Our Black Roots // Recognising the importance of black music in shaping electronic music.

We are currently living through one of the most significant social upheavals of the last 50 years. Right wing ideology has weaved itself into the fabric of our society and exposed itself through the ‘alt-right’ and Trump. But during every turbulent political turmoil, a positive and creative reaction reveals itself. Underground art and music movements have always been a saving grace to those wishing to vent their frustration at a world we are seemingly unable to change but which continues to disenfranchise marginalised groups. The relationship between dance music and politics has never drifted far apart, but it is time for it to become stronger again.

Music for black people has always been a means of survival and rebellion. Denied formal education and artificially forced into a homogeneous black identity that was later used to enforce the ghettoisation of these communities, music has remained the tool for expressing discontent and was instrumental in decolonisation. From the freedom songs sung by slaves to the techno introduced to the world from its humble beginnings in 1980s Detroit, music has and always will be much more than ‘just music’. From jazz, blues and rock & roll of past generations to that of hip-hop, techno, garage and grime of modern times, black has been at the forefront of music with unmistakable political and creative impact.

Take, for example, the tracks that led up to the civil rights movement in 1964, from Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ to Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’, which both poetically and powerfully expressed the disgust with brutality towards the black community in USA from the 1930s to the 1960s. But following this movement the struggles of course remained, and the list of highly inspirational black music grew and adapted through genres, from Gil-Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’ all the way through to 2Pac’s ‘Changes’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker The Berry’.

Unfortunately, whatever era, the white-controlled media popularise these expressive genres whilst ignoring the plight of black people. This form of white-washing rids the styles of their authenticity and unfortunately still plagues academia and wider society. We can see this within dance music with EDM and techno as an export to Germany and the U.K. It is heavily dominated by ‘white bro culture’ which in turn provides an exclusive and hyper-masculine all white environment. But the appropriation of African rhythmic traditions is nothing new. Surviving through mutation and adaption, the music of black slaves by white mainstream society started at the same time as the crude phenomenon of Blackface minstrelsy. A lack of understanding and an unwillingness to engage with the music of the deep south of America led to the commodification of many of the above genres that previously served as a means of liberation for black people.

Unable to see past a society where the labour and creative products of black people are not merely for passive entertainment or exploitation, we are now confronted with a new generation of white men who are further stifling black communities and replicating the power structures around them. Hubs of multi-cultural cities like Detroit, London and New York have expressed themselves through modern-era dance music, from techno to vogue to garage. Nightclubs were a place where different marginalised groups came together away from the white or heteronormative gaze and expressed themselves through dance music. However, through gentrification of these cities false hedonism and exclusionary attitudes occur and are currently taking precedence over the need for self-expression by oppressed groups – largely down to the rising expense of living and partying dominated by the white middle-class.

But what happened to our black roots? False hedonism currently overshadows any attempt to reconcile the relationship between dance music and politics. Speaking passionately on this issue, last year Theo Parrish took to Facebook to express his dissatisfaction with the current state of this particular art form, “rooted in reaction to racism, birthed in struggle…how do you dance to this when we still swing from trees, when we still are murdered in front of our loved ones, murdered while subdued and harmless?” He ends with his feelings on the escapist attitudes of nightclub goers that are primarily concerned with letting loose on a Friday night, how this view is an outsider’s view and what dance music really offers us is solidarity. Solidarity and resistance has been the focus point of past underground dances, for example vogueing through the 90s. On a wider, more political scale, solidarity is the primary focus of organisations such as Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and the U.K., which sparked a panel discussion in conjunction with Boiler Room last year. It is clear that race, politics and dance music are irrevocably linked, and we shouldn’t hide this fact.

Many charities and organisations have taken the initiative to start grassroots movements to tackle these issues of oppression. In the UK, charities such as Voice 4 Change and Runnymede Trust are championing the voices of black and minority groups, providing support for disadvantaged communities and working to create an inclusive, multi-ethnic Britain.

Inspired by these organisations and multiple other charities/publications (see below), Watch The Hype is proud to bring to you Our Black Roots. It is our job as influencers within the scene to ensure our community is aware of its black music origins, and what better way to do this than through music curated by some of the most prominent artists of the last three decades.

Just in time to mark the close of Black History Month in the USA, through this Tracks Of The Day takeover we will shine a light on the significant contributions of black musicians in shaping dance music as well as the political landscape that influenced and birthed a new generation of artists. Each day during the takeover, beginning with Mr. G on Monday 27th, we will showcase a featured artist’s selection of four tracks that resonate strongly with them with and share their personal stories behind each track. Using this as a chance to engage and learn from those most affected by exclusionary policies on a wide scale, we bring to the forefront the necessity for social justice and race equality within dance music once again.

The six artists picked have varying experiences due to their location, gender, race and class. On board we have Fabio & Grooverider, Matthew Herbert, Mr. G, Auntie Flo, Hieroglyphic Being and Monika Kruse. This year we are pushing for the widespread recognition, appreciation and acceptance of electronic music’s black roots.

In addition to the online campaign, we will be hosting a live-stream session with Keep Hush to bring you an in-depth showcase of dance music’s black music origins with a selected panel of artists. Keep your eyes peeled for this coming in March!

 

Key race equality charities:
Black Lives Matter
Voice 4 Change
Stand Against Racism & Inequality
Runnymede Trust
Race Equality Foundation
Coalition for Race Equality and Rights

Support:
The Ransom Note
The Quietus
Magnetic
See Sick Sound
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