Last spring I saw a great show - two hip, young, up-and-comings from New York came in to Kent to perform. When bands come into your town, as the host band, it’s customary to make the touring band feel at home; you go to some record stores, you hit up the dive diners, you show them your gear, and you tell all of your friends about the show, so that there will be a good showing. Swap 7”’s. Provide PBR and a floor/couch to crash on.

For many [young] musicians, this is what it’s about. Most indie-rockers are completely qualified to hold office jobs, wear white collars, and work for ‘the man’, but the ones on the road will tell you: “Life’s not all about money, it’s about friendship, tours, and stories.”[1] After the show last spring, I talked to the travelers about the essence of being on the road. “You wouldn’t believe how many bands there are that are touring the country making just pennies a day with no chance of going anywhere…just for the love of music,” David Benjamin tells me.

Except that David Benjamin isn’t an indie-rocker [anymore]. He’s an architect. His “band” [with Soo-In Yang] is called The Living. They did not sleep on my floor. However, they are from New York [Columbia, Pratt] and we did show them around our studio [and look at the projects/gear we were working on/with]. We also swapped works [I think they got a t-shirt and the poster we’d designed, we received their Life Size books], shared a drink [not PBR], and throughout the day had hyped the show [lecture] to our friends.

From dabbling in both, I can attest: Architecture is closer to indie rock than one might think. What’s more interesting is that the similarities aren’t just skin deep. We’re not like indie rockers because architects are style conscious hipsters, but rather because as architects [and especially architecture students], we’re youthfully idealistic and have a refreshing apprehension for the corporate world that drives the industry. However, unlike our musical counterparts, we lack some steadfastness in maintaining our idealism in a tough industry. When it comes down to it, it’s easy to “sell out” and become one of them.

This is exactly why we should take note. Although lead holders aren’t exactly guitar picks, there are some pretty direct ways that we can look to the indie community for inspiration as youthful designers.

Reason 1: Indie Rockers hold concept and product in equally high regard.

Musicians in the indie community are interested in two main things: expressing themselves through music and sharing this expression with others. As designers, we have similar interests: creating and producing (the product, as the way in which we share our creations). Too often, architecture becomes a choice between concept and buidlability. As we work through problems, it’s easy to bend to one side or the other. If we’re working with tricky forms, we don’t worry about how the building might actually come together (precast concrete of course!). If we’re focusing on the fidelity of a wall detail, then our grand formal moves simplify into Revit-friendly forms. As designers, we should be dually focused on what our design means and how this meaning will be communicated. The Living, for example, use “flash projects” to exercise both creativity and production. By their definition, flash projects take a question and a set sum of money and develop a working prototype. In this sense, the flash project is similar to the musician’s demo - concept quickly developed into a tangible result for the sake of distribution.

Reason 2: The Indie Rock community operates on a DIY ethic.

As a musician with a low budget and high expectations, the best way to produce something is to do it yourself - with a bit of internet-savvy elbow grease and borrowed guidance. If you need a specific sound, borrow the gear you need. If you don’t know the best way to record a cello, call the one guy from the one band and ask how he did it on his album. DIY isn’t as much about doing everything yourself, as it is being personally accountable for what your produce. If you want it, then you do it. As designers, the best way to make our designs well rounded is to learn about the many aspects that go into a design. As students, now is the time to practice, or else in five years, you’ll wished you spent more time ‘building your chops.’ If you’re not good at structures, use your resources (books, teachers, colleagues) to get better. If you don’t know a program, find somebody who does and ask them to teach you. Likewise, promote cooperation by offering your services; you may end up on the liner notes.

Reason 3: The Indie-rock community is propelled by a humility, honesty, and respect.

Regardless of the band, after any set, the other bands on the bill will shake hands, and profusely compliment the performance. Indie-metal-heads will tell folk-guitarists how rad their set was and honestly mean it. For a split second, after any show, personal opinion is set aside and the focus is instead on celebrating the lifestyle and the art of music. The result of this isn’t only the feel-good nature of the moment, but that it brings different artists together and achieves a greater good. Bands will swap shows in hometowns, which leads to swapping music, talking shop, and generally making new friends. While critique exists, it’s always in the positive vain and delivered with tact and with a stylistically open mind. The way to succeed in the indie community is through being friendly and showing respect to everybody else.

Then there’s architecture. Even our closest studio friends aren’t immune to the snarky comments we unleash in the back row of a review. Too often, our Northeast Ohio Sense-Of-Eternal-Mediocraty takes over and it’s easier to cut down everybody than pull anybody up. We can be cut-throat in the worst way, emulating our professors and jurors instead of being compassionate and helpful towards our colleagues. Sure, maybe comic sans is pretty third grade but the best way to handle this is through tact and honesty. If your bandmate was playing out of tune, you’d tell them – it makes everybody sound better.

[1]Sean Gardner of Winter Makes Sailors notes in “It’s Not About You” – www.myspace.com/wintermakessailors

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