Accountability and Community in Electronic Music: Toward an Anti-Oppression Framework

The Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle, WA, which hosted the 2nd annual Corridor Festival in 2017. Corridor Festival engaged a local and regional electronic music community. (Photo by Megan Mitchell)

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on techno music, or even any facet of electronic music, though I have dedicated a considerable amount of time ingesting and producing it over the years. I am also not an expert on any one anti-oppression ideology, though I advocate for and voice dissent to oppressive rhetoric and behavior.

I am curious, however, about many facets of how we, as a community, approach topics of sexism, transphobia, racism, and other oppressive ideologies as espoused by artists who hold a certain amount of clout. In particular, I’m thinking of the recent revelation of Konstantin’s sexist remarks and the transphobic comments posted from the Instagram account of the label founded by the artist, Bjarki. Admittedly, I am not familiar with the work of either of these two white men, but they are apparently accorded enough attention and recognition within the techno realm that their words have sparked a significant amount of (righteous) outrage. The reactions to the condemnable words espoused by these two artists have resulted in cancelled bookings, which I think is an appropriate measure. I just wonder about some larger questions begged by the actions and subsequent responses of the electronic music community at large, namely:

-What are the intrinsic/assumed values that permeate an electronic music community?

-Are we seeing these values tested because the concept of “community” has broadened to a more globalized scale where the constituents of that community come from a wider array of backgrounds and educations?

-Why do we generally hold artists to a higher standard regarding their stance on anti-oppression topics when we’ve seen that artists are just as fallible a population as any other slice of humanity?

-Should we reasonably expect that artists, simply by the merit of their creative output, are culturally sensitive and compassionate towards others who may not be like them?

-How do we meet those artists who don’t fall into this category at an appropriate level of effort to educate or address their words and actions in a manner that doesn’t involve complete shunning? Haven’t we all said and done some questionable things before being exposed to a more critical lens?

Please do not confound this last question with sympathy for bigotry; rather, it is an acknowledgement that many people may not have been exposed to the same ideological school of thought that surrounds critical theory and its intersections with music and media representation at large. It is my hope that we are moving toward a collective consciousness where this critical lens is gaining popularity within a larger, systemic framework, but I am also not ready to accept that everyone has received the same level of education about applying this lens. I am also fully cognizant that there are through-and-through bigots who exist in this world who are stubbornly married to their hateful beliefs, and that education is a waste on these individuals. But I have to wonder if shunning is always the most appropriate strategy in the case of the former.

Most importantly, then, perhaps, is how and who should be addressing the transgressions of these community members. It is my belief that the task of educating people through an anti-oppression lens should not inordinately fall to the responsibility of those who are already being impacted by marginalization, but it seems that we’re the ones stepping up to the task.

I don’t possess enough expertise to concoct a perfect solution to some of these larger questions, but I do know that I want to see more (white) men stepping into the role of educating and showing loving accountability to your friends and community members when they behave like shitty humans. This is, at the very least, a start.