As I get ready to step down from the Mr. Roboto Project board of directors for the second time, i’ve been reflecting on what we’ve done. I guess more specifically I’ve been trying to look back at what i’ve been able to do and what i’ve been trying to do with my involvement with the space these last couple years.
Part of what inspired this particular post was someone posting this video of Flag (Black Flag reunion – Keith/Chuck/Bill/Dez/Stephen line-up) on Facebook and seeing a comment about how everyone in the crowd is just standing there videotaping the set on their smartphone. It’s a far cry from the energy and violence of the crowds that would have accompanied a Black Flag set in the early 80’s. It begs the question: what are the people involved trying to (re)create? What are they hoping to experience?
As one of the founding members and one of the longest running board members of Roboto, I’ve had a lot invested in the space. Towards the end of Roboto’s tenure in Wilkinsburg, I was one of the voices that was suggesting that perhaps the project had run its course and it was time to call it a day. We had created a thing. We had had an experience. And perhaps it was done. I was no longer involved in any official capacity at the time, but as an interested party, I brought up the idea that perhaps it was better to go out with a bang than a whimper.
For me, the glory days of Roboto were those first four years (1999-2003). There was a certain energy and a cohesion that began to fall apart thereafter. That isn’t to say that there still weren’t amazing things going on within Roboto or that projects coming out of Roboto didn’t continue to grow, but in more than a few ways, it just wasn’t the same anymore.
This being said, why would I get re-involved with Roboto in 2011 after they found the new space? Ultimately I think my main reasons were selfish; I like to promote shows, go to shows, perform shows at all-ages, DIY, alcohol-free, smoke-free venues. While Pittsburgh has a host of venues that meet some of that criteria, Roboto’s unique placeholder covering all of those bases was missed by me (and I think others as well). There was also a certain martyr complex kicking in — the scene needed an all-ages, DIY show space to thrive and it needed people like me to make sure that that space existed. And ultimately there was a hope that we might be able to recreate some of that magic of 99-03.
We didn’t recreate that magic, at least not for me. I’m not sure that we can. But in the 2 years that i’ve been involved in Roboto’s transition, I’ve realize that can’t be our goal. We can’t go back. And why would we want to? The old Roboto was a shithole in many ways, and that was fine, even awesome, at the time; but now we have a nice space and we should be thankful. A lot of people worked hard to get us where we are today as an organization.
A few months back, Joy from Belvedere’s was at Roboto and commented on how happy he was that we had such a nice space (remember, this is a guy who runs a place described as an “ultra dive”). I said something about how some people didn’t think it was punk enough. I believe his response was something along the lines of “fuck that.” We deserved to have something nice.
Roboto may no longer be the center of Pgh’s punk rock universe (I realize that’s a big claim to say that it ever was, but it was definitely in that rotation for some years). Roboto may no longer be the default place for bands to have their record release shows and their tour kickoffs. When Roboto started we had a pretty tight group of people with some common goals and interests. As I leave the board, the board members in charge represent a much more diverse sense of what it means to be interested in the music scene, DIY, punk rock, etc. I think that bodes well for the possibility of creating a new moment, a new spark in the Roboto machine. But for now it’s time for this old-timer to slowly move to the side and stop projecting my ideas of what this thing could be.