Johanna Isaacson examines contradictions of utopianism, authenticity and expressive negation in Bay Area DIY punk.


Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face
Close your eyes, can’t happen here
Big Bro’ on white horse is near
The hippies won’t come back you say
Mellow out or you will pay!

This 1979 anti-hippie polemic from the Dead Kennedy’s song “California Uber Alles” baptised the post-sixties Bay Area counterculture in hippie blood. With this anthem against the politics of “smiling auras” and compulsory meditation by Jello Biafra (a reformed long-hair himself), a sold-out counterculture was buried. Punk was then back in fighting form: “I wanna fight and know what I’m fighting for/ In a class war,” sang The Dils. But how could this new wave of resistance escape the cruel fate of the hippies? Punk itself was a victim of what Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism;” its efforts to form a counter-public collectivity would struggle in the shadows of capitalist crisis and the implosion of older models of radical politics. These are the contradictions that gave rise to the hundreds of bands, show spaces, infoshops, and zines that made the Bay Area the capital of punk modernity.

By 1986 punk was not just a battle cry, it was a scene that required institutions like show spaces and record labels. It’s in this context we see the rise of the Gilman Street project, a punk music venue in Berkeley which welcomed audiences of all ages. The club opened soon after the closing of Mabuhay Gardens and The Farm, two important punk venues in the area. You could join as a member by paying $2 per year, and membership came with rights to participate in decision making. The rules included: no drugs, alcohol, violence, misogyny, homophobia or racism, and no major label bands were permitted to perform there. For eighties teenage Bay Area punks, Gilman was a semi-utopia: a creative, social space where they could come of age in ways not permitted in family and school institutions. Says Zarah of her introduction to Gilman at 14 years old:

Gilman was dirty, it was small, but it was impressive because of how many people were there. I was meeting lot of people right away (people my age). I was in love with the place form the first time I saw it, even though it was, you know, gross.1

Alexander Kluge calls this kind of DIY institution a “counter-public sphere,” a place that redefines spatial, territorial, and geopolitical parameters, reflecting new transnational boundaries while remaining subject to the constraints and logic of dominant post-Fordist forms of production. These spaces of material, psychic and social reproduction open up space and time, producing multiple temporalities that are in tension with each other. In this counterpublic sphere, the Gilman punk could experiment with residual temporalities, such as DIY artisanal production, without ever leaving home—the sphere of universal, fungible commodity production.2 Kluge argues that all areas of social life take on this productive temporality of nonsynchronous time. The temporality at work in DIY projects is both immersed in and resistant to productive time. In this elastic sphere, people like Robert Eggplant, creator and primary writer of Absolutely Zippo, could find a narrative that was livable, social, and at times ecstatically political. Eggplant describes himself as a somewhat lost soul until attendance at the “new world” of Gilman made him into a punk convert, speaking to his hunger for openness and community, totally immersing him in its culture and social scene:

When I first came to Gilman (yes shortly after I came to punk) I was faced with something that I never encountered in my previous subculture groups, (that being rap and metal). There was more in the atmosphere than music. (Yes even more than liquor and sex). It was politics.3

Gilman materializes and spatializes this feeling of community, fortifying a subculture that could once only be described as an impulse or a feeling with a layer of solidity and permanence. The club has the appearance of spontaneity and haphazardness, but it represents years of concrete work that were put into finding, funding, and creating the space.4 The space supersedes the temporary squats and show spaces that preceded it. Most of the organizers developed their skills by organizing illegal shows, gradually building up to getting a permitted, legal establishment. The group that had been organizing underground shows collaborated with Maximum Rocknroll to find a location and to acquire the appropriate funding and permits.5 After lengthy attempts to get the city to approve, Gilman Street was born as a self-regulating institution. This permanence is an important asset to the scene and yet with every step away from the fleeting and ephemeral Gilman approaches punk’s dreaded nemeses: hierarchy, bureaucracy, reification.

Despite these threats, Gilman served as a punk haven and base from which to build a radical community. In the eighties Gilman provided a home base for anti-racist punks to fight off skinheads. In this moment, racist skinheads were a strong, insidious presence in Northern California. Because of overlapping musical tastes, the Gilman staff had to drive off Nazis from hardcore shows and in some instances the punks of Gilman rallied to fight Nazis at racist demonstrations. In the nineties Gilman became a centre for punk protest against the Gulf War and the Rodney King decision. For Ben Sizemore of the Bay Area anti-capitalist band Econochrist these politics were inextricable from hardcore aesthetics. Radical politics were a bodily and totalizing power:

Bands like those got my heart pumping and my spine tingling. I could feel the chords hit me in the gut. I felt like they were singing directly to me. The music moved me, but it was more than music, it was something else, a more powerful feeling and it ran deep.6

These were the politics of musical ecstasy and at the same time the politics of the mundane everyday, quotidian survival and mutual aid:

Hell, people I’ve met at Gilman have become some of my closest friends. I’ve met people at Gilman who hooked me up with work, housing, and have just helped me out with my problems. More importantly they’ve helped me realize I’m not alone and that there are alternatives to this fucking competitive, dog eat dog, oppressive, materialistic, earth raping, dominant culture that we find ourselves in.7

In this milieu mutual aid extended from attending and supporting Gilman shows to all realms of the everyday—dumpster diving, parties and communal living.

