I live on the other side of the world from where I grew up, among people of more nationalities than I can count. Here, contributors to the CDM project have spoken Dutch and Czech and Romanian as native languages. I spent the past Sunday morning jamming at an Ableton Loop session with a woman from Tehran – who comes from a country where the music we made was literally illegal. I use technologies in music and motion that sprang from the minds of immigrants, before they were marketed by still more international teams, and then localized and sold to people on every continent. And if I want tonight, I can dance until dawn in some disused industrial building in Germany to a form of folk music that was invented by African-American kids in Detroit (the city my Mom is from), all through the abuse of machines like those engineered by someone in Japan.
In electronic music, motion, and performance, we are fundamentally part of a culture that is international. That internationalism depends on free movement and free communication. It depends on understanding and enthusiasm and people being friendly and supportive. It also depends on passports and visas. Some of it is possible because someone behind a desk looked at some stack of paper and gave someone a stamp or a sticker that meant they could live or work or travel over a particular border or play at a festival or club in a city they visited for the first time.
And that culture now involves every conceivable background and identity. If we sometimes favor the people in marginalized groups, it’s because we know that people in marginalized groups can find music as a refuge. People who seem weird to other people can make music freely because music loves weird.
The Internet, such as it is, is more or less removed from any of this. If you hit a filter in Iran or China, you just fire up a VPN and you’re instantly somewhere else. We can have encrypted conversations with one another through signals bounced off of satellites or fired at the speed of light underneath the ocean.
And of course, if you’re reading this, odds are you use those science fiction technologies to have sometimes mundane but impassioned conversations about knobs and wires and circuits, all to help one another make sounds that seem to have come from alien encounters in outer space or create images that came from your dreams.
Music and performance is a place where we can be safe, and sane. It’s a place we go when our hearts are broken and the world is mad. It’s a place that probably saved the life of your or someone you know. I think it saves mine more or less every day; it’s certainly why I want to keep living.
But politics can go somewhere else. And that should be cause for concern.
The music and visuals and performances we make, the tools we use, needs internationalism. It’s its stage and its fuel. The weirdos who make electronic music are a tribe that has no borders.
This is Create Digital Music, Create Digital Motion, not Create Digital Immigration Policy. But it’s clear that all across the world, right now there is a contagion, and it’s a fear of this very internationalism. Whatever other political reasoning you might see, this contagion is real, and I’m sorry to say it’s growing at a speed that means we can’t ignore it.
People are scared of refugees, of immigrants. They’re afraid of people of certain religions, of other people who don’t practice religion. They’re afraid in some extreme cases of the exchange of foreign culture itself.
And they’re afraid of certain individuals. There are far, far too many people who will make women or LGBTQ people or people of color or anyone else they don’t understand feel less valuable or unwelcome or even unsafe. And you know that’s a contagion that sometimes infects our industry and our world.
In short, this is fear of the very lifeblood of this site, the industry it supports, the creative scene it’s a part of, and essentially all the things to which I (for one) have devoted my life. This isn’t an issue for the UK or the USA. It’s something that’s really become a global matter. And that doesn’t mean globalized or homogenized either. You can invent a musical culture that’s your very own for just this afternoon, then change it tomorrow.
But at some point, you leave that safe private space and want to share what you’ve made with other people. And sometimes only one other person will get what you’re doing. There’s no way that borders or identity will obey that connection.
My life would be a dark place without the musical soul mates I’ve found across borders and oceans, and the inventors I’ve known (and sometimes met, but sometimes not) who I encountered in the machines and code they invented.
I’m not here to take a stand on elections or votes, a number of which in 2016 are now in the past. But I’ll stand by the vital importance of creating a safe environment for all these people, without exception. And we had better fight for that irrespective of what government or policy may be in power. It’s a political struggle whether make it explicitly so or not. It’s also intensely personal – and that means it’s something we can impact on a personal level, whatever is happening in the rest of the world.
I’m now back to bringing you as much of that international technology and music and motion and culture as I can. I’ve meanwhile reached out to people who work with various communities to help support what they’re doing and so we can share.
But know this: wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, to me you’re welcome in our tribe. And if politics seem to want to make you feel like the world is being divided, I hope that part of what we do with our strange set of business in music is at least to make you feel like wherever you are, when you’re sharing music and motion and technology with us, we share one home.
And look, I don’t mean to just go up on a soapbox. I want to say thank you. It’s hard to even say to people how much you’ve meant, whether you’ve connected as a reader or a colleague or an artist. You have consistently made me feel like this is one of the best times ever to be alive. Let’s keep that feeling.