Gian Pierotti w/ Jared Clark, 2003
PROVOSHOWS: In Provo years ago, after a birthday dinner with friends and family my brother Brad (an engineering student) asked me, “Chris, are you an indie kid?”
I shrugged my shoulders and gave a noncommittal and whiny “Meh…”
He laughed, “Ah! Now I get Squarehead Mike’s joke! That’s funny!”
The joke: “How many indie kids does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
The answer: “meh…”
I remember when people were called “indie kids” and “hipster” had not yet entered the lexicon. I have some theories about the semantic shift, but I’m curious what you think. Is there a distinction? What did it mean to be indie back then? What does it mean to be hipster now?
Gian: HA! Mike is always good for a well crafted jokie joke.
Of course being Indie was a categorization, a generalization that could not explain a diverse group of people. The same goes for the term “hipster.” Like simply calling someone a hipster sums up that person’s worldview. Not that generalizations and categories aren’t useful, but they can be a bit dismissive. Man this question is hard to unpack!
Indie-kids… well lets see, like Idaho and Arizona, Utah and Provo more precisely, looked to the cool kids of California to dictate what was past the horizon of cool. Actually, not just California kids, any place that was above Utah in Pitchfork’s “Indiest States” ranking gave Utahns the gift of knowing obscure bands. For the record Utah was 49th. In your face Oregon!
To be “Indie” in Provo meant you followed an unwritten/unspoken code. As an insider I really shouldn’t be talking about this publicly. To be Indie you had to like the right thing at the right time. The trick was to know when to wear Diesel jeans and when to turn your back on Diesel and all things denim. Suddenly any kind of pants were unbearable.
One difference between the indie kid and its younger sibling the hipster is that a hipster has a tendency to the natural world. I get a Native American sense from the hipster over the more urban indie kid. It occurs to me I can’t really speak to what a hipster is. I think I am out of touch with that world.
I do remember the 1998-2004 indie scene of Provo. I saw the scene as a group of college kids in a sleepy college town that were drawn together by a specific sub-genre of music. It was self-made. We organized our own house shows. We organized themed parties like “Pirates Versus Robots.” I was a part of spontaneous dance parties and curry-focused potlucks. I have generally fond memories of Provo. I felt like I had about 100 close friends.
PS: If I had to characterize things I would say that the move from “Indie” to “hipster” represents a migration from a politic of “DIY” to “BUY.” Commerce became the primary means to acquire rebellion’s official uniform. “Indy” seemed like it foregrounded an ethos of individualized activity and even earnestness whereas “hipster” seems more interested in the calculated posture of disaffected cool. Of course these posturings were definitely part of indie culture, but I remember it being based more around a like-minded gathering of individual participation vs. the externalization of values in the form of fashion and style. I’m not sure that it’s got the same vitality it once had. Even in a town like Provo with it’s strictly enforced dress and grooming code the current look is going for a kind of Williamsburg via Urban Outfitters monoculture and not something richer and more oppositional. Something that could burst the BYU bubble a little. I still remember you riding up on your longboard wearing a swimsuit and a heavy bathrobe with “WHOREVETTE” embroidered on the back in script letters. This was on a day while my girlfriend’s dad was visiting. In my naiveté I thought he’d appreciate how cool my friends were… but I’m sure the alarms were sounding inside his head.
Gian: I forgot about that. Was that during my speedo days? Sorry guardian/father who had to see that image of me. I was not your worst nightmare only just the appearance of one. I just remember now riding that skateboard in Provo during the summer nights dressed as you describe—was one of the most freeing moments of my 20’s. I imagine it must be how Magneto feels as he glides across the landscape.
To your point about indie compared to hipster, I can see the shift you mention from an organic DIY scene to an incorporated commodified one. A perfect example that supports this is the video to Good Time by Owl City and (the girl that sings Call Me Maybe). It’s an idealistic roadtrip/campout/dance party sponsored by Fiat and beautiful girls. It is pure pop but has that Hipster patina. It should be said as I write this it feels a little like we are saying to the generation after us “Uhhh… guys, you are doing it wrong.” They are in control of what it means to be young and cool. But I guess we are challenging that. We are saying it is an imposed cool from the outside by the gross “olders” or “death neighbors” as I think they call us.
We should also consider the Occupy movement and the proactive attitude for social change that the youngers have that we didn’t.
Apologies, I’m typing all this on my phone. We are doing a self imposed internet fast.
PS: Yeah, I think being on the downward slope of youth culture’s bell curve means we’ve experienced the entire lifecycle of certain media events. We’re privy to a unique view of the things that we participated in as creators/producers and not exclusively consumers.
Did Occupy reach Provo? I don’t really know. I realize that I’m generalizing and out of touch with the current scene though… regardless, it seems accurate to say that civil disobedience and political activism aren’t the strong suit of BYU students (unless you’re Caleb Proux, Ashley Sanders or Tristan Call). Which makes me want to ask you about the Provo Dance Ordinance and your version of those events.
