Your guide to DIY & the Delaware Arts Initiative
Managing Mosaic Editor
One of the greatest gems of growing up in New York was seeing America’s most loved musicians command a crowd at Terminal 5, Beacon Theatre or Brooklyn Bowl.
But, the best performances aren’t always happening at sold-out concert halls — sometimes, the shows that invigorate your passion for music take place in a stranger’s small basement, amplified by beat-up equipment from a used music store.
Music for music’s sake, do it yourself (DIY) means that a band writes, produces and records their own music — everything from booking to designing merch is the band’s responsibility. DIY is more related to how music is produced than how music sounds.
“The concept of DIY is creating and existing independently of for-profit or enterprisal infrastructure,” Staci Pinkowitz, a sophomore at the university, says. “The spirit of DIY is understanding that each individual person has the power to do whatever the f— they want. It’s not waiting on somebody else to do things. It’s doing them.”
Whispers of “house shows” lay bare a microcosm of unfinished basements covered in kaleidoscopic string lights, bands huddled in a semicircle in dim, clammy basements with your sweaty friends and escapes to verdant backyards for some crisp air.
“DIY spaces are spaces where the participants are fueled not by consumption but by creation and solidarity with each other,” Eli Gordy-Stith, a recent graduate of the university, says. “There are a lot of spaces where you’re not really participating, you’re just being acted upon; DIY spaces are where you can act within.”
Pinkowitz, Gordy-Stith, and Diego Romero, the co-owner of Impetus Records, sat down to talk with me about the Delaware Arts Initiative, a booking collective that’s just three months shy of its first birthday.
“Because it’s a college town, people come, have their college experience and then leave,” Romero says. “It creates this atmosphere that what’s happening here doesn’t matter or maybe it does, but it’s not important in the grand scheme. Being a local, it’s really important to me. It’s more than just a club. This is a life thing.”
In November 2017, Gordy-Stith, Romero and others established DAI in hopes of a more sustainable, accessible and affordable DIY music scene. Pinkowitz joined the following spring.
“You will have ‘leaders’ that raise the whole thing up and it grows and grows and then they graduate and it all kind of falls — it just gets discombobulated until the next ‘leader’ shows up,” Gordy-Stith says.
Perhaps an offshoot of the DIY music scene, DAI champions benefit gigs, accessibility in a multifaceted sense and all-ages venues. Saturday’s Planned Parenthood of Delaware benefit gig featuring Caesar Rodney, one half of rapper duo IllustTonez, Merger and Moonflower at the George Wilson Center was a case in point.
“As the number one party school, this institution kind of really celebrates Greek life, the drinking culture and a very typical four-year bachelor degree type of student, but alternative options exist,” Pinkowitz says. “It’s just about making them accessible. With a scene that is, at its core, against the grain of everything bureaucratic, we can just make that happen whenever we want… which is right now, I guess.”
Before DAI, it cost Romero $300 to book the George Wilson Center. Now with DAI, it costs Romero $150 to book the George Wilson Center. DAI provides a framework to pool together and leverage small monetary contributions from people in the DIY music scene.
Historically, DIY has brought the voices of people of color, femme folk and queer folk into a spotlight — even if it’s just a small spotlight in someone’s living room.
“DIY spaces have arisen from queer communities, from communities of color, they’re people who haven’t necessarily felt accepted or celebrated or appreciated or like they could express themselves within what is considered the normal parameters of society,” Pinkowitz says. “It’s for the freaky kids. We make it clear we are against any kind of ‘phobes’; the end of what you call someone who is homophobic, Islamophobic — all those s—-y things that nobody should be or, if they are, they’re an a——.”
The first benefit gig DAI held was for the Creative Vision Factory (CVF), a peer-run program funded by the State of Delaware’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
“We try to stick to local organizations,” Romero says. “A hundred bucks for the CVF is going to move. It’s going to make things move.”
DIY and DAI stand in stark contrast to the university which every single day seems to emphasize training and conforming over education and individualism.
“At UD, there’s a lot of talk about acceptance and diversity, but no avenues for radical expression,” Gordy-Stith says. “UD wants it to seem like this [radical expression] can happen, but only so much that it is not dangerous for them — only so much that it doesn’t wreck their image. At the end of the day, UD answers to its f—ing alumni. DIY is about realness. You don’t have to answer to anyone. There’s no PR. It’s not focused on looking shiny and clean.”
Despite a resistance to public relations, DAI lets you tune into the DIY music scene via a newsletter. If you would like to be added to the newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The best thing you can do is show people there’s a door,” Romero says. “It’s up to them if they want to go inside. We want freaks. We want people who don’t feel welcome. Those are who are going to make the most change. That’s what we’re interested in.”