Bret Liebendorfer has been a central figure in the Columbus DIY scene for the past 11 years. Besides being an active photographer and a founder of 15thhouse, Bret constantly documents all things DIY. He is an active photographer, produces zines, primarily “The Black Cloud”, which is also a blog, and is truly devoted to the advancement and enrichment of DIY culture and ideals. At shows, you can usually find at him at the highest altitude, clutching a camera that’s way too nice to be in a sweaty beer pit, surrounded by sweaty beer people smashing into each other. We met at Ace of Cups to discuss the past, present, and future of his works, as well as the Columbus DIY scene.
1. Describe “what you do” in 3 words…
“Photograph the Maniacs”
2. What does “DIY” mean to you?
“ DIY means control over your life, your entire life, not just entertainment or self expression. It can take different forms, and the possibilities are endless. Some equivalent words are freedom, autonomy, and self reliance.”
3. Do you consider “DIY” a movement or a scene?
“It’s both. Scenes are natural and just a collection of people. It doesn’t matter if its punk rockers, the garden club, or race car drivers. It often has a negative connotation because it implies conformity, which is indeed awful when you’re talking about doing things yourself. A movement is usually thought of in a better light because it implies changing your environment for the better. Far too often, however, movements start out good but become whatever it was they were trying to change.”
4. How did you become involved in said movement/scene?
“In high school, I went to one house show and one held in an American Legion hall and was amazed you could hold a concert on your own terms. Prior to that I assumed going to a concert meant buying an expensive ticket ahead of time, going to a giant concert venue where you were separated from the band you wanted to see, and there were strict rules you had to follow that took most of the fun out of the concert. In Columbus, I was looking for the DIY house scene even though I didn’t know what it was called or if it even existed here. I was hooked by a flyer on High Street for a show at The Legion of Doom, and I also got incredibly lucky by having a roommate in college who was into the same music as me and had a little experience with DIY culture while growing up in Dayton.”
5. Where do you see the movement/scene in 5 years? 10 years?
“That’s a tough one. I think Columbus is at a crossroad and could really go [in] any direction. Ten years ago there were few house shows and if you wanted to see a band you had to go to the bar. That’s not a slam on bars. One friend said years ago he preferred bar shows because you’re more likely to meet new people. Bar shows are much better nowadays, and I like the Carabar model.”
“Five years ago we created something amazing, something that was, [and] I’m not exaggerating, envied around the world, because we had such a variety of house shows and bands. It was welcoming to all types of people and placed an enthusiast on having fun instead of some stuffy, uptight values that tend to scare people off.”
“Columbus DIY is always dependent on the young kids. How they react to DIY culture is always unknown because it’s so different from what they know, but even though we’re in a down time right now, I have hope for the future because we have a strong foundation.”
6. What’s your favorite form of media?
“Picking your favorite form of media is like picking your favorite child. I believe all forms have value, and the ideal situation is when you have different types working together.”
7. What would you like to see more of coming out of Columbus?
“I would like to see more people doing more things – there’s a lot of people who do not contribute anything – and less of an emphasis on shows and partying. If you’re hanging out with the right group of
people anything can be fun, but too often all we do is see bands and get drunk. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still one of my favorite things to do, but I would like to branch out and do more.
8. Columbus has been on tips of tongues on a national level lately. Embrace or reject?
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting recognition for your success, but in almost every single scenario things get worse when they get big. That’s not me being pretentious and wanting to keep
things underground because it’s cool, but I think there are a lot of trappings that come from success you don’t realize until it’s too late. While I think we have to be careful, it’s important to grow because there are a lot of people – like myself when I grew up in a small town – that, through no fault of their own, do not have access to independent scenes.”
9. Bengals or Browns?
“Every football fan I’ve ever told this to gets angry, but I don’t have a favorite team. I just love watching football. Football is greatest team sport in the world, and the NFL puts out the best product largely because of the parody created from having a salary cap. Any team cannot only beat any other team in a given week, but in a year or two completely transform their standings. As for Ohio’s pro teams, I enjoy watching both young quarterbacks grow and the hope they give to their struggling cities. I also like their
violent running backs which are becoming increasingly obsolete in today’s pass-happy league.”
10. What is one thing you would change about Columbus?
“I would like Columbus to be less transient and have more of a community feel. It’s sad how few of the friends I made 11 years ago are still here. Too many friends have left searching for that permanent community. It’s possible if we would just all stay put!”
11. Any upcoming projects for the peeps to look forward to?
“There are too many projects and too little time to do all that I want. Over the winter I would like to redesign my blog and devote more energy to that. As for print, I want to pursue a book of my DIY show photos. A working title I have is “There are bands at this party?” borrowed from my friend Max. For some reason a big fat coffee table book sounds really satisfying to me. There’s also zines. I interviewed some awesome punk photographers from the early days a year-and-a-half ago that would make for a good edition. Lately I’ve been writing poetry, and I would like to put that out. I’m not sure how many of these things will become a reality. I keep a busy schedule and most of these projects were winter goals I had last year. Also, next summer there’s going to be a 15th House/Legion of Doom reunion show. Plans are still being decided, and if anyone’s interested there’s a Facebook page.”
To see more of Bret’s work, check out www.blackcloudphoto.wordpress.com