3AM: When was Get Underground created?
SS: It started out as Underground.net. My old boss let me use his domain for a while, but when we saw that our community was sticking I decided we needed to have control of our domain and after a staff vote we became Get Underground. We originally made the site live in May 2001, after about 4 months of preparation.
I was working as a web programmer in a small, sort of boutique web design firm, and we did a site for BPM Culture Magazine called djmix.com. I looked at this, and was like, "Wow. I could make a magazine. I have the template of having a magazine." And at the time, I was looking for places to um, I started thinking more seriously of actually sending stuff for publication, but I had no idea what sort of publication would dig the kind of stuff I write. You know the kind of stuff I write…
3AM: Sure, it's fairly abstract and varied, but also intense and thought provoking.
SS: That's the good spin on it.
SS: You know, it's hard to figure out where that sort of stuff belongs. At least I have no idea. And I looked around, and I remember thinking Iron Minds, and I sent to a couple places and they never sent me response. You never really know if these things are up or down. 90% of the publication websites you find on the net are no longer active, so you never know if you're just wasting your time. I realized the easiest thing would be to just create my own magazine.
3AM: That's pretty much where you got the idea?
SS: Yeah. A few months before that, I met Mike the Poet. I went to this underground party at this artist loft in the hood, and that was the first time I ever saw real underground spoken word poetry. It was Mike the Poet and Phil Harmonic, and they just blew my mind. It was in this little art gallery with a DJ down here by Washington and Crenshaw. Mike did the poem "I Am Alive In Los Angeles," and I was in the small crowd yelling, "I'm alive in Los Angeles! I'm alive in Los Angeles!" I became totally inspired with the LA Underground.
In LA, the Underground is really difficult to find. In New York it's not very difficult at all because everything's so public. LA is a private kind of town. You don't get to the Underground unless you know where to look. It's exclusive, in that they don't want to be flooded with Mainstream people - it'll ruin the vibe. But its also exclusive because of the nature of Los Angeles as a city in which the lack of public transportation and public gathering places in general keeps most subcultures firmly separated, so people here live in completely different worlds from one another in a way that you wont find in places like NY and London.
So anyhow, I became friends with these people, and all of the sudden, I was like, "Wow. You know, I have all these friends, and there's poets and there's artists and there's writers- that's enough to start something." So, along with my desires to find a place to publish, and this idea that "look, I have all these friends, I could just showcase our stuff together online." And, that we have this amazing technology. The technology aspect is really big, the technology is huge.
3AM: It is, because with most magazines, you have to either send them the text or email it, and they do the rest; whereas actually enabling people to go in and put their own shit up, it changes everything.
SS: Right, because when you need to depend on somebody to do the technical part, there's gonna be a moment where things slow down and stale. That's why I think 95% of zines fail, because the technicality of putting it together - it's too much. They take so much upkeep that…people get busy, your technical guy isn't available all of the sudden or you loose your technical guy. You started with all these good intentions, but without really good organization and process and flow, it just doesn't happen. That kind of stuff could happen if you have money, but if you don't have money, and you don't have this business-like organization, and the time that comes along with it, then normally the only thing you have is your energies and good intentions, and those things are never boundless. So, the role of the technology is extremely important in that it allows for diffusion of responsibility, and it allows for the fact that we don't have boundless energies. So we don't need to do everything ourselves; everybody will chip in, and by that fact, the whole thing will continue to roll if and when any individual will burn out or flake (both which of course happen). I'd also like to think this sort of diffusion of responsibility allows the participating writers and artists to feel as if they're past of the community of Get Underground, rather than just contributors to it.
3AM: It also helps it to keep growing.
SS: Right, it keeps growing. (laughs) God, it keeps growing.
3AM: It's getting pretty big, it seems like.
SS: Well, its hard to tell what's big on the internet. There are lots of rave and hip-hop culture sites that are much bigger than us, but we might be the biggest site of our type… but, who knows… anyhow, for a non-commercial site (we've never advertised or accepted advertising), it's really done remarkably well.
3AM: How long did it take you to get it set up?
SS: It took me about 2 months of about 4 hours a day work, aside from my 8 hours a day job. No one else would take me seriously until I got this far alone.
Originally, I gathered a bunch of people together, and Mike the Poet was the most involved. I remember sitting with like 10 people at a café, and from all those people, Mike was the only one that really stuck around. He directed people to the site, he really helped in getting people involved. After a couple months, Ryan (Malkin) in NYC got involved and took over editing the articles. Once he took control, and ran with it, I had time to focus on other things, and slowly divvy up everything. From that point on also our staff came from all over the nation, which was something I was strongly trying to promote. I didn't want an LA underground site, I wanted an international one.
About four or five months into it, Star (Jewel Smith) came along, she was our first Arts Editor. She did that for three months or something, and I was like, "Wow, this girl works really hard, and I need help." (author's note: Star is now the Editor in Chief.)
