Many scholars have argued that live concerts constitute a community. My question in this article is how is this achieved, what kind of community is generated in the process, and how do we analytically approach answering these questions? In this regard, Thomas Turino suggests that community can be generated through an active and synchronous physical and music-related participation at live events. As a corrective to his deductive model of participatory and presentational music, I propose an inductive model of socio-musical participation, based on practices of DIY (“do-it-yourself”) music communities in the US. In the article, I engage with various theories of audience participation, as well as analyze different types of DIY music participation through the ethnographic study of American DIY shows. The interaction between DIY performers, audiences, and organizers, and the various forms of their social and musical participation at DIY shows suggest not only physical, music-related, and synchronous, but also spectatorial, non-synchronous, and co-creational participation; and not only harmonious but also antagonistic participation. This approach utilizes affect theory, recognizes difference and conflict in the constitution of a music community, and refutes some prevalent assumptions about the notion of audience participation.
This paper draws its inspiration in part from my experience at a house concert that took place 5 October 2011 in the spacious living room of Villanova House, a rental student house on Villanova Street in Davis, CA, home of UC Davis.1 Most of the Villanova residents and organizers were also members of the KDVS college radio station and had ties with the experimental art- and music-oriented Technocultural Studies Department at the university. Villanova shows were usually eclectic with a bent toward experimental sounds. Five performers were on the list that night, each coming from a distinct music field, which elicited a variety of audience responses.
It was a Wednesday night show at Villanova House. The audience of mostly students gave the show the character of a small college town event. First on the program was the local, all-female, indie pop group ALAK, with influences ranging from African music and reggae to avant-garde sounds. One listener later described their music as “fresh” and “dancey.” The audience, however, did not dance but sat on the carpeted floor and on couches, listening to the band but also encouraging it with clapping and comments. Between numbers, the band members addressed the audience in a friendly and casual way (“thank you for coming”; “this is rad”; “love this place”; “how are you doing?”), sometimes commenting on their technical difficulties and limited ability to play a new song (“might be fucked up, hope you guys enjoy it”), thus consciously breaking down the illusion of performers being elevated above the audience.2 There was no stage, which further helped the band and the audience overcome the barriers between them.
After a short break, No Babies from Oakland dramatically changed the atmosphere with a raucous performance of punk and noise rock mixed with free jazz. Everybody in the audience stood up, and many started moving spastically to the angular and intensely rhythmical and noisy outbursts of the band, following with their heads, arms, legs, and bodies every rhythmical accent, on or off beat. Kim, the lead singer, used special tactics to interact with the listeners: while singing she ventured into the middle of the audience during each song, sometimes bumped into them, occasionally kneeled down in front of particular individuals, touched them, or looked closely into their eyes. She also caressed one girl’s face and briefly hugged my leg. Audience members reacted with excitement and occasional surprise. The darkness, crowdedness, intense music, and the singer, who quietly persisted in breaking the boundaries of private spaces in the crowd, generated a mix of discomfort, surprise, excitement, and fun. When she hugged my leg, I felt slightly uncomfortable for a moment, but at the same time also excitingly surprised—this sudden physical interaction transported me in time and place; it brought me into the present moment and into the center of the event. I felt like an active part of the performance.
During the show, I noticed three Villanova House residents, who were also organizers of the show, dancing in front of the band, and occasionally lightly and playfully bumping into each other. At many other Villanova shows that I witnessed, performances like the one by No Babies usually incited a rowdy but friendly moshing,3,and sometimes crowdsurfing,4 but at this time, the performance was slightly confrontational, and the music was rhythmically unpredictable, perhaps intentionally to prevent the moshing routine. At the end, the singer thanked everybody with words, “Thank you for coming out,” while one audience member playfully responded with an echo, “Thank you for coming out!” In a post-show interview, Kim told me that if No Babies play in bars, their performances are “different” because the audience “can be more shocked.”
The touring indie rock band French Quarter played next to an audience, most of whom were standing but flexibly nodding their heads and moving their bodies back and forth, up and down, and left and right. Members of the band occasionally told jokes between songs. The audience responded enthusiastically and playfully to the singer’s remarks (“Is the sound ok?,” “Yeah, you look great!,” followed by laughter). Whitman, a solo experimental folk act from Portland, created a contemplative atmosphere for a mostly seated audience.
At the end, performance artist MUM from Sacramento, wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, reenacted her locally notorious performance, which consisted of singing to pre-recorded 1950s and 1960s obscure vintage rock and pop tracks. MUM used electronic effects that turned her voice into high-pitched cartoonish sounds. She enlivened her performance with interpretive and awkwardly stumbling dancing. Dressed in a short, red skirt, she occasionally flashed her naked body underneath. She made the audience dance, and moved among the listeners a couple of times. At one moment, she made one of the house residents dance with her and took a sip from his beer. On this occasion, she toned down her usually confrontational routine, which often entailed throwing hamburgers or raw meat into the audience.5
This vignette demonstrates several elements related to audience and concert participation at American DIY (do-it-yourself) shows. It demonstrates the great value of audience participation within the community, as well as a variety of music genres and types of performer-audience interactions that often occur at shows. Furthermore, it reveals some of the tactics that performers use to encourage audience participation, and a variety of ways, many of them unpredictable, in which audiences respond. It also indicates how these interactions are dependent on place and context, and points to inclusive DIY programming policies that tend to encourage gender-balanced stage participation of performers.
