Our Doomed Tie to the Thriving Local DIY Scene

Sloppyworld's announcement came first.

We'd written about the Exposition Park DIY venue twice in print: first in January, profiling it as a promising new local venue, and then again in February, this time because of its involvement with the Melodica Festival.

About a month later, Sloppyworld owner and operator John Freeman shut his venue's doors for good.

Freeman had suddenly found himself entangled in a mound of paperwork; the city had taken a surprise interest in his venue and noticed that Freeman hadn't successfully acquired the permits needed for a live music spot—which, yes, was something we mentioned in our initial profile.

Strawberry Fields' announcement was even more of a surprise. Just last week—one week after we'd spotlighted the record store in print as a cornerstone DIY venue in the Denton music scene—the store's owners sent out a MySpace bulletin alerting its friends to the news that they, too, would no longer be hosting shows. Their reason: a rent hike forcing the record store to move out of its current location.

So, yeah, each had their reasons for halting their show hosting.

But it's tough to ignore another thread running through each of these stories: Our coverage.

"I kind of noticed that too," Freeman says. "I don't necessarily think one had anything to do with the other, but it does seem like a strange coincidence."

Indeed. Had we stumbled onto some bizarre Dallas Observer curse? Or was there a legitimate connection between our reporting and the city's clampdown on Sloppyworld?

"No, not at all," says Maureen Milligan, the assistant city attorney who handled Sloppyworld's permit case. "I hadn't read anything about the scene until after I spoke with John, and he pointed it out to me."

Phew.

Likewise, Strawberry Fields' decision to stop shows had nothing to do with our coverage. Good to hear.

Still, the possibility that there could be a connection raises a bit of a conundrum.

We have a simple goal here in the music section: to objectively cover the local music scene to the best of our abilities. But we also have a rule: Don't get involved to the point of directly meddling with the scene.

Yes, there is a thriving, underground DIY scene running throughout the region—one that music fans in the area should be aware of. We get this. We know this.

But how can we cover this scene without potentially drawing damaging attention to it?

Tough to say.

Freeman, a sometime contributor to the Night and Day section of the Observer, isn't sure either.

"You can't just write about the House of Blues and the Palladium," he says. "You've got to write about the underground stuff because that's what's going on. Mentioning that a place doesn't have all its permits probably isn't a good thing, but press is press. I wanted it, and after the [first] story ran, a lot more people started showing up to our [Sloppyworld] shows. It's a Catch-22."

Evan Horn feels the same way. The 29-year-old Horn runs a house venue in Dallas that hosts shows about once a month.

"First, it started out as just me and my friends," he says. "And then it just got bigger and bigger. Soon I was able to invite bands I didn't know just because they wanted to be a part of that scene. Eventually, I was able to get bands to come that I really liked."

He's proud of the scene he's helped create at his home, quick to point out that a few national DIY magazines have approached him about writing features on his house shows. But he's also hesitant to discuss the shows at all. He wants interested people to participate in his scene, but he certainly doesn't want to see the location of his house venue—which doubles as his living space—showing up in the pages of the Observer. Yes, because it's his home, but also because he worries that coverage could mean that his house parties will go the way of Sloppyworld.

Freeman scoffs at this notion a bit.

"If it's a house party, no one's getting evicted," he says. "If it's a 'not fully legal' club, they are."

So where does this leave us? Shit, man. I don't know. Writing about them—in print, at least—does seem to put the survival of these DIY venues in jeopardy. But not writing about them...that's worse, right? What are we gonna do? Not cover a burgeoning facet of the local scene?

No, we will absolutely continue to cover the DIY scene, just as we have in the past.

Just don't be surprised if we do so a tad more cryptically in the future. Because we're not in the business of making code enforcers' jobs any easier. We're in the business of telling you what's worthwhile in local music.

This is our gift. And sometimes, this is our curse.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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