3AM: Do you think that Munich should have another chance at hosting the Olympics?
SS: I think they deserve another chance, most definitely. Do they deserve a chance more than say any nation in Africa? Nah. I think the Olympics should be in Africa. They've never been in Africa.
3AM: It'd be pretty interesting if they threw it in Zimbabwe.
SS: Well, Zimbabwe is really fucked up right now.
3AM: Yeah, it is, but that's the thing. If they could somehow…of course, I don't know how they'd pull it off…
What would say the purpose is of Get Underground?
SS: Our purpose is to provide a community, and I don't think there's anything that extremely unusual about it. I don't think there's anything revolutionary going around. I think it's stability and communication, and the really unique part is that it crosses all the boundaries of the Underground. I mean, individually, every subculture has things like this, but there's nothing quite like this that unites the Underground.
I'd say the vision of Get Underground is to provide a place that bridges all the different alternative subcultures, or sub-mainstream subcultures, that I believe do share something in common- that they're a part of a general thing called the Underground. The idea was to get them together in one place where they can share ideas and really cross-fertilize each other creatively. That's one thing that I haven't really seen anywhere else. There are thousands of sites dedicated to raves or punk music or hip hop or spoken word, but no place that really puts them all together, you know? And the reality of this is that in Real Life, these people rarely interact with each other, at least those really deep in the scene, even though people on the fringes, like us, generally do have some interest in one and another and another, and the reality of today is that people don't really construct their identities in terms of strict subculture identities like they did, say, up to the 80's, where somebody was just a "punk" or just "hip hop" or "preppie" or whatever. You know, today people have a very fluid and generally personal mix of cultures and ideas that they put together.
The basic idea was to build a place that bridges all of these subcultures into one amorphously unified community. That's why I wrote "What is Underground?" as a sort of purpose rap to say, "Look, it's not what unifies all these things, it's just that they're not Mainstream. But there are these positive ethical characteristics that these sub-cultures share and there's a lot to gain by viewing them as a whole."
One of my main issues at the very beginning was that I wanted this to be cultural and artistic, and non-political…and I sort of went back on that a little bit. When we started doing the Features, I said, "Look, I do want more of a political awareness, I do want more of an engagement. I just don't want anything really dogmatic; nothing that's ridiculously radical. I don't want crap about government conspiracies and shit like that." You know, I'm generally left of center Democratic, pretty far left of center, but I like respectable ideas. The reason I originally excluded politics is because I didn't want to attract all the political nuts, you know, people with agendas.
And I think that still remains, the part of the general vision where the political is definitely not the focus; the focus is cultural and artistic.
3AM: Yeah, it does seem to stay like that, and you seem to give all sides of everything.
3AM: You say you're trying to avoid the Mainstream. How do you define "Mainstream"?
SS: Ah, that's a good question. How do you define "pop"? I think the Mainstream is a general term that describes basically what's popular. I think what more concerns me is Pop rather than the Mainstream. The Mainstream ends up being almost guilty by association. And Pop by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, the Beatles were very Poppy, there's lots of progressive Pop. The problem is that Pop on the Mainstream level ends up basically capturing the mind and the attention of culture in a very superficial way.
I certainly don't want to call it a crusade against Pop or against the Mainstream or anything like that. I think the basic idea is that, because of mass marketing and mass consumerism, and because Pop is shoved down people's throats and placed in product advertising everywhere before our eyes, it's very hard to reach more substantial, more serious, more culturally and personally and psychologically and politically important…
It's the sort of superficiality of Mass Culture, and how it relates to consumer culture- being sold. Taking what is being fed by music labels, movie studios, etc. which try to create products that have mass-appeal in the sense of saying so little that there's not much to be able to say against them. You know, it's pretty packaging, but without a lot of content and a lot of character, it's hard to find reasons to reject them. Therefore, it's easy to promote them. And what you get out of it is a packaged society, with not much inside, because it's the package being sold, not the content.
So that's the source of my…I don't wanna say "gripe," because that's a little strong…
3AM: Yes, it's very vicious.
SS: Right. That's just what I find very disappointing in the Mainstream, and frustrating in terms of culture. American culture doesn't have anything other than what it has right now. You know, American culture really really lacks in the kind of depths that other cultures have. It's a very young society.
One thing about America is that we're more dependant on mass-culture for people's identities than any other culture I've ever seen. The reason for this is that it doesn't have real big family traditions, and it doesn't have the cultural traditions and historical traditions, and a sense of Place.
3AM: Do you think that's why the Mainstream media jumps on any big Thing (ie. 9/11 attacks) and sucks it dry, just so we can have something of our own to identify with?