As many scholars argue, a live concert is the main constitutive event of every local rock or rock-related community.6 My question in this paper is how is this achieved, what kind of community is generated in the process, and how do we analytically approach answering these questions? I begin by critically examining some theories about concert and audience participation, and then relating them to ethnographic data based on fieldwork I conducted among American DIY communities, especially to social interactions at shows. First, I argue that some particularly salient ethnomusicological notions of audience participation call for critical reexamination, and second, that audience participation operates both on discursive and affective levels of social and musical interaction. I also test the assumption that audience participation leads to “community” and that non-participation or antagonistic participation works against “community.”
American DIY culture is an outgrowth of the late 1970s punk lifestyles, which later expanded into a more heterogeneous assemblage that includes punk, indie rock, singer-songwriters, and experimental musicians and scenes. DIY also has ties to similar cultures, particularly to 1960s countercultural movements as well as to historical and contemporary anarchist, and sustainability movements.7 DIY ethics entail making things by one’s self, obviating commercial and professional channels of production. This can include any activity, from the production, distribution, and promotion of music and arts to the self-organization of spaces and concerts. Other DIY projects comprise social and daily activities, such as making food and clothing, tending gardens, building houses, repairing or remodeling vehicles, and social and political self-organizing.8
DIY participants in the US endeavor to redefine the implied individualism of a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach by sometimes using the concept DIT (doing-it-together) and thus stress the importance of community for them.9 Emphasis on self-sufficiency in the DIY approach therefore dialectically presupposes a DIT communal solidarity and community building on the one hand, and an active engagement and DIY individual participation on the other.10
In addition, these values and ideologies of community and participation not only emerge from the positive, affective, and corporeal experience of DIY collectivity, but are also promoted and maintained as a rationalized response to the lack of public space, social alienation, corporate power, and perceived consumerist passivity in American society.11 In other words, whereas American DIY communities internally define themselves by DIY practice (e.g., acts of collective participation), they simultaneously establish themselves through DIY ideology (e.g., value of collective participation), by opposing the dominant society.12 This article therefore differentiates and shows the connection between, on the one hand, the value of participation, and conscious efforts toward shaping and managing practices and spaces that enable it, and on the other, the practices of participation that reflect and establish American DIY communities as participatory and communal. This paper is therefore both about discursive and material levels of participation among American DIY communities.
THEORIES OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
My theoretical discussion of participation builds on Thomas Turino’s work, as he not only provides the most extensive and comprehensive theory of music participation to date, but is also most often cited as the general reference for the topic.13 Turino regards audience participation in a “restricted” sense of active music-making, which includes only dancing, singing, clapping, and playing musical instruments.14
In this way, he consciously omits listening or non-musical participation as a part of audience response and interaction.15 For Turino, participatory music-making is significant because it establishes social synchrony iconically through musical and physical synchrony and thus generates community through intensive social bonding.16 Furthermore, he considers participatory music-making as the “most democratic” of all musical fields.17 In this regard, Turino contrasts participatory music to the “presentational” music field, which establishes a clear distinction between audiences and performers, and where the audience does not participate with music-making or dancing.18 For him, participation is harmonious, both in a sense of the synchronized physical and social movement of participants, and in a sense of “lead[ing] to comfort.”19 In this way, lack of synchrony leads to discomfort. Turino also favors synchronous participation, when everybody takes part at once. As a subtype, he identifies sequential participation as an alternation among participants during performance but allows for this kind of participation only within the frame of the same event.20
Turino draws his theory of participation inductively from his fieldwork among the indigenous populations in Zimbabwe and Peru, making it a universal model, which he then deductively applies to other music cultures. Instead of using Turino’s model of participatory and presentational music deductively and applying it to cases unrelated to Zimbabwean or Peruvian music practices, I use below an inductive approach to socio-musical participation, based on the practices of DIY music communities in the US.21 This approach illuminates some of the shortcomings of Turino’s model, not only on the epistemological level of cultural difference, but also on the ontological level of theory, as it is also underscored by other theories on audience participation.