Gilman’s everyday politics provided a social and political world for young punks stranded in an atomized world where, as in Karl Marx’s prognosis, “all that is solid melts into air.” But with the anchorage of Gilman as an institution came what Econochrist calls “the same damn old circle game:”

we scream fight the system’s schemes
but we still work for the machine
so safe in our social clique
time to part this sea of shit

With the materialization of Gilman as an institution, comes a creeping entrepreneurial ethic, an urge to codify and market the punk convergence of art and life. As one of the many who came of age at Gilman, Mike Stand lived this ambivalence. He was a high school kid in Berkeley in 1986, at the birth of Gilman, and clung to its “all ages” ethos, which defied the strange age segregation of the suburbs. Before he went to the club, Mike hadn’t met anyone between the ages of eighteen and thirty five. This age segregation belies the myth that a wholesome suburban life is the proper path to maturity. Suburban life actually prevented teenagers from meeting young adults, carefully cordoning them off from any adults who hadn’t already settled into the suburban norm. Slipping into the role of Gilman’s coordinator and manager, Mike matured quickly, but this led to his tacit disavowal of the youthful spontaneity that is the core of the punk aesthetic. Mike framed himself as the resident “pragmatist” who learned skills that would help him in the business world. He kept Gilman afloat, calling for membership fees and making it fiscally sustainable, but, as Erick Lyle points out in his account of the punk role in the San Francisco Mission District’s gentrification, contrary to urban development boosterism, a rising tide does not lift all boats.8

Chris Appelgreen also “matured” quickly in the nurturing countersphere of Gilman, inheriting Lookout! Records from Larry Livermore at the age of twenty-three. Drawn to punk for its social space more than its musical qualities, he describes coming from a small town and immediately becoming absorbed in the club and Lookout!

I couldn’t really differentiate what made punk rock better than say Depeche Mode or other mainstream bands that were on the radio. Then I started seeing this humanity and personality and connection you just couldn’t have if you were a fan of Tina Turner or Bruce Springsteen, for instance, also the band members were people my age. I felt really empowered.9

He notes that this was a first step in taking himself more seriously and led to his quick ascension to heading Lookout! At the same time he recognizes that his involvement with Lookout! complicates his relationship to Gilman:

it was also a difficult place to come into things from, since I had to maintain somewhat of a business relationship with the people in the bands on the label, people who I was friends with. It was different than I think most people’s experiences were with Gilman.10

This paradox of the punk entrepreneur or manager is not a stark problem of choice. Rather, it’s a necessary consequence of what Guy Debord called the culture industry’s “rigged game,” there is no possible autonomy from entrenched systems of production and private property. The punk anti-corporate myth faced new challenges in the late eighties when this independence moved from the realm of the aesthetic to the realm of commerce. Independent labels were never as pure as their mythic status. For instance, the Bay Area band Dead Kennedys has been held up as a pure signifier of this form of delinking, but in 1980 the DKs signed to IRS records which had a distribution deal with the major label A and M, the third largest label in the US.11 It was not the DKs who rejected this label but A and M, who dismissed the DKs because of their offensive name, precipitating the advent of the DKs label, Alternative Tentacles. It was only well into the eighties that punks began to distribute and produce most of their own records. This coincided with punk becoming more niche oriented. For example, in 1980 the DKs could sell 150,000 copies of the album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, but by the mid-eighties it was rarely heard of for even the most popular punk band to sell 40,000 albums.12

The widely published punk music zine Maximum Rocknroll was central to what can be called punk’s “economic turn.” At the same time the zine was widely distributed, its editors and writers, especially central editor Tim Yohannan, were deeply committed to notions of authenticity and independence.13 Maximum Rocknroll is at the hub of many of the debates about the management and goals of Bay Area punk institutions. It began in the 1980s and went on to become a central site of punk scene interaction nationally and internationally, facilitating growth through its ever expanding letters column and involvement in many areas of Bay Area punk music, venues, and labels. It was also an ideological hub of punk, featuring debates and manifestos about the meaning, politics, and goals of punk music along with interviews with bands and global scene reports. Although the zine was profitable, it donated these profits to DIY projects such as Gilman. MRR was passionately committed to the ethos of autonomy and would only carry ads and review records from independent labels. This was important, because MRR was a central source of information about bands.

