Ryan Cox: Diversifying DIY with The Cohort

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 5:38pm

Ryan Cox

Ryan Cox Buy this photo
.

Summer tends to be a season of new discoveries for me, especially in terms of finding new music. The summer after my freshman year, I was fully invested in the Ann Arbor music scene, but wanted to explore what the broader DIY scene had to offer. I spent much of my time poking around Bandcamp and the related artists section for some of my favorite artists on Spotify and found some groups I really liked, and some that I didn’t. Three projects that stuck out to me were Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and Clario.

I was mesmerized by the lush melodies, beautiful harmonies and overall fantastic songwriting I heard, despite the fact that none of these artists had a full-length release under their belt yet. I sent my friends demos, covers and EPs from these artists because I really enjoyed their music, so much so that I actually wrote an application sample for this paper on Soccer Mommy’s Collection.

At the end of the summer, The New York Times published an article titled, “Women are making the best rock music today. Here are the bands that prove it.” The article featured several projects that I either knew or would come to know like Snail Mail, Sheer Mag, Diet Cig in addition to many others, and discussed the underrepresentation of women in the genre. After it was published, I started to see other publications post about “women in indie rock” in a way that almost felt tokenizing. But nonetheless, it still exposed audiences to voices that are often underrepresented in the scene.

DIY has often been accused of being a bit of a boys club, and if you go to a few shows, it’s not hard to see why. Most of the bands consist of an all-male lineup with a pretty stark underrepresentation of people of color. Even the crowds present at these shows can sort of embody this masculine energy at times, which creates a space that feels exclusive. But how can we change this?

The Cohort is a new, independent organization on campus that seeks to promote and protect the art and work of women, POC and the LGBTQ+ community. Think of them as less of a club and more of an artist-based union. Started by LSA junior Delaney Cavanaugh and Stamps senior Victoria Rinaldi, the group is still in their beginning stages, but is already starting to put on events and meetings.

“I just really wanted to provide more of a platform for more marginalized people. I feel like there’s a lot of times where I’m the only woman in the space, or I’m the only non-white person in the space, and it can be really uncomfortable … I just want to provide a place for people that wouldn’t normally have that,” Rinaldi said in an interview with The Daily. 

Cavanaugh added that she was discussing some local bands with a group of her friends and came to the realization that along with Victoria’s band, Big Vic, there was only one other women-led local DIY band, Landline, that really was active in the DIY scene. “And we were like, ‘why is that?’,” Cavanaugh said. “And we just kind of came to that realization that, oh, there’s not a lot of women, or just diversity in general within the scene.”

Part of what contributes to this gap is the omnipresence of masculine energy in these spaces. Rinaldi said that even when she plays with a group of her male friends, she sometimes feels uncomfortable. “No matter how much I like them, and how much we get along, I still feel like I have to prove myself,” Rinadli stated. “I identify as a woman, or like, I’m even on the more feminine side of the spectrum so it’s just kind of like ... it’s like you have to hold it up. Yeah, it’s like I feel like I have to prove myself, even though nobody around me actively makes me feel that way.”

Cavanaugh followed up, saying, “The point of the group is to have a space where women and underrepresented groups feel safe and are like, ‘Oh, I’m attached to this group of people who will support me; I feel more confident to go out there book myself or play a show,’ or whatever it may be.”

The group aims to provide resources for these underrepresented artists and expose these artists to a larger audience. From helping with booking and providing practice spaces for groups to making playlists featuring a diverse group of artists and creating a community to identify with, their services really vary. But if you don’t identify as a member of a marginalized group, The Cohort still welcomes your support.

“We’re not going to, like, exclude anybody, so our thinking is that you're here to support everybody else if you’re identifying with The Cohort. You are going to be here to be an ally, which means that we may not choose your art first (if you don’t identify with these marginalized communities) because we want to support these other people first. But it’s still completely welcome,” Cavanaugh said.

There’s still a ways to go before the Michigan DIY scene can be called diverse, but through increased efforts from groups like The Cohort, progress is slowly being made.