The closing of Death By Audio to make room for new corporate office space is about more than the gentrification that has been taking place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn over the last fifteen years. Think about who is moving into this property: it’s not Starbucks or the NY Daily News. It’s Vice. This isn’t simply a case of any old corporation pouncing on profitable real estate; it’s an example of independent counterculture being driven out by the inauthentic corporately controlled version of that same culture.
Independent DIY spaces are closing, and in their places, corporations making money from the commodification of their art and culture are moving in. Independent record stores are closing in Brooklyn while chain retail and Whole Foods expand their vinyl sections. Independent boutiques are closing while Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, massive corporations selling the same types of clothes as the boutiques, expand.
The DIY movement provides an alternative to this system – essentially, a non-hegemonic culture. The corporations that profit off of the alternative while replacing it essentially cleanse the culture of its discontents, thereby threatening its very existence. Vice displacing Death By Audio is more violent than the NY Daily News or Starbucks because companies like Vice leverage the power of alternative culture, and then use that leverage to turn alternative culture in on itself.
Does allowing corporate platforms to showcase DIY actually serve the cause of DIY? Do corporate outlets showcasing punk contribute to punk? Once anything that is truly alternative is showcased by the likes of Vice, Urban Outfitters, or even a sponsored show, it removes the context of a struggle for a sustainable future DIY movement. It pushes DIY and punk towards a world even further marked by segregations of class.
It’s even scarier when this “fight” between the corporate and the DIY goes digital. The Internet once promised a level playing field between the big and the small, and a democratization of the media. But now, the web is quickly becoming a swift and efficient machine for corporations to crowd out the DIY, the anti-corporate, and the alternative. The time I spend on Facebook, Google, Tumblr, and Twitter interacting with truly DIY and alternative ideas is monitored, then used by those platforms’ algorithms to serve me articles, search results, and advertising about the corporate versions of those same ideas. Even “liking”, tweeting and re-blogging articles from truly alternative, independent web-sites will always just result in me later being served articles by corporately-controlled faux-alternative sources.
What we see online is not decided democratically, nor by what someone actually wants to see. It is decided by algorithms based on what a person actually wants to see mixed with who wants to spend the most based on that want. These algorithms will only ever serve corporations, never the alternative.
It’s easy to shrug and say this is nothing new, or that it is what it is. These complacent attitudes are precisely the attitudes that are easily exploited by the corporate system to their own advantage. Vice’s office will never be uprooted by a DIY space. Urban Outfitters will never be uprooted by an independent record or clothing store. It’s unlikely than Google or Facebook will ever be toppled by any sort of grassroots independent social media endeavor., if, for no other reason, because they do not generate enough profit to satisfy the system’s needs. This is not to say that DIY and independent culture cannot be lucrative; far from it. However by maintaining a set of ethics that values anything (fairness, independence, community…) over profit, it opens the door for a corporate version free of these values to crowd it out.
We’re reaching a point where the corporate commodification of independent culture is causing independent culture to self-implode in weird ways we’ve never seen before. It all just makes the DIY movement that much more sacred and worth fighting to preserve. It is important for what it stands for, what it stands against, and what it enables. Resisting complacency is one way to fight the corporate system, but that fight can also come through support of artists, labels, and spaces already in place, along with helping future artists, labels, and spaces through the arduous process of founding and development.
There are and always will be people working on their own terms to create and foster alternative community and culture. That’s who we’re fighting for.