Maximum Rocknroll functioned as a global centre of punk, that launched punk culture into small towns and other countries, serving as what Andy Asp of the Oakland punk band The Pattern calls the “internet of its times,” allowing punks to connect to Mexico City, Croatia and other global punk communities.14 MRR’s power and influence, along with the strong opinions about politics and culture in its pages, made it a global hub, but also launched debates about whether the zine’s centrality served to standardize punk. Tim Yo was seen by many to be morally rigid and authoritarian, a complaint voiced by Tim Tonooka:

He was deeply concerned that kids might think incorrect thoughts unless they were provided with carefully selected correct info … Because left to their own those people might come to the wrong conclusions. The mentality is elitist and condescending.15

To the annoyance of many Tim Yo served as the superego in the Bay Area quest for punk authenticity. He attempted to run MRR as a prefigurative anti-capitalist project. It was produced in the house where the staff lived and everyone worked for free. Even though the zine was about hardcore music and passionately defended it, in private Yohannan expressed less interest in the music than the hope that it would provide youth with collective revolutionary identity.

DIY’s incursion into the economic everyday required great organization and collaboration. Maximum Rocknroll’s powerful place in the Bay Area punk scene was based on reciprocity with other institutions, such as the distributor Mordam records, which was dependent on the business brought in through MRR’s wide distribution and therefore also upon the involvement of Tim Yohannan and other MRR editors.16Because of Mordam’s scale and ambiguous place as an autonomous/profit-driven punk institution, the label makes clear the tensions between punk aspirations and material realities. Mordam attempted to remain autonomous by refusing to sell through major labels or to distribute any zine that accepted major label advertising.17 Paradoxically, they were largely able to maintain this independence because of the great success and commercialization of the Bay Area band Green Day.18 When Green Day signed onto a major label, their earlier releases became popular, eventually selling over a million copies through Mordam.

While Mordam grew and expanded due to this boom, the intransigent nature of real estate in the Bay Area simultaneously curtailed this expansion. With the dot com boom, real estate prices soared and Mordam could no longer afford their large warehouse once their lease expired.19 These vicissitudes cannot be explained through a reductive binary that pits authenticity against selling out. Rather, the context of a post-Fordist economy must be taken into account. This can be seen in the class position of DIY entrepreneurs, which reflected the emerging occupational structure of the US, the shift to services and the importance of what Bourdieu calls cultural capital.20 Punk culture participants, musicians and workers are emblematic of a new kind of precarity. They often come from middle class homes, but do not inherit stability from their parents. In some senses, then, these institutions present a limit case of neoliberal entrepreneurialism.

These experimental forms of DIY institutions and collectivities are impassioned but equivocal responses to a period dominated by precarity and impasse. Lauren Berlant argues that the fantasy of the good life characterized by economic success has been disrupted by contemporary crisis and the “fraying” of fantasies such as meritocracy, upward mobility, job security, intimacy, political and social equality. In place of these hopes, individuals and groups form optimistic stances in relation to jerry-rigged, DIY, forms of habituation and precarious public spheres, acting as “an intimate public of subjects who circulate scenarios of economic and intimate contingency.”21 Impasse is for Berlant both a temporal crisis and opportunity:

a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things, maintain one’s sea legs, and coordinate the standard melodramatic desires.22

Punk’s teetering and inquisitive dialectical position betweeen active resistance and passive style embodies this experience of crisis.

In this precarious and crisis-ridden era, punk arguably ceases to be a genre, transforming into a more nebulous modality. Fredric Jameson sees the postmodern as a post-genre moment marked by pastiche and the death of referentiality. However, punk’s aesthetic can be seen as the flip side of pastiche. It has no pretention to originality, but rather takes up the detritus of meaning and referentiality, cutting and pasting these shards to negate their original meanings in an intentional way, a process formulated by Guy Debord as detournement. As Dick Hebdige argues, punk’s cut ’n’ paste aesthetic can allow a critical incursion “through perturbation and deformation to disrupt and reorganize meaning.”23 This counters what Benjamin Noys sees as an “affirmationist” trend in contemporary literary and theoretical formations, which imagine an autonomous aesthetic “site of creativity and play detached from the forms of capitalist economy and value.”24 I have previously referred to this ambiguous aspect of punk’s aesthetic wager as “expressive negation.”25

Lauren Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism can help with the investigation of punk’s role in spheres outside of the purview of subcultural theory. Berlant’s formation of “cruel optimism” develops the critique of affirmationism and positive representation, by bringing it into the field of everyday life, extending an analysis of detournement and hacking, as analysed by McKenzie Wark, into the arena of jerry-rigged counterpublic spheres.26 The optimism in these moments of the “crisis ordinary” can be seen in the vibrancy of these social experiments, but the “cruelty” of this situation is that the attachment it allows is to a problematic and precarious object or situation.27

