Thursday, 11 August 2005

letter to Ian McKaye; Fugazi, Dischord, The Evens.

55 Coleraine Road

Portrush

Co. Antrim

BT56 8HR

N. Ireland

United Kingdom.

16th July 2005.

Dear Ian,

Several years ago I ran a very small local music collective, called wtss. It was started in reaction to the fact that there were no suitable venues for live rock music in the North Antrim area. All the bars had either acoustic folk singers, or bland karaoke discos that made you want to go home and cry. The people who frequented these establishments had no desire to listen to good music; rather they wanted to have some inoffensive background muzak to fill in the gaps in their vacuous conversations about their new gold watch, or their prowess on the golf course.

The venues one could play were real dives, full of metal heads twice our age who kept throwing coins at any band that had the nerve to perform their own songs, or wore anything other than black leather. Often the sound was poor, and the headlining bands would go out of their way to prevent you having a sound check, or share equipment.

Gigs had become this form of ritual self-abuse for people who wanted to express themselves creatively, rather than go out and play some Slayer covers, have a fight and grope the bar maid, before dissolving into a drunken stupor.

In reaction to all of this, I decided that I would attempt to run a night of music in an environment where I could not only control the necessary variables required to create a good atmosphere for live rock music, but enjoy myself as well. wtss was born.

I sourced a disused sail room beneath the local yacht club, persuaded the manager into allowing bands to play there, and then made the necessary arrangements to have a whole plethora of punk, indie, rock and acoustic acts come and play there. There were only three rules for the bands to follow: everyone plays a thirty-minute set, always play some originals, and bring all your friends.

Since I was in a band myself at the time, I could count on the guys in my band helping me out with the supply of decent amps, a drum kit and a small audience of loyal listeners.

The gigs were a success. Someone had lent us a P.A. and the rest of the equipment was our own, so overheads were non-existent. That allowed us to run the shows for free. The gigs were largely alcohol free (since the nearest bar was in another part of the yacht club building), which meant we could run the events as open to people of all ages. Many of the bands included people in their early to mid teens, and for the first time their friends could come and watch them play without fear of being thrown out.

We had attendances of over 150 people at the height of wtss’ success, something unheard of in the Portrush area. Soon we were running shows twice a week, selling self-written fanzines and fly posting furiously to stimulate more interest. More and more young bands came out of the woodwork, even people from Belfast wanted to get involved. While the quality of the music was never groundbreaking, the sense of freedom we all had in being able to express ourselves the way we wanted was tangible.

Naturally, it had to come to an end. I had a degree in England to finish, and many of the groups soon disbanded as their members moved away from home. Still, the memories of wtss’ achievements, and the independent spirit that flourished during its operation, have remained with me to this day. I always felt there was unfinished business to be taken care of: namely that none of the bands involved had ever got round to recording or releasing anything.

After finishing my degree, I entered a very vague stage of my life, where I was neither sure where my passions lay, nor what kind of career I was going to pursue. It was during this rather depressing and blank frame of mind that a friend of mine played me the Instrument DVD. This was my first contact point with Fugazi, or for that matter anything to do with the American underground d.i.y. scene - and I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered! I suddenly realised that the fledgling ideas that had briefly flourished into reality during wtss’ existence had been attempted successfully in America over two decades ago, on a massive scale.

I was kicking myself that I hadn’t educated myself in this kind of phenomenon before; but the mainstream press that I read at the time had never given much coverage of any of the labels or bands from the US d.i.y. scene. Instrument was the key that unlocked the door to all of that interesting, inspiring stuff. It was a very potent and important moment in my life – a moment where the cogs in my head finally started to turn in the right direction with regards to which direction my life was going to take.

Naturally it took some time for the full influence of discovering Fugazi’s music, its ethics and approach to the creative process to take full effect. Over the next two years there was much dissection of Red Medicine, The Argument et al., and devouring of books about Slamdek, K and the early days of SubPop. Although the music that came out of these scenes and movements wasn’t often to my taste, it was the gutsy attitude of those involved in putting out their music that I found so affecting. Put simply, these people didn’t care whether the market, or major labels wanted to release the bands they were either in or involved with. The fact that they themselves wanted to own a copy was reason enough to go ahead and make it happen. This is something I sympathise with wholeheartedly.

Much of what I learnt from these books, albums and films resonated heavily with the inspirations and aspirations of wtss, however much smaller our achievements had been. So it was with this new outlook in mind that I resolved to release some wtss live recordings that I had lying around on minidisc, as soon as possible. The idea evolved into another project, with some former wtss musicians re-teaming to produce a disc of original material that had been written since the collective dissolved. It was welcomed by all involved as a fitting conclusion to the outfit that had yielded many happy memories, and therefore deserved a lasting document of the creativity that had flowed from its supporters. Suitably, the disc was christened ‘This Is Closure’, allowing us all to move on to pastures new knowing that wtss had finally achieved its full potential, by actually recording and releasing something.

At time of writing, you find me nearing the end of the recording process for ‘This Is Closure’, which has been done using a myriad of borrowed and broken equipment set up in the front room of my long-suffering parents’ house. We’re using a second hand 8-track I bought off eBay using funds raised from the sale of fanzines, and a friend has kindly offered to use the facilities at his art college to run up the record sleeves. All being well, we should have the finished vinyl in our hands by autumn. It’s all very exciting. I’ll be sure to post you a copy once it’s done.

What is more, I start a music production course in England in September, with the view to learning more about how to do decent d.i.y. recordings. Armed with this knowledge, and the direction I have gained from both your music and your record company, I finally feel prepared to put my plans of running an independent label into action. Such an ambition would not have been realised had it not been for the discovery of Instrument, Dischord and Fugazi. I am very grateful that you guys have provided such inspiration – and made it such a brilliant listening experience at the same time.

Kindest regards,

Andrew Gardiner.