Wendy Fonarow revises some of Turino’s shortcomings by introducing the concept of “spectatorial” (listening) and “co-creational” (organization) modes of participation as present at indie rock shows. But she differentiates these two participatory modes from “physical” participation (dancing, moshing) as hierarchically separated from it by differences in audience age, ideology, intensity of involvement, and level of enthusiasm. She therefore sees these models as less physically active and musically engaged.22
It is possible, however, to consider the spectatorial or listening mode of participation from a different and more “active” perspective. On the one hand, for instance, Anthony Seeger writes about listening among Suyá indigenous populations in Brazil as a way of “actively reciprocating with attention.”23 In this regard, listening is on a different epistemological or cultural level considered an active musical participation.24 Moreover, in some music cultures, “passive” and “active” musical engagement can mean the opposite to Turino’s perspective. For example, eighteenth-century German music theorists judged dancing and sensual reactions to music as “passive,” while they considered attentive listening, in the form of “cognitive” and “contemplative” responses to music not only as “active, rational, and free,” but also as “higher and nobler.”25 The measure of “active musical participation was therefore not the musical, physical, or bodily engagement, but the “inner activity of the spirit.”26 Some scholars even see the “momentary stasis” (no movement and complete silence) at the ends of musical pieces in Western art music concerts as a type of participation where “communitas is generated most intensely.”27
Yet theoretically and scientifically, and therefore not on an epistemological but ontological level, listening can also be understood as a physical activity. As Susan Leigh Foster argues, referring to Alain Berthoz’s neurobiological research on “mirror neurons,” when humans observe dance performances, they also physically mimic the movements of the performers with their own muscles.28 Since music incorporates movement, both acoustically and as embodied performance, listening should similarly be regarded on the ontological plane as an integrated mode of participation—a mental, emotional, and physical reception of and reaction to sound as an “affective vibrational force.”29
Furthermore, Jacques Rancière advocates for the understanding of spectatorship (observing and listening) as an active mode of participation. In this way, spectators become critical and emancipated “interpreters,” “inventing their own translations.” Furthermore, Rancière contends that the differentiation between passive and active modes of participation in itself creates social inequality and hierarchy.30 In addition, Ana Hofman argues that perceived “passivity” of the audiences could not always be regarded as (politically) unengaged relationality, but also as an “affective” sonic experience, engaged enjoyment, (political) agency, and as a collective sharing of feelings and ideas.31
I propose that all participatory practices discussed in this article should not be seen in binary and oppositional terms—“active” or “passive”—but as “affective,” involving different kinds and degrees of a social exchange of sounds, ideas, feelings, attitudes, gestures, and performances. In this regard, there is no ontological distinction between passive and active participation, or between presentational and participatory performance.32 All of these are only ideological and epistemological dichotomies based on culturally situated discourses of authenticity. For instance, Bruce Springsteen fans consider long-standing engagement with his music and active participation at his concerts as a mark of distinction that separates them from “ordinary” audience members, whom they consider as supposedly less dedicated and engaged.33 Scholars similarly regard participatory music as a reflection of an authentically “most democratic” society34. Moreover, these debates illuminate academic anxieties over the issue of a supposed decline of (music) participation in the West. In their quest for pure participatory authenticity, however, they often fail to recognize qualitatively different and often hybrid types of participation among various Western communities.35
Prominent among these types is the notion of audience and concert participation at American punk and DIY shows. In the 1960s, active audience participation by American countercultural youth at folk singing nights already became a marker of ideological opposition to alienation, conformity, and commerciality of the dominant society.36 These attitudes gained new meaning and vehemence among early British and American punk participants in the second half of the 1970s. Rejecting the alienated spectacle of the mainstream rock and mass culture, they initiated a return to direct communication, immediacy, and interactivity between audiences and performers.37 Early punk performers also engaged with audiences in a confrontational and provocative manner, with an attempt to challenge and subvert what they saw as the corrupt social norms of the time.38 Furthermore, “audience participation” in punk worked as a synonym to the DIY approach to forming bands, playing and organizing shows, and producing and distributing records. In this way, punk became a more inclusive way of participation in the music scene, particularly for lower social classes and musical amateurs.39 It also became more open for participation by women; however, with a new wave of more combative and non-compromising hardcore punk in the late 1970s and early 1980s, moshing, an aggressive type of dancing, became the ultimate expression of audience participation at hardcore punk shows.40 Consequently, the scene grew more exclusive and hostile, particularly to many women.41
In the mid-1980s, a new notion of audience participation started to emerge among the American punk and DIY communities. This version focused on countering the aggressiveness of the moshing pit and espoused non-violence, safety, inclusiveness, and social equality pertaining to gender, race, and sexuality.42 Concern with inclusive, equal, and safe audience participation at shows became even more pronounced within the American punk and DIY scenes in the 1990s and 2000s, particularly with riot grrrl and race riot movements.43
ROLE OF CO-CREATIONAL, NON-SYNCHRONOUS, AND NON-MUSICAL PARTICIPATION AMONG AMERICAN DIY COMMUNITIES
[Mike:] I think coming back to politics too, [it might be] a stretch, but [. . .] you could think of a house show or a house scene as a model of democracy: every actor is really important, and there’s a lot of very small amount of barriers between . . . going between roles, going up and down the scene, as if how important you are and how unimportant you are, your absence is felt when you don’t go to shows, and your presence is also important too. (Personal communication with residents of Villanova House, in Davis, CA; 20 January 2011)
DIY live shows in the US unite diverse DIY music communities and their DIY music genres, ranging from punk and indie rock to experimental music. They often happen in houses, warehouses, or all-ages venues, which enable greater interaction between performers and audiences due to their small size or lack of stage and backstage spaces. These spatial features work dialectically both on the epistemological level of discourse and on the ontological level of affect. On the one hand, they are imbued with value, and are therefore consciously sought for, overemphasized, and standardized through iteration, while on the other, they simultaneously have a direct affective impact on DIY participants.44
DIY shows occurring in these venues are social assemblages comprising various kinds of interactions among mainly three types of participants: performers, audiences, and organizers. Their interactions suggest participation that is not only physical, music-related, and synchronous, but also spectatorial, and co-creational; and not only harmonious but also antagonistic. The focus of the following section is on co-creational, non-synchronous, and non-musical participation at DIY shows.
