Over the years, I have been continuously drawn to FMLY for its radical positivity, emphasis on community, and unpretentious open-mindedness. In plain terms, FMLY is a socially conscious collective of artists, musicians, writers, bloggers, organizers, bike enthusiasts, and general new-friend-seekers that span the globe, connected by recurring festivals in various cities, a letter-writing project, group bike rides, and the Internet. Throughout my various adventures through music communities over the past five years, FMLY has remained a breath of fresh air from industry-minded bullshit as well as the sense of hierarchy and commodity that can exist even within alternative or “DIY” spaces. FMLY is its own world, and that world perpetually inspires me to make things happen on my own terms.
I think the biggest misconception about FMLY is that it is solely music-oriented collective, or a blog, or a record label or something, when really FMLY ultimately feels more like a social movement of sorts, challenging the ways contemporary culture isolates individuals through the commodification music so much as the commodification of everyday life. “Today, we argue that D.I.Y. has become co-opted as a tool to frame the illusion of independence within privilege, to represent action as object and existence as cultural product,” reads the FMLY website’s “About” page. “To accept this is to recognize a personal relationship with autonomous movements, and to share this is to understand a historically invaluable situation of social interdependence… doing it together [ubuntu].”
To be fair, FMLY did essentially start as a music blog in 2007 (RIP Golden Age of Underground/Experimental Music Blogs) when a group of friends in Los Angeles were all about to go in different directions for college. That group included Noah Klein, who now lives in Allston. Noah and his friends all wanted to stay connected while physically disparate. They eventually started a blog called The FMLY (thefmly.com) to continue sharing their music and thoughts with each other. Over the years, as new friends and like-minded individuals from all over the world started contributing to the site and engaging with each other, FMLY evolved from an online presence to an international community, with members all over the world – including a whole bunch of folks here in Boston.
The first FMLY Fest took place in Los Angeles in 2009, and ever since, FMLY Fests have served as recurring spaces for the community to interact and expand in real life. The collectively organized festivals – always coordinated through a series of public meetings – have since taken place in Brooklyn, Florida, and Arizona. This weekend is the first-ever FMLY Fest Boston. The beauty of FMLY Fests is that while there are very particular values that connect FMLY throughout the world, each installment of the festival ultimately always feels very unique to that city. As such, there are elements to this weekend’s installment that differentiate it from any other FMLY Fest that has ever taken place: for example, workshops and skillshares by Boston-based groups, and an entire day dedicated to films. Read the entire schedule is [here].
“FMLY is a socially conscious global community,” continues the FMLY site’s “About” section, outlining a manifesto of sorts. “We believe in the emancipation and unshackling of our self from the constraints of irrational and unjust structures that limit self-development and self-determination. We believe that there are many of us throughout the globe asking similar taboo questions and exploring unfamiliar territory. In collectivity we will become the transformation we dream for our environment.”
That might sound overly precious to some, but fvck, times like these call for a group of individuals who will stare you right in the eye like that and say exactly what they mean. As we wrote in our own manifesto for this website, “Some people will think we're being too idealistic. But perhaps they're not being idealistic enough.” FMLY fvcking gets that sentiment.
As an introduction to FMLY, it only felt apt to recall the roots and values of the collective through a collaboratively written history. We asked the FMLY community to share a moment or memory that resonates strongly with them from over the years; think of it as a collectively remembered working history of an ever-evolving assembly that ultimately is very difficult to define.
-- Liz Pelly, of The Media & co-organizer of FMLY Fest Boston
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“My first memory of FMLY dates back to a car ride in 2007. I was hanging out with a group of friends, going who knows where, realizing that within the next few weeks I'd be moving away from home and everyone and everything that I know. As a teenager that was a pretty overwhelming concept to grasp...
A few months later, scattered throughout the country, that group and I decided that the best way to keep in touch would be to create a shared blog, a place for us to leave our works, thoughts and inspirations concerning the generalities of music, art, politics, DIY, food, or anything that we felt was worth telling each other about. But, you know, with way less intention.
We made a lot of new friends through this project, either by writing about someone who would soon stumble upon our words or from others contacting us with appreciation for the things we’d make. It became more and more fun to open this up to others we felt a connection with, to present events in and for the various communities we came from, and to imagine what awesome forms of collaboration we could accomplish. Since then we've opened and [unfortunately] closed a handful of arts spaces, provided a platform for dozens of community projects, been a launch pad for hundreds of artists, are a home for many active life enthusiasts, and together have accomplished so much that it keeps my heart in a permanent swell.
