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Punk Rock WIth Political Talk / The basement Do-It-Yourself scene rejectes materialism and the usual boy-meet-girl pop lyrics

It's an unfinished basement, all wood paneling and rugged

floors, a "Stop Racism" sticker plastered among others on the walls.

Ren's basement

The lighting is dim, the low-slung ceiling just a foot above most of the

bobbing heads of about a dozen teenagers and 20-somethings, largely unshaven

white males in plaid shirts and worn-out jeans.

A metal container labeled "Donations" is filled with a few crumpled dollar

bills on this quiet Friday night. On the door is a poster for a documentary:

"Between Resistance & Community: The Long Island Do-It-Yourself Punk Scene."

That is them.

Three young men stand at the far end of the basement, poised to perform.

Eighteen-year-old Matt Winn is on the synthesizer. Behind him is Jesse Vargas,

19, on the drums, and Mike Campbell, 18, on bass guitar.

Kiwi, the local punk band calls itself.

Soon, the loud, harsh chords fill the basement and Winn screams

indecipherable lyrics into a microphone. More people walk in - including one

woman. The spectators start nodding their heads to the music, tapping their

feet. One man is pumping his hands wildly, thrashing about.

Between songs the band members yell out to their friends, who shout back.

They kid, smile and laugh between sometimes biting words, often blasting the

world around them.

"We hate the pigs because the pigs hate us," Winn screams in the band's

last song.

Inglorious, yes. But here in the basement of his parents' house in

Lynbrook, 19-year-old Ren Khodzhayev has been hosting underground punk concerts

for the past three years. It is a local haunt for this tight-knit group that

shares a passion for punk music, for shunning the corporate culture and

voracious consumerism around it, and for creating its own space, its own

community.

The young adults are part of a loose international network of politically

edged, punk rock aficionados commonly referred to as DIY or Do-It-Yourself.

"We try to create our own space rather than going to some club that's going

to charge you a ton of money," said Winn, of Islip, a high school senior. "A

DIY show has a sense of community. We're all kind of together, all hanging out,

all friends."

The goal is the opposite of perfectly packaged MTV rock and roll. Winn

recalls going to a concert recently that pegged itself as punk.

"It was totally a carbon copy of MTV bands," he said. "Everybody was

wearing Abercrombie & Fitch shirts. They were all buying CDs and shirts. I felt

like I was in a mall.

"This is our alternative to going to the mall," he added. "It's about

creating, not consuming."

Ask DIY followers to describe their movement, a largely suburban

phenomenon, and you will get a pause, a struggle for words to pinpoint their

way of life.

"I don't know," said Khodzhayev, who graduated from Lynbrook High School

last year and works part time at a local library. "This is so ingrained in me.

I don't even think about it."

It's a life that consists of shunning the staples of suburban life

surrounding them - clubs and proms, malls and brand-name clothes. Instead, they

reclaim the parking lots of strip malls around them as spaces of their own.

There are Friday night kickball games in the Tower Records parking lot in

Huntington and Dumpster diving for perfectly edible food at Trader Joe's and

Dunkin' Donuts.

There are trips to thrift stores and second-hand music shops and a concert

in a Kinko's parking lot where bands hook up to generators before getting

kicked out by police.

And there is what binds them, the music. Theirs is a homespun sound that

involves putting on their own shows, publicizing through low-key fliers and Web

sites, such as www.wusb.org/ub, and creating their own record labels and

distros (DIY lingo for online distributors).

Alex DeCarli, an 11th-grade student at Northport High School, recently

hosted his first basement concert and just formed a booking collective to start

DIY shows at the Huntington YMCA.

"We're trying to break away from consumer culture," he said. "We're trying

to be able to have a band, book your own tour, and put out your own record

without having to rely on the big corporation. And being able to do all these

things the way you want to do them."

A large part of the music's appeal involves its political lyrics touching

on everything from corporate culture to racism and sexism to staying positive.

Khodzhayev recalls going to see Contra, a punk band, when he was 13 and

just falling in love with the music.

"They were the first ones to talk about vegetarianism or anything about

politics, from feminism to anarchism," he said, comparing Contra to

contemporary mainstream bands. "They were the first ones to sing about anything

aside from girls."

DIYers also pride themselves on low-key, intimate concerts, where band

members and spectators often sing and dance within inches of each other.

"We're breaking away from having the separation between the band and the

crowd," said DeCarli. "We're trying to take away that division."

Even Khodzhayev's father, Victor, is a fan of DIY punk and the shows that

take place in his family's house.

"I like this music," he said, adding that he goes into the basement at

least once during every show. "I like these guys. They are very good kids."

The Long Island DIY scene is part of an international network that traces

its roots to the flourishing punk scene in England in the late 1970s and '80s,

said Stephen Duncombe, who has written about DIY 'zines and teaches history and

the politics of media studies at New York University's Gallatin School. The

moniker DIY came from the hardware stores in England, he said.

