In the last few years, I’ve been very interested in writing about alternative spaces, DIY culture, and the underground arts scene. In my experience, there’s something very powerful about seeing a show in a place that is not an “official” venue. A blank stage, or a music venue with fancy lighting and sound equipment, or a gallery with all white walls in a big cube, all have the advantage of starting from a place of real or perceived “neutral,” where the artists’ work is the main thing to see. An alternative space, on the other hand, could be in a basement, or someone’s living room, or some old warehouse — the surroundings themselves become part of the show.
The other reason I like DIY culture is that it tends to be more participatory. It’s not just about an artist or group that has thousands of audience members appreciating their work. Instead, it’s about lots of people playing music or making things or experiencing the art making in a very inclusive way.
The problem is, I have a dilemma in my desire to write about this culture, because as soon as I write about it, it’s not really underground anymore, is it?
There are three main reasons why I have faced some resistance when trying to write about underground culture. The first is a practical one. Many of these alternative spaces take place in venues that are not licensed, and are not up to code for whatever is happening in them- whether that be a music show, an art installation, a play, etc. To have the address of said location published puts the hosts at risk of getting a fine or getting shut down by the cops. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I think a greater risk is the venue’s neighbors complaining to the city about the noise, but I don’t know that for a fact.
The second reason is more philosophical. No matter how cool the thing is, it automatically becomes less cool, the more that it’s publicized by the media. That’s my theory anyway. There’s something exciting about having a secret spot — a secret club that the squares don’t know about. If people from Edina start showing up, well the whole thing is ruined. (Not that I think many people who read my stuff are from Edina, but you get the picture.)
The third reason I get some resistance, I think, is a safety issue, particularly if the event or space is any kind of LGBTQ safe space, but also if it takes place in someone’s home.
Whatever the reason, I try to respect when people ask me not to write about their alternative space, especially if I’m interested in writing a profile piece. But there have been some artists who have been gracious enough to let me into their world just a little bit, granting me interviews and letting me know about the shows they have coming up. It comes down to a trust thing, where people get to know me and know I’ll be fair in my writing.
The tricky thing is finding new scenes to write about, that you don’t already know. I’ve relied on Facebook in past to help me find cool stuff that is going on, but even that is getting harder to navigate. As it becomes more popular and mainstream, it’s also more dangerous. Perhaps there will be a new system that lets people know what the cool kids are doing. Maybe it already exists and I just don’t know about it because I’m not cool enough. That’s the problem with being an outsider.