One view of co-creational or organizational participation is expressed by DIY participant Aaron from Portland:
I do it [organizing shows] because I have a deep karmic debt to the scene [. . .]. I felt I was sort of a tourist in everybody else’s scenes, when I was touring. I certainly played far more shows that I’ve put on, and I’ve put on a great number of shows over the past 10, 15 years, but I felt like I owed, not necessarily [to] anybody in person, but just [as a] sort of a mentality of hosting people who are traveling. I still, I am returning the favor. And it might be to somebody else, but just to sort of keep the energy moving. And I feel the same about house shows. The people who opened their homes to me, honestly, I guarantee, some people who [. . .] didn’t like the music we played, [. . .] I mean it helps [. . .], if they like the music you play, but [that’s not the main reason]. It’s funny how people put on house shows and they do it because they’re compelled to create that space. Because there is no place for local bands to play, or whatelse [sic]. (Personal communication, April 11, 2012)
DIY participants see a reciprocal relation between playing and organizing shows. Playing is not only giving something to the audience, but also receiving a favor from the organizer, so the musicians feel compelled to reciprocate, or to “return the favor” as organizers, and thus establish an alternative economic model for playing and booking shows that is based on the reciprocal exchange of venues.45
Audiences also feel a need to reciprocate, through establishing their own bands, offering their own spaces for shows or other events, or contributing in other ways: by making posters, flyers, zines, art, and doing anything that others see as creative or a contribution to the scene.
Furthermore, simply attending shows is important and an element of “participation.” As Mike from Villanova House states above: “Your absence is felt when you don’t go to shows, and your presence is also important too.”46 This is similar to how Barry Shank describes the type of participation in Austin’s punk and rock’n’roll scenes, not only as temporary engagements at local events and performances, but also as “constant participation” based on the notion of the “intensity of commitment.”47
These kinds of participation point to a reciprocal relation among the variety of interchangeable roles among audiences, musicians/artists, and organizers within the system of DIY participation.48 This configuration also reflects the ideological efforts of DIY participants to enact their egalitarian political ideals through social and musical practice, where there is no hierarchy in the social division of labor at DIY shows. As Mike claims above, “There’s a lot of very small amount of barriers between . . . going between roles, going up and down the scene.”
While this is an example of how non-musical actions are an integral part of the DIY musical scene and the participation within it, a reverse relationship also exists.49 In this sense, music or music-related participation becomes an integral part of socio-political engagement and a rejection of consumerist mentality.50 John Benson, a DIY musician and organizer from Oakland, describes the implicit arrangement:
Anytime you charge money, even if it’s two dollars, people pay their money and expect to be entertained. They have a level of expectation that ruins the entire inclusiveness . . .—instead of [imitates the situation] “Wow, we all just stumbled in this together and we are all equally responsible for entertaining each other” [. . .] I hate that expectation of being entertained . . . because it’s a sense of entitlement. I am entitled to be passive, and that feeds apathy, that feeds people feeling like they don’t have to take power . . . I mean any kind of situation, meeting the neighbors, or getting involved in local government, feeding the homeless, walking by somebody on the street who’s bleeding. That kind of apathetic way of looking at the world has everything to do with a sense of entitlement that you deserve to be entertained. [This r]uns really deep for me. It really does [laughs]! (Personal communication, September 14, 2012)
This statement makes two salient points. First, the levels of musical and non-musical participation, or audience and citizenship participation, are intrinsically related to each other, so that playing music and participating at shows are part of a broader socio-political engagement, and vice versa. The musical is social (participation), and the personal is political (participation). This all-encompassing and integrated vision of DIY participation represents for many DIY-ers a “model of democracy.” Second, Benson’s quote shows how the DIY community defines itself through the practice of “active” participation, and therefore as distinct from the “passive,” “apathetic,” “consumerist” society. However, “active” participation as a form of social capital within American DIY music communities is open to a variety of approaches and interpretations, keeping the distinctive boundary of American DIY communities open and fluid.
