Musicians Push for Equality in DIY Scene

Jake Rivas, Contributing Writer

Oberlin’s DIY music scene has come to reflect the student body’s commitment to progressive politics. Recently, a document circulated throughout the music scene cataloging the numerous active bands on campus that are willing to play shows. That document grew to include more than 40 bands, ranging from a standard four-piece with a male lead to a group of flautists. Despite efforts by law enforcement to curtail house shows, Oberlin’s non-Conservatory concert scene is not only a thriving one but also one in which elements of social justice activism have found a place. Oberlin’s history as a forward-thinking institution has merged with its patented musicianship in the context of the DIY scene.

Oberlin’s DIY scene does not offer an outside revenue stream, contracts or guarantees. Ostensibly, this might lead to disorganization within the scene, but in reality, there’s not much. In fact, the scene is so focused — on liberal politics, especially — that it has outgrown much of the nation’s rock music scene in terms of adherence to progressive ideals. At your average rock show, one might encounter a “standard” grouping of people in both the audience and among performers. For example, predominantly white, male-led bands playing and touring with each other for audiences that, for the most part, are demographically similar are a disturbingly common occurrence.

Oberlin’s musicians have taken a stand in the opposite direction. A number of bands past and present feature powerful female leads. These groups include The Blood Pact, who recently released a long awaited EP; Sidebitch, who have made a commitment to female empowerment; and Reformer. Expression amongst Oberlin musicians has become a completely open forum. One’s right to play isn’t predicated on a look or a demographic but, more than anything else, on a desire to communicate through music. A scene once known for its elitism is now almost the opposite. BBC America, a band that features campus DIY stalwart and College senior Michael Stenovec along with College sophomore Swings member and prolific musician Daniel Howard dropped a scheduled performance so that a first-year group that broke the demographic mold might have the chance to play in front of a larger audience.

With this generation of Oberlin musicians there comes promise for a change in the popular music scene at large. By this time next year, Drama Section, which features a number of graduating seniors and fifth-years, will have relocated to Brooklyn, a hotbed of post-grads and musicians.

However, Drama Section guitarist and double-degree fifth-year Stephen Becker revealed some hesitancy in moving to Brooklyn. “Trying to stay educated on how gentrification is affecting areas like Brooklyn and healthy ways to combat the issue [is a central concern],” he said.

Becker suggests some solutions like “avoiding up-scale housing and dining, interacting with locals [and] supporting events in the community.” He continued, “It’s something I would need to engage with fully in order to live there or many of the other neighborhoods that people my age are moving to.”

It says something about our community and what we stand for that Becker brought up this issue on his own accord. It is no coincidence that Oberlin students are disrupting racially unbalanced and patriarchal systems, and that should be a point of pride for DIY scenesters and students in general. When the day comes that a show bill represents more than one demographic — not on purpose but due to equal proportions of people finding followers and fellow musicians to create with — that will say something to the state of affairs for the country as a whole. Hopefully, there won’t have to be an article written about it.