by frankie decaiza hutchinson
“I def think it’s time for us to take nightlife back!” a Brooklyn promoter said whilst inviting me to a rave as if this is our decision to make. The race war and the pandemic have illuminated a depressing reality – club safety has never been a priority for some promoters. More specifically those with the most resources who are solely driven by money and “g0oD vIbEs”.
It’s important to make a distinction between the handful of underground raves that have happened in NYC during COVID-19 and the Business Techno Industrial Complex. The former, whilst misguided and dangerous, weren’t profitable to the extent we can easily assume the European events are, indicated by the highest paid DJs, the event size, and magnitude of production. This doesn’t make any event without protective measures excusable; I don’t believe there’s a good enough justification for any of these events to continue in light of having such limited and shifting medical facts. But we cannot examine this industry (or any industry) without looking at where the majority of the power and money is concentrated and how those who are in the position to make greater sacrifices should be doing so. In the European scene, people are attempting to “return” more rapidly than anywhere else in the new COVID-universe. Videos circulating online demonstrate zero interest in social distancing, zero accountability and zero engagement with the current issues of appropriation and commodification of Black music. We have witnessed a demarcation of a business techno community that fundamentally pretends that oppression doesn’t exist.
Classic platitudes like “it’s about the music” and the timeless “positive vibes only” are only whipped out when the business techno community is criticised rather than these platitudes holding any kind of profound meaning to the biztech community. These platitudes are used as a protection and deflection from the gross reality that business techno is merely a tangent of white supremacy and capitalism and not counter to it, which it likes to pretend it is.
A lot of the business techno DJs/promoters posted those cringe “solidarity” black squares that were regrettable before #blackouttuesday even began. Black people predicted how empty that gesture would be, and how something as easy to post as that would then easily be used against actual anti-racist organizing. I criticized a DJ for a caption I deemed racist. I was then subjected to retaliation by their fans saying something to the effect of “Leave her alone she already posted about Black Lives Matter” They were of course referring to the black square posted and not referring to other concrete examples of any anti-racist work. Black political struggle became another commodity within a culture that’s already commodified Black music.
When my agency asked for financial help for our DJs facing unemployment due to COVID-19, it was met with abuse and ridicule, most notably by the European scene. A few months later a European club raised over £180k to save a building due to COVID-19. This really was a moment of clarity for me: that human life is more expendable than cement. Similar to when the burning Notre Dame raised an astonishing one billion USD in a world where people cannot eat. The value put on a building versus a struggling person, and in our case predominantly Black, POC, queer and trans artists, is truly staggering.
No one wants to criticize our scene’s richest people. Obviously most of them are white people who have profited the most from Black musical exploitation and sacrificed the least. I recently tweeted about one of techno’s wealthiest DJs who returned to the booth after five months. I asked why isn’t it possible, given their extortionate fees and influential following, to sacrifice five more months of DJing in the interest of clubbing safety. Whilst there was some agreement, there was also a bewildering pushback from those who sought to defend the richest and most privileged. If you can’t criticize a rich person during a pandemic disportionately affecting and killing the poorest whilst living under capitalism, then when exactly can they be criticized?
“Are you only attacking this person because they’re rich?” Like- yes. How is that not a good enough reason to be critical of someone in a world where wealth disparity and exploitation are rife. Or you have those who say “but it was legal” as if legality has ever been a trustworthy moral or ethical compass especially in a context asking to defund the police and abolish prisons.
Or you have the perennially ignorant “how is it different from a protest?” Well one is essential and one is not. One is explicitly fighting against a capitalist racist system during a pandemic disportionately killing Black and brown people and the other is not. Or you have the callously delivered “Well there’s only been like two hundred deaths in our city”. When did two-hundred people become an insignificant number? So insignificant you’re willing to risk it in order to rave again. In the face of profit and hedonism, it is insignificant, so may as well rave our way through it?!
There’s been an overdue and necessary movement to recenter Black artists in techno music. The unmasking of how far techno has been bleached and commodified continues to persevere at this time. The criminal manifestation of how rarely Black artists are booked, paid and represented relative to their white peers requires justice and reparations. A wave of Black people (and some allies) have presented experiences and free resources in efforts to make the scene inclusive and encourage engagement with anti-racism in order to support those most vulnerable in the scene. Witnessing large raves in Europe persevere without social distancing, few masks and with barely any Black artist bookings in sight, begs the question: how much can one do to instill empathy in others? How do we yield any kind of substantial result or effect in hopes of saving lives and cultivating an anti-racist scene?