After graduating from journalism school, Liz Pelly found herself working for The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly paper much like the ones that exist in every state throughout the nation. “But I thought it was a very strong one in comparison to a lot of other alt weeklies,” Pelly explained. “It had been around since the ‘60s and it had a really cool history, and there were lots of inspiring people working there, and editors who I learned a lot from.” The paper was known for its particularly strong ties with Boston counterculture.
Pelly was doing some exciting work, especially for a newly employed writer fresh out of college. She reported on Occupy Boston, and penned a about self-trained, anarchist street medics. Things were going well and Pelly was given free range to report on the underground music scene she was embedded in. So when the Phoenix abruptly stopped the presses and shut down in 2013, she was heartbroken. A few weeks later she wrote in a piece, “Fvck The Media,”: “I had lost the coolest job in the world– one that would let me report on underground music and radical activism, that taught me to write clearly and thoughtfully.”
But Pelly didn’t slide into some funemployment stupor. Just weeks after she packed up her things from the Phoenix’s office, Pelly teamed up with her friend, Faye Orlove, and founded The Media, a serial web publication that covers underground music scenes across the country and DIY culture, amongst other things, with a somewhat radical political edge. Some articles also make an appearance IRL as zines.
Calling The Media simply a blog would be inaccurate. The minimalist black-and-white color scheme and newspaper format, sans advertising, immediately sets it apart from other blogs. The Media is also unique from other web publications in its devotion to serial publication. Rather than consistently updating the site with new content and articles, The Media puts out a new issue every other Friday featuring interviews with local DIY heroes, underground musicians, and social criticism. Every installment features a heavy dose of eye and ear candy as well: illustrations, photos, a mixtape, and videos. Some recent articles include a tribute to Tommy Ramone (complete with a Ramones gif!), a takedown of Record Store Day, and a WWE star’s retirement.
These features are intentional. A set release date frees the publication up from the pressures of constant updates. With its minimal design, The Media resists gimmicks in favor of letting the content speak for itself. Without ads, The Media stays true to a DIY, anti-capitalist ethos that is rarely found in mainstream publications. “Sitting in on sales meetings and stuff made me assured that the next thing I wanted to take on as a project didn’t have any of that involved in it,” Pelly explained. Yet The Media still has a mainstream appeal that sets it apart from more esoteric underground publications.
Initially, The Media was committed to raising donations to cover the cost of maintaining the website and compensating its writers. But Pelly says that was something they’ve moved away from for the time being. “I think most people who want to write for us understand that we are completely volunteer-run. But if someone decided against wanting to contribute because of that, I would understand. It’s fair to want to get paid for your work.”
But Pelly believes that publishing for free once in a while has its benefits. “I think that there is some value in getting to write for a place that doesn’t have ads in its own right,” she said. “It’s like, yeah, that place is paying you, but your article is published alongside McDonald’s and Budweiser ads.”
The DIY ethos stems from Pelly’s own worldview and one that she became familiar with while living in Boston. While in college, she worked at a radio station, and after graduating started to book shows at her house.
But after six years, Pelly decided to look beyond the Boston scene when she made the move to Brooklyn in January. She explained how much different her experience in the music scene has been in New York City, a place with a seemingly endless supply of venues and DIY spaces. “It’s just hard to book shows in Boston because it’s all house shows, and the police are way more tuned into it, because there’s a lot of neighbors and weird noise ordinance laws,” she said. “But I have a lot of respect for people who stay in smaller cities and put up with the difficulties of being involved in all ages show booking there. It’s important work. Oftentimes it’s more personally fulfilling, too.”
Pelly was careful to remind me that The Media is far from an individual effort– it’s the result of the hard work of a lot of people, from videographers, cartoonists, and DIY figures and professional writers alike. “It’s weird to do interviews as a single person because every project I’m involved in, like the bands I’m in, The Media, and Silent Barn, are all collectively done in one way or another,” she said. “So everything I talk about in regards to those project definitely shouldn’t be regarded as the full story behind any of them.”
Like many 25-year old artists in the city who lack trust funds, Pelly has been juggling multiple creative projects while trying to earn a living. She’s currently one of twelve artists in residence at the Silent Barn, where she helps book shows, bartends, and works the door. She’s also a freelance writer, a tour manager, an amateur drummer, and a good pal who helps out at her friend’s label, Starcleaner Records.
“I love living in a space where I can go to shows every night, and I bartend and work door, and host shows and book shows. It helps me continue to maintain a sustainable, freelance creative– I don’t wanna say career– but life or whatever,” Pelly explained. “If wasn’t living in a place like this I don’t know if I could afford to live in New York.”
Pelly said that she applied to the artist residency program at the Barn after having followed it for years. She even attended the inaugural show at its new space back on December 30, 2012. “That date sticks out in my mind because it felt like a really important night, when you walked into the space there was a palpable sense that something really very rad was happening,” Pelly wrote in an email.
But Pelly was modest about her role at Silent Barn. “My involvement here is really small in the grand scheme of things that people do here. There are probably 40 people whose efforts are way larger than mine. I pretty much just live here and book shows here.” But she’s making some awesome stuff happen, including the implementation of the Safer Spaces policy. Along with six other members, Pelly helped enact a clear commitment “to directly confront social hierarchies and oppression” as they might occur at Silent Barn.
One project on the horizon is the Friends First Fest happening on Saturday, August 23 at the Silent Barn, a mini-festival that will showcase bands playing in public for the first time. “It’s a first-timers festival,” Pelly explained. “Preference is given to bands or projects with members are female-identifying, queer, and people of color. So it’s aimed to provide a space for people who are underrepresented in the DIY community.”
Pelly’s approach to underground culture is a refreshing one. In a subculture that can seem rife with cooler-than-thou attitude, Pelly is committed to the idea of creating a publication that can float the line between mainstream outlets and underground presses like zines. This stems from her personal experience as a relative latecomer.
“I always wanted to be a journalist, like in middle school and high school and stuff. […] I feel like I always had impulses toward self-publishing. But I didn’t really know that zine culture existed. Because it’s pretty hard to find out about underground stuff if you’re just a kid growing up in the suburbs, who didn’t have that cool older brother or sister to tell them what zines were or whatever. It’s the same thing with a lot of underground music,” she explained. “Underground culture can be really exclusive if you don’t have the right person to lead you to it.”