Within this “crisis ordinary,” DIY projects like Mordam, Maximum Rocknroll, Lookout Records and Fat Wreck Chords optimistically create new forms of social and spatial practice. However, because of the “cruel” circumstances of these formations, these desires end in what I want to call, following Stacy Thompson, productive failure, with “failure” operating as a troubled category.28 This is echoed in a lyric from Echonochrist’s song “Bled Dry”: “What you call success I call failure.” Jameson points to failure or impasse as a possible means to “cognitive mapping” in which “a narrative of defeat” can cause “the whole architectonic of postmodern global space to rise up in ghostly profile behind itself, as some ultimate dialectical barrier or invisible limit.”29 The trajectory of Bay Area label Lookout!, headed by Larry Livermore and later Chris Appelgreen, maps this contradictory form of failure.30 One of the early utopian stances that the label took was that it initially did not sign contracts with its bands, which allowed bands to come and go as they pleased without tying them down to requirements to tour or sell a quota. They also gave bands a significantly higher percentage of profits, sixty percent as opposed to the average of twelve to fifteen percent in commercial labels. In 1998 Livermore sold Lookout! to Appelgreen, who changed these policies to be more commercial. As Stacy Thompson narrates it, this transformation was not simply a selling out, but a productive failure that highlights larger structural contradictions:

My attention to Lookout! … should not be understood as a testimonial to the radical nature of independent punk bands and labels … it is the labels and the bands failings by commercial standards and by DIY standards that constitute punk’s highlighting of the problem of establishing an independently run sphere of exchange qualitatively different from the commercial sphere.31

By “failure” Thompson means several things. First, he sees punk productions as failing in selling on a scale that would register in the commercial sphere. The DIY approach doesn’t pose any significant economic threat to the music industry, representing only a tiny sector of the indie market. This failure, however, is a success in that it allows these labels to avoid being controlled by economic logic.32 A second productive failure that Thompson points to is the inability of punk to supply a living income to musicians, condemning them to supplement their income by working in the commercial sphere. This, however, is “an inverted form of success,” prohibiting music from becoming merely a means to an economic end. In zines such as MRR the volunteer aspect is philosophically central; each issue notes that all the work is donated and all proceeds are invested in non-profit projects. The smaller scale of Lookout! is a “partial failure that renders visible the problem inherent in punks’ attempt to free itself from the sphere of commodity exchange.”33 Punk records cannot fully escape the need to make capital available and to purchase the means of music production, and bands themselves must do some alienated labour, such as touring and repeating sets.34 However the work done is considered less alienated than other forms and much of it is unwaged. The implicit logic of the ongoing passionate argument about selling out in the punk world is an interpretation of winning as the true loss:

It seems that punk’s non-commercial, independent economic resistance to the big five35 is starting to resemble commercial success too closely, in short, this financial success is beginning to look like punk failure.36

MRR becomes the arbiter of this failure, refusing to review, interview, write articles, or allow advertisements by bands that appear on major labels or that appear on indie labels but are distributed by major labels or their affiliates. In the face of the impossibility of creating a totally new community, punk’s idealistic failures “preserve the possibility of a potential social organization that did not yet exist.” Unable to overturn the current system it “rendered its logic visible and suspect.” 37 Thompson sees this failure as a movement toward imagining non-alienated labour:

through its double failure, which is really an ongoing process of failing and never a final failure, the punk project testifies to the need for something beyond itself, for some sort of resolution to the commodity form that allows labour to be experienced as qualitative rather than quantitative, for some social structure that does not yet exist. Punks refuse to abandon the possibility of creating such a structure.38

This “failure,” is often framed as “the death of punk,” but can be seen as rather the mark of punk’s deepened incursion into the everyday, in a period that coincides with the Bay Area replacing New York as the capital of DIY. Dylan Clark sees the post-seventies phase of DIY culture as self-reflexive, bringing its own foundations and discursive assumptions into question and developing a more sophisticated critique of the culture industry as “a skilled predator on the prowl for fresh young subcultures.”39 Punks saw that the general speed-up in absorption of stylistic innovation in modernity meant that grassroots culture can become commercialized in a matter of months. An aesthetically fragmented punk could partially evade this co-optation of “market democracy.”40 This phase of punk is already post-punk in that early punk relied on shocking a confused mainstream. As Fredric Jameson often notes, the postmodern mainstream becomes more and more adaptive to experimental forms. Because of this, late punk’s strategy had to be an evasion of spectacle and a deepened critical anarchism. This phase draws on the stripped down ideology of earlier punk and its dedication to experience in place of symbolic encounters. Punks refer to the scene in which they hang out rather than calling themselves punk, and evade concrete descriptions of themselves but rather participate in political projects such as anti-corporate movements, Earth First!, and Reclaim the Streets.41 In this way, Clark argues, “punk faked its own death,” decentralizing and losing its markings, becoming instead “a loose assemblage of guerilla militias.”42 As it enters this phase, the punk aesthetic becomes inextricable from anarchism. Jeff Ferrell notes that while some participants may draw their practice from an overt understanding of anarchism:

this isn’t a necessary prerequisite, appropriately enough for an orientation founded on direct action, many seem to find their anarchist politics right there in the experience of everyday life.43