The co-creational mode is a form of non-synchronous participation by DIY individuals contributing to the music-making scene as organizers.51 Concomitantly, non-synchronous participation occurs when audience members are inspired to start music projects and bands after attending DIY shows. Consider for instance how residents of the Villanova House talk about this aspect of participation:
[Mike:] [. . .] If you have someone set up, and it’s couch surrounded, instead [of] on a stage [. . .] it’s not like someone being praised, it’s more like . . . you’re one on the same level [. . .] It might even encourage, for the better or worse, a lot of people to start more acts, more bands, more projects. [John:] I probably wouldn’t have started to play music [. . .] if I wouldn’t started going to shows. (Personal communication with residents of Villanova show house, in Davis, CA; January 20, 2011)
Moreover, the Internet serves as a platform that helps non-synchronous and co-creational DIY participation in organizing shows. It is also a site of synchronous participation by offering a platform for online discussions.52 In this way, electronic media serve as a stage for establishing an imagined DIY community, as well as an offline and online, face-to-face and/or person-to-person DIY community.53
As an ethical and ideological part of co-creational participation, American DIY participants and organizers endeavor to implement spatial DIY policies that work toward greater inclusiveness within DIY spaces and encourage larger social participation within the DIY scenes, while generating egalitarian and inclusive DIY communities. These policies comprise (a) inclusive music programming that sometimes specifically favors queer, non-white, female, and/or beginning performers; (b) accessible donation-based, all-ages door policies; and (c) “safe space” policies at DIY shows. Explicitly stated on posters, flyers, and/or invitations, “safe space” policies aim to discourage any form of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia within DIY spaces (fig. 1). American DIY participants post signs and practice the policy of safe spaces by “calling out” (i.e., verbally confronting) any individuals exhibiting oppressive behavior in DIY spaces.54 Some female, queer, and non-white DIY participants, however, report that oppressive attitudes and practices persist, even within the DIY scenes and communities.55 In this way, they engender a dialogue on race, gender, and sexuality within American DIY scenes that feeds back into discussions and enactments of safe space policies.56
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN AUDIENCES AND PERFORMERS AT DIY SHOWS
DIY shows are usually heterogeneous in music and social terms, leading to a continuum of participatory audience reactions that range from attentive listening to moshing and crowd surfing (fig. 2, fig. 3, fig. 5).
Traversing the continuum from listening to crowdsurfing, the focus of attention at a DIY show shifts from the performers to the audiences. The latter also highlights a greater collaborative role of the audience in shaping the event, and a tendency toward blurring the lines between the performers and the audiences (see fig. 3, fig., 4, fig. 5).57 DIY participant Aaron Scott commented on this phenomenon in his blog:
One great thing about house shows is that the band isn’t always the center of attention. Indeed, some of the best house shows are the ones where everyone is involved, and some people are crawling on the ceiling [reference to crowdsurfing], and the band is just one part of the mayhem.58
Through moshing and crowdsurfing, DIY participants physically and affectively enact, embody, and experience their egalitarian community ideals. The quote by Scott rejects the socially constructed hierarchy between music performers and audiences, where the former are central in a musical event. In American DIY communities, the music often is just one part of the event. Instead, the collective moments of affective participation and community (often realized through an anarchic “mayhem”) are the key elements of the DIY event. Within this arrangement, all three participating parties contribute equally and collaboratively to the event.59
In addition, many DIY participants see moshing, as well as the general “mayhem” and crowdedness of the events, as the most exhilarating part of the DIY show experience.60 In a DIY zine about house shows, one participant ruminates about the significance of crowdedness at DIY events: “The shows I have the most fun at are the ones where you’re in a packed basement where you can’t breathe, can’t move and are covered in sweat” (fig. 4).61 In this way, the experience of a collaborative audience interaction at a DIY show, even though not always present or as intense as examples above indicate, is favored over or balanced with the experience of listening and dancing. However, not only moshing and crowdsurfing, but all participatory actions of everybody at a DIY show—moments of intense silence, song requests, and exchanges of anarchically organized witty remarks —are equally significant factors for the constitution of DIY events as manifestations of a DIY community.
Nevertheless, through intensive and intimate physical interaction at more crowded and rowdy DIY shows (feeling and smelling each other’s moving bodies, and sharing sweat), show participants establish a momentary and intimate affective collective that transcends the personal and representational aspects of the show. Some DIY participants only reluctantly let other people into their own personal spaces, but most DIY participants see this as casting off personal inhibitions, letting themselves go, and establishing closer physical and affective relationships with the people around them. This happened, for instance, when Kim from No Babies hugged my leg during their show at Villanova House. In another instance, Elisa, a DIY participant from Davis, both in my interview with her and in her blog, said she believes the sweaty and “sticky intimacy” of crowded DIY house shows are “gross” for her personal taste, but she nevertheless highly praises these interactions and the “community” they generate.62 In this sense, the notion of “personal space” is subverted—the personal becomes public and relational, and private closeness is transformed into public and DIT communal intimacy.
