EDM Pride: Where Are All the 'Out' DJs? [Editorial]
June is Pride month, a month where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people celebrate their sexuality and identity. Pride is celebrated all over the United States and abroad, with countless festivals and parades hosted by “out” emcees and entertainers---those who are uninhibited and free to be gay in the eyes of their friends, fans, and families. Undoubtedly, musicians have debated the pros and cons of coming out for years, but for EDM, a community that is so largely accepting, so largely PLUR, it’s a fair question to ponder: Where are all the “out” mainstream DJs in the electronic dance music scene?
To be out is to be open about your sexual identity. Coming out is a personal choice for any LGBT person, but with the help and support of family and friends, it can be a source of strength and liberation, as many people who are in the closet live in a constant state of fear and hiding. Now you may be wondering, whose business is it anyways? Why do I care who my favorite DJ sleeps with? This is a most excellent point, and deserves noting that for the LGBT movement, as for many movements, visibility is key: it helps us gain exposure to our issues and helps our progressive movement gain momentum.
“Nobody owes anybody anything. That’s very important to remember about all of this,” says Tommie Sunshine, notable record producer, DJ, and songwriter.
It’s no one artist’s responsibility to come out for the sake of the movement. That being said, it is our responsibility, as fans, to ensure that our artists do not feel like they cannot come out, for fear of rejection, ridicule, or countless ignorant, hateful, and judgmental Facebook comments.
Every DJ has the right to be as public with his or her relationship as Kim and Kanye, or as private with his or her relationship as countless other DJs are. The point is not that they should come out for the betterment of the movement, but instead, the question is why don’t they come out? Are there mainstream DJs that feel closeted, who perhaps don’t come out because of fear from discouraging record sales, mp3 downloads, or backlash from the largely male-dominated EDM fan base?
“I think that a lot of it boils down to acceptance,” says Corynne Burrows, CEO of RISC Business. “It's incredibly challenging to build a solid, dedicated fan base; this industry is becoming very saturated and is highly competitive. For these artists that are trying to build their fan base or trying to maintain and grow their existing fan base, coming out could potentially be detrimental to all of the hard work they have put in.”
This is an ironic tragedy when considering the history of dance music and the legends who helped build its foundation. House music was birthed as the queer nightlife’s response to disco, and it’s from this baseline that we have derived subsequent genres of EDM music. Prominent artists like Larry Levin, one of the originators of house music, were members of the LGBT community, yet few remember him or other house music predecessors.
“When I came into house music in Chicago in the eighties, house in its infancy was black and latino and gay. When I first started going out, I was the token straight white guy at the party---that’s how it started. So imagine how strange it is for me to look out on the mainstage and see an endless sea of not that,” Sunshine explains. Somewhere along the way, the EDM community has lost sight of its origins and has undergone a massive cultural shift.
“You don’t make change by going to the top and hoping it trickles down. That’s proven not to work,” says Sunshine. Instead, he believes that the best way to tackle these topics is to “start with the people it matters to the most. Those people make sure that the people who are a closest to them understand why it matters to them, and then you work slowly and you get each person.” A grassroots approach to the issue might be exactly what the EDM community needs right now.
So what can we, as fans, do to encourage and support any artist who may be in the closet? We can start by having the conversation. We can hold each other accountable on blogs and forums, and call out hate and intolerance when we see it. We can support the great EDM DJ who finally takes the plunge and chooses to live life proud and 'out'loud.
“Let DJs know that you love them and their art for what it is. Be supportive and accepting. At the end of the day, we are all here because of our love music and these DJ's are consistently providing the soundtrack for some of our favorite memories. Just show them the love they deserve,” says Burrows.
Whoever carries the torch for the LGBT movement to come back into the EDM scene will have a heavy load on their shoulders, but it is a load that they will not carry alone. We, the fans, will be there to shoulder that responsibility, and create a space where all fans and artists can coexist in humanity and harmony.