Thursday, May 1, 2014


I wasn't always in to food.  Obviously I consumed food from a very early age because otherwise I'd have died quite quickly from malnutrition but I wasn't IN TO IT like I am now.  No my first real love was music and although I flirted with britpop, dabbled in alt-rock and spent considerable time listening to a number of shoe-gazing guitar bands my heart definitely belonged to punk rock from the age of fifteen years old. Specifically when my oldest friend in the world gave me a c90 tape that subtly nudged the course of my life, I still remember it well.  Now then, when people use the phrase punk rock it evokes (to most people) images of leather jacket sporting, two foot mohican wearing, safety pin aesthetic, uber punks throwing Newcastle Brown Ale bottles through the window of Woolworths (RIP) while listening to Anarchy In The UK on repeat forever.  Well I hate the Sex Pistols, I'm not bothered about The Clash and I'm disinterested in The Damned, they don't really have much to do with the musical world I love.  I'm more interested in a strain of punk rock not bound together by a musical style but linked by a similar appreciation for reducing the barriers between the artist and the audience, for removing the leeches from that chain that are only there to make money without contributing anything of value in an effort to benefit everyone else who actually cares about producing something good.  All those ideas and practices come together nicely under the term 'DIY ethic'.
For me the first band to embody these ideals and make a huge impression on my teenage psyche was Fugazi. For anyone who hasn't heard of the band (and I wouldn't hold it against you if you hadn't) they were formed in late eighties Washington DC when the hardcore punk scene was falling apart and in particular they emerged from the disintegration of punk legends Minor Threat (instigators of a seriously hardcore way of life 'straight edge').  They played post-hardcore music which, while it retained the thrashy, loud, aggressive beats that many punk rock bands had emitted in the past decade, was treading it's own ground incorporating more complex structures straying in to jazz rhythms and experimental vocal lines. That said, if I'm being honest it wasn't their music which captured my imagination (until years later), it was instead how they lived their lives.

Fugazi are famous for not being famous after repeatedly turning down six figure major label deals in favour of recording, producing and distributing their own music as well as running minimal tours designed to keep their ticket prices at $5.  The record label which formed in Fugazi's wake Dischord Records didn't deal in music contracts, each artist was advanced exactly the same amount of cash to create their record and then the profits were split equally going forward between the label and the artist.  They achieved widespread critical and decent financial success without making money for somebody else, without compromising their music and without exploiting the consumers of their art.

Skip forward a decade to the nineties to a Yorkshire teenager with a bedroom full of c90 tapes looking at this idea of doing everything yourself without any help from 'the man', an idea that promotes the creation of mutually beneficial communities of like minded people who are all striving to create something that might not have the same polish as a manufactured product but displays heart and passion in spades.  I liked that idea and the best thing about the DIY ethic is that when you are drawn to it you end up contributing to it, hopefully making the 'scene' stronger.  For me this translated in to promoting gigs along with some buddies in Sheffield on and off for ten years.  In those ten years I made countless friends, had lots of silly drunken nights, lost an unfathomable amount of money and enabled a great deal of bands to play gigs in Sheffield. There were gig collectives in every major city (and most big towns) in England that enabled bands with no experience or label support to tour for weeks on end and when these collectives linked with their like minded communities on the other side of the channel even facilitated European (and further!) tours.  This was all achieved by kids with no real idea what they were doing, they were just bound together by this idea that we should help each other just for the sake of helping each other.  This same DIY system was replicated in every bit of the scene such as record labels, merch production, photography, fanzines and even venues.  It was a great community to be a part of and I loved it, the magic moments were always at the height of a gig packed to the rafters, sweat dripping off the walls, kids jumping off speaker stacks, every single audience member with their fist in the air singing every single word in unison and then the thought runs through your brain that WE did this, WE put this together, WE made this possible, WE were living right in that moment.

Skip forward nearly two decades and we have a Yorkshire exile living in Manchester, writing a food blog, getting fat, watching a significant number of DVD box sets, purchasing a cat, perusing antique shops for a shabby chic shoe cabinet, spending inordinate amounts of time talking about craft ale, performing traditional DIY jobs (shelving etc.) badly, trying to generate enough spare recreational time to play video games AND watch Game Of Thrones whilst forging a career in a job that sounds like bollocks when you say it out loud.  I still like that idea though.  It still runs through my life although the tendrils have extended beyond my musical tastes and activities.  It still matters to me that where possible I'm involved in scenes that align themselves with that DIY ethic and I still want to make sure when I spend money it's going to the person who deserves it who has contributed the most for my benefit.

