Music is a Powerful Thing
by Suzybee & Friends
Suzybee is an animator, painter, co-organiser of Freerotation (an electronic music & audio-visual festival), co-founder of Mindtours & Freerotation Record Labels, and she performs her visuals live with partner & musician, Steevio.
Music & Community
I discovered dance music for the first time as an art student studying painting, over 20 years ago, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It liberated me from my inhibitions and made me feel part of a shared collective experience in a way I had never felt before, with a bunch of people most of whom I didn’t even know. At the same time, I met a musician, my soulmate and creative partner, who was organizing wild warehouse parties. That magical shared experience, combined with a sense of freedom to express yourself is what we both continue to strive for. The peace and tranquillity when you connect with those around you through the music and the movement, is deep below the surface of normal interaction or language, and has a profound impact.
The Human Race is at a crucial point where technology has made us more aware of the bigger picture than ever before, and more connected globally, and yet we are seeing battles play out between nations, cultures, capitalist structures and the natural world, increasing inequality, fear of others perpetuated by the media, and mass extinction and destruction of our environment. There are so many barriers between people and a debilitating feeling that we are powerless to change things, and yet we know it doesn’t need to be that way. Music has the potential to unite and liberate, to break down barriers, to empower, and bring people together.
I have had many conversations recently with friends who feel the same way. We talked about the importance of diversity and how that contributes to the collective energy, how social groups which are under-represented need to be encouraged, and how powerful the experience is of the connected community which music creates.
I asked those friends to contribute some words for this blog post, as our conversations had been on my mind. Here’s what they sent me…
- known as The Neighbourhood Character, wood work Collective, ph.d researcher in media & communications, Berlin:
In my experience, I’ve entered a number of contemporary dance environments with the intention to tap into sonic dialogues, which is sadly interrupted when other partygoers neglect to engage the communal space respectfully. When people make greater efforts to treat others positively, accept others’ boundaries with respect, this encourages a willingness to communicate more with one another, and we already begin to achieve a greater potential for the wider unity of our collective frequencies and similar powerful experiences through music.
In response to the obstacles that marginalised individuals and artists face in creative industries (and everywhere else in the world), I feel that one of the most empowering responses is to take proactive measures by creating doorways through which one may creatively express & communicate with the world.
wood work is a collective that I am in the process of launching with Khalil Anthony, Damon Bell, and Eric Porter — fellow musical colleagues and collaborators who stand at similar intersections of race and sexuality, and find themselves professionally underrepresented and disenfranchised in electronic and dance scenes. After first meeting four years ago in Berlin, this idea came about one day in early June 2017 when we had a chance to reunite together as a group after a long period of time. Together we share an array of experience in the arts and creative industries, and have over time developed creative and multimedia skills across mediums. There is no traditional hierarchical structure of our collective beyond that of a core of four members. In this way, we try to keep an open and collaborative approach toward the envisionment of logistical, conceptual and infrastructural aspects moving forward. Included below is our mission statement:
“Steady growth and strength; roots to limbs and branches, may we leave our mark with each changing season.”
Wood Work is an intersectional, non-binary & queer collective which communicates through diverse forms of creative expression.
As a collective spirit recognizing the need for unity in black genius- we strive to express the diasporic continuum by channelling the world’s beauty and wisdom via music, the arts, and beyond.
Wood Work was conceived with the purpose to create alternative avenues for socio-cultural mobility, professional self-empowerment, and transnational interchange in creative industries.
We can currently be contacted at email@example.com.
- academic, gerontologist, researcher and writer, currently writing a book on ageing and beauty, UK:
There are the visible women in the music industry and that is totally wonderful but then there are the women like me. Women who have music and dance living in their bones. No one talks much about us which is kind of strange. Movement/dance has always been my centring.
Grace….. it has kept me sane through tough times as a kid and right along through my lifespan. When I am in motion/dancing, I have come to care less and less about how I look to other people, I just crave to move inside the music. I know there are other older women out there who feel that same impulse — how do we make welcoming spaces for them? …..Freerotation is certainly such a space but there are other festivals, not all, but a couple of festivals where that wasn’t the case — where Nick and I experienced some pretty weird ageism. There is the very silly media noise that says you are too old for this that and the other thing but some people do take that noise to heart….. where is the counter narrative? How do we tell the story of liberating self through those wondrous vibrations coming at you, through your earhole, and inviting you to move? Out of the chaos on the planet right now, comes change, shifts in every conceivable and not so imaginable ways.
