#BlackOutTuesday A retrospective

In November 2020, DJ Mag presented its “Alternative Top 100 DJs list” in association with Beatport. According to the authors, the motivation behind this list was “to shine a light on the DJs playing sounds on the periphery of the global poll in recent years, despite commanding huge audiences worldwide.”

The first 25 DJs were not only introduced but also asked a number of questions on the state of the industry. They included:
1.What three things have most helped you through coronavirus lockdown?
2. What lessons should the industry learn from this crisis?

3. What steps need to be taken to address the racism in the dance music scene?
4. What industry changes are you personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive?

5. What’s the greatest dance music track of all time?

In the first section of the article, we critically engage with some paradigmatic responses. It must be noted that not much has been said at all. Unsurprisingly, twelve out of the 25 DJs (Nina Kraviz, Peggy Gou, Nora En Pure, Green Velvet, ANNA, Marco Carola, Paul Kalkbrenner, The Martinez Brothers, Solomun, Tale Of Us, Richie Hawtin, and Maya Jane Coles) did not answer a single question posed by DJ Mag. Only ten out of 25 DJs (Charlotte de Witte, Carl Cox, Claptone, Adam Beyer, Jamie Jones, Black Coffee, Deborah de Luca, Solardo, Meduza, Honey Dijon) gave an answer to “what steps need to be taken to address the racism in the dance music scene.” Disappointingly, the same is true for “what industry changes are you personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive.” (Charlotte de Witte, Carl Cox, Claptone, Boris Brejcha, Jamie Jones, Black Coffee, Deborah de Luca, Solardo, Meduza, Honey Dijon).

On top of the list is Charlotte de Witte. Her response to coming first is remarkable in itself since it is far from reality: “it’s probably the strangest year to become №1 DJ since no one has really been DJing.” This denial is in no way exceptional. As many of the individual answers show, it seems to be systemic to the electronic music industry. No doubt, facing the truth about one’s complicity in other people’s suffering is not easy but remaining ignorant is just reckless behavior. Before looking at a few answers more carefully, we want to emphasise that we do not want to blame any individual on their own. The DJs that are addressed here represent a much broader systemic problem. When we address them, then in the firm belief that their popularity, visibility and power comes with great responsibility.

One slogan that we have heard in one of its various forms over and over again as a reaction to the Back Lives Matter movement is that “all lives matter.” When asked about what industry changes she is personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive, Charlotte de Witte jumps on the same train: “I would like to underline the importance of having the possibilities to talk about how this crisis has been affecting us and our mental health. We’re all in this together.” In her highly recommended book “Why I’m No Longer Talking (to White People) About Race,” Reni Eddo-Lodge explains perfectly how problematic this way of thinking is. She writes “[r]epeatedly telling ourselves — and worse still, telling our children — that we are all equal is a misdirected yet well-intentioned lie. […] It’s a social construct that was created to continue racial dominance and injustice.” Instead, we must recognise actual inequality and difference. We are only all in this together when black people are given equal opportunities!

Answering the question of what industry changes he is personally pushing for to make the dance music more inclusive, Claptone shows the same neglect to recognise inequality and difference. How does encouraging your audience to wear a mask helps to fight discrimination when the event is held in Ibiza or the cheapest ticket is over £30? Events like Claptone’s “Masquerade” are nothing but performative in the end. This becomes even more apparent with respect to the black square posting last year. The black squares did not prevent the DJs who posted them from playing one plague rave after another while black and brown people suffer the most from the pandemic.

A pattern that is often seen, when people face criticism or are asked to challenge structural inequality, is to make the conversation about themselves. Ignoring the question of what steps need to be taken to address the racism in the dance music scene, Boris Brejcha follows lead. In reply to what the industry should learn from the crisis, he answers “I have learned for myself and also noticed how stressful the job can be. Therefore I think it is better to shift down a gear, and to focus more on quality, so that the fun does not get lost and always comes first.” Taking oneself as the norm is one of the most insidious ways of maintaining the status quo. If the music industry does not reject whiteness as the norm, nothing will ever change.

Another common trope can be found in Deborah de Luca’s reply to “what steps need to be taken to address the racism in the dance music scene.” She answers: “I actually believe that in the dance music scene there is not much racism. I find much more sexism!” Sexism is without doubt a major problem in the music industry but one form of oppression must not be seen as independent of another. In other words, sexism and racism often intersect. Playing one against the other is a patriarchal move that needs to be dismantled. In “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” — another highly recommended book — bell hooks offers a great analysis of the failure of feminism to reckon with this problem. She points out that “[i]t is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement.”

Much needs to be done if we want to address racism in the electronic music industry. Those who remain silent have chosen to side with the oppressive system! Charlotte de Witte tells herself what’s required, at minimum: “we should keep on educating ourselves.” It is time that people in the industry put in work. Reni Eddo-Lodge and bell hooks’ books provide excellent starting points.