This isn't the product of any intentional social scheme, but a constant process of learning how to live together in a system that rejects what we believe in.”
-- Noah Klein, founding organizer of FMLY and maker of sounds as Cuddle Formation
THE REAL IS ON THE RISE
“I stumbled onto the FMLY site as an isolated teenager in Texas spending too much time on the computer music hunting. At some point around then I started getting into the musings of Naomi Klein, Douglas Rushkoff, and other political writers and my worldview drastically changed especially in regard to how my experiences and relationships might be distorted by advertising.
In the search for ‘realness’ FMLY started to stand out. Aesthetically, because the music they posted sounded like what I was doing -- trying to pack a whole lot of feelings into flawed pop songs with nearly-broken instruments -- and conceptually, because the writing seemed to be coming from within the scene itself rather than an outsider regurgitating a press release. Seeing kids my age making bedroom recordings too, connecting with one another across the US, and playing shows together was inspiring. It got me out of the mindset that I needed some label to discover me to be a musician.
A couple of years later, I worked up the courage to send along my sounds to the FMLY site. Shortly thereafter I heard back from Noah (then performing as Philip Seymour Hoffman) and we immediately started planning shows together.
Like with any collective, my relationship to it has had ups and downs. Youthful idealism can fade, and I've had many all-night conversations about what we are doing exactly. Ultimately, changing from a music blog format to just a loose idea/inclusive group of people is one of my favorite developments. I can't get over how amazing it is to be in Orlando or Minneapolis or Boston or LA or Arkansas or Phoenix and be able to meet generous, like-minded people right off the bat just because of the FMLY association.”
-- Jordan Lee, resident of Jamaica Plain and maker of sounds as Mutual Benefit
THAT RARE MOMENT OF SYNCHRONICITY WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT SOMETHING YOU WISH EXISTED IN THE WORLD ACTUALLY DOES EXIST
“I can't remember how I discovered FMLY - I feel like I must have heard the name from some Boston friends, then stumbled across the now-defunct FMLY blog on some late night internet dive, looking for #psychogeography or #publicspace or #worldbuilding. I do remember that when I did, it was a total ‘a-ha!’ moment, one of those rare moments of synchronicity when you realize that something you wish existed in the world actually does exist.
Up until then, I was getting to feel torn between music worlds. As seems true for most kids who grew up on the Internet, I felt a deep affinity towards bleep-bloopy cyborg sounds. But i was also interested in social justice, and it quickly became clear that the electronic producers I was fawning over were producing things to listen to, not things to believe in. I started gravitating instead towards punk and folk communities where I met more activist-minded people, but while the ideas found in those scenes were challenging, the music generally wasn't. With FMLY, both the art and the ethos behind it made sense.
As I met FMLY people and went to FMLY events IRL, this proved more and more true. All the FMLY kids were really supportive of other FMLY members, but were also kind-hearted and open to new people and new ideas, all seemingly without agenda. I've always had a pretty intense love for talking to and making connections with strangers, but as I got older this got weirder, since so many of these strangers saw spontaneous conversation as a means to network or try and get laid. With FMLY, it was nice to just meet some humans.”
-- Nina Mashurova, current resident of Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, writer of words for PORTALS and other spaces
WHEN ANYONE CAN BE FMLY…
“As the olde Silent Barn adage goes, 'nerds care.' But it's more conscious than that. When I was first learning about riot grrrl, one of the ideas that really resonated with me was the emphasis on communication and understanding rather than competition and value judgement. I grew up attending some highly competitive institutions and know full well how 'positive' attributes such as intelligence and ambition can create toxic environments when used to boost egos. I was so sick of it. It was becoming clear that being smart was not as important as being thoughtful, and being good at things not as impressive as being good -to- things. A lot of FMLY rhetoric focuses on relationships as themselves positive, and on building relationships as a significant practice to be mindful of, rather than as means to an end. It seems like a simple idea, but in a society built around competition and on prioritizing the nuclear family rather than developing any greater sense of community, it's pretty huge. And it grows. When multiple people work within this framework, they develop a culture that encourages collaboration and human possibility, rather than control and manipulation. And unlike a lot of more insular communities, this perspective extends beyond the subculture, and encourages being conscious of any interaction with the world at large. When anyone can be potential FMLY, more of the world starts to feel like home.”
