On Durham and identity
grady at ibiblio.org
Wed Apr 4 21:17:43 EDT 2007
I dunno, the external perception of Durham in some circles may be
hardcore, but in a lot of areas I think it's really like a giant
Carrboro with housing prices that are actually in line with the
vintage/condition of the houses. Mix of aging hippies & young familes.
Sure, Durham has some supremely poverty-stricken areas, and some streets
that are crime-ier than others, but I don't really know that many
musicians who're doing the urban pioneer thing in that sense.
But yes, maybe the "feel" of Durham as more "gritty" (that term comes up
a lot, from all sides) is appealing. Or maybe it's just that the
inexpensive housing, due to the vicissitudes of urban un/development, is
in closer proximity to interesting stuff, whether it be downtown, or the
Roxboro taqueria belt, or just interesting old architecture.
I certainly feel more "at home" in Durham (I should mention that I don't
live there, though I've done a radio show there for ~12 years, many of
my friends live there, and I'm likely moving there next year . . . I
currently live in Chatham County, which is a whole other discussion)
than in the other towns around. Chapel Hill/Carrboro seems too evenly
divided between rich people and college students; Raleigh feels more
like Charlotte every day, sadly. People in Durham feel more like people.
I guess I'd get back to what I said earlier, about it being kind of a
tabula rasa, but I'll phrase it differently: Durham feels kind of
"anything-goes," but in a positive sense. Not wild west like Deadwood
(although there's a running "cocksucker!" gag among certain Durham
bands), but like this sense of untapped possibility. I think in order
for that to pay off, there has to be a critical mass of people willing
to say "yes! thank you for trying whatever crazy experiment you're
trying!" and I would argue that this critical mass of freaks has only
recently (past 3-5 years) grown to the point that it has become clearly
visible to non-Durhamites.
So, say, 10 years ago, Jim Kellough could open his Modern Museum in a
basement off Foster Street, and have some amazing installation-art
shows, and get a steady stream of Durhamites stopping by, but that
stream might only add up to maybe 100 people seeing the show over the
course of a few weeks. He was cool with that, the artists were cool with
that. But (despite an Indy arts award), the ripples didn't necessarily
travel that far out into the Triangle (or even into Durham-at-large).
Contrast that with the crazy overflow crowds at the Rousse installations
So what is it about Durham that makes people so willing to come out for
the weird/interesting stuff? I kind of feel like it has been this slow
process of self-selection over the past dozen years, as layer upon layer
of adventurous people moved to Durham & it thus became slightly more
attractive to each additional layer.
The DDI and the American Tobacco people like to congratulate themselves
on all their hard work & all the money they've invested to accelerate
this process, but the attractiveness of Durham to the true "creative
class" (as vs. the faux creative class of advertising executives--sorry,
Kevin) began before DDI came on the scene, and I don't think it has
really been positively impacted (at least not directly) by all the new
See also: the article in the Indy by Kate Dobbs Ariail a couple of
months ago, about Scientific Properties & the redevelopment of one of
the oldschool downtown Durham "creative class" buildings, leaving some
of the earlier generation of Durham pioneers kinda out in the cold.
(I read something disturbing the other day: is it true that one of the
Scientific Properties principals developed some mini mansions on the
site of the bulldozed Catalano House?)
As re: your other points, regarding gender/politics/etc . . . I dunno,
Internationalist & the Weaver Street Crowd are pretty hard to ignore
when you're in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, at least if you're a member of
their potential constituency, so I don't know that Durham has anything
over them in terms of visibility per se.
Which isn't to cast Durham as at all lacking in that area, although the
current crop of commie bookstores & collaboratives in Durham are mostly
mere pups compared to the 26-year-old Internationalist.
But that may be part of the point, if I can be allowed to come back &
belabor what has become my core idea one more time: Durham seems like
more of a fertile ground for DIY, maybe *because* there is the
perception that (a) it hasn't already been done [better] by a bunch of
rich assholes in tie-dye driving volvos who'd be more than happy to tell
you what a shitty job you're doing, and (b) there are people who will
come out & support what you're doing.
Note bene, however, that one of the oldest examples of left-wing DIY
cooperative whatever-ness in Durham, the Durham Food Co-op, is in the
midst of an awful internal struggle that has basically pitted one group
(the ones who want to run it like a business, in the sense of not being
horribly in debt, but also in the sense of a level of
efficiency/organization that really offends some people) against another
group of folks who still want to think of it as a co-op in all
connotations of the term, good and bad.
And some other group of people who just wanna argue, apparently,
although I will confess I've avoided it entirely after hearing the
horror stories of a friend who used to work there.
I'd be interested to hear from all the Durham musicians who were Durham
musicians back before all this attention began.
p.s. I can picture hardcore, of one kind or another, happening all over
the Triangle . . . I've certainly seen it in house shows & small clubs
in all three towns at one time or another. Now you've got me missing the
Fallout Shelter again.
Joel Peck wrote:
> Cheap housing is not a new concept, but I don't think cheap housing is the
> same everywhere.
> Does Durham, arguably more "hardcore" in terms of its neighborhoods and
> socio economics, provide an environment more apt to the "punk/hardcore"
> aesthetic? Is there more visibility in terms of gender, sexual orientation,
> and political leanings? Does Durham have a unique "More than Music" approach
> in terms of hosting discourse, DIY workshops, political gatherings, et al?
> It seems Durham is more DIY than Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Raleigh
> combined. Thoughts?
