DePaul University College of Communication > Faculty & Staff > Faculty Focus > DePaul's Punk Rock Professor on the Importance of 'Doing It Yourself'

DePaul's Punk Rock Professor on the Importance of 'Doing It Yourself'

Daniel Makagon grew up in basements of punk shows and has decades of experience in the underground world of DIY punk. Makagon is an associate professor in DePaul's College of Communication where he teaches counterculture, artistic initiative and active engagement with media. (DePaul University/Deanna Williams)
Daniel Makagon grew up in basements of punk shows and has decades of experience in the underground world of DIY punk. Makagon is an associate professor in DePaul's College of Communication where he teaches counterculture, artistic initiative and active engagement with media. (DePaul University/Deanna Williams)
Article by Kyle Morrell,
Newsline
The year was 1991 and the city was Los Angeles, and Daniel Makagon was broadcasting from KXLU, the student radio station at Loyola Marymount University. Sitting with him in the studio were Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain, who were there for an interview. They were still a burgeoning band in the music scene, and they had brought an advanced cassette with them to promote an upcoming album. Makagon played the tape, and in that pivotal moment became the first person to ever play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the radio."

That was an interesting turning point for alternative music, because all around the country, suddenly everyone was looking for the next Nirvana," says Makagon. But his involvement in the scene goes a lot farther back than 1991. A punk devotee since he was ten years old, Makagon understood at an early age that punk wasn't just music, but a movement. Makagon has been a professor in DePaul's College of Communication since 2005, and currently teaches several classes about DIY music culture and production - DIY meaning, natch, "do-it-yourself."

When most people think of DIY, their mind usually drifts to home improvement, but DIY isn't so much a thing done as it is a way of doing, and it transcends the scope of any one particular scene or movement. DIY, Makagon says, is more ideological than tangible, and it's very deeply ingrained in American society in particular. He points to both the strong sense of individualism in American culture as well as the mythologization of alternative narratives like Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

"Historically, there's this sense that we can do things ourselves," Makagon says. "There's an attraction to people who want to live outside the mainstream normal bubble - the rebels with or without causes - and we can either live vicariously through them, or try to incorporate some of these models shown to us into our own lives. The idea that you can be free in a way, that becomes a very enticing narrative.

"In essence, DIY means talking back to one's cultural landscape rather than just listening. It means producing instead of just consuming, and figuring out how to really express oneself that way in a larger context. DIY can be radical and subversive, but it can also be very personal."

It's mostly about how to take initiative, and why that initiative matters, on a cultural, economic, social and political level," Makagon says.

As far as that subversive expression and initiative goes, Makagon has seen it nowhere better than in the nationwide world of underground punk and DIY house shows.

Makagon has been catching punk shows ever since he was a kid, and as he got older, he wound up taking a variety of industry jobs. After graduating from Loyola Marymount, Makagon found himself working for Thirsty Ear, an independent promotion company and record label in New York City, before moving back to Los Angeles to work as a talent scout for another label's artists and repertoire division. From city to city and job to job, though, Makagon never lost sight of what makes punk so powerful.

"The thing that makes pure punk is a commitment to DIY - a commitment to some sort of social change, a commitment to independent thought and a freedom from corporate and political pressures on the music," he says.

As devoted an emissary as Makagon is for punk culture, when it comes to teaching about DIY, he says that the music itself isn't necessarily what matters. He believes that anyone, regardless of interest in underground music scenes, can glean a vital lesson from the gumption of DIY.

"I'm not necessarily interested in people being converted to fans of DIY, or underground or punk music," Makagon says. "I'm interested in them understanding how independent music production and consumption happens, and then what that means for us as consumers and citizens, and as people who can make culture versus strictly consuming culture."

Makagon's third book, Underground: The Subterranean Culture of Punk House Shows, draws upon his first-hand knowledge of DIY and punk, as well as ethnography and extensive interviews, to explore, at detailed length, the significance and history of the American DIY punk touring network. It was published in September 2015.