Darien Sea Builds Community Within Chicago’s DIY Music Scene
Written by Vocalo Radio on March 23, 2023
Darien Sea is a Chicago-based musician and kombucha brewer who books shows at an array of local venues and DIY show spaces. His work allows him to build relationships between small local artists and the venues they perform at, resulting in a positive experience for the city’s independent music community.
Darien Sea’s love for the local music scene started when he was 13, booking — and winning, by default — a battle of the bands competition at a Naperville middle school. In years following, Sea’s personal musical interests cast a wide net; he studied jazz in college and now plays drums and sings for psychedelic heavy metal band Unmanned Ship and alternative country band Cat Mullins & the Holy Lonesome. When he’s not making his own music, though, Sea books DIY bands at several venues around the city.
“I really always enjoyed playing,” Sea said. “[I] also [enjoy] putting other friends’ bands on to shows because I just thought it was important to like, have community.”
The DIY music scene consists of bands and artists not signed to labels, usually performing music in nontraditional spaces like basements or living rooms. Sea has built a career for himself by connecting those bands to bars and live music spaces around the city. The underground DIY music scene nurtures community and gives independent artists full control over their sound, image and venues, unlike the image-perfect branding of big music labels.
“Sure, venues are fine…” Sea remarked. “I come from the venue world, but I love this DIY [scene]. Music is what speaks to me the most.”
In this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Darien Sea discusses overcoming racism in music, forging new partnerships, the power of music and building community in the DIY music scene.
When people ask who you are and what you do, what do you usually say?
I’d say I book a few venues in Chicago, play in bands, and I make kombucha. And a person that lives in the city of Chicago.
What kind of music do you play?
I studied jazz, and that’s like what I was going to school for. But now I play in a psychedelic metal band called Unmanned Ship, and I play in an alternative country band called Cat Mullins & the Holy Lonesome. I have a project with my friend Stu, we have a project called Fog. That’s like a jazz fusion-y sort of thing… We’ve been friends for like 20 years, not that it’s on the back burner, but… we get to it when we can. I still love jazz a lot, but I’ve tried to incorporate jazz, you know, my jazz brain into country in metal, essentially. Not that I don’t want to play straight ahead, I just like chaos. Or I like the chaotic nature of some free jazz, I enjoy that, but I want it to be through the lens of rock music.
Darien Sea turned his house in Logan Square into a DIY performance space, with intention to foster community in the local music scene. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio
Where are you from?
Okay, I was born in Naperville, Illinois, and I graduated high school from Naperville. But I moved around a lot as a kid because my father was in the military, and so imagine those dynamics in the household, discipline dynamics of God and the state. Church and state was not separated.
I started booking shows when I was like 13 in the ‘burbs, I had a band. Man, I wish I could find those recordings. But I think they’re lost in the ether, as of now. And then my first kind of show was at this middle school called [Thomas G] Scullen, in Naperville. We booked a battle of the bands. And then we played — we were the only band, obviously, because we’re like 12 or 13 years old. So we won, we killed it. We did some covers, we had our own original song called “One Step Closer.” I think from then, to be honest, I just really loved playing shows. And I also played at church, because I grew up, my dad’s a pastor, as I said, grew up Christian. That sort of live performance, for me, was always really special. And when you’re connecting with the Holy Spirit, or whatever… it gets ingrained in the musical aspect of performing. And so I really always enjoyed playing, but also putting other friends’ bands on to shows because I just thought it was important to like, have community.
I graduated high school, and I didn’t want to go to college, but it was kind of forced for me to do that. So I chose to go to Roosevelt, but then I got the opportunity to tour with a band called Young Men, and then 2012, I essentially started touring with this band for a few years. And then I officially moved back to Chicago full time 2014. And then I moved to this fabulous neighborhood called Logan Square, fantastic place for artists to live. I moved there because I got this cool opportunity to have a house turned it into kind of a DIY spot. I would throw shows in the basement. It was like a three-story thing with a bunch of friends.
Can you break down what “DIY” means for our listeners?
DIY is an acronym for “do it yourself.” Essentially, that means you’re not signed, booking your own shows, booking your own tours. I think a lot of the times, you are kind of on a trajectory, or whatever, you’re like, “Oh, I need to… book the shows and I play these venues and do these tours and grow…” You know, like, “Blah blah blah, do the festivals,” all that stuff. But then you are hanging out in the DIY scene, you’re like, “Whoa.” Sure, venues are fine, but this basement is sick. You find this community, and you’re like, “This place is weird.” It’s like in an alley, everyone’s like drinking Old Style, and, like, shots of Malort. The weirdest people that you could ever, ever meet, but the sweetest, most genuine, coolest, they are the best… They’re really nice, and, like, geniuses. And for that to be a community in Chicago, it was really helpful for me to see what was possible. Like, I come from the venue world, but I love this DIY [scene]. Music is what speaks to me the most.
What’s it like booking music, and what venues do you do that for?
I mean Chicago’s obviously segregated racially, but also artistically, I would say it’s a very segregated city, as well. Doing the DIY thing, I was like, “Oh, it would be really cool if these two worlds intersected. How can I do my best to cross these cultures together?” I book live music at California Clipper, this bar called Burlington. We book through a bar called Cole’s, a bar called Golden Dagger. And then working on growing that roster. Essentially that’s just putting on shows around the city of like, kind of like multi-genre bills. And then I used to work at this place called Cafe Mustache in Logan Square.
What has kept you playing music and living in Chicago?
The bands that exist in Chicago right now are out of control. It’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life. And I really listen to my friends’ music, I mean, I have to explore because like, that’s my job. But the things that actually, like, make me the most stoked are my friends’ bands… Because Chicago is putting out heat, and it’s nonstop. And there’s this label, International Anthem, where it’s like, literally the best music of all time is coming out of that label, from Chicago. They started here. They’re the homies.
I love Chicago so much. All of my friends know, who are in LA and in New York and in Miami, I tell them how dumb they are because they don’t live in Chicago. Because they pay, like, $5,000 in rent and, like, work eight jobs and, sure, you can get like, you know, “Oh, I get Korean barbecue or 6 a.m.” Like, it doesn’t matter! The culture is in Chicago. I hate the fact that the city’s segregated and that the music scene’s segregated, and I work really hard to try to bring cultures together. And it’s tough work, and it sucks. But when it comes together, it is very valuable. And I think that Chicago is the place where we’re going to see this incredible melting pot of all cultures pushing out the best music in the world.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller
Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
More from Vocalo: