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Are Bigger Labels Needed in DIY?

By Chris Ware

I usually get most of my inspiration from reading zines. So I'm reading through HeartAttaCk #20. They had a great forum about DIY; what it means to people, the state of it today, etc... Some people brought up the "evil" in bands going to bigger labels like Revelation, Victory, etc... These labels, according to some of the writers, use corporate techniques to sell records and reach consumers. So some concluded that these bigger of the independent labels have no place in the DIY scene. Now there is truth in some of this. The bigger more established labels do use more mainstream corporate tactics to reach an audience whether this is right or not is debatable and I don't want to get into it. But these labels definitely add something to the DIY scene. So here's where I give you some info on how I got into the scene.

When I was 13 or so I had a friend who played guitar and along with his father, had a huge album collection. So naturally this intrigued me. I listened to Journey, the Rolling Stones, etc... Eventually I really got into Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Rush. It was different than what people my age were listening to: Poison, Whitesnake, GNR. So I started collecting these classic rock albums. Then suddenly at age 14 I'm transplanted from my very suburban neighborhood in Richmond, VA to a very rural town in western Georgia. Where I lived there were two record stores: Blockbuster and a mom and pop type store. I had to drive 30 minutes to get to either of these and an hour to get to anything else. So my musical tastes stayed the same and eventually I became somewhat bored. The mom and pop stored tried to cater to what was popular and if they didn't in a town this small they would easily go under. So my cousin was in college in Sarasota, FL playing in a band and hanging with members of Hankshaw and HWM. I had no idea who these guys were at the time. For my birthday one year he sent me a mix tape with all kinds of stuff on it. He knew I liked fairly mainstream stuff so he tailored it so that I would most likely enjoy most of it and I still do. So I was introduced to Seaweed, Quicksand, and Fugazi. It was rock but not exactly and it was all new to me. So everytime I was in Atlanta, an hour drive, I would make it a point to find one of these albums. I quickly found that if I read the "thank you" portion of the inserts I could find more and more bands. I was already into Primus because my cousin and I are bass players so it's required. The point is it became harder and harder to find these titles in the chain records stores in Atlanta. But I had no contact with anyone outside of my hometown to find other places to get stuff. Eventually, Best Buy started carrying Victory stuff. I was the happiest kid in all of GA. Finally I could get Snapcase and By the Grace of God stuff. (I don't care what you think they both still rule) It was a long process of reading crappy metal magazines for the 10 pages of stuff I liked and finding zine and DIY record label ads. After writing to a few I began to figure out that's how the scene works, communication. Yes, I got the Victory megazine and at the time thought that it was the greatest thing in the world. And yes, now I realize it's a very biased zine set on selling records. But here was a link between the corporate and the DIY.

By the Grace of God came to my school and played a benefit show for the Atlanta Rape Crisis center. At this time I'd go to any show that had hardcore in the title. But most of these were Orange 9mm, Helmet, and stuff like that. So I went to the show and saw some really good local bands. Pretty soon I'm going to shows every weekend. I'm finding out more info on DIY. I'm figuring out how it works now. I have to order my records from distros or go to a show and get stuff from Stickfigure. But I never would have found the scene or the music without that link of bigger independent labels. I have been exposed to so many new ideas (political and personal) in the last year. I'm learning more than just about the music. I believe that activism is definitely something that should be in the scene and I whole-heartedly commend those that take this on themselves. But education should also be a big part. Revelation and Victory to me were like kindergarten. It was giving me the resources to learn more and a thirst for more.

If a band goes to Victory or Revelation I don't think they're a sell out. If they have an opportunity to reach more people and get them interested in social and political movements or personal growth then that's awesome. I know some bands do it for the money or fame. That's not ever tolerated in the DIY scene and shouldn't be, but judge the bands for themselves not the label they are on. Frodus is a great non-christian band on a christian label. Would you rather hardcore become an exclusive club? I believe that everybody given the right resources and inspiration has the ability to become a really great person. I also believe that hardcore/emo really inspired me to become a better person. If you don't like these bigger independent labels sharing your music with people outside the scene then start making a bunch of mix tapes because its gonna take a while for you to reach everybody that they do.