Suburban Diaspora Volume One is now live. We hope that you enjoy some of the amazing work that’s been collected for this issue, including fiction from Andrew Farkas, poetry from Karen Craigo, and an interview with author/poet/translator extraordinaire Okla Elliot. Our next issue is planned for Summer 2016, and we are currently accepting submissions. Happy holidays from our editors, and thank you to the writers and poets that made this issue possible.
Below is the cover for Suburban Diaspora: Volume One. It will be released in December. Cover art by Charli Barnes.
Our next entry this week is an interview with Chris Clavin of Plan-it-X Records, an independent, non-profit music label.
Plan-it-X Records will always have a special place in my heart, as I imagine it has in the hearts of a lot of Midwestern kids who grew up wanting more from their cultural experience than what the radio and MTV (when it still showed music videos) had to offer. Founded by Samantha Dorsett and Chris Clavin in 1994, Plan-it-X started as a non-profit tape label, taking the business aspect of the music scene out of the equation to create a purely cultural experience. They dubbed tapes at $1 each and sold them at the same price – as they would say in the Plan-it-X family, “if it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punx!” The label and its philosophy certainly grew, but over the years, the collective has managed to maintain its anti-capitalist, DIY, personal experience and feel. No one signs anything, no one is trying to get rich. Plan-it-X is about making good music with good people and sharing that experience with friends. I’ve been lucky enough to go to a house show or two to watch P.I.X. bands play – the warm, inclusive atmosphere is unforgettable. It truly is a musical experience in a way that a show in a huge venue never could be. There is a feeling of, “hey, I’m a part of this” rather than, “I’m allowed to be here because I paid someone $50,” and everyone really rises to the occasion, turning a dingy basement into a safe space where shy people can jump around and be sweaty with 25 of their closest strangers and feel like they’re in a room with only their oldest friends. I was lucky enough to interview Chris Clavin when he released his first Secret Sailor book, Free Pizza for Life, and I feel even luckier to have been able to interview him again for SD. Here’s what he had to say about the label, the press, and his festival philosophy.
STEPH: First, introduce us to Plan-it-X Records. Give the reader an idea of the scope of the projects you guys take on, and what kind of music you put out. Also, talk about the philosophy behind the label, and what DIY and punk mean to you.
CHRIS: Plan-it-X is a small DIY record label that started in 1994 as a joke. I was playing in a band and we recorded a demo and we made 50 copies on cassette. We thought it would look more like a real release if there was a record label on the back, so my friend Samantha drew a logo and wrote “Plan-it-X Records” under it. That is how it started. Over the years it slowly became a semi-real record label, but it’s still mostly for fun.
STEPH: At what point did you decide to cross over from a music fan to a musician? What made you want to take your cultural experience into your own hands and found a record label?
CHRIS:I guess when I went on my first tour in 1996. We played with a band called the Bananas from Sacramento and I wanted to buy one of their albums but they didn’t have one. I thought it was shocking. I told them how cheap it was to make CDs. They didn’t seem interested in self-releasing, so we asked them if Plan-it-X could release an album for them. They said yes. I think that’s what made us a real label, since before that we only released my own band’s music. Sometimes people asked why we started Plan-it-X and I like to say that we did it because no other label would ever release my band. It’s true.
STEPH: I know Samantha played a huge role in the founding of the label, and in the eventual founding of the press – I thought it would be good to introduce the reader to Samantha, to give them a sense of what her message was (and is!), and how she still shapes the label to this day. Talk a little about who she was, and how she brought Plan-it-X to life.
CHRIS: She was the coolest and weirdest and wildest person I have ever known or will ever know I think. She coined the phrase “If it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punk,” which became the main statement of the label. We were both kind of disgusted at how punk was mostly just a capitalist money-making scheme to sell the idea of rebellion and resistance. We thought it should be way more than that. It meant much more to us. Sam also thought it was weird that punks claim to be a community and just a big group of friends but sold things to each other for way more than they needed to charge. We decided to try to sell things for the price we needed to survive and make our money back, not the price we could get or the price accepted as the standard. Sam lost interest in running the label after a few years but I was hooked. P.I.X. would have never existed without her.
