When tragedy is mass tragedy, it becomes political – whether we want to “politicize” it or not. So we’re left with the question of how to respond.
Now seems as necessary a time as ever.
The events in Florida early yesterday morning left everyone I know with any connection to the dance music scene shocked and reeling. Terrorism is intended to feel personal like that. And now worldwide, in different ways, that medium of terrorism seems to be one we all have to face.
But before this happened, there was already an ever-louder drum beat in electronic music circles. We heard growing cries to turn awareness of identity politics into action. And one message that may have been hard to hear was, “this community needs to feel safe, and it doesn’t always feel safe.”
Now, I appreciate any mention of something as vague and fictional as the “electronic music community” or the “dance music community” is viewed with justified suspicion. And regardless of your own personal stake, it’s easy to want to withdraw from politics in general – at least on some days. I sure do. One of the joys in music is that it can be a refuge from politics, from whatever ails us. It can be our most important escape.
But that’s the point; that’s why this matters.
We need, as humans, places to feel safe. Places to feel loved and to love others. Places to belong. Ways of expressing how we feel.
Have you ever felt unsafe or unloved? Have you ever felt vulnerable – because of who you were, because of your sexuality? My guess is that almost anyone, irrespective of their privilege, can answer yes to all of these questions (those involving sexuality and love very much included). And while that’s likely bluntly obvious, it’s worth some reflection. If you’re capable of honestly appreciating those moments in yourself, then I think you’re probably capable of feeling empathy for others. And knowing that the people you want to reach have that same feelings suggests hope.
Identity politics is just one part of that. It can and should make people feel uncomfortable. If we really listen, it should allow any of us to realize that there’s someone else’s experience that we don’t wholly understand. There’s someone who’s having a rougher time of it than we are. (And yes, that probably goes for all of us reading this – someone, somewhere, has less privilege than we do, no matter how much we’ve suffered.) And not only that, but the political side of this suggests – there’s something we should do about it, personally.
I am hugely grateful that people are loudly talk about obstacles facing female-identified artists in music, and color and racial background in music, and sexuality and queer politics in music, and class and economic access in music. I’m grateful when people stand up for anyone deemed by various corners of our society to be freaks or uncool or ugly or overweight or any of the rest of the people who deserve to be in our dancefloors and in our electronic music studios and academies and in our noise making concert halls and spaces.
In particular, because they nicely dominate my social media news feed, I’m glad to hear from the people working at female pressure, from my fierce and freaky friends in Berlin and those I talk to on the Internet because you’re far away, to musicians like DJ Shiva who relentlessly champions the underprivileged and the underground and techno as balm for the soul, or my fellow child of the proud Commonwealth of Kentucky, The Black Madonna, who has taken her successes in reaching larger audiences as an opportunity to talk about politics and love in a way that makes me glad to celebrate dance music. To anyone who says we talk about issues of identity in music too much, listen harder. (To anyone who says we talk about this too much with nothing changing, come sit next to me and let’s figure it out.)
When horrible things happen in the world, it’s easy and natural to question whether we’re doing something meaningful with our lives. I remember having that feeling at the City University of New York, sitting in a composition lesson on the Upper West Side when we smelled the burning World Trade Center, creeping through the window, and later that day in a theory class (later to find the Empire State Building had been evacuated). To be honest, then I really wasn’t so sure.
A lot has happened, and I’m personally a lot more sure.
I want to say, I really want you to keep doing what you’re doing. Making music and making tools for making music probably isn’t essential to everyone. But wow, is it ever important to some of the freaks we know and love. And if you’re reading this, it has to matter to you in some special way, or you wouldn’t know this weird website in the first place.
It has personally saved my life, when I was able to share something inside myself with just one listener, when I was able to go into a space to discover something inside myself through someone else’s music. That’s why I’m a writer and a musician and why I care about music and the way it’s made. And the very essence of it is sharing.
These spaces aren’t open to everybody. There are a lot of people who can’t get in – can’t afford or enter the club, or the technology, who don’t feel welcome. So if we care about what they’ve meant for us, we have to help let them in.
But in an age when hateful, terrifying ideas are spreading at epidemic rates, maybe now is the best time to see how quickly we can spread our weird world of music, because at least there, there’s a way to express hurt and longing and to feel love.
When I graduated from my undergraduate college, we had a speaker on infectious disease who came to tell our group of mostly poets, modern dance choreographers, and 17th century painting scholars that humanity faced an existential threat from mass contagion that would kill us all. (Got it. When do I throw my cap in the air again?) I suspect he was right, and I’m grateful he’s working on the problem. But I’m terrible at stopping pandemics, and my own high school teachers would tell you I’d be a disaster as a lab assistant.
What it seemed he didn’t consider was the threat of pandemic unhappiness and how to cure it. Musicians can’t solve that, either, but at least we can help. (Also, those scientists might want a party to unwind after a long day at the lab.) But now, the contagion of misery does appear to pose a deadly threat, as well.
We have a lot of groups of people who are hurting even more after yesterday than they were the day before. Of course this means LGBTQ friends, and anyone who has ever gone into a nightclub as refuge. It also means people who have experienced loss and violence in nightclubs before, those who have experienced terror before.
America’s Muslim community and people of Arab descent will feel newly unsafe and unwelcome and unloved, along with many groups who simply look foreign or have foreign-sounding names. Some conservatives are already arguing that compassion for LGBTQ groups and compassion for Muslim Americans is somehow incompatible. I disagree, and I believe in music we have a unique obligation to welcome both marginalized groups; I believe people should be able to feel proud of who they are and where they’ve come from and practice what they love. A Representative from Florida said the “nationality of family members is indicative” in regards to the shooter – plain, calculated racism as talking point, made worse by the fact that bigots tend to know little about nationality or religion in the first place. That’s the world we live in, too, the one that answers bigotry and terror with bigotry and terror.
We also have to face that the reality of loss in Orlando is one faced by many people around the world, from Europe to the Americas to Africa to Asia. Now this year as I’ve gotten to know musicians from Iran, from Syria, from Pakistan, I’m starting to get to talk to these new neighbors and extended family about their own experience of safety in expression and how our experiences differ and compare.
We now all have common cause, to work as hard as we can to make places in which people can express themselves.
And please – let’s agree that we’ll turn off the news, turn off social media, go make some music, and share it with someone – even one person – and listen to some music they share with us. We need you, you personally, to feel strong, whatever that takes. We need you to keep making music, because “too much music” is not really the biggest problem this planet has right now.
And that’s the kind of electronic music “community” we need. We need always to be aware of where we can grow: in our own realization, and what we share with others. We need to give ourselves enough love to keep making music. And we need to try to include people faster than they are excluded, to make safe spaces more quickly than they can be undone. Even failing at that would be worth doing. So thank you for the chance to work together – now more than ever.