I recently had a chance to chat with David Wilson, founder of the True/False Film Festival and our creative director here at Aggregate. We talked about the DC punk rock scene of the 80s, the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture it fostered, and the influence these things have had on the way he works.
Hi David! Let’s start by talking about what DIY culture is.
DIY culture is an outgrowth of punk rock and came about in the U.S. in the mid 80s. It was a distillation of the spirit of punk—positioning music as just one of many forms of expression that could be “punk” and recentering the movement around an ethos of Do It Yourself energy and enthusiasm. The idea was to value and prioritize individual (or small group) creation and expression, rather than assuming that things (art, culture, objects) had to come from a top-down economy.
This includes selling your own music instead of being part of a record studio and the focus of playing in garages instead of “typical” establishments?
Right. The emphasis was on not only writing the music, but taking control of every aspect—where you played, where you recorded, making your own records. In doing so, one could reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you.
“reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you”
I love that. So how has that played out for you? Is that part of everything you do?
I think I steeped in that culture long enough to have it permeate my bones. So yeah, anything I do now, I tend to think of the entire pipeline. And, if I’m passing off parts of a project to others (which happens often—DIY is really all about collaboration), I try to be extra mindful of how all those pieces fit together.
“DIY is really all about collaboration”
How hard has it been to get to a place where you think that way? Do you see it as something anyone can do?
Yeah, there’s nothing exclusive about DIY culture. If anything, it’s the opposite. But, be warned, it’s a very “active” mode of creation. It’s more work, and more things to worry about. But the end result is worth it, I think.
And even when we’re not actually creating things ourselves, we can apply these tenets to lots of aspects of daily life. I may decide that I don’t want to make my own shoes, but I’m going to be more inclined to buy shoes from a company that gives me a clear sense of its manufacturing process and demonstrates a high regard for ethics and the rights of its workers in that process.
What are some iconic examples of DIY culture?
For me, DC punk was my first exposure to this culture. Dischord records started to put out albums by their friends—by the early 90s they were selling hundreds of thousands of albums, while still staying true to that ethos. They were followed by Simple Machines, run by two women who not only got their label off the ground, but wrote a booklet that contained step-by-step instructions for how to start your own. They legitimately inspired hundreds of small labels to get off the ground.
The confluence of DIY culture and small-town culture is really important to me, too. In a small town, there are far fewer opportunities, so if you want something (a skate park, a concert space, a movie theater) you have to create it yourself.
This really helps me understand True/False…
You’re totally right. True/False exists because a group of people—first small, then bigger and bigger—decided that there was no reason there couldn’t be a world class film festival in the middle of Missouri. One of my favorite T/F moments came in the second or third year, when a friend (a writer) typed personal welcome letters to each filmmaker and put them in handmade envelopes. It blew our guests away that we’d devote that much individual attention to them.
Fantastic. How do you see DIY culture and Aggregate?
Aggregate rose up out of the bloated corpses of big agencies. They’d built an unsustainable model, and it crashed. By being light on our feet and working instead with a dynamic and ever-shifting pool of collaborators, we are able to do world-class work without the excess of a bigger agency.
Also, Aggregate cares, legitimately, about our clients and their missions. And that spirit, that energy—you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something. We’re going to always be working to find the most elegant, efficient solutions to problems. And we’re never going to be afraid to turn away from something that’s not working.
“that spirit, that energy – you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something”
How do we embrace this culture?
I think it takes a certain confidence to be willing to step outside the usual systems. And once outside, it takes more work. You’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them.
“you’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them”
Interested in learning more about DIY Culture? Check out these sources!
- Salad Days – Film
- More Than A Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action – Film
- Another State of Mind – Film
- Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains – Trailer
- The Winking Circle – Original Short