STEPH: The music scene was a lot different in the ‘90s than it is today – can you talk a little about what the DIY music scene was like in the beginning, the ways Plan-it-X has grown as the scene has grown, and the ways you guys have endeavored to stay the same?
CHRIS: I would say it was much, much smaller when we started, or at least it was harder to find each other, which is good and bad. Now it’s easy to self-release and self-promote and have a web presence. The bad part is everyone looks the same on Facebook. It’s hard to tell if a band is even a real band or just a page online. However, touring and meeting people and things like that are so much easier now and I guess I’m grateful. I do think that we have lost some of the magic of discovery though.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Plan-it-X Fest. I was lucky enough to attend last year, but had to leave pretty early for crummy health reasons. It looked like an amazing festival full of warm, happy people just eager to share music with one-another. Can you talk a little bit about the philosophy behind the festival, and what it means for the Plan-it-X family?
CHRIS: Well, I have always been against the idea of doing a fest, since I think DIY music is best enjoyed in a small setting. The bands on P.I.X. are the kind of bands you want to see in a basement or a backyard, not up on a stage with hundreds of people. It’s not my thing and I don’t think it’s the ideal experience for many of the P.I.X. bands or P.I.X. fans. But, one night we were thinking about how much fun it would be to get all of our friends together in one place. It seemed like a fun thing to do. But still, a fest is a bad idea, we decided. Then we thought about how many people would come and how we could use the fest as a way to raise funds for important grass roots groups. So we decided to do it for the 10th anniversary. It was great and we raised $8000 for charity after paying 100% of our expenses and paying all the touring bands. We’ve done a few of them now, not every summer since it’s too much work and I think it would lose its magic. The last one, 2014, raised $24,000 for charity. So in short, we do it so that we can hang out with our friends and raise money for good causes.
STEPH: How do you find new bands and musicians to add to the Plan-it-X family? What kinds of people are you looking for, and where do you come across them?
CHRIS: I usually find new bands when I play with them on tour and we hang out. I almost exclusively release bands that are my friends.
STEPH: What made you decide to launch a Plan-it-X-affiliated press, and do you have any books in the works right now?
CHRIS: Well, I wrote a book, and just like starting a record label, I knew no one else would publish it so I did it myself and it was fun. So, I started publishing my friends’ books too. Currently I’m working on a book about living in Cairo, Illinois. We tried to start a punk rock utopia there. It failed. I think it will make a good read.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Tour Sucks – what made you decide to put that project together, what shape did the project end up taking, and what did you hope to bring to the DIY music community with these tour stories?
CHRIS: Basically, on tour I always end up swapping crazy/bad stories from tour. They are more fun than good stories. No one wants to hear about how you played a big show and how much people liked you and how you got free pizza after the show. They want to hear about your van breaking down in the middle of Wyoming and how you had to hitchhike 50 miles to a truck stop. So I thought it would be cool to collect these kinds of stories. Sadly, so many of my friends that have great stories were too lazy to write them. But we got quite a few good ones though.
STEPH: Chaos Fest wasn’t too long ago – give the reader an idea of the different kinds of events that go on across Bloomington, and tell them how they might get involved next year!
CHRIS: The idea is just that we get all the DIY show/event organizers to book something/anything on the same weekend, so it’s like a fest but no one person has too much control or responsibility. Mostly, again, it’s just a trick to get our friends to come to town and hang out. That’s what most of our schemes are about. We probably won’t do one next year, since we are doing another Plan-it-X fest in 2016. But it will probably happen again, sometime.
STEPH: What other events and projects do you guys have in store this summer? Let the reader know where they can find you, and what awesome music they can look forward to hearing!
CHRIS: I’m taking it kinda easy this summer. I’ll be writing and recording a new Ghost Mice album. I’ll hopefully get some progress made on the book about Cairo and I hope to start at least 3 new bands this summer. You can find us on FB and at www.plan-it-x.com.
