The underground is a balancing act: Word-of-mouth shows are meant to be open and free, but there needs to be some ground rules or all hell breaks loose. We want to have a good time, but not so much that it infringes on each other’s good time—how do we do this?
First, we have to define who underground events are for. They are for everybody. Everybody means the loud, the outgoing, the boisterous, but also the quiet, the anxious, the reserved. In order for these different energies to mingle cohesively, we have to simply start by being nice to each other. Or at least just don’t be an asshole.
And I’m not talking about the Golden Rule—fuck that shit. The Golden Rule says you should treat people how you want to be treated. Horseshit. You can’t be a hugger and force hugs on people who don’t want to be touched. You can’t be a carnivore and offer steak to a vegan. Instead, we need to treat people how they want to be treated.
In order to do this, we need to listen to each other. We can start by asking questions: How’d you hear about the event? What kind of music do you like? Letting people talk lets us know how they want to be treated. When we’re at a basement show or backyard concert, we need to pass the mic and listen.
Nothing gets my goat more than when I’m at a performance in an intimate space and someone in the crowd is talking loudly. This not only distracts the audience, it also trips up the performer. The trick for loud people (like myself) is that we should save that awesome, wild energy for the applause, intermission or after the show.
Then there are basic rules that shouldn’t have to be explained, but are broken anyways. Serious drug use, bigotry, prejudice and violence are where we draw the line. They have no place at inclusive, anyone-can-attend, word-of-mouth events. These things make people very uncomfortable and turn the event into an unwelcoming environment. In these cases, you must step up and address it. More on this in next issue’s column.
In the end, there aren’t many rules at underground events: Treat each other how they want to be treated, listen and don’t be an asshole. The Portland Underground may have a fuck-the-man attitude, but it’s not a fuck-each-other-over attitude. Damn the man and love each other.
Ollie Collins is the founder of the theater company Monkey With a Hat On and co-founder of the cannabis farm Fire Flower. Stay tuned for more of his thoughts on The Portland Underground in the next issue of Vortex.