Having read the questions by DJmag’s journalists to the artists, we asked ourselves what do the journalists and stakeholders themselves think as they shape public opinion and trends in the industry. It has been one year since the music industry collectively posted their black squares on #BlackOutTuesday, with most of them not attaching any meaning to it. According to Black Lives in Music who recently did research on Black musicians’ experience in the UK, “no change has happened.” As we can see, the same people are still in control of the industry. What we immediately noticed when we were thinking about the potential journalists/stakeholders is that the vast majority of them continue to be white men. There’s still no diversity at the top of the biggest platforms. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the same pattern of mistakes keep happening.

For the second part of the article, we sent out questions to 11 journalists and stakeholders. Three of them replied. The email included four basic and one individual question. The basic questions were the same as those asked to the DJs in the DJMag article. In the case where the person did not respond to requests for comment, we just show what our individual question was. Otherwise, we share the answers without editing.

What lessons should the industry learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

What steps need to be taken to address racism in the dance music scene?

What industry changes are you personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive?

A year after #BlackOutTuesday do you feel anything has changed for black people in the nightlife industry? (especially regarding the press)

Resident Advisor

Paul Clement, CEO & Co-Founder of Resident Advisor Ltd., gave the following answers:

What lessons should the industry learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic clearly highlighted how central events are to this scene. It also shows how important and underappreciated promoters and venues are. It allows for the opportunity to rebuild; local first, on a more diverse, sustainable, safe, representative, and inclusive basis.

What steps need to be taken to address racism in the dance music scene?

In terms of the industry at large, I think first and foremost it’s important we address our own backyards before making demands of others. From an RA perspective, we’ve been working on this in three primary areas:

  1. Who we cover and support: We continue to review our work in this area to improve our balance of coverage.
  2. Who is doing the coverage, and who we work with: This includes our contributor base of writers and creatives as well as those that we partner with.
  3. Who we employ from a staffing perspective. The most effective teams are those with the most diverse perspectives. Work on this frontier has been ongoing for some time, and it will take a number of years to fully realise our goals.

What industry changes are you personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive?

Personally, my focus and responsibility has been internal, in leadership, and supporting our teams to implement changes needed to ensure the RA is playing a constructive role to help the scene be more inclusive.

A year after #BlackOutTuesday do you feel anything has changed for black people in the nightlife industry? (especially regarding the press)

I hope more opportunities have been extended to Black and minority people interested in and working within this scene. When companies reflect on their make-up and review who they work with/for, how they operate, hire, and support staff, and examine their shortcomings, I would hope this creates change.

Organisations like B.A.D. play a valuable role in connecting and highlighting talented Black creatives, to bridge the gap between disconnected networks or narrow social circles.

However, given the industry is still by and large closed for business owing to the pandemic, I am not in a position to make a case that major change has yet been achieved. Meaningful progress takes time and needs consistent leadership, support, dedication, and effort. This is a process that will take years, but it feels like there is positive momentum for change.

In July 2020 R.O.S.H. published “a letter to RA and the rest of the UK music press”. What concrete measures did RA take to ensure a balanced and accurate coverage in future?

I’m grateful for R.O.S.H.’s dedication and time. Our senior editors, various RA staff, my co-founder and I, have had a series of multi-hour-long conversations with R.O.S.H. These were insightful, interesting and provided a jumping-off point for reflection, learning, and further discussion.

In RA’s near 20-year history the company has not often made public statements nor have we done a good job in representing what we do or why we exist. The pandemic taught us we certainly need to be more transparent. We’ve since been providing more updates, as well as publishing information about our operations, goals and work; our community projects, updates on diversity and company-related news, are a starting place for this and we’ll be doing more of it in the future.

It’s important for people to voice concerns, raise questions and hold the media accountable. RA is not a perfect organisation, we’ve made mistakes, but will continue to take on different perspectives and learnings along the way.

Editor’s Note: RA did publicly acknowledge the letter, in various social media posts. There was however no detailed reply letter to the specific points raised by R.O.S.H., and the RA affiliated writers mentioned in the piece (such as Andrew Ryce) did not individually respond.

Andrew Ryce (Music editor Resident Advisor)

In July 2020 R.O.S.H. published “a letter to RA and the rest of the UK music press”. Highlighting your involvement especially, why did you never publicly reply to it?

What concrete measures are you taking to ensure a balanced and accurate coverage in future?

Andrew Ryce did not respond to requests for comment.

GROOVE Magazine

Maximilian Fritz, Groove Magazine editor, gave the following answers:

What lessons should the industry learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

There are so many lessons to learn, actually. For me, it’s important to acknowledge that practically all of the issues that are said to have been started by the pandemic were most definitely visible and spoke about before. It has been pointed out years ago that flying a certain elite of DJs around the globe, neglecting regional talent and promoting superstardom are not exactly the healthiest ways to go for a scene that claims to be rather non-hierarchic and dedicated to the music. More important pillars of the scene, whatever that is actually, are inclusivity and certain political values–at least that’s what’s often been vowed, but rarely been shown. The debates about the origins of dance music and the communities it’s rooted in have never been led more frequently than in the last 15 months. This is something we should hold onto, especially when we’re talking solidarity within a worldwide catastrophe that especially affects marginalised communities–the ones that created dance music.

