This weekend, following a concert featuring Kurt Vile & Real Estate, my friends and I stumbled onto what appeared to be an all-night rager in the parking lot and disused garage behind the converted warehouse in which former Voice multimedia editor Logan Zemetres currently resides. The party featured live, sweaty music, a man dressed as a wizard who walked around dancing and saying nothing, crazy light-structures everywhere, fire dancers, an 8 AM endtime, a bar by donation, a car that was more of a sculpture, a blonde bouncer in a red dress, and presumably some assortment of club drugs intended to validate the absurd lighting choices. Somehow, it was a fundraiser.
The party was dubiously connected to something which eventually formed my entire weekend, called Allston DIYFest. Despite my best efforts, I can’t really figure out who put the festival on, how, or why, and moreover I haven’t been able to associate anything that happened at any one event with anything or anyone at any other event, but it offered me and everyone else who is capable of reading fliers on streetlamps a wide variety of musical, visual, and venue options for entertainment and the appreciation of people doing what they do for little or no money.
Some of those people turned out to be people I know. I’d just interviewed a street artist named Iansanity for an as-yet unpublished article in the Allston-Brighton TAB, and he turned out to be a participant in the art gallery component of the actual festival on Saturday afternoon. A band called Magic Man, friends of a friend, played at the basement show / afterparty I went to on Saturday night. Logan’s roommates hosted an all-day concert on Sunday.
So I guess this sort of thing is always around. If there were enough local bands and basements to put on six afterparties on Saturday, all with the intention of supporting whatever Allston DIYFest’s organization is, then there must always be something to do that doesn’t involve paying Harper’s Ferry or Great Scott a cover charge for a touring act.
One of the things Iansanity stressed about street art, which is a pretty DIY phenomenon, was that it grows out of a desire to beautify and improve, rather than profit or get famous. At the end of the interview, he gave me what I interpreted as a mission statement. “I’m tired of blank walls. Go paint. Do it illegally. Just do it.”
“Nike,” he added. He was a little crazy, in an awesome way. But he’s also right. There’s a lot of blank space. There’s also a lot of advertisement. And I think because so much of what’s not blank is just trying to sell you something, most people just ignore everything they see on the street, focusing on avoiding bikers or finding the side street they’re looking for or trying to not make eye contact with pretty girls or whatever. So maybe that’s why I was shocked when I started reading fliers on streetlamps, investigating sketchy-looking garage parties, and poking into guerilla art galleries this weekend. It was always all there, but my stimulus shield blocked it out.
Because those fliers were, yes, for concerts of varying quality in dirty basements, for places where the unshowering might congregate, and for highly unsettling robe-clad wizard dancers’ favorite throwdowns, but they were also for a community of people trying as hard as they can to be able to keep doing what they believe in. Those basements were doing what the bars don’t and supporting the people who can’t go on tour because they can’t afford it because nobody knows who they are. The people in Ringer Park were there to be the eyes the art needed to be worth making, even if they didn’t shower beforehand. Lord knows what was up with wizard guy.
So I learned something which is probably a valuable lil’ journalist lesson: don’t write the things that surround off just because you’re busy or hungover or worried about why so-and-so won’t call you back. Paying attention to the things around you will let you into the big secrets of what goes on where you live. Sometimes, that means crazy weekends. Sometimes, and these two aren’t apparently mutually exclusive, it’ll show you the side of your city you’ve always wanted to see. I found both — it was an insanely fun few days, but the only reason it was that fun was because a huge group of people, and I’d estimate like a thousand separate people must have been involved in just the parts of Allston DIYFest I found out about, wanted to take what would otherwise just be basements, rusting cars, chainlink fences, and ex-industrial spaces and turn them into stages, sculptures, gallery walls, and the meeting grounds for a small movement.
Well, less of a movement than a network. What connected one event to another may not have been a central planning committee, and there was certainly no central leader or icon at the center of all the events. Instead, the people were all connected ideologically, by interest in local art, bands without record deals, and an impetus to reclaim public space. The network wasn’t hiding, but despite their best efforts it’s hard to see, especially if you don’t look.