Before it was silenced on New Year's Eve 2002, Cleveland's Speak in Tongues had become one of the most renowned D.I.Y. clubs in the country. Located for eight years at 4311 Lorain Avenue, S.I.T. was up there with such prominent arts/music collectives as New York City's ABC No Rio and Oakland's Gilman St. Over 1,600 bands played the spot, ranging from German IDM impresarios Oval to post-punk fashionistas the Make-Up. All shows cost $5, all ages were welcome, and all the money went straight to the bands.
"Speak In Tongues had a national reputation among other D.I.Y. spaces and bands/performers," says indie filmmaker Matthew T., who was a member of the S.I.T. collective. "Every type of music and art was represented by at least one member. Everyone was free to book shows. It was a community, and we looked out for each other."
Speak in Tongues was shuttered when the owner of the building sold the space out from under the collective. Shortly thereafter, Cleveland's D.I.Y. scene went from boom to bust. This year has seen several like-minded clubs close their doors. Most recently, Fort Totally Awesome, a basement spot located at 2097 West 98th Street, was shut down by police because of noise complaints made throughout its one-year run. Prior to the Fort's demise, Olmsted Falls' Toxic Shock was closed just months after it opened, due to the venue's quickly falling into a state of poor repair, while Mantis, Kent's long-running club, was shut down by authorities last spring as a result of safety concerns.
But keeping D.I.Y. clubs like these open is essential to both the continuing development and the diversity of the local music community. D.I.Y.s are havens for teens outside the bar circuit, places where fans can go to avoid rock clubs' high-priced drinks and burly bouncers. Moreover, the clubs are crucial outlets for up-and-coming bands and experimental groups. By booking acts regardless of whether they can fill the place, D.I.Y.s showcase young and unorthodox bands without the baggage that often comes with playing more traditional venues.
"D.I.Y. spaces won't make you sell tickets or sign contracts," says Jason Chuma, singer-bassist with the rising Cleveland hardcore band Collapse. "They're the only places where music happens for its own sake."
Preserving Cleveland's D.I.Y. scene begins with funding. By catering to underground acts and eschewing profits, the clubs are difficult to make work financially. Cleveland has been notoriously tightfisted, but other cities offer monetary support to community-based art/music organizations. The Pittsburgh-based Mr. Roboto's Project, one of the most successful D.I.Y.s in the region, has blossomed with financial assistance.
"As of late, the city of Pittsburgh has been somewhat financially conducive to D.I.Y. ventures," says Joseph Wilk, who books shows at Mr. Roboto's. "Part and parcel to this has been the sudden insurgence of grant money into the D.I.Y. arena. For instance, the Sprout Fund [a grant program for youth-initiated projects] was instrumental in the recent opening of Project 1877, a radical community/arts/venue space in the city."
Of course, in order to win this kind of funding in Cleveland, the D.I.Y. community first needs to improve its behavior. Fans, for instance, have to stop smashing toilets and kicking holes in the walls, and start treating D.I.Y. venues as the valuable resource they are.
"Above all, people respecting the place is one of the biggest issues, because that connects everything," says Ray Terry, frontman for Cleveland hardcore favorites Allergic to Whores. "If people respect your place, they stay inside, they don't cause trouble, and then the city doesn't have a reason to come crack down on you. But if you've got people drinking outside, starting fights, or vandalizing, your neighbors don't want to have to deal with that, and they call the cops."
By cutting down on such self-defeating antics, the D.I.Y. scene would be much better suited to landing the kind of financial support from the city that it deserves.
"The groundwork has already been laid," says Brian Straw, a Cleveland indie singer-songwriter who was also a member of Speak in Tongues. "I see so many vacant spaces around Cleveland every day, and I just wish we were still doing shows.
"It really just takes one individual to put the idea in motion," Straw adds. "Who is that person?"
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