Elevate Difference

If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: Fifteen Years Of Plan-It X Records

If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk is a sweet, well put together documentary film that captures the spirit and feel of the do-it-yourself, underground punk scene that has grown up around Plan-it X Records in Bloomington, Indiana. The film began as part of a filmmaking workshop at Plan-it X’s weeklong festival in Bloomington in 2006. In sixty concise minutes it documents the fifteen-year history of Plan-it X records and of the growth of the do-it-yourself, underground punk movement that it has helped foster. The film includes live footage of bands such as Operation: Cliff Clavin, Ghost Mice, Defiance, Ohio; Against Me, Soophie Nun Squad, Japanther, and This Bike Is a Pipbomb. It also includes interviews with important figures in the Plan-it X universe such as Chris Clavin, who runs the label, and Hannah Jones from Ghost Mice and Operation: Cliff Clavin, as well as many participants in the Plan-it X festival.

The tone of the film is positive, light, and respectful. It showcases the relaxed, friendly atmosphere created by the bands and fans and their commitment to the politics of do-it-yourself economies, punk community, and radical activism. It is clear that the filmmakers are a part of the scene and close to many of their interviewees. They capture the scrappy aesthetic of patched shorts, wild hair and silk-screened t-shirts and the sense of playfulness that infuses the scene through kickball games and quarry swimming, as well as participants’ dedication to freely exchanging skills, ideas, and resources.

The filmmakers also make a conscious effort to explain the scene to those who may not be familiar with it. They try to contextualize its emergence within the history of do-it-yourself hardcore, pop punk, and the ease of communication and information dissemination facilitated by rise of the Internet. While this makes for a balanced documentary, it also is where the film falters. It’s unclear whether the film is made for an audience that is already familiar with Plan-it X and will thrill to seeing their community captured on camera or if it aims to explain this sub-culture to a wider audience.

Because it is unsure of its audience, If It Ain’t, It Ain’t Punk’s only fault is that it does not analyze the scene very deeply. While the range of commentators includes men and women in nearly equally numbers and the filmmakers are sure to include some voices over the age of forty, including a very sweet dad who has come to the festival with his son, there is a lack of analysis about who exactly is able to participate in this sub-culture and feels welcome. Most of the faces are white and most of the bands are male and the demographic of participants is overwhelmingly young, most under twenty-five. While this is unfortunately inevitable in many rock-oriented scenes, because the filmmakers are so seeped in the culture of do-it-yourself punk, they would be in a good position to critique it while not loosing what makes it so special: the friendship, fun, and political commitment that the film highlights so handily.

Written by: Eleanor Whitney, January 7th 2011