-- Nina Mashurova
THOSE WHO WERE STRANGERS HAD TURNED INTO FRIENDS
“I got a Myspace friend request from Philip Seymour Hoffman (a/k/a Noah Klein) on January 4th, 2009. I can still remember sitting in my Bushwick apartment and being slightly confused about the name, the writing on the page, and being intrigued by the strange / creepy / moving music on there. On August 21st, 2009, after I had left for Korea, he posted ‘send me your tunes homie!’ on my page, so I did. Two days later he posted my songs on thefmly.com. That was the first time I'd ever heard of FMLY, and the first time anyone really chose to share the sounds I was making, which meant the world to me. I still had a hard time believing anyone else would like to hear them, though.
By March of 2012, Noah had long become a very dear friend in reality, one who I had traveled many places in the world with, always playing music together. It was that month that I attended a “dinner and a show” [a FMLY tradition] in the living room of Noah and Emily Reo’s apartment, with performances by Mutual Benefit, Yohuna, and Birthdays. The setting they created was so beautiful and I really felt their entire apartment shift into a new place as each person performed. Still, I felt like an outsider and I thought of FMLY as their thing, not mine.
At the end of the month was FMLY Fest Brooklyn. I watched as an outsider still, and when it was my turn to play, I played. Afterwards, Caleb Johannes [of Truman Peyote] and Johanne Swanson [of Yohuna], two people I had heard a lot about and briefly spoken to a couple of times came up and hugged me. I'm not a very huggy person. But I somehow really felt they understood where I was coming from.
Later that night I saw Caleb's Truman Peyote set; my first time ever really hearing his music. I was also really feeling where he was coming from and felt that we had communicated something to each other. I started to look around and realize how much genuine communication and understanding there was going on all around me that entire weekend.”
-- Dan Goldberg, resident of Brooklyn and maker of sounds as The Spookfish
FMLY IS HARD TO EXPLAIN
“I was kind of confused by FMLY for about a year. I got that it was a community of people, but understood it as more of a music blog than an idea. That was the spring of 2010. I was living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and two friends of mine had just met Emily, Noah and Caleb at Total Bummer in Florida. They came home and said, ‘We met these awesome people that call themselves FMLY.’
Skeptical of most things, it wasn't until the following spring when I exchanged a couple of emails with Noah, and first felt myself resonating with the FMLY ethos. A few months later I moved to LA for a summer internship and went on my first FMLY Ride, [a tradition of FMLY].
FMLY Ride is active reclaiming of LA. It's a series of mass bike rides from public place to public place, like a parking garage to playground, to watch bands play. Participating in repurposing a public space with 200+ other bikers was amazingly empowering. It felt like magic.
Even months after that, however, I had a hard time explaining FMLY. It was easier to identify what FMLY wasn't than what it was. I'd say, 'FMLY is a collective that rejects the trend of commodifying art.'
It's confusing because FMLY works as a mode to create these situations of empowerment, how I feel going on FMLY Ride or at a FMLY Fest. But feelings like empowerment and adventure are hard to explain.”
-- Johanne Swanson, maker of sounds as Yohuna, current resident of Newton, & co-organizer of FMLY Fest Boston
“THIS IS TRUE, THIS IS EMANCIPATORY”
“It's hard to describe the feeling I get from being present at a FMLY Fest. There's a (sometimes unspoken) overarching sense of a greater purpose than a music festival. Maybe it's the transformative art installations, workshops, zine fairs, ‘chill-out tents’ or various other features the folks organizing FMLY Fests come up with each year … When making eye contact with a stranger at FMLY Fests, you're always returned with a smile. Strangers dance together, grabbing each other's hands in excitement.
The first FMLY Fest that really inspired me to organize fests in other took place in December of 2011 in Los Angeles. The first day was held in a massively expansive warehouse in Chinatown, and featured everything from the aforementioned zine library/chill-out tent to 3 stages, a geodome, a separate gallery house, a football field sized yard holding a bonfire and recycled Christmas tree forest, decorated with art as ornaments and lights powered by solar energy. The second day made use of a Charter School in Inglewood, completely converting each classroom into a installation (i.e. an underwater room for crafts, a cardboard forest room for acoustic music, yet another geodome). The mainroom showcased tables such as Food Not Bombs, an interactive drawing station and a rope swing. I had never in my life seen a festival like this, and the experience added entire dimensions to the way I viewed ‘music festivals’.
As soon as I got back to Brooklyn, Noah and I began holding open meetings to plan for the very first FMLY Fest in New York. We spend six solid months opening the doors of our shitty apartment to friends who wanted to be a part of FMLY Fest, and formed a solid team of folks contributing all different aspects to make this fest unique and our own. Because we didn't have resources like giant warehouses or Charter Schools to use in Brooklyn, we decided to have a tour de house show spaces, emphasizing the beauty of open doors within a city where exclusivity and industry rule most else. Through this experience, we came to realize the purpose of FMLY Fest as well as the beauty of holding these fests in all different cities - through the necessity to work with what your city has to offer, no two FMLY Fests will ever be the same.”