Bay Area institutions such as 924 Gilman and Lookout! point to what John Charles Goshert refers to as the “pervasive economic and social attitude in the Bay Area punk scene” with Gilman providing a political meeting space, local collectivity, and creativity.44 San Francisco becomes the capital of punk modernity as these institutions become the models for other labels, bands, and venues throughout the country.45 With the rise of punk as an economic and institutional force and the gathering of political and other communities around these institutions, punk had the opportunity to become more diverse. So in the early 90s, Gilman hosted diverse genres such as performance art, funk, jazz, heavy metal, and country alongside the predominant punk shows. The explicit anarchism and collective running of Gilman allowed for this collaboration, and freed punk from rigid aesthetic requirements:

The generic breakdown of the performances was simply the outcome of a deeper logic of the scene’s coming realization of its survival being based on constant mutation and unrecognisability. Again like earlier avant-garde artistic and political movements, the project became the locus of a new syntax that will shake up and transform old habits of thought and old ways of seeing, which would be formed through a radical notion of individualism, rather than a subcultural homogeneity. 46

Larry Livermore describes this phenomenon in the zine Absolutely Zippo, in a discussion of the play of a high school student (although she is not named, it turns out that it’s Miranda July who went on to be a well-known performance artist and film maker) at Gilman as embodying the spirit of punk by avoiding punk clichés and avoiding reification, rather stressing what he sees as innovation and independence. His description of July gets at the dialectical identity of punk anti-punk:

I also have to tell you that even though I’ve never seen her at a show and she doesn’t have any piercings or tattoos (not that I saw, anyway) she’s more punk than 95 percent of you reading this mag. Why? Because she does something, she takes her vision and makes it your reality, she takes imagination and shapes it into something we all must contend with … Because she’s not waiting for the next edition of the punk handbook to tell her the appropriate ways to rebel and be creative.47

Simon Frith sees this process of “cultural revolution” from below as a mode of recreating the self with others, creating potential, building imagination of “something more than resistance.” This understanding of the relationship of subcultural music to a transformed everyday, helps to explain the difficulty and inaccessibility of the “low” or “popular” punk music form, and its reliance on negation to advance its utopian politics.

The utopian impulse, the negation of everyday life, the aesthetic impulse that Adorno recognized in high art, must be part of low art too.48

And yet fantasies of punk authenticity are belied by the fact that markets themselves are parasitic on grassroots taste. This push and pull of discrimination against and absorption by market forces forms the core contradiction of the punk approach to everyday life.

These marginal phenomena: DIY musical, entrepreneurial and everyday projects, thus navigate success and failure, high and low, inside and outside, rebellion from and absorption in everyday life. This relationship to capitalist temporality, ratiocination and ambition does not constitute a clear political program nor a full utopian transformation. Instead, Bay Area DIY is a flexible form of utopian negation that necessarily fails, and in doing so succeeds in mapping the impasses that must be known in order to one day be surmounted.


1.“Zarah” in Ed. Brian Edge, “924 Gilman: The Story So Far San Francisco” Maximum Rocknroll, 2004. p236.

2.Alexander Kluge, Oskar Negt, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p19.

3.Edge. p113.

4. As Robert Eggplant says of the need for The Bay Area Booking Collective: “The Bay Area has a well-known history of movements creating art and culture outside the industry—be it from LA, NY, or Europe. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to create, showcase your work, and gather with like-minded people. The truth is that it takes a lot of mental energy to establish a space and draw a crowd.”—Slingshot, 104.1, Autumn 2010, p1.

5.Edge. p73.

6.“Ben S.” in Ed. Brian Edge, “924 Gilman: The Story So Far San Francisco” Maximum Rocknroll, 2004, p157

7.Edge. p157.

8.Erick Lyle, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City Brooklyn, Soft Skull Press, 2008.

9.Edge. p152.

10.Edge. p153-4.

11.Alan O’Connor, Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy: the emergence of DIY. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008, p3.

12.O’Connor. p3.

13. O’Connor. p4.

14.Jack Boulware, Silke Tudor, Gimme Something Better: the profound, progressive and occasionally pointless history of Bay Area punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, New York: Penguin, 2009.

15.Boulware. p188.

16.O’Connor. p37. Another notable example is MRR funding one of the first queer punk zines, Outpunk, giving the editor half price ads and lending him copiers.—“Outpunk” Zines! Vol. 2 . Ed. V. Vale. San Francisco: Re/Search, p117.