Our Manchester food scene has some great examples of that DIY ethic in the form of our street food operators and supper club owners.  Just think about it, some of those guys go and buy ingredients direct from the people who plucked them from the ground, they then cook them up and they give them to you the punter.  There's no chain, just people who are directly contributing to the end product which you end up thoroughly enjoying.  But what does that actually facilitate?  Firstly the right people are getting paid and they're getting paid a fair price, nobody is skimming a profit as an investor or a middle man.  I like that. Secondly because there isn't an external influence motivated by the generation of maximum profits the chef in question is going to cook something closer to their heart that doesn't necessarily scream 'huge success' or 'instant profit' or 'international multi million pound franchising opportunities leading to early retirement' so we the consumers end up with a much more diverse dining scene.  I definitely like that.  That isn't the biggest benefit to me though, for that we go back to this idea that the DIY ethic removes barriers between artist and audience.  For me you couldn't put a price on the experience of looking the chef right in the eye and seeing that they too are enjoying the experience of cooking for you, it transforms it from a mutually beneficial transaction in to a combined experience that is almost impossible to replicate in a restaurant environment.  If food had been my passion when I was a fifteen year old wannabe punk then I would only have eaten under these admirable conditions.

It may have passed you by but sadly I am no longer fifteen years old.  What that means is that I still feel this draw to the DIY ethic but I've also become a realist and accept the fact that there will always be ideas that outgrow it and they should take on a different form but this is no bad thing.  A good example of this would be independent, bricks and mortar establishments that have a significant financial responsibility which leads to some shift in their ideals and their product without ever truly forgetting that we should all really help each other for the sake of helping each other whilst understanding that cash grabbing and the crushing of competition harms the food community as a whole despite providing a short term gain to the aggressors.  I see this in Manchester (and beyond) in the form of owners helping other owners for the sake of helping, I see established venues offering generous opportunities to the aforementioned street food traders to create amazing events and I see like minded people banding together to achieve great things in the world of food that wouldn't be possible without cooperation.  All of these people are showing that it's possible to make a decent living and create a vibrant food scene for us all to enjoy, at the same time as being a decent human being ensuring the continued survival of that healthy scene.

Obviously there's the other side as well, the dark side.  There are people out there that actively do not support any of these principles.  They're in it for the money and the glory at any cost.  They don't care about you, they don't care about their staff and they don't care about their food as long as the GP is right and it's shifting, they're aiming for the lowest common denominator.  Sadly you do see it round our way, you see operators making money hand over fist trading on the reputation of others, you see loyal staff being underpaid for their sweat, you see an obsession with trading with mega brands rather than supporting the local little guys, you see blatant theft of original concepts and you see a streak of dishonesty running through food writing and public relations that is hard to ignore.  I don't like that.

Now I know that there are people out there that simply don't give a single hoot about the people behind the food and that's entirely up to them.  Most people probably don't want to care about the motivations of the owner and I think we can all agree it probably doesn't make their burger taste any different.  The problem comes much further down the line when all those little guys who are taking all the chances and striving for originality have given up and gone home because they've been unfairly trounced by a bunch of soulless, faceless businessmen.  At that point you lose the creative, grass roots element of our food scene which is the element that feeds a great deal of the mainstream food/restaurant developments and for those of us that love supporting people that love creating food you also lose that opportunity to experience the thought running through your brain that WE did this, WE put this together, WE made this possible, WE were living right in that moment.

As always with these kind of wordy posts I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment below with your thoughts as the inclusion of different outlooks really adds to the value of the post.


  1. RIGHT ON BROTHER. Seriously though, enjoy the cyclical nature of this post - although you need to sort out your disinterest in The Clash, could have fittingly used some lovely Lost in the Supermarket lyrics in this post...... x

    1. The Clash are boring, Joe Strummer was a good dude though.

  2. I think this analogy is perfect. What we're getting with the large chains is corporate punk ideology, stealing the concept, washing it down into something "safe for the man in the street who is far too busy to do his own thinking". The dining equivalent of Avril Lavigne (dear god I feel sick from just typing that).

    It's fantastic to see places like Levy Market springing up, where you've got people making food with care and passion and at prices that a fair to the retailer and consumer. There are loads of genuinely enthusiastic blogs going around which show the fantastic variety on offer in Manchester, and only a few which were started up to score freebies etc!