You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spotlight written by Stephanie Marker
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Every Monday we’ll be shedding a spotlight on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. The selections may be new or old, but all selections will be available for purchase with links at the end end of the review. This week we look at the independent video game DayZ from Bohemia Interactive.
As a lifelong gamer, there are moments throughout my life marked by singular gaming experiences. One of my first memories as a child was watching my siblings play Caveman Games on the NES which introduced the event of gaming. Then, the original Sonic the Hedgehog introduced the intensity that can be connected to the act of gaming. As a teenager, Final Fantasy VII introduced me to rich storytelling. Each of these moments stand out because they had an emotional and developmental impact on the way I understood this burgeoning digital medium. For many years, I didn’t have a new, singular gaming memory until DayZ. While this doesn’t mean that DayZ is a legendary game, it has produced a unique experience that I will remember for, hopefully, the rest of my life. DayZ introduced the complexity of human nature that can be found within a digital world. While still in Alpha, the game highlights some of the existential issues of boredom, meaning, absurdity, and human nature which leads players to create grand, self-imposed narratives.
DayZ is a post-apocalyptic, survival simulator. This identification needs to be understood if a player wants the most out of this game. The game does not provide any real objectives, so whenever a player’s character spawns on the coast of a fictional 225 square kilometer Russian territory called Chernarus with nothing but a shirt, shoes, pants, and a message telling the player how hungry he/she is, the only priority is survival. While the final version of the game will provide countless strategies for surviving, the player can currently find farming supplies (digging tool, seeds, water container, and fertilizer) to start a garden, find a cutting tool (or make a stone knife) and canned goods from the zombie infested cities scattered across the map, or hunt. As soon as the player can find these essentials, the real danger becomes present, other players.
I remember the first night I played and the first “stranger danger” moment accompanied by that experience. Just as the aforementioned games created an impression on my gaming life, the moment that my cousin and I, while scavenging a large storage shed, bumped into the first player we had ever seen. I’ll always remember the shouts of “Are you friendly!” and the adrenalin rush that followed.
In DayZ, the player is granted one life. If the player dies, the character respawns and the player must start the survival journey all over again. This large stakes mechanic makes a player question all other players. In a normal FPS, the player knows the goal is to kill as many enemies as possible, and if the player dies in the process there’s a small respawn timer that resets the fully geared player. In DayZ, going into combat makes the player risk hours, days, or weeks worth of work. I finally met my cousin after an hour of gameplay, and that encounter with a stranger might have meant retreading throughout the country side for another hour.
With our guns up, both parties ran into separate buildings and started shouting “I am friendly! Friendly, friendly, friendly! Are you friendly!?”. After the cacophony calmed, we shouted back and forth until agreeing upon terms of leaving with the understood truce that if we saw each other sneaking around, we would be forced to kill. Never in my life had I experienced that feeling in a game. But the existential questions about the game were still on the horizon.
With the lack of any long-term objective, questions of meaning and boredom start to rise up, and with it, the revelation of human nature. Once a player conquers the threat of dying from the elements, the game is relatively easy and habitual. This stage of the game leaves many players with the question, “What do I do now?” Some players decide to hide in popular areas to kill random passerbyers, but randomly killing unsuspecting players can only be fun for so long. With the lack of meaning, players started creating stories with the game. The server I play on is composed of a diversity of stories. There is the Cult of Papa, a player created group that takes players prisoner and offers seven of them up every so often. I don’t know much about them, and they seem very secretive (though you can find their videos on Youtube). Other players have created trade guilds. Since the game lacks any prescribed form of currency, this trade group offers O negative blood bags for goods and services. Other groups of players have created even darker narratives for their characters involving torture, rape, and cannibalism.
And while I used to believe that every player was a threat, narratives of community and altruism have also spawned. Players have created emergency medical groups that will drive around the very large map to fix broken legs, fight communicable diseases, and offer food, water and shelter to suffering players. The assortment of self-driven narratives guided by a search for meaning, just like in real life, creates an aura of paranoia, violence, and community. Every player encountered has the potential to ruin weeks’ worth of work or create friendships that help players shelter themselves against the rogue, violent player bandits roaming the map looking for violence to satiate their boredom.