17.O, Connor. p39. Dave Harker points out that most music writers ignore the economic structure of the leisure industry and the central role of the profit motive but notes that there is a structural homology in the music industry to other multinational sectors of the economy. He describes record label EMI’s corporate centralization as “tech tentacles,” that market dozens of other forms of technology including weapons and computers, monopolizing a wide range of forms of electronic transmission and notes the ways centralized, monopolized companies such as this played roles in Chile’s authoritarian coup.—David Harker, One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song. London: Hutchinson, 1980.

18.Green Day was an underground Bay Area band from 1988-1993 based at 924 Gilman St. and releasing records through Bay Area label Lookout! In 1994 they signed onto Reprise Records, owned by major label Warner, and went on to sell over 65 million records and win five Grammys. They are at the centre of intense criticism and debates in the punk community surrounding issues of authenticity and selling out.

19.O’Connor. p57.

20.O’Connor. p58.

21.Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, p3.

22.Berlant. p4.

23.Dick Hebdige, Subculture: the meaning of style. London; New York; Routledge, 2011, p106.

24.Benjamin Noys, “The Recirculation of Negativity: Theory, Literature, and the Failures of Affirmation” Stasis Journal, May 2012.

25.Johanna Isaacson, “From Riot Grrrl to CrimethInc: A Lineage of Expressive Negation in Feminist Punk and Queercore.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, Dec. 2011.

26.McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

27.Berlant. p24.

28.Stacy Thompson, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004, p147.

29.Fredric Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg ed., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana; Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984, p352-353.

30.In addition to Lookout! Livermore wrote for punk publications MRR, Absolutely Zippo, Punk Planet, Homocore and Verbicide as well as playing in several bands.

31. Thompson. p150.

32.The intolerability of being accepted to a major labour is expressed by Lance Hahn, a musician in the Bay Area punk band J Church. “When the time came to talk to these labels it’s like you’re going to commit yourself to these labels and this is your life. It’s not just a job or a hobby, it’s your entire life. So you’re going to be working with these people on a regular basis. We’ve met with lawyers and a management company, a lot of people. There was no one I could imagine spending more than an hour or so with. They’re all friendly and that’s their job to be nice to us, but the idea of having to spend a week with some of these people would just like destroy us.”—Flipside Iss. 103, Aug/Sept 1996.

33. Thompson. p151.

34.Bertolt Brecht shows the nature of culture in this age and its relationship to production, something that DIY’s explicit relationship to production points to and resists. All new forms of art are affected by new forms of technology; literature is not an alternative to film, but rather enters the logic of film. “The technification of literary production can no longer be undone”. In this age leisure is not a freedom, but a space in which mental labour becomes a key form of production. This is a moment where no work can exclude itself from this status of production in a world ruled by commodity circulation. As far as art being separate from work, in the sphere of “relaxation,” this is clearly imbricated in the social. Relaxation must serve to reproduce labour and is dedicated to non-production in only this sense. Art is “intended to create an island of non-production” and yet art is completely part of production. Thus the consumer is subjecting oneself to the process of production, a victim of “imploitation.”—Bertolt Brecht, 1931, “From The Three-Penny Trial: A Sociological Experiment” in Richard W. McCormick and Alison Guenther-Pal Ed. German Essays on Film. New York London: Continuum, 2004. p126.—This understanding of imploitation is a counterbalance to a neoliberal boosterism of entrepreneurialism, famously by Hernando de Soto. In the case of mircroloans, this seemingly progressive solution has served to “not only move the problem around but actually strengthen while simultaneously lengthening the golden chain that imprisons vulnerable and marginalized populations within orbits of capital circulation and accumulation.”—David Harvey, Rebel Cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution. New York: Verso, 2012, p20.

35.EMI, CBS/SONY, BMG, WEA AND MCA

36. Thompson. p153.

37. Thompson. p156.

38.Thompson. p157. Semi successful zines often do not celebrate their popularity and have some scepticism and humour about the prospects of success. Says Matt Wobensmith, editor of the queer zine Outpunk: “Actually, I have gotten some publicity. Billboard did a front page article titled. ‘Queercore punk rock, ready to face the market.’ I couldn’t have conceived of a funnier caption. So any time somebody asks me how Outpunk is doing I say, it’s getting ready to face the market. There’s been a lot of attention paid to queers in music recently and some people think I’m getting rich, but they don’t realize that it’s still too ahead of its time. I always feel like it’s too cool to really be popular—too brainy, too smart, too out there.”—“Outpunk” Zines! Vol. 2. Ed. V. Vale. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search, p122.

39.Clark, Dylan “The Death and Life of Punk: the last subculture” in David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl Ed., The Post-Subcultures Reader, Oxford: New York: Berg, 2003, p232.

40.Clark. p233.

41.Clark. p234.

42.Clark. p234.