> On a side note: one of my favorite political hardcore bands, Born Against,
> have a youtube clip from a Durham show in 1992 or so. I don't know the
> circumstances for why they played there, but I can't picture them anywhere
> else in the Triangle. Was anyone there?
>> From: grady <grady at ibiblio.org>
>> Reply-To: RTP-area local music and culture <ch-scene at lists.ibiblio.org>
>> To: RTP-area local music and culture <ch-scene at lists.ibiblio.org>
>> Subject: Re: On Durham and identity
>> Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2007 15:35:30 -0400
>> Umm, I think so many groups are self-identifying as Durham bands because
>> their members live in Durham. Root cause: for some folks, it's the most
>> affordable place to live, and for a lot of folks, it's the most
>> desireable place to live. I stopped counting a long time ago the number
>> of my friends who'd moved to Durham from the other points in the Triangle.
>> So if you're trendspotting, the trend started at least a half-dozen
>> years ago, and it's called "musicians like cheap housing."
>> As for the question about t-shirts, well, I guess you just haven't seen
>> the Carrboro t-shirts, or the OCSC t-shirts. Given the longstanding
>> basketball/rock connection in Chapel Hill, I'd say any UNC
>> basketball-related t-shirt would probably count for Chapel Hill.
>> Are you asking "why does Durham have such uncanny self-esteem-boosting
>> T-shirts?" Because the answer to that is pretty much "James & Michelle
>> Lee," and if you start asking "why James & Michelle Lee," I'm not sure
>> that there's an answer for that. Other than, getting back to point A,
>> musicians like cheap housing. Where else could they afford to operate
>> such a sprawling enterprise as 305 South?
>> There are other folks whose outsized level of involvement/boosterism
>> sort of singlehandedly makes Durham seem more "together" or "organized"
>> or "scene-like" [than it actually is]: Melissa Thomas at 307 Knox, and
>> certainly Chaz. Shannon Morrow moved back to Durham from Chicago (though
>> before she moved to Chicago, she was living in Carrboro, so there ya go)
>> & started the Scene of the Crime Rovers.
>> What do all *these* people have in common? Maybe that they like the idea
>> of being able to get something done more or less singlehandedly, or with
>> a small group of co-conspirators. Durham seems like a tabula rasa,
>> culture-wise, at least to youngish white-ish indie-rockers. Check out
>> that article in the Indy from a couple of weeks ago about the NCCU jazz
>> program & you'll see that Durham isn't really such a clean slate, but
>> when it comes to youth culture, all it takes is a fallow period of a
>> couple of years to wipe everything pretty clean.
>> Maybe another thing they have in common is the good old fashioned
>> punkrock ideal that community is a good thing, and that building
>> community is an end unto itself. Obviously there are some folks who have
>> slightly different ideas (i.e. the Troika folks who like to salt the
>> festival lineup with a few out-of-towners), but even they do what they
>> do by and large for the sake of the community, rather than out of some
>> quest for larger fame/fortune.
>> But then I think you'd have to go all the way to Charlotte to really
>> find anybody who was desperately seeking fame via indie-rock. Oh, well,
>> I guess there are those guys from Raleigh who bought a tour bus to live
>> in while they wait for their ship to come in, Airiel Down, but they're
>> an aberration even for Raleigh.
>> The thing about people who like the idea of a close-knit community, is
>> that they tend to seek out other people who also like that idea. Couple
>> that with real estate that's cheap enough for peeps to be able to afford
>> to open something like BCHQ . . .
>> I hope you don't have some thesis in mind regarding sharp distinctions
>> between the various towns, or anything like adversarial relationships
>> between the towns, the clubs, or the bands. Periodically people try to
>> advance some notion that there is some level of competition or
>> something, but if there is, it's isolated almost entirely to the annual
>> WXDU/WXYC kickball game. There may be the occasional crackpot who sees
>> things as a zero-sum game where somebody's gotta lose, but I would
>> strongly caution you against extrapolating from them to anything bigger.
>> Or before you do, talk to Chaz & ask him how many Raleigh bands have
>> played his store and/or Bull City HQ. Or talk to DJ Stevo at WKNC & ask
>> him how he feels about bands from Durham & Chapel Hill. That dude loves
>> *everybody* & he works his butt off to prove it.
>> Anyway. The more I think about it, the more I come back to point A:
>> cheap real estate makes for countercultural magic. This is not a new
>> Nor, for that matter, is the converse, which is that expensive real
>> estate can kill the countercultural magic. Just look at Raleigh. Goodbye
>> Kings, goodbye Bickett Gallery.
>> betsyshane at gmail.com wrote:
>>> Hey Alt.music.CH
>>> I'm a student at Duke and am writing a paper about the indie rock
>>> scene in the Triangle, with a particular focus on Durham identity. I
>>> was hoping I could maybe spark a little conversation or a little
>>> interest to email back and forth about what it means to be a member of
>>> the community, either as a fan, a band member, an info center,
>>> whatever the case may be.
>>> I'm interested in exploring what exactly it means to be a "Durham
>>> band" since the proliferation of so many groups claiming this lately,
>>> as well as what it means to be part of the Durham scene, and how (or
>>> if) this differs from say, being part of the Raleigh scene or the
>>> Chapel Hill scene (and being a Raleigh band or CH band). I wonder
>>> what *you* think of when you think of Durham (and be completely
>>> honest) or if you ever think of it at all. Why does Durham have tee
>>> shirts and no other town does? What's the pride all about?
>>> I'll keep an eye out and hope I get some replies.
>>> -- ch-scene: the list that mirrors alt.music.chapel-hill --
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