It is important to note this game contains many glitches, bugs, some poor mechanics, and is known for its slow development, so it’s by no means perfect. But, if the player goes into the game understanding DayZ is a slow moving alpha with a lack of objectivity, I believe every player will find a unique experience, as long as they have the existential desire to create meaning within it.
DayZ is available for early access on Steam.
Review by Alex Pinnon
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Every Monday we’ll be shedding a spotlight on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. The selections may be new or old, but all selections will be available for purchase with links at the end end of the review. This week we look at the independent record label/music collective Already Dead Tapes & Records.
To me, there aren’t many things in the world better than a group of talented, passionate people getting together to make things. Any kind of things. And although many people think of the Midwest as a place without much culture to it, it is among the best areas of the country to find art and music collectives – DIT-minded people who are making unique and beautiful things, who are creating their own cultural experience in a way that’s far more inclusive and far more personal than the more consumer-based, commercialized approach to culture.
One such group is Already Dead Tapes & Records, an independent, grassroots record label that releases cassette tapes and vinyl (along with some pretty badass artwork) in small runs. Founded in 2009 by Sean Hartman and Joshua Tabbia, this is one of the many music collectives to return to the idea of album-as-art-object. In the world of mp3s and iPods, people immersed in music subcultures longed for (or never departed from!) the idea that engaging with music should be more of an experience, that it is not something to be passively consumed. Lucky for us, a lot of those music lovers took matters into their own hands and kept the art objects of the music world alive by starting small labels and collectives with their friends, and offering up awesome recordings with phenomenal artwork for fankids to collect and go back to again and again.
I was lucky enough to correspond with Wesley Nowlin, an Already Dead staffer, who gave me a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a part of a DIT record label.
Already Dead Tapes & Records Interview with Wesley Nowlin
STEPH: First off, introduce us to Already Dead Tapes & Records. How was it founded, and how did it grow to become what it is today? Give the reader an idea, too, of the aesthetic of the label in your own words – what are you guys most hoping to do with your label?
WESLEY: We’re a record label releasing cassettes, vinyl, and fine art in small editions. In the last five years, we’ve put out nearly 200 releases from over 120 artists from all over the world. We’re passionate about many genres of music and art, and love working with and fostering artists we believe in. Joshua Tabbia and Sean Hartman established the label in late 2009, initially as a means to release their own music and potentially their friends’ music. The label quickly started receiving submissions and growing pretty organically. Our aesthetic has developed naturally, through the artists we’ve worked and the diversity of material we’ve released. Whether intentional or not, the label reflects who we are as music listeners, interested in practically every genre under the sun and always eager to discover new artists.
STEPH: Talk a little about the label’s philosophy. You guys have chosen to keep things relatively small – lesser-known artists, smaller releases – and you work more with experimental artists. The whole operation has a very intimate, DIY (or DIT) feel to it. What was the drive behind those choices? How does that shape your label; how does that containment help (or hinder) your creative vision?
WESLEY: We’ve always been very open-minded with our philosophy. We’re passionate about DIY culture, analog formats, and lesser known artists, but we’ve had a chance to work with some bigger names, such as David Shrigley and Chris Brokaw (Codeine), and that’s been great as well. Having that kind of openness allows the label to grow in ways we would have never thought of at the onset.
STEPH: The return to cassette culture isn’t limited to Already Dead Tapes, but it isn’t exactly a mainstream decision either. This musical medium is endlessly fascinating to me, and the culture that surrounds it even more so. Why cassettes? How does this change the recording process, and what aesthetic value do you guys hope to offer your listeners?
WESLEY: We started releasing cassettes to bring a focus back to the physical object and the importance of buying and owning an album you love. We also just love the way the format sounds. In 2009 cassettes were starting to see a revival, but they were also still a heavily disregarded and antiquated format, and we found that appealing. There isn’t a huge impact on the recording process, but the format does add something to every genre and this offers our listeners something off the beaten path.