-- Emily Reo, current resident of Allston, co-organizer of FMLY Fest Boston, and maker of sounds as Emily Reo
“The first time that I ever felt truly engaged with what I want to be doing in this world was during FMLY Fest 2011. Working with the Power of Green LA our fest became a solar powered dream machine, bringing together makers and artists of all mediums from so many corners of the globe to celebrate what life could be like if we gave in to our creative impulses. Beyond what I learned from the dozens of collectives and community initiatives that were a part of this fest, one of the most powerful images struck me during the last hour of the festival. We had spent the day at Chuco's Justice Center, an incredible community center located in Inglewood. About thirty bands had played, there were dozens of artists showing their work [much of it being participatory], and between the group dinner organized by Food Not Bombs, the library curated by the LA Zine Fest, and a geodesic dome illuminated by projections and live ambient sets I was completely swooning.
Oh Fortuna, a band from Florida and organizers of the annual Total Bummer Festival, had just begun their set that would result in the end of the night. As the crowd around me bobbed up and down, moving back and forth, I remember taking a deep breath and necessary pause to absorb the layers of that very moment. Here, underneath of a mural of Paulo Freire, with new friends extending as far as Japan, is a situation that I could never imagine happening if not for this festival. Next to me are the young men who work in this community center. I know that one has been incarcerated, and standing next to him is his friend who is celebrating his birthday. They've only known about FMLY for the day, but the enormous smiles on their face and the way they've completely given themselves to the music and the people around them tells me that this is something they have felt for far longer. There is a hip-hop collective of admirable humans lost in the groove a few feet away from me. The rest of the room is a combination of some of my favorite bands, people, and friends that I haven't met yet. This is true, this is emancipatory, but this is only a first step in exploring the worlds made possible by believing in one another. And after that realization, not knowing how to articulate it at the time, I went back into the moment and danced with my oldest friend as he wore a pizza suit.”
"I often think back to a FMLY event at Shea Stadium in 2010. I went alone and didn't know many people, and right away was struck by an energy—positive and inclusive. Gobble Gobble played that night. It wasn't the biggest turnout but every single person there responded to that set with pure euphoria... just total present-moment-awareness. Towards the end I locked eyes with a sweaty, shirtless Cameron Rath, who with no hesitation hugged the shit out of me."
-- Dave Sutton, of the music blog Stadiums & Shrines
FMLY AROUND THE WORLD
“My first interaction with FMLY happened one day while scrolling through Beach House's music videos. Emily Reo was singing a cover of their song 'Turtle Island.' Youtube's suggested videos took me from there. I found myself glaring at a list of names from around the world that were posted on [the FMLY] Facebook group, with countless reminders to edit a doc instead of commenting your name, and countless other invitations to get involved in people's projects.
My most memorable moment with FMLY spanned four days, taking place during last year's Brooklyn FMLY Fest. My girlfriend Veronica and I were adopted with open arms by our housemates Vince and Rob. The combination of kindness and unbearable heat (we had actually packed sweaters and jackets, because we expected that familiar coastal breeze) distilled itself as a comfortable tiredness, and we spent those four days immersed in it.
The shows that we attended here were unfamilar. There were few stages, and although the bands played different styles of music, there was an aura of commonality and unity. There was space for silence, and there were friends to be made. I realized the value of collectives as people laughed and told me through wide grins just how far they had travelled to share their art."
-- Garrett Mombourquette, FMLY friend from Nova Scotia, maker of sounds as Sea Glasses
“FMLY is an amazing community and provides a great channel to survive and play music. This kind of community (in my anecdotal experience) illuminates a very unique phenomenon in youth culture in America. I live in Japan at the moment, and have been living here for quite some time, and while the scene here is super great in terms of talent and quality of events, the youth culture here has failed to fully realize the potential that they have to create communities that are new and unique, and pioneer new infrastructure to do what they want.”
-- Erik Luebs, maker of sounds as Magical Mistakes
“FMLY SAVED MY LIFE”
“Watching FMLY grow from an ambiguous idea to a committed worldwide network of loving people willing to take care of each other and truly be a family to each other has been the most rewarding thing I could ever ask for. Honestly, the unconditional love I have experienced with FMLY has saved my life more than once and to see people own that spirit in their own communities with open hands and hearts is a truly uplifting experience.”
– Cameron Rath, a founding organizer of FMLY