Socio-musical participation plays an important affective and ideological role within the American DIY culture, as it ties together DIY participants into an affectively experienced and ideologically imagined community.63 As Barry Shank explains in regard to Austin punk and rock’n’roll scenes, both levels of affective and ideological community are interrelated: “Fed by momentary pleasures of sensual overstimulation and the occasional linkage that promises completion, this anxiety provides the psychic impetus required to maintain a regularity of contact, a constant participation in the scene.”64 Momentary affective pleasures of participatory interaction at DIY shows, no matter how common, thus become symbolically meaningful for American DIY participants as reconstructed promises of the ideal community they endeavor to recreate at every subsequent show and event. Based on the affective impetus of these experiences, DIY participants design spatial tactics and policies that promise to bring back both affectively experienced and symbolically imagined community, even if this does not happen at every show.
For this reason, the organizers design and follow particular door, programming, and safe-space policies, or prioritize venues without stages as promises of inclusive and heterogeneous community. Furthermore, the performers and the audiences devise various tactics aimed at enticing and enhancing audience participation, which ideally lead to the heightened experience of a DIY community. Individual audience members often encourage others to participate. At Villanova House shows and other DIY shows in Davis, for instance, I often noticed particular individuals, male or female, lightly bumping into other participants to spur them into moving and moshing, which sometimes spread like a domino effect throughout the audience. Performers use their own innovative tactics to encourage audience participation.66 For example, singers and musicians regularly venture into the audience’s zone and perform from there (fig. 4, fig. 5), and they sometimes hand out instruments or microphones to invite the audience to perform with them.67 They tell jokes and initiate conversations with audiences or, as I have often seen at Portland DIY shows, they ask audience members to tell jokes into the microphone in between songs. The Babs Johnson Gang, a garage punk band from Sacramento, often promised giving out prizes to the audience for dance participation, while several other performers, such as Letters, Google Maps, Slimedog, Crank Sturgeon, Lucky Dragons, Destroy Nate Allen, or The Taxpayers, devise fun and interactive tasks and games.
Some performers design their whole sets as participatory games with audiences, whereas some DIY musicians oppose contrived methods for inciting audience participation. For example, a DIY participant from Portland once complained to me about one local band’s participatory tactics as “annoying.” The person said these devices feel like “forced [. . .] church-camp sing-along.”68 By taking into account alternative insider perspectives such as this one, it is necessary to see that audience participation at DIY shows is not only about spontaneous affective experience, but also about ideological programming and “social engineering,” as DIY organizer and experimental musician Todd from Portland called it in our conversation.69 As these practices are not only functioning on an affective, but also on an ideological level, one can see the discrepancies between promises and realizations that every ideology creates. In the case of DIY shows, an interactive experience of audience participation is not necessarily also an experience of utopian and democratic community, at least not for everybody.
Furthermore, there is awareness among scholars, as well as within the DIY scenes, that our capitalist society has co-opted methods for inciting participation. They are present, as Claire Bishop points out, in new business and commercial models that strive to enhance the engagement of workers and consumers, and are used by the media industry, for example, with reality TV and popular TV contests.70 Similarly, actively encouraged consumer participation on social media concomitantly contributes to service improvements as well as to marketing value and popularity.71 Furthermore, Bishop argues that interactive forms of participation can induce an illusion of interactive democracy and thus brush out conflict and contradiction.72
Observers have also expressed other pertinent objections to the celebratory notion of audience participation. First, spectators often experience pressure to participate and to be active and vocal, which can feel compulsory and oppressive. But silence does not necessarily signify “passive non-participation,” as it can evoke different cultural and political meanings.73 Second, audience participation sometimes is ethically questionable when audiences engage in cultural appropriation, not of content, but of the form of music-making; for example, when they appropriate “participatory” music practices from other cultures to generate or enhance the experience of participation and community.74 Third, I question a celebrated and taken-for-granted notion in ethnomusicology of music-making participation as the primary mode of participatory-observation research method.75 This assumption implies that other possible methods of participatory-observation (e.g., listening, organizing) are methodologically less valuable. These types of performance-centered assumptions create epistemological and methodological hierarchies, leading scholars to discriminate among various forms of music-making and ethnographic methods, while preventing them from questioning the ethical considerations related to these cultural hierarchies.
