If you’re a regular at Oakland house shows, you’ve likely shared a room with Nicholas Taplin. 

In 2015, Taplin began filming DIY shows and sharing footage under the name Post-Consumer, a reference to the recycled nature of documentation, as well as a future beyond consumerism. Later that year, he switched to shooting photographs at the shows. In January of this year, Taplin released an extensive photo essay spanning six and half years within the Oakland DIY scene, from 2015 through 2021.

Prior to his videography, Taplin practiced photography and audio recording as a means of documenting DIY shows in Santa Cruz. As a sophomore at UC Santa Cruz in 1999, Taplin already knew that documentation of DIY live music culture — that is, the culture of “do-it-yourself” community-oriented music scenes that exist outside the mainstream industry — was always going to be “a major part” of his creative life.

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Documentation was creative, meaningful engagement within a given music scene, Taplin found, but it also served another purpose. He discovered that videography eased his social anxiety, seeded by a brief stint at a Quaker boarding school that left him feeling “completely unconditioned socially,” 

At 15, Taplin moved from Santa Monica, California, to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to attend Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school. 

“Westtown was really amazing for me, because it was the first time I was completely surrounded by people my age who were totally sincere and emotionally vulnerable people, and some of those kids were into really cool music,” says Taplin. 

BG of the band undō, right, and BG’s friend Tommy hang out a Berkeley DIY venue called The Dildo Factory in 2018. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

“I am permanently indebted to Josh Eller for introducing me to Sonic Youth’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and Ciccone Youth records, and Timothy Leary’s ‘You Can Be Anyone This Time Around’ record, all of which extremely strongly imprinted on my mind and became central to my personal development.”

After a personal breakdown at Westtown, Taplin returned to school in Santa Monica, where he became frustrated with the quality of interaction among his peers. He then transferred to Redwood High School in Larkspur, where he was largely left alone. 

“The summer before my junior year of high school, my mom took me to visit the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, and I got a cassette tape of Alan Watts giving a lecture there in 1968,” Taplin says. “I really connected with what he was saying in that lecture, but I also felt that the way Alan talked was the way I felt about myself, so I started talking like that. It was extremely liberating for me to speak that way, which I did until I was 22.”

Piña, a tattoo artist, points a laser while friends look on at the Oakland DIY venue Sgraffito in 2018. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

Because of Taplin’s newly adopted English accent, his fellow Redwood High students mistook him as a foreign exchange student.

“At the beginning of my senior year [of high school], I built a recording studio, so I was doing lots of recording experiments, and I later used that equipment to start recording bands in college,” he says. 

After college, in 2008, Taplin was offered a job in Los Angeles involving post-production sound work and forensic audio restoration. But his life shifted irreversibly that year when he lost his mother to a devastating car accident. 

“My mom was the most brilliant, compassionate and intuitive person I’ve ever known,” Taplin says. “She was my lifeblood.” 

Documentarian Nicholas Taplin poses with his friend, Brontez Purnell, on his back patio in 2019. Purnell, a writer, zine maker, musician, dancer and director, was a member of the electroclash band Gravy Train!!!! and, more recently, the front man of the punk band The Younger Lovers. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

The following year, Taplin moved to Austin, Texas, to process his mother’s death and get involved with a new music scene. “What I wasn’t expecting was how difficult it is to make friends in Austin, and I also never found a band or scene there that I culturally identified with,” Taplin recalls. “Midway through my third year [in Texas], I was planning my escape.” 

Taplin’s escape plan led him to the Bay Area, where he felt he was bound to find his community. In 2012, he settled in Oakland. 

“Looking back, there’s no other place in the Bay Area, or even the whole world, where I would rather live than where I do [now],” Taplin says. “Oakland is the first city I’ve lived in that I think I can realistically be happy living in for the rest of my life.” 

Taplin praises the Oakland DIY scene for its radical acceptance of minorities and mavericks, saying, “The community here is extremely diverse, very queer-centric and amazingly embracing of openly neuroatypical people.” 

From left, Oakland curator, artist, writer, and cultural strategist Ryanaustin Dennis, Oakland rapper Mahawam and Brontez Purnell at a rare music show at the Berkeley gay bath house Steamworks in 2019. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

Over the course of nearly four years, Taplin gradually became immersed in the scene through his videography. He admits that it was “definitely a way to experience the music without having to socialize.” 

However, when his medium changed, so did his social approach. When Taplin pivoted to photography, his work evolved into intimate artifacts and opportunities for connection. 

“I feel more connected to the people when I photograph them,” he says. “I think a photograph of a person looking genuinely happy is nice to look at, even if you are totally disconnected from that person and their culture. 

“It’s also important, of course, that the people in the Oakland DIY scene are generally very interesting people, so in my photos they look both interesting and happy, which makes for a good candid photo.”

Oakland singer-songwriter Maya Songbird, also the leader of the band Telepathic Children and owner of Maya’s Magic Shop, poses at a 2018 show at Sgraffito. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

His photo essay capturing the scene from 2015 to 2021 is at turns joyful and poignant, including photos of pandemic isolation and friends who were lost in the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire. 

“I was friends with two people who died in the fire, Ara Jo and Donna Kellogg,” Taplin says. “Many people in the Oakland DIY scene lost many of their friends, best friends and romantic partners, so the loss was surreal. After the fire, it became normal for people to hug each other, and that was nice because I appreciate hugs.”

Taplin also notes that Ghost Ship was an anomaly within the DIY community. 

“Ghost Ship was an unsafe building,” Taplin recalls. “In general, all of the DIY shows I’ve attended have been safe environments in every aspect, both physically and emotionally. People here are generally caring and responsible, and they’re also smart.”

Dot Vom singer Dany Ricci and their partner, Ryan, attend a show at the Dildo Factory in 2018. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

Given the level of mindfulness within the scene, it’s not all that surprising that there’s been a moratorium on house shows since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“I really miss photographing people at DIY shows,” laments Taplin. “It gives me immense pleasure doing that.” 

In the interim, Taplin expanded his recording studio and recorded a world music record with his friend, Scott Stobbe, of the band Zdrastvootie

“[It’s] basically a combination of Balkan and Latin American styles,” Taplin explains. “That record came out last year, and it’s actually become the most critically acclaimed thing I’ve ever recorded. It’s regarded as one of the best world music records to come out that year.”

A self-portrait of Nicholas Taplin, who has been documenting the Oakland DIY music scene for more than six years (Photo courtesy Nicholas Taplin)

Taplin is currently recording an album with Christina Busler of experimental indie rock band Christina’s Trip. He’s also working on an Oakland DIY music documentary, featuring content from 400+ hours’ worth of his DIY show footage. 

Nevertheless, he’s itching to get back to the jubilant crush of Oakland’s DIY shows. 

“I really, really want to keep photographing while I do my best to pursue an interesting and exciting life,” Taplin says. “I always like making more friends and I’m pretty good at that, even with my unusual personality.”

To explore Nicholas Taplin’s full photo essay, visit https://post-consumer.com/oaklandpics/.