43. Ferrell. p88.

44.John Charles Goshert, “Punk after the pistols: American music, economics, and politics in the 1980s and 1990s”. Popular Music and Society. Vol. 24.1. 2000, p98.

45.Rebecca Solnit calls San Francisco the “global capital of the internet economy,” arguing that SF models a “new future,” replacing the dystopic imagery of Los Angeles, which featured urban decay, open warfare, segregation, despair, injustice, and corruption. Instead, San Francisco promises a world of financial speculation, covert coersions, novelty restaurants, technology fads, incessant work hours, destabilized jobs, homes and neighbourhoods, expensive housing in which service workers cannot afford to live, a two tiered society defined by technology and financed by venture capital. Although this vision turned out to be temporary as the internet economy bust, San Francisco still serves as a model and remnant of this potential direction for capitalist dystopia.—Rebecca Solnit, Hollow City: the Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism. London; New York: Verso, 2000.

46.Goshert. p99. Iain Chambers makes a historical argument for this sort of innovation as inherent in the punk aesthetics of the everyday. He suggests that because of the complexity, diversity and centrality of the contemporary city, the everyday merges with high, experimental art, “the avant-garde project of purposefully mismatching perception and the taken-for granted in order to release perspectives from the fetish of common sense tends to find a contemporary realization in the daily culture of the metropolis.”—Cary Nelson, Lawrence Grossberg Eds., “Contamination, coincidence and Collusion: Pop Music, Urban Culture, and the Avant Garde” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

47.Lawrence Livermore, Absolutely Zippo Anthology of a Fanzine 1988-1998, Benny & Son., p35

48.Simon Frith, Performing Rites: on the value of popular music, London; New York: Verso, 1996, p35.


1.“Zarah” in Ed. Brian Edge, “924 Gilman: The Story So Far San Francisco” Maximum Rocknroll, 2004. p236.

2.Alexander Kluge, Oskar Negt, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p19.

3.Edge. p113.

4. As Robert Eggplant says of the need for The Bay Area Booking Collective: “The Bay Area has a well-known history of movements creating art and culture outside the industry—be it from LA, NY, or Europe. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to create, showcase your work, and gather with like-minded people. The truth is that it takes a lot of mental energy to establish a space and draw a crowd.”—Slingshot, 104.1, Autumn 2010, p1.

5.Edge. p73.

6.“Ben S.” in Ed. Brian Edge, “924 Gilman: The Story So Far San Francisco” Maximum Rocknroll, 2004, p157

7.Edge. p157.

8.Erick Lyle, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City Brooklyn, Soft Skull Press, 2008.

9.Edge. p152.

10.Edge. p153-4.

11.Alan O’Connor, Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy: the emergence of DIY. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008, p3.

12.O’Connor. p3.

13. O’Connor. p4.

14.Jack Boulware, Silke Tudor, Gimme Something Better: the profound, progressive and occasionally pointless history of Bay Area punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, New York: Penguin, 2009.

15.Boulware. p188.

16.O’Connor. p37. Another notable example is MRR funding one of the first queer punk zines, Outpunk, giving the editor half price ads and lending him copiers.—“Outpunk” Zines! Vol. 2 . Ed. V. Vale. San Francisco: Re/Search, p117.

17.O, Connor. p39. Dave Harker points out that most music writers ignore the economic structure of the leisure industry and the central role of the profit motive but notes that there is a structural homology in the music industry to other multinational sectors of the economy. He describes record label EMI’s corporate centralization as “tech tentacles,” that market dozens of other forms of technology including weapons and computers, monopolizing a wide range of forms of electronic transmission and notes the ways centralized, monopolized companies such as this played roles in Chile’s authoritarian coup.—David Harker, One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song. London: Hutchinson, 1980.

18.Green Day was an underground Bay Area band from 1988-1993 based at 924 Gilman St. and releasing records through Bay Area label Lookout! In 1994 they signed onto Reprise Records, owned by major label Warner, and went on to sell over 65 million records and win five Grammys. They are at the centre of intense criticism and debates in the punk community surrounding issues of authenticity and selling out.

19.O’Connor. p57.

20.O’Connor. p58.

21.Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, p3.

22.Berlant. p4.

23.Dick Hebdige, Subculture: the meaning of style. London; New York; Routledge, 2011, p106.

24.Benjamin Noys, “The Recirculation of Negativity: Theory, Literature, and the Failures of Affirmation” Stasis Journal, May 2012.

25.Johanna Isaacson, “From Riot Grrrl to CrimethInc: A Lineage of Expressive Negation in Feminist Punk and Queercore.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, Dec. 2011.

26.McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

27.Berlant. p24.

28.Stacy Thompson, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004, p147.

29.Fredric Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg ed., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana; Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984, p352-353.

30.In addition to Lookout! Livermore wrote for punk publications MRR, Absolutely Zippo, Punk Planet, Homocore and Verbicide as well as playing in several bands.