Some American DIY participants express a more nuanced attitude toward methods of audience participation. Cody, an organizer and experimental artist from Portland, said audience participation “is all forced for me.” He rather creates “a [sonic] bubble” around him, and invites the people to “tune in” (fig. 6).76 His approach emphasizes an introspective kind of listening participation located on the performance-centered side of the participation continuum (fig. 2). However, Cody’s use of the term “tuning-in” semantically also implies an “active,” “physical” (i.e., vibrational), and unifying activity.77 This is similar to the listening practices in Western art music culture, where a “good classical concert [is] measured by the stillness it commands, by the intensity of the audience’s mental concentration.”78 In both cases, stillness, attentiveness, and tuning-in shape physically synchronous and socially unifying togetherness.79
ANTAGONISTIC INTERACTION AND PARTICIPATION AT DIY SHOWS
Still another important aspect of audience behavior appears at American DIY shows—antagonistic participation. For example, one could interpret use of distortion, feedback, and noise in punk or experimental music as sonically confrontational, although many DIY participants understand these sounds as an aesthetically pleasing and sometimes therapeutic aspect of DIY music. Furthermore, moshing, confrontational but ironic verbal remarks or performers’ physical engagement with audiences, for example, by throwing things at them, are forms of antagonistic interaction.
The legacy of performance art and confrontational aesthetic is prominent in experimental music/art and in punk cultures since their beginnings, whether in lyrics and visual aesthetics or in sound and performance.80 Several scholars write how confrontational and provocative punk performances challenge and subvert the established social “order”; how they offer a promise of social change; how they engage the audiences mentally and bodily; and how they blur the line between performer and audience.81
To some extent, this legacy is still present in today’s American DIY cultures, mostly as a part of punk and experimental music shows and performances. One reporter who interviewed Villanova show performer MUM and designated her as a “provocateur,” interpreted her interaction with audiences: “She does whatever is humanely possible to help people part with their egos and to be free.”82 This insider response resonates with the academic interpretations mentioned above. Furthermore, Martyr from No Babies, also performing at Villanova, explained his band’s approach of using noise and confrontational tactics in a similar way: “We’re not this thing that you just watch or see or hear happen. It’s a live thing going on that you might be forced to participate in [. . . . It] is about eliminating the sense of the audience just being a consumer base.”84 In addition, Cody explained that with his sonically challenging performances, he wants to affect the audiences in such a way that they really “like” them, or “hate” them. He craves any kind of affective engagement by the audience, be it positive or negative, and implicitly rejects their supposed indifference. What these statements have in common is a concern with normative audience reactions that the performers see as passive and joint efforts to force listeners out of these states. These antagonistic efforts therefore represent an interruption of the one-way performer-audience relationship in a consumerist society. Jean Baudrillard understands this kind of interruptive interaction as a restoration of the “circuit of symbolic exchange,” calling it “antagonistic” or “radical” reciprocity.85
Referring to the theories of “radical democracy” by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Claire Bishop argues that audience participation based on “belonging,” “empathy,” and “harmonious community” is exclusive and non-democratic because it is usually directed toward the artistic in-group that implicitly excludes other constituencies and simultaneously sweeps away the differences, conflicts, and contradictions existing within it. In contrast, she asserts, participation should rest on antagonistic relationships of friction, unease, or discomfort that establish a promise of democratic dialogue and negotiation.86 Moreover, ethnomusicologist Ana Hofman comes to similar conclusions from the viewpoint of affect theory: “From the perspective of the affective sound experience—no matter if it contributes to a more pleasant sensation, or if induces negative feelings—affect can contribute to the mobilization and transformation, and consequently to the change of reality.”87 Both citations reclaim antagonistic relations or sounds as politically promising and significant.
These observations are also relevant for the discussion of noise and experimental sounds and performances at American DIY shows. Whereas observers often see these genres as confrontational, destructive, and negative, they have other potentials.88 For example, a DIY noise artist Julia Litman-Cleper, who was part of the Davis DIY scene during my research there, told me that noise music for her is “cleansing,” “liberating,” and “empowering,” and that it “resists ideologies, and creates new space.”89 Moreover, she asserts that through noise and the feeling of “desolateness” it creates for her, “we can be together in the fact that we’re alone” (ibid.; emphasis added). Noise music therefore not only liberates and empowers individuals, but also creates a radically open community, or “togetherness,” comprising separate individuals, who can nevertheless in those particular moments “tune in” and share an affective state of existential desolateness.90
Within the DIY scenes, antagonistic interactions at shows might be appear socially exclusive, by sometimes inducing tension and discomfort among some audience members, but they simultaneously point toward the value of affective dialogue and arguably strive to generate a “radical” democracy and the state of “togetherness.” This notion goes beyond the imaginary ideal of community and its implied homogeneity and exclusivity.91
Attendees at American DIY shows come from a variety of genre-based music scenes (for instance, punk, indie rock, folk, and experimental). Each show comprises not only particular combinations of distinct sounds, but also distinctive modes of ideological and political orientations, as well as specific types of social and musical participation. Participants and communities collectively listen, experience, and affectively respond to a variety of performers, sounds, and social situations. Diverse DIY participants in these moments of shared experiences, however, do not necessarily share the same feelings or the same musical and social meanings.92 Instead, they form heterogeneous “affective alliances,” and generate momentary states and spaces of “togetherness,” not necessarily based on pre-existing ideologies and (music/genre) identities, but more so on the vague, non-essentialist, and non-binding notion of DIY practice or space.93 For example, with their stance of do-it-yourself independence, DIY participants appear to oppose anything corporate and consumerist; however, they do not necessarily share political views. Although they might see themselves as anarchists or leftists (which already constitutes a difference), they might identify with the notion of “DIY community” for multiple other reasons, such as pragmatism, hedonism, or nostalgia. The same happens with musical genres: DIY participants do not always like the bands and performers they listen to or host in their houses, but they usually “support” them and often come to like them, at least when the differences converge at heightened moments at shows.94 This political, ideological, and musical/taste variety is evident at most American DIY shows and scenes.
