[CONTENT WARNING: Racist, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic slurs and imagery]
From its birth in The Warehouse in Chicago and the Paradise Garage in New York, House music was first played by and for a largely black queer crowd. The political, social and sexual impact of dance music was huge, in a society fraying along lines of class, race, sexuality and gender. Though UK Rave culture lacked some of the political relevance of Chicago House, the early 90’s motto of “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect” (PLUR) proved that, even on this side of the pond, the values surrounding the music were important.
These clubs and nights, and the parties and communities surrounding them have undoubtedly been romanticised, but the association of underground electronic music with diversity, acceptance and histories of struggle is clear. Yet the electronic music scene today seems to be drifting further and further from this history; instead of marginalised groups being respected and centred, those in charge are instead creating a culture which is toxic and exclusionary.
As if to perfectly demonstrate what we mean, Jackmaster, one of Glasgow’s most famous House DJ’s and cofounder of the record label Numbers posted a transphobic photo and comment on social media last week.
When people reacted angrily, Jackmaster edited the post but instead of accepting his mistake and apologising, like a decent human might, he tried to deny having used the slur (which was still visible in the edit history) and even tried to turn the tables on those challenging him by getting on his high horse.
After concluding that “it has nothing to do with your sexuality” (yeah, you’re dead right), he finally removed the whole thing. He obviously made the right decision, eventually – but when someone has a history of using homophobic language, it’s perhaps not an isolated incident.
I don’t think we need reminding but our society is deeply transphobic, with 77% of trans youth reporting bullying or harassment growing up. Trans people are much more likely to develop mental health problems, suffer street violence and be unemployed. Transphobia will never be acceptable, but given this context, it is all the more important that we challenge those who use their platform to mock an already marginalised group. If you make a living standing on shoulders of giants, you don’t get to use that position to piss on those below you.
Jackmaster’s comments aren’t only horrible in their own right, they’re indicative of an erosion of queer culture within the club scene more generally. A pronounced shift from disobedient and challenging queer parties to undistinguishable heteronormative nights that exclude the very people this culture was created to include. Trans artist, DJ Sprinkles describes the problem perfectly, “If you’re in the US and it’s a straight, white club then it’s just a fucking nightmare. These events are the celebration grounds for heteronormativity. There is a historic connection between queerness and deep house, and also things like transgenderism and vogue, that, to me, was really important – and it’s utterly absent.”
Unfortunately, it’s not all about this one bad thing this one DJ once said and it‘s not limited to transphobia and homophobia. People of colour, without whom dance music simply wouldn’t exist, are also being marginalised and ridiculed. Last year Kirk Douglas, an Edinburgh based DJ (Musika, Nightvision and Fly Club) who has supported the likes of Green Velvet and Optimo, posted a picture on his Facebook of him in Blackface, and it’s still there. (if you really need reminding, here is why Blackface will never be ok).
There should be absolutely zero tolerance for this kind of racism, yet in addition to comments linking to Black and White minstrel videos, this post garnered 40 likes including Moda Black and Fly Club’s Theo Kottis, and Sub Club’s Technical Manager Sean Watson.
This isn’t the only racist incident by a well-respected DJ, far from it. Boddika infamously railed against UK service staff’s ability to speak English on Twitter and then there’s Denis Sulta’s “sheik down”, a student night at Cab Vol in Edinburgh with a concept that hinges on an exoticised portrayal of Arabic culture (fleshed out by Sulta himself in an interview with Fabric.) It’s no surprise that he also takes the piss out of migrants being deported from the UK on social media.
It can be expected that racism would be dealt with severely and without hesitation in other workplaces, industries and institutions. The question must then be asked, why not here? And what does this lack of action say about the culture surrounding these club nights and this music?
Some may think that these are just jokes and that any criticism of them is PC nonsense, that of course no one is actually discriminated against for real (obviously). With bigotry and racism however, the impact is always more important than the intent, and beyond the offence they have caused, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that actions like these are creating a club scene that is exclusionary and prejudiced. The excellent yet depressing verymalelineups tumblr chronicles the dire representation of women at so many events, club nights and festivals.
Glasgow promoters Ezup used graphics depicting sexual violence to punt one of their nights, and Fly Club told a woman who objected to them using an image of a faceless topless woman to get the lads in, to get a sense of humour.
It’s no wonder the crowd at many club nights is made up of overwhelmingly white straight cis-men, with sexual harassment and causal homophobia and transphobia par for the course all too often. The actions of the DJs and promoters and the atmosphere of the nights they put on are necessarily interlinked, so when Fly Club post racist comments promoting rape culture like this, I can’t help but think about how unsafe these nights could be.
Communities that are forged around music can be liberating, transgressive and provide a lifeline of support for those who face multiple oppressions in their day to day lives. These networks obviously still exist, with a wealth of POC, queer and feminist talent in Glasgow and elsewhere, and there are some really great nights with a hard won atmosphere of inclusion and respect – but it’s obvious that a large part of the electronic music scene has been co-opted by men who have little respect for the history of the music and a dangerous ambivalence towards discrimination.
The culture created is excluding marginalised people and making clubbing more dangerous, but why has it gone so wrong? It seems symptomatic of a scene that was once run by and for oppressed communities, as a place to escape and build networks of solidarity, now being dominated by those who have no interest in challenging the status quo. Obviously individuals should be held to account for their actions but maybe, just maybe we can talk seriously about the impact that our scene being dominated by such a small unrepresentative group of lads is having on the rest of us.
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