STEPH: The Already Dead family seems pretty tight-knit. All artists and musicians involved seem to be endlessly eager to put out new stuff, to make things, and to perform together. That kind of bond within a label or collective is somewhat rare even among the smaller, independent label set. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of being involved in a group like that? Give the readers an idea of how that might differ from a more traditional approach to putting out music or running a label – does the collaborative atmosphere draw new artists in? Does it help generate more music, better performance experiences?
WESLEY: We like to have a very collaborative relationship with our artists, working together to make a release successful. This often leads to a close, family-like vibe. Many of the artists we work with end up becoming dear friends, and that’s extremely encouraging. We also have an annual music festival, the Already Dead Family Reunion, which is typically three days and over 30 artists and that helps foster that closeness and connect artists.
STEPH: The operation is moving to NYC soon, which is pretty exciting – that’s going to be a big change, it seems. What does this mean for the Chicago and Kalamazoo scene? How are things going to change for Already Dead Tapes and their family?
WESLEY: The label will continue to be based in Chicago and Kalamazoo, now with the addition of Brooklyn. Josh will run things from Brooklyn, Alex Borozan and myself will run things from Chicago, and Sean Hartman will still be based out of Kalamazoo. We see this expansion as an opportunity to grow and do even more. There are artists vital to the label in each of these cities, and we’re looking forward to having three places to call home.
STEPH: What goes into preparing to bring an operation like this to a festival or an event? Give the readers an idea of what you guys hope to present at these things, and how a festival presence might help your label to expand or evolve.
WESLEY: We’ve tabled at Pitchfork Music Festival the past two years (and will again this year), and we table at record fairs pretty often. It’s essentially packing up everything we’ve got and being prepared to engage with people who have never heard of us. We have description cards for all of our releases, which give a brief summary as well as a list of similar artists that newcomers may be familiar with. This is a great point of reference and usually gets the conversation going. We also have listening stations, which allows for people to interact with the tapes and listen to what interests them. Working festivals and record fairs is a dream job, we get to stand around all day, meet amazing people, and talk about music we love.
STEPH: What kinds of artists and musicians do you guys hope to work with? How do you decide who to invite into the family, and how do you typically come across new additions?
WESLEY: We’re open to anything that feels like a good fit. At this point we have a large roster of staple artists we are continuing to work with on a regular basis, so we aren’t taking on as many new projects as we used to. That said, if we get excited about something, it’s hard to say “no.” The majority of our artists have come from either demo submissions or connections made at shows.
STEPH: Every fall, you guys put on a family reunion mini festival in Kalamazoo. Talk a little bit about the family reunion shows – how did that come about? What’s it like to put on an annual showcase like that, and what importance does it have for your label?
WESLEY: The Family Reunion is an extension of the label, over 30 artists come from all over the country, (and sometimes from all over the world), for three days of performances, including after parties, pot lucks, and more. The day-to-day of running a label can be a lot of work, and the Family Reunion reminds us what it’s all about: the people and the music. It’s always a really magical week of reconnecting with old friends and meeting people we’ve only communicated with long distance. It’s hard to put into words, but it really brings everything together for a true sense of community.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about the artistic aspect of the label. Not all labels focus on cover art, or poster art, in quite the same way or on quite the same level that Already Dead Tapes focuses on it. The cover and poster art is beautiful – can you talk a little bit about why that’s important to you guys? What does it add to the collective to place that much emphasis on the presentation of the physicality of the product?
WESLEY: Why wouldn’t you put an amazing album in a beautiful package? In many ways, we believe the art that houses an album is just as important as the music. It’s all part of the experience of the physical object and wanting to actually own an album. We strive to give each release its own visual appeal, while maintaining a visual system, primary the spine of the cassette, which unites the collection.
STEPH: Finally, tell me about all the exciting things Already Dead Tapes has coming up – where can we expect to see you guys? What kinds of events do you have planned for the summer?
WESLEY: As always, we have a slew of exciting releases coming up this summer, including: Boring People, Panda Kid, Teen Cult, Longface (ex-New Diet), Mu Vonz, Darko the Super, A.M. Stations, and Two Hungry Bros., just to name a few. We also have several new Already Dead merch items in the works, which we’ll likely debut at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, at the CHIRP Record Fair.