"It really was an ethic born out of necessity," said Duncombe. "No one was

really interested in punk rock culture at that time.... So the only way to

express yourself was to actually create your own culture."

This ethic developed into an ideology rebelling against consumer culture,

Duncombe said, and against the "slickly produced rock and roll."

In the United States, punk rock culture is akin to hip-hop for a more

suburban and white crowd, he said. So in a land where Roosevelt Field Mall is a

local landmark, it's no surprise that such teenage rebellion would flourish.

"What shopping malls really are are many, many stores catered to your

demographic, telling you what culture you're supposed to like," said Duncombe.

"DIY is rebelling against that. You're not going to define what culture I like.

I am."

The unusual thing about the DIY Long Island scene is its cohesiveness,

which is one focus of a VHS documentary chronicling it over the summer of 2001.

The Long Island DIY scene is also the subject of a chapter in a book

released this year by Perseus Publishing, "Branded: The Buying and Selling of

Teenagers" by Alissa Quart, a Manhattan-based writer.

"To me it was this kind of zone where they were free of the mall and a lot

of the other norms and restrictions of teenage life," said Quart of the

basement concerts. "They were trying to create their own space."

The "Resistance and Community" documentary, created by three former Long

Island DIYers of Huntington's Walklor Productions, chronicles a fallout between

the DIY group and one band, On the Might of Princes, when it accepted a

contract with a major label, Revelation Records.

Adam Vargas, 22, who plays bass guitar with The Lazer, still feels betrayed.

"It was a big disappointment in the way that they had always pretended that

they never had any intentions of doing that," recalled Vargas, who used to

host concerts with his two brothers at their Port Jefferson home. "It was like

they used us as a vehicle for that."

The documentary also reveals the predominance of white, straight males in

the Long Island DIY scene.

Laura Waldman, 17, a senior at North Shore High School in Glen Head,

attends about one DIY show a month, frequently in Ren's basement. The fact that

about 70 percent of the audience is male "seems kind of ridiculous," she

admitted.

"I think part of it is, like, culturally, men are more encouraged to be

loud, and this music is very loud and very raw," said Waldman. "Also, this is

not very publicized. It's the kind of thing that really grows by word of mouth."

Still, the instant intimacy of the group is what binds them. Waldman

recalls the remarkable friendliness from her early days of attending concerts

in Garden City, when virtual strangers offered her rides to the train station

or home.

But the insular nature of the DIY crowd is something that its participants

address and hope to change, especially since building an inclusive community is

what they're all about.

"We want to build a safe space where everybody can feel comfortable and not

have to worry about feeling different," DeCarli said. "You go to high school

and, like, everybody makes fun of each other. If you're different, people are

not going to accept it."

Universal acceptance is seen on road trips across the country, where bands

depend on strangers.

During winter and summer breaks from school, Campbell has gone on four U.S.

tours, where he played in sundry kids' living rooms and basements, and got

food and shelter in return.

"We're not trying to make a living off our music," said Campbell, a senior

at Walt Whitman High School and member of three DIY bands. "That's just making

a job out of something you love. You lose the passion and thrill of it."

For some DIYers, producing music is a political act in itself. But for

many, their activism is not limited to music.

The DIY scene overlaps with Free Space, a Huntington-based, not-for-profit

group trying to open a youth center. Many also participate in anti-war protests

and Food Not Bombs, a group that distributes food to local needy people.

The irony that many of these DIYers who shun materialism come from middle-

or upper-class families is not lost on them.

That has left those like Khodzhayev struggling to figure out what to do

next in life. Khodzhayev, who still lives in his parents' Lynbrook home,

recently returned from a family vacation in Hawaii.

"It's one of the last few times I'm sure I'll get a paid vacation," he said.

Nearly a year out of high school, he now finds himself at a crossroads, not

sure of where to go next or how to preserve the DIY culture that his basement

embodies.

"The problem with Long Island and especially DIY culture is kids can't

afford to live this lifestyle and become an adult," he said. "No one knows what

the hell to do when you get older," he says, pausing.

"We have no examples."

In the meantime, Khodzhayev will continue to host his basement concerts, an

institution for this tiny sliver of Long Island's young adult population.

And for some time, however much longer it lasts for them, sweaty teenagers

and 20-somethings will dance messily and holler at the top of their lungs. In

this space, their space. Ren's basement.

Dumpster A la Diner

Dumpster diving. The words conjure up images of homeless people scraping

through trash cans and bins for discarded food.

Try middle-class Long Island teenagers and 20-somethings scouring for

perfectly good food that for whatever reason lands in garbage bins at the end

of the day.