31. Thompson. p150.

32.The intolerability of being accepted to a major labour is expressed by Lance Hahn, a musician in the Bay Area punk band J Church. “When the time came to talk to these labels it’s like you’re going to commit yourself to these labels and this is your life. It’s not just a job or a hobby, it’s your entire life. So you’re going to be working with these people on a regular basis. We’ve met with lawyers and a management company, a lot of people. There was no one I could imagine spending more than an hour or so with. They’re all friendly and that’s their job to be nice to us, but the idea of having to spend a week with some of these people would just like destroy us.”—Flipside Iss. 103, Aug/Sept 1996.

33. Thompson. p151.

34.Bertolt Brecht shows the nature of culture in this age and its relationship to production, something that DIY’s explicit relationship to production points to and resists. All new forms of art are affected by new forms of technology; literature is not an alternative to film, but rather enters the logic of film. “The technification of literary production can no longer be undone”. In this age leisure is not a freedom, but a space in which mental labour becomes a key form of production. This is a moment where no work can exclude itself from this status of production in a world ruled by commodity circulation. As far as art being separate from work, in the sphere of “relaxation,” this is clearly imbricated in the social. Relaxation must serve to reproduce labour and is dedicated to non-production in only this sense. Art is “intended to create an island of non-production” and yet art is completely part of production. Thus the consumer is subjecting oneself to the process of production, a victim of “imploitation.”—Bertolt Brecht, 1931, “From The Three-Penny Trial: A Sociological Experiment” in Richard W. McCormick and Alison Guenther-Pal Ed. German Essays on Film. New York London: Continuum, 2004. p126.—This understanding of imploitation is a counterbalance to a neoliberal boosterism of entrepreneurialism, famously by Hernando de Soto. In the case of mircroloans, this seemingly progressive solution has served to “not only move the problem around but actually strengthen while simultaneously lengthening the golden chain that imprisons vulnerable and marginalized populations within orbits of capital circulation and accumulation.”—David Harvey, Rebel Cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution. New York: Verso, 2012, p20.

35.EMI, CBS/SONY, BMG, WEA AND MCA

36. Thompson. p153.

37. Thompson. p156.

38.Thompson. p157. Semi successful zines often do not celebrate their popularity and have some scepticism and humour about the prospects of success. Says Matt Wobensmith, editor of the queer zine Outpunk: “Actually, I have gotten some publicity. Billboard did a front page article titled. ‘Queercore punk rock, ready to face the market.’ I couldn’t have conceived of a funnier caption. So any time somebody asks me how Outpunk is doing I say, it’s getting ready to face the market. There’s been a lot of attention paid to queers in music recently and some people think I’m getting rich, but they don’t realize that it’s still too ahead of its time. I always feel like it’s too cool to really be popular—too brainy, too smart, too out there.”—“Outpunk” Zines! Vol. 2. Ed. V. Vale. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search, p122.

39.Clark, Dylan “The Death and Life of Punk: the last subculture” in David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl Ed., The Post-Subcultures Reader, Oxford: New York: Berg, 2003, p232.

40.Clark. p233.

41.Clark. p234.

42.Clark. p234.

43. Ferrell. p88.

44.John Charles Goshert, “Punk after the pistols: American music, economics, and politics in the 1980s and 1990s”. Popular Music and Society. Vol. 24.1. 2000, p98.

45.Rebecca Solnit calls San Francisco the “global capital of the internet economy,” arguing that SF models a “new future,” replacing the dystopic imagery of Los Angeles, which featured urban decay, open warfare, segregation, despair, injustice, and corruption. Instead, San Francisco promises a world of financial speculation, covert coersions, novelty restaurants, technology fads, incessant work hours, destabilized jobs, homes and neighbourhoods, expensive housing in which service workers cannot afford to live, a two tiered society defined by technology and financed by venture capital. Although this vision turned out to be temporary as the internet economy bust, San Francisco still serves as a model and remnant of this potential direction for capitalist dystopia.—Rebecca Solnit, Hollow City: the Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism. London; New York: Verso, 2000.

46.Goshert. p99. Iain Chambers makes a historical argument for this sort of innovation as inherent in the punk aesthetics of the everyday. He suggests that because of the complexity, diversity and centrality of the contemporary city, the everyday merges with high, experimental art, “the avant-garde project of purposefully mismatching perception and the taken-for granted in order to release perspectives from the fetish of common sense tends to find a contemporary realization in the daily culture of the metropolis.”—Cary Nelson, Lawrence Grossberg Eds., “Contamination, coincidence and Collusion: Pop Music, Urban Culture, and the Avant Garde” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

47.Lawrence Livermore, Absolutely Zippo Anthology of a Fanzine 1988-1998, Benny & Son., p35

48.Simon Frith, Performing Rites: on the value of popular music, London; New York: Verso, 1996, p35.


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