Sharing great music from all genres is our mission, but it’s no secret that we have a deep love for dance music. And as Pride Month comes to an end, we thought there was no better time to point out that we wouldn’t even be here without dance music’s queer origins. Educating ourselves on the music we know and love is important all the time, so we hope to continue the conversation even well past June.
Music As A Form of Protest
Dance music’s fruition can be traced back to disco, which emerged in the ’70s in Northeastern cities like Philadelphia and New York City. Disco brought people from all backgrounds together. The scene was mainly composed of gay men and people of color, and was created in response to the mainstream (and now-gentrified) rock and roll from the ’60s.
It wasn’t long before the two countercultures clashed and ended in a riot. Disco Demolition Night was actually a promotion strategy by MLB, who understood baseball and rock fans overlapped. On July 12, 1979, during a White Sox and Tigers game in Comiskey Park, Chicago, a crate of disco records was to be blown up.
Fifty thousand people and 39 arrests later, it turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in sports history. It was even found that people not only brought disco records to be destroyed, but also any records made by Black artists, including r&b, funk, and more. To this day, historians still debate whether or not the event was expressive of racism and/or homophobia.
Some may call that night “the night that disco died,” but others know the genre rose from the ashes in the form of house music. The legendary Frankie Knuckles, both gay and Black, is widely recognized as the Godfather of House Music and was even inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996. He was a resident DJ at the Warehouse, where chopped up disco records mixed with indie-soul and rock, which eventually lead to the innovation of the genre. As Knuckles gained notoriety in the dance music scene, the Warehouse became a hub for people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and the club is credited to be the birthplace of house music.
As house music evolved, popularized, and grew into the conglomerate now known as EDM, there’s no sense in denying that the genre is a byproduct of Black, gay oppression in other music communities and in America. Its foundation is quite literally built upon being a safe space for all people, which is why so many are drawn to the scene to this day.
The Current State of EDM
Some of the biggest electronic artists today are openly a part of the LGBTQIA+ community like GRiZ, Rezz, Nicole Moudaber, Kaytranada, and Wreckno. While this signifies progress, we can’t deny that many festival lineups are still overpowered by white, straight men.
If Black, gay men helped create dance music, why is it so white and straight now? Billboard explores this question in an article, and a quote from music journalist and producer Zel McCarthy sums it up best:
“Because the people running the business are straight men.”
Although progress is seemingly happening, things are not exactly changing. A 2020 study by USC Annenberg called “Inclusion in the Music Business: Gender & Race/Ethnicity Across Executives, Artists & Talent Teams” dives into the current state of the music industry and shows that across 70 major and independent labels, 86.1% of top executives were men and 86.1% were also white. It digs deeper into underrepresented groups in the music industry as well, and the rest of the results were disappointing, but not surprising.
What can we do?
There is no one answer, but we do have some starting points.
When it comes to the industry itself, there’s a lot of work to be done. The documentary Underplayed brings up an interesting solution: Inclusion riders. More common in the film and TV industry, NPR describes an inclusion rider as “a stipulation that performers can ask to have inserted into their contracts, which requires a certain level of diversity among film’s cast and crew.”
Electronic artists, blogs, and promotion companies can certainly use inclusion riders when booking festival lineups as well as hiring for production staff, management teams, and more. There are already people starting to implement this in their contracts, but there are also plenty of people who don’t know about inclusion riders, or might be interested but don’t know where to start. Now is the time to talk about them, actualize them, and normalize them.
There shouldn’t be an excuse for the lack of diversity in the music industry anymore. It’s a fact that marginalized people don’t have the same opportunities, so we must apply pressure to cultivate a more diverse scene. Electronic music fans deserve to finally see representation and experience a more inclusive community.
As fans, we can support artists, people who push the culture (like music journalists, flow artists, visual artists, etc.), and other people in the community who are LGBTQIA+, people of color, or women. These groups of people will give you a perspective you might not have known before. Show up to their sets, share their art, read their work, and most importantly, listen to and amplify their voices.
Anyone can go to a show or share a social media post, but when it comes down to it, marginalized people’s voices are rarely actually heard. Let’s once again make the scene a safe space for people who don’t feel as if they belong anywhere else. It’s possible if we all make an effort to be welcoming and accepting of people who are different from us.
We need to keep having these hard conversations about the underrepresentation in EDM. As a group who once had a mission of peace, love, unity, and respect, our representation should reflect that and show outsiders how accepting and diverse we truly are.
That can only happen once people from all sexual orientations, races, and genders have equal opportunities to shine and be heard. So let’s support Black artists even when it’s not Black History Month. Support women even when it’s not Women’s History Month. And support queer artists even when it’s not Pride Month.