For those in the DIY (Do It Yourself) punk rock scene, Dumpster diving is a

hobby of sorts, a sport that aligns with their principles, their way of

thinking: That food should not go to waste. That a free meal is a wonderful

thing.

"I've eaten plenty of meals from Dumpsters," said Laura Waldman, a senior

at North Shore High School in Glen Head who attends DIY music shows and is

involved in other artistic and political groups as well.

The 17-year-old has retrieved bagels and corn muffins. She's feasted on

mushrooms and fruit. "We even made apple crisp once" from discarded

ingredients, Waldman said proudly.

Waldman and her friends usually go to the Dunkin' Donuts or grocery stores

near her Sea Cliff home. Closing time, around 10 p.m., is best, when they rifle

through the Dumpsters with flashlights.

Trader Joe's specialty grocery and health food stores are also favorites.

"They always have throwaways," Ren Khodzhayev, 19, said of Trader Joe's.

"Breads, cookies. I've gotten soy nuggets."

Pizza places are good, too, he said.

When Khodzhayev goes on tour, it's not unusual for his bandmates - he's in

three groups - to get a majority of their meals from Dumpsters. "So much food

gets wasted every day," he said. "Why go pay for pizza when you can get three

pizzas for free?"

Phil Douglas, 21, who plays guitar and sings in the band Latterman, agreed.

The Huntington resident says some states, such as Florida, are better for

Dumpster diving than others.

"Any place that doesn't have compactors is better," he said.

There are limits to Dumpster diving, Douglas noted. Dairy products are out,

or anything that's spoiled or quickly perishable. Half-eaten hamburgers or

food that's been opened is a no-no.

"We basically just sort of take advantage of the waste that stores create,"

he said. "It's usually sealed stuff."

Waldman looks to the Dumpster for more than just food. She's found a whole

treasure trove of objects in the garbage - books, baseball cards, shelves.

"Strange things kind of turn up in Dumpsters," she said.

Some of the odds and ends she incorporates into her art.

Garbage transformed into art, she said, can be a beautiful thing.

-Sumathi Reddy

Music With a Message

Excerpts from lyrics by the DIY band Kiwi:

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Sleep?

This is about doing the impossible, because it's

-- possible. It's about doing what they said couldn't be done, and watching

the world go on and on.

It's about having the best time of your life while you're poor; it's about

creating your own space; it's about booking your own tours. It's about finding

a real community, and it's about you and it's about me. This is all about fun

and revolution. It's about changing the world while changing ourselves. And

this is for the kids in the basements all across the United States. It's about

having a good time with my friends.

Untitled

I don't want to live at the end of an assembly line; I don't want to feel

like my life's just half mine. When you live that way who gets the other half?

Nike, McDonald's, your boss and the Gap. -- those corporations for the people

they enslave through forced slave labor and all their crooked ways. Every time

I wake up it all just looks the same: Another beaming smile and another

product's name. And if that's all they can offer us, well to me it's just not

enough to put on their products and cover up what's inside you and me. Another

victim of cut throat marketing; it's so much less than what we could be.

Excerpts from lyrics by the DIY band The Lazer:

Professional Driver

One more -- up wasted nite in suburbia.

One more pointless walk to nowhere, take the same road every time.

It's paved with glass. To smash. And friends to leave behind.

(They said) Rudy can't fail. But I've got a few reasons to believe that

they're wrong. But what can I do but scream the words along.

'Cos the only hope I got is that tomorrow's gonna be okay. Things might

Work out the way I planned.

What do ya do when there's nothing left for you?

Curling Up by a Warm Fire

With Jay Miellie and a Good Book

I guess I'm the kind of guy you can pick apart and criticize; I guess

this is where I say -- you

Seems like some people will do just about anything for a cheap ego boost

No matter what yer doin', someone's gonna be there to bring you down.

Analyze every -- thing,

Just ignore their own insecurities, we all got them.

See you standin' there in the corner with your overconfident smile

Hidin' behind other people's flaws and

imperfections;

What are ya hidin' anyway?

Nor Can Clean His Own Parking Lot

Tonite we're gonna play out in the streets

Just you and me all nite

Tonite's a nite for Dumpster diving, donut fights.

Tonite's a night for healing, though we may all feel well.

Every nite we need healing, 'cos every day

We're put thru hell.

Cub rip off.

We'll rebel against society, with all our nite games.

We're not gonna listen to them, or what they say.

We'll do it our own way.

Feedback

Do commercialism and the consumer culture corrupt young people, as the DIY punk

rockers contend?

Mail your brief reply - or comments about anything in this section - to Kim

Nava-Fiorio, Feedback, LI Life, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4250. Or

e-mail lilife@newsday.com with "feedback" in the subject field. Please include

your name, community and phone number. Responses may be edited; letters become

property of Newsday and may be used in all media.

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