- Lucy works at Manchester Midi School, and is one quarter of Meat Free who have been throwing techno parties up in Manchester for the last 5 years:
Connection with people is difficult; we are often in our own rhythms, too busy looking in to be looking up or around. It’s human. In a world where large numbers of people are only brought together because of sport, protests or war, it is really important to realise the other 2 main players in that top 5 list: music and celebration. Music can, and does, bring thousands and thousands and thousands of people together. Connection takes more than just putting people together — but put them together with a shared love of something such as music, and watch what happens. We fall out of our standard rhythms and into another. We listen to new music and sharpen our indefinable sense of what is it we’re into musically. We want to be moved by the music. We become adventurous, we speak to strangers. We try to understand their problems, and they may understand ours. We become open.
At festivals and events, there is often more at play than just music if we open our eyes. There are issues and agendas often brought to us by people standing under gazebos with leaflets or shaking donation buckets on the door, or by the stranger next to us or the person on the mic. Climate change, human rights, sexism, Syria, homelessness, fracking. Sometimes it’s the reason the event is even taking place.
‘Connection takes more than just putting people together — but put them together with a shared love of something such as music, and watch what happens’ — this is great, but people are more complex than this. Put people together who at the same time as sharing a love of techno also hold very disparate beliefs — for example, female DJs and misogynists, that’s a scenario I’m sure we’ve all seen play out. Online, reaching for the Boiler Rooms, RA mixes and YouTube videos too, there is often more going on in the comment threads and it’s why we all try not to read the bottom half of the internet. Racism, sexism, transphobia, and bigotry. Do the issues always affect us? No. Should they affect us? You tell me. Should we do something about it? You tell me.
This to me is the indescribable power that music has, to both connect and cause conflict.
Music to connect: it initiates melting pots of people with a shared love and often sets the tone for people wanting to relax and open up, creating a recipe where you might come back with a new idea, perspective or purpose that you didn’t arrive with. By sharing and enjoying a space with a diverse group of people, it’s not impossible that you might leave feeling more strongly about wanting inclusion for everyone. By feeling comfortable in a space with strangers, it’s not impossible you might discover new ways of self-expression you hadn’t found before.
Music to cause conflict and chaos: it initiates melting pots of people that apart from music, have strong differences and values. This can lead to seeing a side of things we don’t always want to see, like the underbelly of sexism and racism that causes our privilege and inaction to feel uncomfortable in the shadows of those being marginalised. The chaos that is created from music — despite an almost hippocratic mantra of ’love the farm leave no trace’, we see weeks of work to clear up the mess of tents and crap left behind.
And then there is choice. 38 degrees is the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche. When people come together with a shared love of something, it’s special. When they come together with a shared understanding, it creates a climate for change. And when people come together with a shared understanding and back it up with actions, it can become a movement. This I believe is the latent power of music, in that it can invoke a power in people on both an individual and a mass level. If we can all encourage a climate of openness, inclusion, and respect in our musical circles, it can invoke positivity, action, and change.
Music & Visual Creativity
I believe that visual art has an important part to play in the process, and that more artists should be encouraged to apply their skills to this platform. Often there is little financial support for visuals and décor, and although this is understandable for promoters and venues on a tight budget, this can often be a missed opportunity for a richer experience and for a deeper level of communication. We have a dedicated group of talented VJs and décor crew at Freerotation, who add beauty, imagination, colour and warmth to the experience and help us to convey a positive message. I feel that the more love and care you put into a space, the more people get out of it.
For me, as a visual artist working in the electronic music world, the development of user-friendly and intuitive VJ software such as Resolume made the transition relatively easy, with seemingly endless potential as a creative medium. I’m learning all the time, and as a painter I find it challenging and exciting to work in a time-based medium, with message, style, movement, rhythm, and the musical journey to navigate. The vast and infinite ocean of digital creative technology and the ability to communicate with the world at any time can sometimes be a little overwhelming. It’s important to stay grounded, and enjoy this exciting technology without becoming a slave to it. Taking regular walks in the hills (and meditating with our 3 pet sheep!) always sorts my head out.
The venue for our festival is surrounded by beautiful countryside and the whole community mourned the death of a Cedar of Lebanon tree which perished in storms a few years ago. In this technologically addicted and consumerist society, spending time in nature, and showing respect for other species as well as ourselves is vital for nurturing a harmonious world. We are looking for ways to develop that connection and have formed a partnership with Cardiff-based charity, “Size of Wales”, which is working to protect an area of rainforest twice the size of Wales, by working holistically with local people to manage the forests and protect wildlife.
Creativity in all its forms is an important way to contribute to the wider community and how the human story will play out. The collective experience we find through music reminds us that “We Are Many”, and we need to find ways to channel that connection into positive action, hope and inspiration. Music and dance give us a tangible experience, on a small scale, of the global community which we could create, living in harmony with each other and our environment. It’s important to keep having those conversations together, share information, understand each other, inspire and encourage each other to make liberating and ethical life choices, and to find ways to take direct action in unity and compassion.
images are animation stills and paintings by Suzybee
www.suzybee.co.uk (artist website)
www.mindtours.co.uk (record label)
www.freerotation.com (festival & record label)