DIY music: A fine musical tradition of doing it yourself.
Three Chords and the truth:
The desire to make music is in some irrepressible. They will suffer poverty, humiliation, and outright rejection just to continue to play, to be able to express. These hardliners, often without funding or assistance of any sort will through tenacity and blind faith find a way to express what is in them. This is the do-it-yourself ethic that has seen the rise of many forms of music and many artists from the bedroom to the touring stage.
The music industry has always searched for the latest thing, for where the kids are at now. In its heyday, it employed teams of scouts to search for this elusive ‘golden goose’. Some homespun forms of music manage to escape the industry entirely and make their own route. Some are tempted and are eventually eaten alive. A few are able to walk away from the ‘majors’ and continue on, business as usual.
Amongst countless other ‘minor league’ genres, two notable and musically contrasting music led scenes, Punk and Rave have both flirted at one stage or another with the major music industry and have both come through reasonably unscathed. They both have a common foundation, that being three chords and the truth. Be it three chords on a loud guitar or three chords on a keyboard-synthesizer its still simple and honest music. In many different cultures all over the world the course of things political and cultural has been affected and in some cases irrevocably changed by nothing more powerful than 3 simple chords and some choice true words.
When punk hit the UK mainstream 1977 it shocked a nation both culturally and within the hallowed halls of the British establishment. “God save the Queen, the fascist regime” taunting the very foundations of Olde England in the Silver Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth. The most famous Punk bands of the time, those who garnered front- page press more for their antics than their music are not really what we’re looking at here in terms of D.I.Y.
Malcolm Mclarens’ carefully tailored Sex Pistols may have grabbed the limelight but not without becoming a fully functioning part of the establishment they so vehemently and vocally opposed, signing to major record labels and courting the national press.
Meanwhile at street level, Punk begins with some mates getting together some guitars, drums and amplifiers, learning the very basics then playing a gig in front of some other mates. At every increment a D.I.Y process. Punk bands like Peter and the Test Tube Babies and Cockney Rejects, who had little in the way of commercial success back in the 70s and 80s, still tour still produce great music and are still doing it themselves.
Free Party Movement: Rave!
In the late 1980s, a new D.I.Y scene appeared across the UK. Thousands of ravers would gather in fields, abandoned buildings or warehouses and dance to what would later be referred to in British law as ‘music of repetitive beats’. People would wait anxiously in cars in motorway services for ‘that’ phone call with the tip-off for the address of the nights free-party. Often racing around the motorway network to arrive before the Police did. The scene can be characterized by hard electronic beats and samples D.J’d from Vinyl, played through a massive sound system to thousands of ravers, all-night long and all for free. The scene popularized several genres including Jungle, Hard-core and House. Unlike its cultural predecessor Punk, Rave brought upon itself the full weight of the law. In 1993 the Criminal justice act was passed into British law, which among other sweeping legislation concerning trespass and right to silence, essentially outlawed public gatherings of three or more people listening to ‘music of repetitive beats’.
Undeterred the scene made its way into the clubs, small venues and licensed festivals. Again, proponents of the Rave scene like Jungle pioneers Congo Natty and D.J Mickey Finn still make great music and still fill rooms and fields with dancing punters, albeit with a bought and paid for ticket this time.
The Loop Machine explosion:
Loop machines have been commercially available since the early 1990s and have gotten better and cheaper over time. ‘Live looping’ utilizes a record/play facility, push-button operated whilst playing. In many ways, live-looping is the ultimate in D.I.Y music. No need for a band, and the inevitable equipment/ travel/ storage issues. No need for a big fee to feed many mouths. Just three chords, or in some cases, four beats and the truth.
2SeasSession artist Munto Valdo uses a loop machine to add rhythm tracks to his songs, building a rhythm step by step, laying melody and vocals over his live-looped organic beats. No bass player, no drummer, just honest beautifully laid rhythm and song all emanating from just one man.
Many artists like now use purely loop-based music for their live shows allowing them total D.I.Y freedom. A great example is self-advertised ‘one-man blues and funk party’ Son Of Dave who combines blues harmonica and beatboxed beats and bass to create a truly unique funky floor-filling sound.
In this age of the internet, an independent artist can in theory, and often in practice, create music, artwork and a finished product and then sell it worldwide direct from one machine in their bedroom. Bypassing any traditional route to success through the music industry. Punk bands in the 70s would do the same by manufacturing their own records and selling direct to their own fans. It seems some things have changed and some have stayed the same.
Written by: R. Vee – 2018
View a selection of DIY artists to get a better idea of the subject:
Peter and the Test Tube Babies – live at The 100 Club:
Cockney Rejects Live at The 100 Club:
The Summer of Rave 1989 (Documentary):
Congo Natty – live set:
Mickey Finn – live set:
Munto Valdo live set:
Son of Dave – Shake your hips live: