, middle class and able-bodied men and led me to pursue involvement in other communities and sub-sections which are led by women and queer-identified people. However, because of my whiteness and British background, I have also been able to participate in white-led cultures without experiencing othering because of my race or ethnicity.  Disclosures of experiences of racism in DIY music spaces including Wharf Chambers (Wharf Chambers, 2018; anonymous via Wharf Abuse and Racism, 2018) and zine writing by POC-led collectives including Decolonise Fest (2017) provide valuable first person testimony about the way in which racism and white supremacy is able to manifest within DIY cultures, often alongside perceived anti-racist political stances. As a person with a non-visible disability, I am also physically able to participate in the majority of DIY music spaces without any additional accessibility needs. My ability to participate in these cultures is thus framed via experiences of both being othered and blending in or feeling part of a community. I experience both privilege and marginalisation in different measures and at different points, and both inform my ability to organise and participate in DIY music spaces.

My own entrance into DIY cultures came via Livejournal communities in around 2007. Through this platform, which I used primarily to host a sort of online diary, I discovered small online communities of zine makers and radical body positive feminist activists. Livejournal was a natural progression for many zine makers in this era of online community – individual journals had privacy levels (private, friends only, public) that enabled users to choose who could see their writing. The ability to have other users listed as “friends” enabled users to build primitive social networks. Via interaction with other users on this platform and other social media platforms, I began to order zines and attend DIY cultural events in London, Leeds and Brighton. Later, in 2010, I launched “Fatty Unbound”, a fat positive and anti-capitalist fashion blog, which was active primarily between 2010 and 2013. Through this platform, I developed friendships with DIY cultural producers who were primarily zine makers and illustrators but also sometimes participated in local music scenes.

In 2011, via these connections and early networks I began to organise events. My first cultural organising was in the form of plus size clothes swaps, which I ran with a friend who was another zine maker, and also went to see and played in DIY punk and indie pop bands in Leeds. These clothes swaps were intended to be a community resource – a way to share and distribute clothing without money changing hands. Together and separately, we have run clothes swaps in Leeds and London, using as our base various radical, autonomous DIY community centres and music spaces. These spaces were supportive of the political underpinning of our organising practice, provided the level of accessibility we needed and were affordable for us to use. Because of using and promoting cultural events to other users of these spaces, I also began to meet people who participated in DIY cultures via music, and particularly punk, subcultures. Due to the varied use of these spaces to host gigs, art exhibitions, talks, screenings, activist group meetings, clothes swaps, skills sharing workshops and zine fairs, the multiple networks of radical and DIY cultures often overlap, collaborate and inform different forms of cultural and organising practice.

In 2013, I formed a band. At the time, I was attending events via the first UK iteration of a scheme called First Timers (First Timers, 2018). Inspired by similar schemes in North America, First Timers seeks to empower marginalised people to start making music. A series of workshops allowed potential new band members to try out instruments for the first time, and at the end of the scheme 20 bands played a first gig in London, over the course of one weekend. At the time of writing, the scheme is still active and has created over 80 new bands between London and Sydney. Whilst I didn’t play the final gig, my band formed through the social events, workshops and was informed by the politics of the scheme. In order to find a bass player, I taught a friend how to play bass, and instead of waiting to be good at our instruments and confident on stage, we started playing anyway, growing more comfortable on stage but not necessarily any more technically able.

For me, forming one band led to playing other queer and feminist music nights, discovering other DIY musicians, going to see their bands play and forging friendships. I played gigs, got to know other bands, and often formed new bands with members of other DIY punk bands. Via social networks, bands I played in were invited to festivals and gigs in other cities, with networks of organisers and other bands supporting each other by providing sofas to sleep on, meals and use of equipment at gigs. Between then and now, I have played in six bands in this context, organised shows and tours for my and other bands and collaborated on zine and music projects across the UK. In 2015 I also started working for DIY Space for London, a then newly opened DIY music and community space in Peckham, as an events collective member. Through friendship, work and creativity, I grew to understand the intricate, dispersed and precarious nature of DIY music spaces and the subcultures they nourish. 

All of these creative and cultural activities have relied upon the availability and existence of UK DIY music and community spaces across the UK. Since the (relatively recent) formation of my first DIY band, I have also seen the closure of many small and grassroots venues, particularly (but not exclusively) in London due to gentrification and rent increases. The loss of spaces impacts DIY music subcultures and impedes their growth – when ever two years, a space is launched, grown and closed down without time or money to find an alternative. This can also affect the income and housing of workers in these spaces, who rely on them to make a living and to provide their shelter. As much as I associate my involvement in UK DIY music spaces with feelings of transformation, empowerment and excitement, I also associate them with feelings of anxiety, grief, loss and heartbreak. These emotions, shared between me and others with histories in these spaces, inform our collective memory practice. There is a mutual understanding that what we do is ephemeral, temporary and easily lost or destroyed, unless we ourselves intervene to collect, keep, and document.

Anonymous, 2018. Wharf Chambers Statement Response – Abuse Apologism and Racism. Wharf Abuse and Racism. URL http://wharfabuseandracism.tumblr.com/?og=1 (accessed 2.26.19).
Decolonise Fest, 2017. What’s it Like to be a Punk of Colour? Decolonise Fest, London.
First timers, n.d. First Timers. First Timers. URL http://www.firsttimers.org/ (accessed 3.8.19).
Wharf Chambers Coop and Club Collective, 2018. Accountability & abuse – Wharf Chambers. Wharf Chambers. URL https://www.wharfchambers.org/accountability/ (accessed 2.26.19).

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