The last few years in dance music has seen an increase in engagement with political issues. Subjects like gender equality, homophobia, racism and class are being discussed more frequently in the dance music press and online, with DJs, producers and artists often getting involved too. And you can guarantee that whatever the issue, there will always be a contingent saying that we should “Keep politics out of music!” or “Just let the music do the talking”.
“Keep politics out of music” is the rallying cry of the true hedonist and we get it, we totally understand. This is supposed to be a techno party, not a political party, right? It’s where we let loose for a few precious hours and forget about mundane reality and our constant scrolling timeline of global worries. Clearly, the middle of the dance floor at 3am isn’t the best time to discuss how systemic discrimination continues to reinforce the gender pay gap or to evaluate the possible impact of leaving the Customs Union on UK independent record labels. But just because discos are loud, dark and not conducive to reasoned debate, does this actually mean that dance music and politics shouldn’t mix? Or is the whole ‘keep politics out of music’ idea simply a way to avoid dealing with difficult issues?
This thing we do every weekend: the music, the DJs, the way we all dance together in a heaving mass on the dancefloor; we’re so used to it all that it’s easy to forget where it actually came from. Our scene was born from a need for community for people pushed to the margins of society. So much of dance music culture — mixing and beat-matching, long DJ sets, warehouse parties, promos, re-edits, gathering together to dance in communion under a strobe light, was mostly generated and driven by the largely black and Latino LGBTQ underground of ‘70s US cities. The dancers, promoters, DJs and clubbers who created the early disco club scene, which eventually developed into house, always placed music at the very heart of what they were doing, as a uniting force that brought all the outsiders together and gave them a home, a family, regardless of race, age, sexuality or gender.
The subsequent success of disco on a commercial scale — alongside a seemingly perceived threat of this ideology of inclusivity — lead to the mob mentality that gathered behind American radio broadcaster Steve Dahl’s infamous 1979 Disco Sucks campaign, which culminated with crates filled with disco records being blown up on the field during a break between a Chicago White Sox baseball game at their Comiskey Park ground. It was an event that Chic’s Nile Rodgers subsequently likened to the Nazi’s 1933 book burning campaign.