Friday, July 18, 2008

Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy : the Emergence of DIY by Alan O’Connor

Alan O’Connor is an Associate Professor at Trent University in the Cultural Studies program. For those who don’t know about Trent University this post secondary institution in Peterborough has the best Cultural Studies program in the country and is comparable to Berkeley’s program back in the 60s. So it should not be a surprise that a book on DIY punk labels would come out of an institution like Trent. It should not come as a surprise that Alan would write it. Al;an has been immersed in radical politics for a lot longer than than I have known of an activist movement. And Alan was the catalyst behind anarchist punk ventures in this city, like Who’s Emma. Alan went across America visiting all these punk run anarchist spaces in order to get an idea of the kind of space that Toronto needed before getting people involved in what grew out of a gig space collective. Who’s Emma flourished for a couple of years as a book store meets record store meets show space. So when Alan went back out on the road to see what made punk labels tick I knew something was up. Alan interviewed 61 labels differing in size and intent. Some from Canada, some from Spain, but most of them were from the US. What emerges is an exhaustive study on the DIY phenomenon from a record label standpoint. I have to tell you that I have a bias for this book. Alan asked me to proof a manuscript of this book and I have to say that it blew me away when I first read it. The ability to piece together punk rock from the label side of things is amazing. And there was lots of things I didn’t know about. But Alan tells all. Lots of people think that punk rock was compromised from the outset by major label intervention. Alan demonstrates how the early DIY roots started with the RAMONES and slowly evolved as the lessons of the last generation got passed on in an almost oral tradition fashion. DIY grew out of necessity. It was the only way for the punk scene to be documented. From the RAMONES and Sire to the DC scene with Dischord DIY became a way of life pretty quickly. But BLACK FLAG and the DEAD KENNEDYS had major label involvement in the beginning. Their negative experiences led to starting up SST and Alternative Tentacles. Bomp, Posh Boy, Slash, Frontier, Dangerhouse, Subterranean … they all have their lessons that shaped the DIY credo that evolved. MRR and CRASS records had huge influences on there developments, but there are others. There is a fascinating amount of history around punk labels written here and make the book read as well as any historical account of punk. And Alan’s book covers generations of punk so it can’t be situated with any specific era of punk. This book covers it all. Alan also applies a lot of Pierre Bourdieu’s writings of the French Theatre subculture to punk but this is to analyse class and ideals within labels. This reveals some notable things about labels and people behind them, but really reinforces what we know about the middle class. This book is excellent. The unpublished interviews are great. Our zine got to run one on Subterranean, which was amazing unto itself. I can only imagine what the others are like. Well the interview with Lengua Armada is included as an appendix, which like the content of this book becomes an example for DIY research like so much of his resource material. This is an excellent account on all levels. (Lexington Books / 4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200 / Lanham, MD / 20706 / USA / - SP

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