Sharing great music from all genres is our mission, but it’s no secret that we have a deep love for dance music. And like Pride month is coming to an end, we thought there was no better time to point out that we wouldn’t even be here without the queer origins of dance music. Educating ourselves on the music we know and love is important all the time, so we hope to keep the conversation going even well after June.
Music as a form of protest
The fruit of dance music can be traced back to disco, which emerged in the 1970s in northeastern cities like Philadelphia and New York. The disco brought together people from all walks of life. The scene was mostly gays and people of color, and was created in response to the mainstream (and now gentrified) rock and roll of the ’60s.
It wasn’t long before the two counter-cultures clash and end in a riot. Disco demolition party was actually an MLB promotional strategy, which included baseball and rock fans overlapping. On July 12, 1979, during a White Sox and Tigers game at Comiskey Park, Chicago, a case of disco records was to explode.
Fifty thousand people and 39 arrests later turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in sports history. It was even discovered that people not only bring disco records to destroy, but also all records made by black artists, including r & b, funk, etc. To this day, historians still wonder whether or not the event was an expression of racism and / or homophobia.
Some may call this night “the night of the death of disco”, but others know that the genre is rising from its ashes in the form of house music. The legendary Frankie Knuckles, both gay and black, is widely recognized as the godfather of house music and was even inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996. He was a resident DJ at warehouse, where choppy disco records mixed with indie-soul and rock, which ultimately led to the genre’s innovation. As Knuckles gained notoriety in the dance music scene, the Warehouse became a hub for people from the LGBTQIA + community, and the club is considered the birthplace of house music.
As house music evolved, became popular, and became the conglomerate now known as EDM, there is no sense in denying that the genre is a by-product of the oppression of black homosexuals in other music communities and in America. Its foundation literally rests on being a safe space for everyone, which is why so many people are drawn to the scene to this day.
The current state of EDM
Some of today’s biggest electronic artists are openly part of the LGBTQIA + community like GRiZ, Rezz, Nicole Moudaber, Kaytranada, and Wreckno. While this does mean progress, we can’t deny that many festival lineups are still dominated by white, straight males.
If black and gay men helped create dance music, why is she so white and straight now? Billboard explores this question in an article, and a quote from music journalist and producer Zel McCarthy sums it up best:
“Because the people who run the business are straight men. “
Although progress seems to be happening, things aren’t exactly changing. A 2020 study of USC Annenberg titled “Inclusion in the Music Business: Gender & Race / Ethnicity Across Executives, Artists & Talent Teams” delves into the current state of the music industry and shows that out of 70 major and independent labels, 86.1% of senior executives were of males and 86.1% were also white. It also delves into underrepresented groups in the music industry, and the rest of the results were disappointing, but not surprising.
What can we do?
There is no single answer, but we have a few starting points.
As for the industry itself, there is a lot of work to be done. The documentary Underestimated brings an interesting solution: inclusion jumpers. More common in the film and television industry, NPR describes an inclusion rider as “a stipulation that performers can ask to be inserted into their contracts, which requires a certain level of diversity among the cast and crew of the film”.
Electronic artists, blogs, and promotion companies can certainly use inclusion jumpers when booking festival programming as well as hiring production staff, management teams, etc. There are already people who are starting to implement this into their contracts, but there are also a lot of people who are not familiar with inclusion endorsements, or who might be interested but do not know where to start. Now is the time to talk about them, update them and standardize them.
There should no longer be any excuse for the lack of diversity in the music industry. It’s a fact that marginalized people don’t have the same opportunities, so we need to push to cultivate a more diverse scene. Electronic music fans finally deserve to see a performance and experience a more inclusive community.
As fans, we can support artists, people who advance culture (like music journalists, stream artists, visual artists, etc.) and other people in the community who are LGBTQIA +, people of color or women. These groups of people will give you a perspective that you may not have known before. Introduce yourself to their sets, share their art, read their work and, above all, listen and amplify their voices.
Anyone can watch a show or share a social media post, but at the end of the day, the voices of marginalized people are rarely heard. Let’s once again make the stage a safe space for people who don’t feel out of place elsewhere. This is possible if we all strive to be welcoming and tolerant of people who are different from us.
We need to continue having these difficult conversations about under-representation in EDM. As a group that once had a mission of peace, love, unity and respect, our portrayal should reflect that and show outsiders how tolerant and diverse we truly are.
This can only happen when people of all sexual orientations, races and genders have an equal opportunity to shine and be heard. So let’s go support black artists even when it’s not Black History Month. Support women even when it’s not Women’s History Month. And support queer artists even when it’s not Pride Month.