SS: That's really interesting, because I think we want something like that, and part of us wants to feel, "All right! We're Americans! We have a sense of place, and a sense of identity." There's a reason why identity is the biggest, most important subject discussed on college campuses in America. You know, who are we? Hyphenated Americans, ok, well what are we exactly? We need to rediscover our roots, etc. It's a big issue for a very good reason.
My point in the difference between American and other cultures is that in other cultures, identities are a lot more set. People really do know who they are, they really do feel a sense of belonging. And the fact that American culture doesn't really have that makes you want to reach for whatever sort of identity is available to you. And when what's available to you is what's mass-projected onto you in insane amounts in Pop culture, that's who you become. This is where I think the Mainstream really ends up hurting society, because the American society is so hungry for identity, and the identity they're being served up is an extremely superficial one.
To me personally, the most important aspects of the Underground, with regards to concepts and precepts, are the sincerity and creativity aspects of it, 'cause both have very big repercussions.
The sincerity has to do with keeping it Real. And part of it is a rebellion against everything in our culture that is made not real. A lot of that has to do with the trivialization of what's real and meaningful. Anything that's important to people in a real way is devalued so quickly by making it fake, making it plastic, through commercialization. The thing itself almost never survives commercialization, and that's why keeping it real is so important for the Underground. It's hard to find authentic things in this world, especially in American culture. And we want them so badly because everything we do hold sacred is trivialized, and you can't hold things sacred if they're being trivialized. You just can't hold onto them, and what happens is you have nothing sacred, and you have no meaning in your life. That's ok if you want to live a superficial life, but some of us want more.
3AM: In your article, "What Is Underground?" the first thing that you listed as an Underground Value is "'Reality' is valued over flash." How have you maintained that? How have you kept Get Underground from losing its sincerity?
SS: One thing that we haven't rushed to do is become commercialized. It's not like we're not considering that, but that sort of possibility has always been in my mind second or third compared to the real purpose of the Site. I think a lot of that gets distracted when you start adding commercials, and that's where a lot of it starts becoming more flash. There's a temptation to do what you can to bring in more people, because then your advertising revenues go higher. To do more stories that have less substance but more flash. You know, headlines that grab people's attention, not because they deal with an issue, but because they deal with a name that everyone knows. To deal with more popular Mainstream topics because you now that they'll bring in an audience, and they will.
3AM: How do you manage adherence to these concepts without developing a Mainstream of your own?
SS: Well, the other big important thing there is the creativity, the idea that you sort of have to make your own way, that you have to put your own mix together. You know, it's not enough just to say you're doing it the way other people do it, you gotta jazz it up, you gotta live your life like a jazz song, make it up as you go along, you know, add your own creative input to it. Try new things, make new things happen that were never there before. If you're not doing that, then something about your life just seems sort of purposeless.
The important thing is that you do it for real. Success per se does not mean too much, but the quality and the realness of the way you relate to it is what counts. You don't have to succeed to do any of that stuff.
I guess part of the thing that makes Get Underground really work is the dedication of the people. It's a place to express yourself creatively like that, and it's that desire of the people involved. I mean, it feels good to do it!
3AM: How is Get Underground a contribution to the greater lexicon and collective?
SS: That's a great question. Well, I think the contribution is in that it bridges the gap. It tries to create a common lexicon and a common identity for a variety of groups that generally consider themselves quite separate. It tries to take people who have supposedly nothing in common, except that they're not a part of the Mainstream, and try to give them an identity by calling them all Underground. That's shared and unified even though it's also amorphous.
3AM: Now, what has surprised you about Get Underground?
SS: That it worked! (laughs heartedly) That it's still around, honestly. You have no idea how hard it was to start this fuckin' thing.
I'm a really good person at getting short-term goals accomplished, and doing them well. I'm not the type of person who can focus on something for a long time, I don't have that kind of discipline. That's why I was honestly shocked when this project which really involves long preparation and constant long-term renewed energy, actually managed to keep going. And it was shocking to me, every month another issue would actually come out.
Maybe a better way to put that would be that doing something like this, starting from an idea and actually finding the people somewhere on the web…I didn't know any of the people that are involved today when I started…making something like this happen is actually possible, without any money. Doing something like this I never really thought was all that possible.
3AM: Do you have any plans to expand, like going to print or anything like that?
SS: No. Well, expanding, yeah, I mean we're always adding new stuff. We're gonna add an events area, we might have a political activism board or section added, the Hot Spots is developing, etc. etc. For us, expanding seems to come naturally. As soon as the need arises, someone tells me, I build the technical aspects of it, we find someone who's crazy about doing it, and it's off.
But in terms of print, I see almost no value in print, not in a magazine format. It's expensive, and it's needless today. I mean, it's so easy for anyone to send an article over email, and there's something about print that's so cumbersome in regards to what's more immediate. On the other hand, Get Underground Press will soon have a book coming out of essays, prose, and poetry compiled from our first year - and there'll be more coming soon after. By the end of 2003, we should have about six titles available.