The music industry has been dying. So what? People will still make music. And what we’ve been spoon-fed by commercial radio and the celebrity hype machine won’t be missed.

There is an inverted relationship between the number of units a band sells and how much I enjoy them. It is more the rule than the exception. I don’t say this as an elitist music snob, but as someone who truly loves seeing a band up close instead of a Jumbotron. I want to see the sweat fly, not watch the backs of 40,000 heads. I’m not into rock stars with riders or the latest celebrity of the moment. I have more respect for people who make music because they need to than those who do so to become wealthy and famous.

Fortunately, there are places for nerds like me and they don’t necessarily involve a den with shag carpeting.

When online, I spend an inordinate amount of time at the  Electrical Audio Forum. It is euphemistically referred to as the PRF — shorthand for Premier Rock Forum (to distinguish it from other music forums such as Talk Bass and Gear Sluts). The PRF is a community of musicians and music fans that formed after Electrical Audio founder Steve Albini created a website to help promote his recording studio in Chicago. The first and only ad Electrical Audio ran in the Chicago Reader (with the headline Fluss Outlives Strom Thurmond) drew me there in 2003.

The PRF draws me daily, whether it’s to post snarky comments about a band, talk politics and current events or to find advice on gear I am looking to buy. The folks who post on the forum are opinionated but knowledgeable. They come from all points on the globe — Argentina, Brazil Britain, Croatia, Italy — not just Chicago and the States. One of my favorite times to go to the PRF is the morning when the Brits are online. Reading their posts has led me to drop the word cunt all too casually in daily conversation.

Unlike a lot of places on the Internet, the PRF has become a community in a very real sense, not just one confined to a computer. Members have formed bands and played shows together. Friendships have been made and creativity has been born. Former Electrical Audio intern, Andrew Mason, went on to create Groupon, one of the fastest growing companies in America. And forum member Jim Burns started a campaign on The Point to pay the pop band Weezer $10 million to break up. So there is a strong streak of altruism in the community.

For more than two years running, Jonah Wittick has organized the PRF Songwriting Challenge, a weekly competition where people write songs based on a theme chosen by the previous week’s winner. The styles of the songs created are as varied as the people who make the music. Participants listen and vote. The reward for winning is the knowledge that someone is listening to the music they created. It is the very essence of DIY, resulting in a site where anyone can download and stream interesting new music for free. Without commercials. Without indie rock pretense or phony hip-hop fronting. Without empty corporate music side effects.

Over time, the PRF community has grown and forum members have organized a series of weekend parties/shows. The third event, PRK Auktoberfest, took place last weekend, with 24 bands over three nights in two locations. The last was an all-day costume party/barbecue at an old Czech restaurant in Cicero called Klas — a former brothel run by Al Capone — which was a stone’s throw away from my girlfriend’s old apartment almost 20 years ago. The PRF invaded the restaurant and set up a spit in the courtyard to roast a goat and sausages. Linda spent days working on costumes. I dressed as a Cry Baby wah pedal and she dressed as a Big Muff distortion pedal. We both had to overcome panic attacks to show up dressed in large boxes.

For three days, I walked around with a perma-smile on my face. My band, The Ethyl Mermen, was fortunate to be invited to play the Thursday night show at Quenchers Saloon in Chicago. I met several people I had only previously known by their forum avatar. I witnessed the reunions of some bands like Zoom that previously had been criminally ignored and discovered new bands, such as The Cell Phones, that I look forward to hearing for years to come. Every band brought it and those in attendance were treated to an incredible variety of music — from experimental drone to face-melting heaviness to quirky pop songs. One of the many highlights was the live karaoke band The Hype. When you get involved in a community of musicians working together, it is refreshing to find so few egos.

There is an old yarn about when the Sex Pistols played a show in Manchester, England, back in 1977 that there were not a lot of people who saw them, but everyone who did formed a band. The same was written about the Velvet Underground. I’d like to think that last weekend was another such watershed moment.

Read more in the Official PRF BBQ Recap Thread.

About the Author

Tom Long

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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