As we approach the one year-mark of the start of a Covid-19 induced shutdown, concerts and live music still seem to be the furthest from reopening. The 3,000 venues that make up the National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) estimate that 90% of independent venues won’t make it to the end of quarantine. Many venues have already permanently closed their doors, including The Satellite in Silver Lake and The Uptown in Oakland. Without getting the funding they need–the strongest contender of funds being the #SaveOurStages act that remains unpassed by Congress–hundreds more of southern California’s venues will be forced to do the same.
What does the music world look like when only corporate-owned venues remain, with countless independent bands and fans left without a venue to book? The independent music scene will do what they’ve been doing for decades past: they will do it themselves.
Ever since the 70s, DIY culture has been the norm for musicians aching to perform and fans eager to listen. In a world where independent venues may not be standing, garages, backyards, and living rooms will serve as necessary spaces if the scene were to build back from the ground up.
“I definitely think the DIY scene is gonna be way bigger post-Covid,” said Ethan Stewart, creator of collective SoCal Scene. “If all the independent small venues are closed, I feel like there’s going to be a huge resurgence of smaller, backyard pop-up shows. And it’s already happening right now.”
SoCal Scene started as a community resource for music scenes across southern California, spanning anywhere from San Diego to Ventura. Beginning as an online hub of bands and upcoming shows, they’ve now expanded with live sessions and a screen-printing business.
“Most of the homies that do this punk DIY stuff every day aren’t really going to the huge shows at the Observatory or shelling out hundreds of bucks to go see Misfits at the Forum or Staples Center,” Stewart said. “The people that live this stuff every day are going to their friend’s backyard on Saturday to see all their best friends, you know?”
Without federal funding, many venues may choose to concede to a corporate buyout to keep their space open. Live Nation, in conjunction with Ticketmaster, has already acquired the Regent theater, as well as the Echo and the Echoplex, in 2019. If they choose to acquire more, the ticket prices for beloved small venues may shoot up.
“Everybody’s young… almost everybody [at a house show] is broke, because they’re there and they can only pay five bucks for a show,” said Alex Avak, SoCal Scene’s lead editor.
DIY shows are accessible to everyone, not only in terms of money, but in providing a safe space for the community as well.
“The bigger shows are usually where there [are] a bunch of old dudes that are trying to punk all the younger kids,” Avak said. “At big punk shows… there’s a lot of old punk dudes that are now Trump supporters and very racist.”
A safe space in the independent music scene is more important than ever, with both the political climate and numerous sexual assault and grooming allegations in the indie scene coming to the surface.
“If you’re at a local show and someone’s acting up on one of your friends, you get your other twenty friends at the show and you drag the guy out,” Stewart said. “We’ve dealt with bouncers at shows that aren’t going to help you out if something bad happens.”
After a secluded quarantine comes to an end, one of the most important things a DIY show can provide is the intimacy that may get lost at bigger concerts. That aspect is present not only in the crowd, but in the creativity, the planning, and the technical aspects of a show.
“If somebody needs a video, you have somebody that you know, rather than trying to find or pay someone. Everybody has a huge team, this huge collective,” Avak said.
“Back when shows were happening, I go to any local show, any day of the month, and I know I’m going to know somebody and I know I’m going to be welcomed with open arms,” Stewart said.