American DIY participants often engage in antagonistic interactions of radical dialogue, which occur not only through ritualistic response to a performance, but also situationally among the DIY participants within other DIY spaces and occasions.95 For instance, there exist constant online and offline debates within American DIY communities about how to best construct and enforce safe spaces at shows. For example, some DIY participants advocate for a substitution of the more confrontational practice of “calling out” with “calling in,” which they view as a less alienating and more compassionate way of dealing with violators of safe space policy.96 These tensions and debates, as expressions of radical democracy, and aided by music performance and sound, bring together American DIY participants into a community in potentially promising ways.
My argument in this paper is threefold. First, the notion of participation, as discussed by Thomas Turino, should receive a broader definition, taking into account a variety of epistemological and ontological perspectives. Particularly instructive in this regard is the “inductive” ethnographic data related to American DIY culture which shows different types of participation—from the spectatorial, co-creational, and harmonious, to non-musical, non-synchronous, and antagonistic—comprising an open and diverse spectrum of coexisting DIY participatory modes. These are not separate and exclusive, but complementary, forming an integrated whole, often at the same DIY event. In this way, DIY concerts represent a heterogeneous mix of music genres, worldviews, performance practices, and participatory modes of social and musical interaction. This constellation also becomes a platform for realizing a temporary, heterogeneous, and often contradictory utopian community where different ways of thinking, music-making, and interacting coexist and rub against each other. While the demands for “active” participation in American DIY scenes on the one hand often function as a form of establishing cultural boundaries and distinctions, on the other, they allow for openness, negotiation, and heterogeneity. In this sense, actively moshing in the front of the stage, as well as listening quietly from the back, or simply coming to the show, or helping with preparing food or fire are all regarded as valid types of participation. American DIY scenes therefore dialectically foster both “solid” and “liquid” forms of community—they cherish commitment and intimate bonding, while at the same time allow for and encourage difference, openness, and fluidity.97
Second, I advocate for a non-essentialist understanding of cultural categories related to audience participation. I suggest looking beyond socially constructed dichotomies of active/passive and participatory/presentational. I also question the preconceived assumptions that mosh dancing is aggressive, antagonistic performance is hostile, and noise or DIY music is exclusionary. These socio-musical forms serve different purposes and entail various affective and political potentials. Moreover, perceived boundaries between music and social participation, or among performers, audiences, and organizers, do not necessarily apply in every (Western) culture.
Third, participation in all forms is an ideological disposition of an American DIY community that rejects social alienation of its socio-political and economic environment, and thus endeavors to enact the idea of DIY community as egalitarian, musically and socially engaged, and radically democratic. But participation is also a tool for social interaction that engages and affects DIY participants on a direct, physical, and pre-ideological level. This mode of social interaction, according to the Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle’s theory of music and sonic affect, operates as a “circulation of energies, moods, feelings, and intensities” among performers, audiences, and organizers.98 It establishes a socially realized and affectively felt participatory collective, and yet belongs to “nobody in particular.”99 However, “participation” also works as an empty signifier, or more fittingly, as an “affective” signifier, which assumes meanings and emotions through interpretation, appropriation, repetition, and ritual.100 Thus, on one level, participation is an ideologically charged concept, and on another has an affective power in itself. For example, participation can be both a part of capitalist order and circumnavigate it, as it can be mobilized for different cultural, ideological, and political agendas.101 However, “participation” evades fixation in this binary scheme, as it exists within the dialectic circuit between affective and ideological levels of social interaction.
This dialectic also embodies the complexities within American DIY scenes concerning harmonious and antagonistic participation, as well as the practices of inclusion and exclusion. DIY communities differ not only in music genres and types of participation, but also in their political views, ethical attitudes, and subject positions, which creates situations of conflict and negotiation within the scenes. In this way, it is important to understand them as socially complex and diverse cultures that are in a constant state of dialogue and change.