You can find out more (and buy some stuff!!) on Already Dead Tapes & Records website
Post by Stephanie Marker
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Every Monday we’ll be shedding a spotlight on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. The selections may be new or old, but all selections will be available for purchase with links at the end end of the review. This week we look at the poetry chapbook If You What by Melissa Goodrich, published by 4th & Verse in 2012.
Melissa Goodrich’s chapbook If You What comprises language play that’s both intellectual and embodied. The poems offer a feminist resistance to the reductionism of the historical mind-body split, not merely bringing language back to the body (or the body back into language), but presenting a language that writes through the body, that minds the body. Winner of the inaugural 4th & Verse Chapbook Prize, the collection bravely seeks a mutual lexicon and forms for both sense and sensation in the liminal spaces Goodrich’s writing creates as it refuses divisive binary separations of mind and body, of reason and emotion. The first poem “Below” invites the reader into the consequent “melodrama of seeing is splitting” through the eyes of a boy looking up from where he has fallen from a swing:
The trees repel
with bronze, late evening and a rumor
of red leaves pedaling through the yard.
Frost making fists
around the fence and fuck it, this hurts, the back on the real
cold ground. He is feeling rounded like dark
soft lead, vivid
as silhouettes, he will lie here awhile. He will not be dead. […]
The boy will both “lie here awhile” and “not be dead.” He rejects the temptation to presume catastrophe (he knows this will not kill him), but he also acknowledges that “fuck it, this hurts,” an embodied acknowledgement that aptly precedes the speaker’s exclamation three stanzas later:
to your body! a free thing set
in a window the stressed glass holds, a mark over a vowel
To live embodied, the poem suggests, is to recognize both the pain and the resilience that constitute survival. Even the body itself is fraught with contradictions, both “a free thing” and something that’s “set.” This contradiction is symbolically evoked earlier in the poem when the boy hangs his heart:
on a rack, it means
it means nothing! […]
Goodrich’s masterful use of the stanza break here allows the speaker to illustrate two simultaneous oppositional assertions: both “free” and “set,” the heart and the body mean and mean nothing at once, a contradiction that extends from the boy’s body and sensation to his understanding, and to the language itself that limns his experience, which also both “means” and “means nothing.”
In the final poem of If You What, “Watch Stopped Sort of Prophetically on the Plane,” Goodrich re-presents the reader with spatial imagery reminiscent of that seen through the perspective of the boy on his back in the yard below his swing set in “Below.” The poem observes “the low-ceiling sky you can’t/fly through” and, in its closing image, “the bouquet of flowers you carry/blooms down,” both echoing the inverted perspective that opens the collection. Between these images, the speaker presents a visceral meditation on an airplane engine:
very animal the way it’s crouched beside us, very
animal the way water
sobs to boil the lobster, the sob of the shell
the shell of us is still
on the tarmac so long it could be Christmas,
even the airport is a dove
disappearing into the silk sleeve, kiss into
the cuff. and you’re sore.
Here Goodrich evokes the American female poetic tradition of what Gilbert and Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic call “imagery of entrapment.” The boiling lobster shell is reminiscent of what Gilbert and Gubar point to in the examples of “Emily Dickinson’s haunted chambers,” “H.D.’s tightly shut sea-shells,” and “Sylvia Plath’s grave-caves.” In Goodrich’s poem, the boiled shell does signify freedom, escape, but much like the body in “Below,” a “free thing” which is also “set,” the speaker in this poem says that “the shell of us is still,” a stillness that suggests that although it has been shed, something of it remains as a reminder of the body it housed, a residue, a haunting.
The poems in If You What are all haunted by this language, a palimpsestic and self-reflexive language that sees its own ghosts, that observes its own residue. Goodrich both frees and sets the bodies that populate these poems—simultaneously palpable and ethereal—limning, lining, and minding the body of work that is If You What.
If You What is available on 4th & Verse’s website.
Review by Billie Tadros
Suburban Disaspora is now accepting submissions for its first issue, which is scheduled for July. Please take a moment to get to know us, then head to our Submittable page if you’d like to submit your work to our journal.