Chris Rock is Right, and #EDMsoWhite
Last night at the 88th annual Academy Awards, host Chris Rock ruffled some feathers by making a very powerful observation: there were no black nominees.
Although Chris Rock was able to provide cutting wit to soften the very glaringly obvious blow, the fact remains that blacks are highly underrepresented artistically through mediums beyond just film. Dance music is a major example of how the early commodification of black culture has water-downed and bastardized a genre that once found its roots in the urban jungles of Midwestern metropolises.
In the early 1980’s, Detroit quietly became a futuristic hotbed of electronic music. By utilizing analog machines and a Motown aesthetic, the Belleville Three (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, and Juan Atkins) pioneered a new genre that supplemented artificial sounds with an urban vibe. The genre they created was techno.
(Pictured: Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins)
Although techno never saw mainstream American appeal after the heavy backlash from the disco era, techno and house music (founded in Chicago under similar conditions) made their way to Europe and became hugely influential to the future development of electronic music.
Fast forward to 2016. Aside from European classicists and the highbrow American dance minority, the black narrative of electronic music is largely unspoken. With the repackaging and commodification of electronic music as ‘EDM’ after the appearance of Deadmau5 at the VMA’s in mid 2010, dance music has finally crossed over to an American audience that has little appreciation for the genre’s American pioneerism.
Taking a look at any ‘Top 100 DJ’ list reflects exactly that. DJ Mag’s 2015 Top 100 DJs features only two black DJ’s, the first of whom, Carl Cox pulls in at #63….when realistically The King of Ibiza has the talent and innovation to easily crack the Top 10 every year. (I’d also like to note that the list contains hardly any female DJs–despite a number of highly talented and underrepresented women in electronic music–but I’ll save that for a different story)
Juan Atkins, frequently lauded as “The Godfather of Techno” voiced his frustration via his Facebook page after reading a very similar ranking from “The DJ List”.
Although the issue of underrepresentation in popular culture is a major issue, one must consider who exactly has created the climate of the music industry to behave in such a way. Billboard recently published a ranking of the 100 most powerful people in the music industry.
Don’t hold your breath, but the highest rankings are held by older white men. The first ‘powerful’ minority in the music industry doesn’t even crack the Top 30, so how can the music industry possibly divert from the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (W.A.S.P.) narrative when positions of power are being held by the ethnic and sexual majority?
Commodification of black culture is no big secret and certainly, not a new phenomenon. Black minstrel shows date back to as early as the 19th century, but in 2016 I would hope that the voice of cultures outside of the ethnically white majority could permeate our society to include the rich and diverse backgrounds that have been forced to exist on the periphery of our awareness.
Born and bred with the Detroit techno scene, I pledge my allegiance to the underground.