“People are slowly drawn into something and then they slowly leave something. They kind of drift in and drift out.”
Justin Massa was talking about the indoctrination of youth into racist hate groups, but really, the words ring true for most anything that takes a powerful hold on your life. It certainly seems the case for Justin’s relationship with punk.
Justin works for the Metro Chicago Information Center as their Project Director for Data Services and is the co-founder of MoveSmart, a web site designed to help people discover new neighborhoods across segregated lines of information. Very soon, his first child will be born.
But Justin also has a long history with punk, and the tattoos to prove it. He has hosted a college radio show, put out punk records and resisted racist organization’s attempts to infiltrate punk subculture.
I asked Justin to tell me about how punk had been a part of his life, the music that was intertwined with his history and how it affects his present. This is what he told me:
This photo showed up this week in the Chicago Reader. Out of context, the sign seems a little strange, but perhaps that strangeness speaks to how consent isn’t always a part of the way we talk about sexuality.
The lonely, hand rendered sign doesn’t really reveal the work and consideration that fest organizers Otter Irene and Ben put into Midwest Consent Fest. They both said it was the most involved event they had helped organize.
The event went down on May 21 and consisted of an afternoon of workshops, a a pitch-in meal and a show featuring punk and hardcore bands, solo acoustic performers and poets.
In the week before the fest, I talked with Ben and Otter Irene about what motivated them to organize the fest and the consciousness they hoped the event would forefront. I also stopped by the fest for some of the workshops and part of the show.
Watch an audio slideshow of the interview and photos of the fest:
Otter Irene talks about sexism in the DIY/radical scene
Ben talks about how sex education doesn’t usually address consent
I didn’t take any photos of the workshops because the ones I attended involved people speaking really directly about very intimate and often painful parts of their life. There aren’t a lot of places where people can speak candidly about mental health or substance abuse and I got the strong feeling that, even if people consented to be photographed, it would still mediate the discussions. The ability for people to get something helpful or meaningful from the event was more important than me documenting it.
Ramsey Beyer is a zine writer, illustrator and all around maker (she took the photos used in the video) who lives in Chicago. She was involved in organizing the Chicago Zine Fest in March and helps compile the monthly Chicago DIY calendar and she works as a nanny.
I had crossed paths with Ramsey a couple of time over the years. Years ago, I stayed at her house in Baltimore while on tour with a band. When I moved to Chicago, I found out that she happened to be the nanny for the woman whose job I was taking over. A few months ago, I found that she had written an essay that was published in the same zine about children and radical communities as my roommate.
The essay is pretty amazing and describes a really unique relationship that Ramsey and her housemates had with the kids in their Baltimore neighborhood. Moving to Chicago with kids, I had been thinking a lot about kids, childcare and punk. This week, I finally got to sit down with Ramsey and talk with her about her essay and the changing role of kids in her life in Baltimore and Chicago and as a neighbor and nanny.
Check out Ramsey’s essay, “New Kids on the Block” below:
This is a map of Chicago community areas, the number of DIY spaces in each area, and the socioeconomic state of the neighborhood based on an index developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The index used statistical changes in factors like median family income, percentage of families below the poverty level, median house value, percent owner-occupied housing, race/ethnicity, percent of school age children, percent of workers who are managers and professionals and percent of adults with a college education to describe how Chicago neighborhoods had changed over time.
The numbers in the markers represent the number of DIY spaces in the community area.
The shading of the community areas represents the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood:
DIY punk and gentrification
DIY punk spaces are often located in less resourced neighborhoods. These neighborhoods offer less expensive rent that is affordable even with income from sporadic part-time work or odd jobs, housing stock that might accommodate many roommates or unused warehouse space that can be converted to a music venue and living space. Neighborhoods housing DIY spaces may feature lower density housing which makes it easier to have band practice or shows without disturbing neighbors or empty lots that could be utilized for projects like community gardens. In some cases, people participating in the DIY punk subculture may fetishize less resourced neighborhoods, or neighborhoods with a large population of people from racial or ethnic minority groups as a reaction to white, suburban culture or a more affluent urban (“yuppie”) culture.
Daniel Traber’s article, “L.A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization”, describes the fetishizing of poverty in the early days of American punk and hardcore culture in Los Angeles. Contemporary DIY culture complicates this dynamic. With community and social justice as core values of the subculture, middle-class DIY subcultural participants may create institutions in their neighborhood for their friends that are also available assets for the community at large. Punks may create a neighborhood community garden, a collective bicycle workshop or an arts space with free events for neighborhood children. However, these institutions, and even the presence of white, middle-class residents, may also make the neighborhood more appealing to other middle-class people and to developers creating housing speculating that more affluent residents will move to the neighborhood. Over time, both the punks and the neighborhood’s original residents may be priced out of the neighborhood. Furthermore, the conversion of industrial or warehouse space to housing, art studios, or gallery and performance spaces removes light industrial infrastructure that could create needed jobs in a neighborhood.
Do Chicago DIY spaces follow trajectories of gentrification?
In 2003, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago created an index of neighborhood change based on census data from the decennial census from 1970-2000. The index looked at a number of factors such as total population, the percentage of population of different racial groups, median family income and percentage of the population with different educational levels. Based on how these factors changed in neighborhoods relative to the city as a whole, the researchers labeled the neighborhoods as experiencing dynamics such as poverty, mild decline, gentrification and positive change.
Neighborhoods with DIY spaces tended to be in neighborhoods that were gentrifying or in decline. While the research is based on data from the 2000 census, 2010 projections from EASI, provided by the Metro Chicago Information Center show that the median family incomes in all of the community areas are likely to increase from 2000-2010. This suggests that trajectories of gentrification detected in 2000 are likely to have continued or neighborhoods may be starting to gentrify.
What does this mean?
It is difficult to assess whether the effect of DIY punk spaces and residents on a neighborhood is positive or negative.
On the other hand, the Chicago’s 49th Ward which includes the Rogers Park neighborhood, home to one long-time house that has shows in its basement, recently conducted a participatory budgeting process where all residents of the ward, aged 16 and older, could vote on how around $1 million in city menu money could be spent. Many of the proposed projects reflected grassroots, creative culture in the neighborhood. The process offers one model where DIY priorities might be institutionalized and still effect the culture of the neighborhood, even as demographics change.
Ultimately, it may be whether or not DIY spaces and the people who inhabit them stay in the neighborhood that decides their impact as the neighborhood changes.
Nate Powell has performed in bands like Soophie Nun Squad and now sings in the melodic hardcore/metal band Universe. He also draws comics and illustrations with his graphic novel “Swallow Me Whole” winning the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel.
Nate was in Chicago this weekend on a mini-tour with Universe scheduled around the C2E2 comic book convention. During a break from signing books and talking to comic-book enthusiasts, Nate talked to me about the weekend and balancing passions and obligations in his life.
Toby Foster plays acoustic punk songs. He grew up in a Chicago suburb before moving to the city last year. He is going on tour throughout the spring and summer before ending up in Bloomington. On the eve of his first Chicago show as a non-Chicagoan, I talked with him about moving and itinerancy.