Once upon a time, DIY was badass.
Today, the term brings to mind hand-crafted artifacts, vintage goods, and pastel décor. In the ’70s, by contrast, DIY was a vehicle of radicalism and an integral part of punk subculture. Going hand-in-hand with independent music, studded leather jackets, and colourful mohawks, DIY was an expression of autonomy — a representation of independence from dominant mainstream culture.
“[I]n rock music by the ’50s and ’60s, there was a very high bar for performativity,” explains Dylan Clark, a professor of anthropology at U of T. “To be onstage, you had to be extremely well-trained, and there was a gravitation towards the John Lennons of the world,” he says.
This high standard of music eventually reached a point where music itself was unreachable for the average person.
“Punk was a response to many things, but part of it was people saying, ‘Screw that, let’s go out and make music ourselves,’” says Clark. It didn’t matter if you were good, had enough money, or even had the right instruments — punk was a backlash against the traditional glam of celebrity in favour of an accessible form of fun.
During this period, subcultures were being bought out by mainstream culture.
“[Punk] was being co-opted by commercials, by advertising, by record companies, by radio stations, by people who were trying to make a buck by taking these subcultures and turning it very mainstream,” remarks Clark. “As a kid, to be hip, you would go out and buy your outfit and buy your music and buy the whole package, and the whole experience would be commodified.”
Punk reacted against this culture by eschewing consumerism entirely. In an effort to resist commodification, people decided to “do it themselves” in many different ways.
It began with the music. A band would write and record their own songs, book their own tours, and distribute their records themselves. This saved money and meant that the money they spent stayed within the independent economy of the subculture.
“The tension between innovation and co-optation has been around for decades,” explains Clark.
As fashions and lifestyles that originally began as distinctive and deviant become mainstream, youth naturally seek new ways to be different.
Today, the punk label that was once associated with DIY has been replaced by a new affiliation with hipsters. Hipsters, however, lack the same elite community that punks engaged in, which was far more clearly defined and maintained independent forms of communication and social interaction.
In Clark’s opinion, hipsterism doesn’t exist. “I would say a subculture has to have a little bit more of a community to exist. You actually have people who share music, clubs, sexual orientation, drugs, ideas…”
Hipsterism is vague and not restricted to a secluded community — and neither is the new wave of DIY.
DIY has become a new mainstream culture that signifies a penny-pinching craftiness and domestic design sensibility. DIY is re-integrating into this niche market through the preference of local over corporate and of homemade over store-bought.
With inspiration from retail stores, Pinterest, and vintage fashion and décor, people are inspired to recycle trash into new treasures. Businesses are popping up around Toronto to cater to the market of people that want to make things themselves and people who want to buy things that others made locally.
Bike Pirates is a bike co-op that rescues potentially garbage bike parts and teaches cyclists how to fix their bike themselves. Other businesses offer lessons in DIY, like The Make Den, which offers sewing lessons, and The Knit Café, which teaches you the ways of the needle.
People pay for lessons in how to engage in DIY at these venues, as well as purchasing locally made goods at these stores and others. The modern DIY movement is becoming more of a “let others do it themselves for you” or “buy it yourself” movement that is guided by certain aesthetic principles — vintage references, cleverness, cuteness, and so on. Although they didn’t necessarily take part in creating it, DIY consumers take ownership of their purchased homemade goods and want their product to be visibly divorced from corporate processes and to appear somewhat kitschy.
This counterintuitive DIY market, where others are engaging in DIY and selling their goods, is embodied by websites like Etsy, where consumers can purchase homemade wares from across the globe — from pineapple cozies to cane-toad-shaped leather coin purses.
DIY, in all its incarnations, represents the need for something more authentic than what consumerist culture can provide.
“That’s the cool hunt, the constant pursuit of shoe and fashion companies to hunt down the latest young urban styles that are being innovated. And the moment they do that is the moment that the actual cool people start running,” says Clark.
DIY is reintegrating into the mainstream by subverting the cool hunt, as crafty folks can recreate things they see in storefronts at lower costs at home or buy them homemade online.
Window-shopping, in this DIY ethic, takes on a whole new meaning. You don’t have to have the funds — you just have to have the idea. Rather than think, “I want that,” the DIY consumer contends, “I can make that.” Or, at least, someone else can.
1. Take a sheet of newspaper and roll it into a tube. Use a pen or pencil as a guide. You will need to make 24 of these tubes.
2. Secure the end of the tubes with tape.
3. Bend about one third of the tube towards the other end. Repeat with the rest of the tubes.
4. Pierce the flat end of one of the tubes with your sewing needle and thread.
5. Run the thread through the initial hole again, this will reinforce the thread and prevent it from falling through. Afterwards, you can begin to sew the rest of your tubes together.
6. Take a CD and place it in the middle of the starburst. The middle hole of the CD should line up with the starburst’s hole. This part is the back of the clock.
7. Take your battery-operated clock mechanism. Place the rod that supports the hands into the starburst and clear CD holes.
8. Place your prepunched circle on the clock mechanism, this will prevent your clock (or life jk) from falling apart.
9. Tightly screw on the nut.