Gian: It was not much of an occupation in Provo. I was thinking about the kids I know here in Richmond. I was thinking about the generation in general.
You are right, protesting in Provo is seen by the general population as uninformed whining unless the onlooker agrees with the protesters. We are a people that doesn’t like to make a fuss. We try very hard not to make offence. A protest goes against our nature.
To your request for an overview of the Provo dance ordinance confrontation of 2001, I have had to really think back on this. In some ways I am a different person now. So I am now a thirtysomething talking about a twentysomething.
In Provo the party scene was interesting. Hundreds of college kids would amass at a house party blaring dance music. It seemed like every student from BYU and UVSC (now UVU, I’m impressed by the symmetry of that acronym), was in attendance just for some guy named Barry’s birthday party. I think everyone looked at it as something to do on a Saturday night. One would think having so many people hanging out on every square foot of the small estate would cause big problems. For the most part these parties were very light on drama. But from a neighbors point of view an innocent party of about a thousand young people wholesomely grinding to Destiny’s Child’s “Jumpin Jumpin” was a big problem. Of course the police would show up for a noise complaint. But legally the party couldn’t be shut down until 11pm. To remedy this the local city council ratified a dance ordinance that made it extremely difficult to have a dance party. This new law also would put the only dance club (Club Omni) in town out of business. The new ordinance required a permit from the city, metal detectors, trained EMT’s on-call and an inspection from the Fire Marshall.
At this point in Provo I was living with some friends that took issue with the new ordinance. Looking back now I see they had strong Libertarian beliefs. I was at home one afternoon when my roommate came home with some ideas to get around the new dance law. After a conversation with a BYU law professor, my friend realized there were some exceptions to the ordinance. Government, educational, and church organizations were free to have dances without the new regulations. As a house we discussed the injustice of the ordinance. It restricted the right to assemble. The ordinance was embarrassing to the community. Provo already had a reputation for being backwards and restrictive. So we thought we would challenge the law. Our idea was to form a non-denominational church and start having legal church dances. Two members of the house became ministers after taking a 5 minute test on the internet. The site was universallifechurch.org or maybe just ulc.org. We planned a dance party and posted flyers around town. On the day of the party the housemates started to set up at the venue while I was away at work. I got a call at work from an excited dance minister who had just been visited by a cop and a city council member. Apparently my friends and the authorities debated the law in the parking lot of the dance site. The council member and the officer rolled up threatening to shut down the party. My friends were prepared. They had a book with all the Provo city laws. They opened to the dance ordinance page and read their own law back to them. Flumuxed, the authorities challenged the legitimacy of the religion. You could see the disappointment on there face as they were told over the phone that ULC was indeed a recognized church in the state of Utah. The altercation did make us think twice about going ahead with the party, but crazier heads prevailed and the party was still a go. The police showed up and gave a citation to two members of our house.
The next day the Provo chapter of Channel 2 News interviewed us about the dance party and its confrontation with the dance ordinance. After that other news outlets followed and we were infamous for about a month.
PS: What happened after that? Was there further organized action or civil protest? Did things change at all?
Gian: Because of the high profile story the BYU honor code called us all in for questioning. They wanted to know who became ministers. They wanted to know who the law professor was that started us on the path to confront the city council. I confessed to the heinous crime of deejaying the party and supporting my friends actions. I was given an official warning by the school. My friends never gave up the law professor and got 6 months suspension from BYU. There was also church discipline for my minister friends. Some members of the house stayed out of the news after this. Others kept up the fight. They had bumper stickers made to raise money for the cause, ” Provo, 2nd lowest crime rate in U.S., unless you count dancing”. Over the years the law has evolved in its language. Other students have picked up the fight. In 2005 Provo allowed a permit for a dance club called “The Vault” located in the Wells Fargo building. I don’t know what effect our controversy played in this change.
PS: What are your feelings about your participation?
Gian: I felt like I was questioning authority. It was exciting. Somehow my mom didn’t find out about it until later when a friend said something about it at a family get-together. She was worried about my BYU future.
PS: I always understood this event to be a crucial (not widely publicized) backstory to Midwife Crisis. Songs like Dancing Babies, Cops and Kids, etc.
Gian: Midwife Crisis came a few years after “Dancegate.” The band idea was proposed by Mike Evans as a dance rock band in the vein of The Rapture. I thought my past dance confrontations would be an appropriate topic to rage about. I didn’t see it as a way to fight against the ordinance. My goals were less lofty. I simply wanted to provide entertainment with a past personal narrative about Provo and dancing as a lyrical tool.
PS: What other musical projects did you do while in Provo?
Gian: I had a two man project on my mission called “steve”. In Provo I fronted Whorvette, Midwife Crisis and Liberaci.
PS: What are you currently up to?
Gian: Most of my time is focused on being a father to my son Giuseppe. I am teaching an art class at VCU and two ceramics classes at The Visual Art Center of Richmond. I have a calling at church that lets me help underprivileged members.