How dance music can create the more beautiful world we know is possible.
I just got back from Amsterdam, where I spoke to a room of music professionals about how their industry should respond to climate change.
I used to work for Greenpeace, and I think a lot of people expected me to talk about using recycled paper in the office. To be honest, I don’t really care about that stuff. And while cutting down on flights is important (more here), I don’t think it’s the biggest thing the music industry can do, either.
What music can do is shape culture. This mysterious, slippery thing we call culture is the most powerful force known to humanity. It defines our dreams, decides our rulers, and sets the line between right and wrong.
So I think what the music industry needs do right now is to celebrate and champion the cultural values we need to thrive in the 21st century. A cultural value is something that we all believe in, what society chooses to live by.
Here are some of the values I think we need right now:
Inclusion. Diversity. Acceptance. Compassion. Solidarity. Creativity. Joy.
Whether it’s climate change, mental health, the refugee crisis or homelessness, we need to cultivate these values as a society and make them the norm. We must replace the politics of division with the values of hope.
So where are we most likely to find these values in action today?
It might sound lofty or a bit ridiculous, but the values of the dance floor (or the festival arena) are exactly what we need to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. What’s needed are large groups of people coming together in community, united by joy, transcending social divisions.
If someone is in trouble, the chances are someone will help them out. Kinship, solidarity, care. This is all good stuff.
But we need to go further. How can we help these values ‘jump the fence’ and go beyond the boundaries of the festival, or the walls of the club? I believe that artists, promoters, brands and fans can play a much more active role in promoting these values, both inside and outside the world of music.
So what does this look like? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there are examples of this already starting to happen:
- Brave collaborations. When the Black Madonna teams up with a grassroots charity like Help Refugees, it feels powerful. A defiant celebration of compassion in front of thousands of people? I’m in.
2. Artists finding their voice. This means more than a retweet. It means speaking up on the harder topics, with smaller and less well known organisations. I’m thinking of DJs for climate action, or The 1975's sampling of Greta Thunberg. If the 1960s were defined by protest songs and folk heroes like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, who will be remembered from this era?
3. Sound system roadblocks. This is a punchy one, but I love it. In April this year Extinction Rebellion shut down the most commercial junction in London with a major sound system. Later in the year, the Stop Brexit DJs did the same thing. Can we go back to the early days of acid house culture, literally putting dance music in front of the powers that be?
4. Asking the difficult questions. Resident Advisor has been running a serious, honest series on how the industry can face up to its carbon footprint while staying true to its global roots. We need more people and organisations who are willing to open up these conversations, despite not knowing all the answers.
5. Festivals. As well as getting rid of plastic cups, festivals can mobilise and inspire hundreds of thousands of people to fall in love with nature, practise radical inclusion, support charities, and stop shopping (for a bit). Glastonbury remains a huge inspiration, but so many others are nurturing this culture too.
I didn’t have the courage to say it earlier today, but I believe that we need a love revolution to fix the great challenges in our world (I borrowed this phrase from my friend Dan Burgess from the Spaceship Earth Podcast).
This revolution is already happening, born in the 1960s and meandering its way through hardcore and acid house to grime. Diverse groups of people coming together in joy and togetherness, in defiance of hatred and difference, and using these values as a basis for a new politics, community and activism.
This is the new game. We need to create a huge outpouring of compassion and empathy for other humans (and non humans) across the world. We need to meet fascism and division with celebration and joy.
We’re heading into what could be the rockiest century in our history, and the only way through is to face the music with positivity, humility and hope.
As the political activist Emma Goldman said,
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”.
James Turner is co-founder of the Glimpse collective.