Call it a Luddite revolution—in an age where everyone has a URL, Brooklyn’s DIY music community has rediscovered the joys of newsprint.
Showpaper, the free, full-color guide to all-ages shows in New York City and surrounding environs, was originally the brainchild of promoter Todd P., the most benevolently tireless mastermind a scene could hope for. The biweekly tabloid mixes straight concert listings with a self-satirical, Missed Connections–style dating sidebar. (Sample: “Shoeless girl w/ poison ivy making out w/ shirtless guy n the Vice tent @ Boredrums—I’m much better equipped 2 scratch yr itch.”) Recently, they’ve also added a horoscope section that offers advice and matches astrology signs with their ideal concert matches. Each edition’s cover doubles as a poster-worthy piece of art, with contributions from the likes of Ed Templeton and Paper Rad. It’s a brightly colored, ‘zine-style rebuke to the mainstream, a one-page reminder that Bowery Presents won’t be swallowing the whole world just yet.
The first issues were helmed by John Purcell, a Todd P. intern (and psychology grad student recently arrived from Dublin) who agreed to launch the project: 10,000 copies and a hand-to-hand distribution network from Connecticut to Long Island, with show listings relevant to those areas as well.
Showpaper‘s been bankrolled by a succession of benefit shows—a Dirty Projectors/Effie Briest/Ecstatic Sunshine bill brought in enough cash to print four or five issues. Achieving 501(c) nonprofit status would enable them to secure arts grants, too. A rotating crew of volunteers handles the editing and design and oversees printing at Lincos, an offset press in Queens. “They mostly print local neighborhood papers, in every language imaginable,” says current staffer Joe Ahearn. “We’re this bizarre anomaly there. None of it’s digital. They have these giant inkwells with the four different colors. I have to look at the proof, the machine’s running, papers are flying out, and I have to be like:
Oh my God, this is bright yellow and it’s supposed to be blue. There’s something terribly wrong!
And then there’s a guy who’s using a wrench to change the colors.”
Showpaper has so far drawn from a few deep sources—the psychedelia-meets-Saturday- morning-cartoons vibe of someone like Brian Chippendale, or the boldly colored, street-art aesthetic of the “Beautiful Losers” camp. “Our artistic manifesto is parallel to the musical one,” Ahearn explains. “The sort of unattainability of the arts scene in New York City makes the closed music scene in New York seem like a piece of cake. One of the things that we really felt strongly about from the very inception was the idea of having artists who normally would have pieces that would be too expensive for anybody to get their hands on.”
Performance artist and BARR frontman Brendan Fowler curated the covers for five issues: Issue #10, credited to the graffiti artist Skypage, is a piece of textual art as dense as a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Laid out as the front page of an imaginary rag dubbed The Daily Executioner, it mashes up newspeak into inadvertent poetry: “Bush will meet his national assignment, parying flesh on should his be increased in overall size.” Ed Templeton turned in a bald man in profile on a tie-dye background; New Yorker Andrea Longacre-White contributed a faded photo collage of a jumbo jet. Upcoming issues will feature Montreal’s Seripop collective and eternally smiling Brooklyn drummer Kim Schifino; further off, Showpaper is courting Dash Snow and Raymond Pettibon.
Fowler himself—who was instrumental in NYC’s legendary Alleged Gallery—keeps busy with his own print projects in Los Angeles. He edits ANP Quarterly with Templeton and Aaron Rose—you may have noticed the large-format arts-and-culture freebie lying around a local bookstore for a few seconds before being snapped up by eager hands. (The ad-free, no-cost magazine survives thanks to the largesse of a single sponsor, RVCA—a fortuitous “third way” for an indie publisher to reach the masses without suckling too many corporate teats.) As for Showpaper, “It seems totally removed from any ulterior motive or any crass anything,” Fowler says. “It’s pure and fun. How often do you have something that is that well-realized that is purely about inclusion and making people inspired and empowered? It’s crazy.”
Showpaper is aiming at a young demographic weaned on a steady diet of Lightning Bolt loft shows. It is, most importantly, an all-ages crowd, something that’s never forgotten in discussing the project’s goals. “A big impetus for Showpaper was that, about a year ago, there was a councilwoman from Queens trying to pass a resolution to raise the minimum age to enter a place where alcohol is sold,” Todd P. explains, noting that the current law doesn’t explicitly prohibit all-ages concerts in bars. “This councilwoman, Melinda Katz, said, ‘I’m not sure why you need to be able to walk into a bar when you’re 16.’ Well,
I can think of a reason: How about rock ‘n’ roll? Art? Culture in general?”
Todd is trying to keep the music and art scene inclusive, for the kids’ sake. “That all-ages idea is dying out,” he continues. “It used to be that a band would come through town and feel a little guilty if they didn’t play an all-ages show at least a couple of times a year. That doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you’re Matt & Kim, or other friends of mine, or a hardcore band—nobody gives a shit about all-ages anymore. That’s obviously an overstatement—but it’s very diminished.”
Speaking of uphill battles, isn’t printed matter itself a bit of an anachronism in the age of the MySpace bulletin? “I’m a total techno-baby,” explains Ahearn. “I use terms like ‘dead trees’ for paper. The first issue of Showpaper is already slightly yellow. It wouldn’t necessarily work so well as a time capsule, [but] it is both a part of the scene and a record of the scene.”
“Remember when the Internet first came around, how everybody thought it was going to make underground shit easier to happen and get heard about, and that everything was going to be decentralized and better?” Todd P. asks. “Well, it didn’t work out that way—if anything, independent rock is more dictated and commercial than it was before the Internet. So we made a conscious decision to keep Showpaper off the Internet. There’s not much organized opposition to the indie-rock regime at the moment; the whole thing has turned into a more gentrified, adult-contemporary, NPR, New Yorker vibe. The paper’s purpose is to get back to what a punk-rock scene is supposed to be about—young people and underground, grassroots shit.”