What steps need to be taken to address racism in the dance music scene?

Basically the same ones that need to be taken to address racism in general: Speak up if you notice it. Be aware of what racism actually is, educate yourself, don’t solely apply your own definition of racism, listen to individuals and collectives afflicted by racism. Don’t downplay potentially racist incidents, don’t crack a joke trying to avoid serious discussions.

Specific to dance music: Believe people that decided to speak up about certain issues in social networks, don’t accuse them of lying for their respective five minutes in the limelight. Why would they? Even if it’s hard, try to separate artists from their private persona. It is possible –and maybe not so rare–that people produce great music or are awesome DJs but act racist nonetheless. All in all, it is crucial to establish a discourse in dance music that enables POC to share their experiences and worries without being ridiculed, not taken seriously or not believed. To make this happen, it’s of course important to not only have POC as musicians but as well as writers, bookers, agents and in other important positions in the whole industry.

What industry changes are you personally pushing for to make the dance music scene more inclusive?

As Groove, we tried to promote solidarity as well as possible. The problem is that we have to work with extremely reduced capacities since the pandemic kicked in, which means that we weren’t able to do all the projects and articles we planned. However, this should not be an excuse since we know that there’s still plenty of work to be done. Our podcast series became more diverse, we are also planning to discuss racism in the German dance music industry in a roundtable format with artists that helped shape the local scene that is to be published soon.

A year after #BlackOutTuesday do you feel anything has changed for black people in the nightlife industry? (especially regarding the press)

Personally, I don’t feel that there has been a sort of seismic shift that put everything upside down–I don’t think nor hope anyone feels that way. The changes I notice are small, but at least they exist. Maybe I’m wrong here, but in my perception the representation of black people has sort of increased. Some outlets seem to undertake the effort of integrating more black people in their coverage. Needless to say, that’s not enough and much more work has to be done, this is just the beginning. I sometimes still get the feeling people are reluctant to engage in supporting black people. I can’t say anything about the nightlife industry when it comes to clubs since I haven’t experienced a regular club night since the beginning of the pandemic. What is deeply concerning though is the tokenizing that started in the whole PR circle since BLM gained momentum again. I got the feeling that agents tried to cash in on anti-racist art from time to time, advertising skin colours in subject lines already.

Someone in the industry tells you that there is a clear link between non-representation of black people e.g. on playlists or on line ups and police brutality against them. What’s your take on that?

The first thing coming to my mind would probably be that the police are not listening to playlists or checking line-ups of festivals or clubs. I’d still say that this is true, but that’s not the issue here. We are talking about representation, which is definitely a matter of visibility. The more representation black people have, not only in dance music but in mainstream culture as well, the more acceptance they gain and the less racism that leads to violence they will experience. Representation not only reduces the negative consequences but also increases the positive prospects for black people. It’s easier to act as an ally or to promote solidarity when marginalised groups are perceivable within the industry. If they aren’t, there’s less awareness and less care for them which opens the gate for unpunished or even ignored police brutality.

Alexis Waltz (Editor-in-Chief GROOVE Magazine) did not respond to requests for comment.

Freelance Writer

Gabriel Szatan, freelance music journalist, only answered the individual question and to our surprise blocked us on twitter:

On April 9th you tweeted about the volcanic eruption in St Vincent. The tweet was labeled racist, insensitive, rubbish by the likes of Jamal Edwards MBE, Liam Bailey and other people on social media.

Do you think that your personal views allow you to cover black music from an unbiased angle?

How can you ensure that going forward your personal views & actions won’t hurt people of colour?

On the morning of April 9th, prior to the eruption of La Soufrière later that day and subsequent impact to the island, I used a news headline about Saint Vincent to refer to rock artist St. Vincent’s forthcoming album. I regret doing so and apologise. There is no correlation between a careless one-liner and any personal views I hold, or the work I do within music. The tweet was rightfully criticised and I have taken that on board. It was insensitive, should never have gone out and will not be repeated. Sorry.

Editor’s note: The start date of the eruption of La Soufrière was in December 2020. On April 8th the island of St. Vincent declared a red alert warning of a “substantial prospect of disaster”. The situation was already extremely serious and predictable on the morning of April 9th 2021.

Mixmag

Patrick Hinton (Digital Editor, Mixmag)

Seb Wheeler (Head of Digital, Mixmag)

Duncan Dick (Editorial Director, Mixmag)

Do you think one can genuinely report on the Liverpool event without drawing the link to the spiking COVID19 cases in India when the headliner just toured there a few weeks before?

Patrick Hinton, Seb Wheeler & Duncan Dick did not respond to requests for comment.

DJMag

Rob McCallum (Digital Editor, DJmag)

Lauren Martin (Features Editor, DJMag)

Carl Loben (Editor-in-Chief, DJMag)

Do you personally believe that DJMag Top 100 lists are a positive factor in the process of having a more diverse industry? If yes, what makes you think so?

Rob McCallum, Lauren Martin & Carl Loben did not respond to requests for comment.