    When I do supper clubs, it's certainly something I'm trying to do. I like to use trusted suppliers, who I'm proud to mention by name, and hopefully provide good meals at a price that makes them accessible to most people. Through doing them I've met so many lovely people who are equally passionate about food and the ethos of doing things properly for quality not food cost percentages. There have been a couple of tossers too, people who have completely missed the point - and it's nice to be in a position not to do business with them any more. I believe that all the other supper clubs in Manchester have the same ethos.

    And yes Bailey - you are wrong about the Clash.

    1. What a great comment - agree with every word you say (including about The Clash - have tried to persuade Bailey otherwise!!)

  3. I enjoyed reading your post, your comparison between DIY music and DIY food is spot on. We should indeed be supporting the little guy in favour of the number crunching corporate chain (although the odd corporate chain can be rather tasty). However, would you agree that recently there has been a spate of little guys copying other little guys in an effort to cash in on a scene?( I mention no names but we know who they are). Are they really more noble than the pinstripe guys pushing a brand?

    Anyhow, may we have more posts like this please? It's not often a food blog makes one think and then requests a response.

    On an entirely separate note, what's all this "purchasing a cat” business? You should have let the furry little blighter find you. You do realise your moggy is laughing behind your back? If they want to live with you they just just turn up anyway.

    1. Thanks for the comment dude. Yep I'd agree with everything you say and thought about including some more stuff around what you were saying but the post was already a bit unwieldy!

      The two exceptions you mention both sit quite nicely in to the comparison as well. Firstly unless you are super hardcore we all use chains now and then and they can be quite tasty just as although the majority of my musical consumption is DIY I still listen to Metallica periodically :)

      On the second bit about little guys taking advantage of little guys I'd actually say they are less noble than the pinstripe guys pushing a brand, I don't like them at all. I saw this within the DIY music scene as well as personally being the victim of it within the food scene and the good thing about these scenes is that due to the ethics at play these buggers either don't exist for very long (as they don't get the same level of support or are actively rejected by the scene) or they just use it as a quick and easy stepping stone to the more mainstream scenes and therefore just pass through.

    2. I think where the problems start with either independent music or food is when people who don't add anything to it, start to decide that they want to be a "central player" as they see the scene as something they want to be highly regarded in. The issue being they don't understand the time, skill and effort required to make music or food from scratch. Or the skills and determination to produce a readable review of a dinner or an album .

      Generally these guys will fail, but what I think is particularly dangerous is that they can poison the well for the decent honest producers either by spreading the customer base around so thin that everyone fails or by producing an output of such generic low quality that other produce is judged poorly by association.

      I must admit when I do have more than a grin on my face from schadenfreude, when I see the Trip Advisor heroes being challenged by the producers, the producers who are cutting corners being shown up for who they are, or (especially) the blogs set up to blag free meals being exposed or discontinued down after a handful of reviews.

      There will always be people trying to emulate the success of others or attaching themselves to something entirely unrelated due to the popularity/exposure, look at the main sponsors of the Olympics/World Cup.

      Bangdwagonning and coat-tailing are unfortunate parts of any success, I think we're still lucky enough in Manchester to have a food scene that gives diners/customers interesting things to try and read. If the markets start having the mystery meat burgers being sold for the same price than actual hand-crafted ones, or even at all, then it'll be time for concern. There are some great reviewers out there to help you find things you'll be into, and like music find the ones who match your taste (and budget in the case of eating out!) - you wouldn't read Smash Hits for an informed review of a Slipknot album.

      And treat food like music, find what you like and support it. I can't imagine many readers of this blog buy the X-Factor winner's album, just because a Simon Cowell and his focus groups have made a decision on your behalf about what you should like and marketed it to you well. Of course we all use supermarkets to some degree, but don't buy meat there and then moan about your local butcher closing down.

  4. It properly touches my heart when other businesses help each other out just for the karma of it. We've been helped out so many times by the guys surrounding us, including the ones that are direct competition. Others, usually the bigger chains haven't been so helpful and they suck mega balls for it!

    Personally I'm pretty sure I support the little guy. I can't remember the last time I ate at a chain type place out of my own choice. Then professionally, it's a hard one especially being a such a rapidly growing industry (craft beer to those who don't know me) but so far I'm managing to support the Manc DIY people. Long may it continue!


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