Though all genres of Black music have been subjected to exclusion, commodification and whitewashing, Black ownership in music varies. While rap and hip-hop are largely still fronted by Black artists, and knowledge of the Black origins of genres like rock is gradually re-entering the cultural consciousness, Black electronic music seems to lag behind. From the Midwestern US roots of Chicago house and Detroit techno, to UK genres like garage, grime, drum & bass and jungle — the latter perhaps even a wordplay on the racialised epithets thrown at its Black originators — electronic music would not exist without Black musicians. But creation doesn’t necessarily translate to credit, or ownership.
Along with improper marketing for Black artists and lower rates for Black talent, profits are concentrated within top-selling labels and line-ups, and industry organisations are fronted by white representatives. It can be a struggle for Black-led organisations and artists to get a look-in. And once there is money to be made, ownership and compensation become more fraught, with the risk of exploitation. Now more than ever, electronic music needs more Black ownership.
BLACK ARTIST DATABASE
“Black organisations are held back by systemic disadvantage,” says Kay Ferdinand. He’s one of the co-founders of the Black Artist Database, a community-based platform that began as Black Bandcamp in early 2021. “We’re missing the connections, means and institutional memory to make massive strides into what has become a non-Black industry,” Ferdinand says. “The challenge remains to get access to the resources, spaces and networks that are hidden and unreachable to the most marginalised.”
During the “latest popular global wave of support for the lives and condition of Black people,” as the Black Lives Matter movement grew, the Database rerouted the electronic music scene’s focus towards improving the material conditions for Black artists. “We were focused on building an organisation that could harness and continue the action being done for Black people in music, and at the same time create safe, interesting and quality spaces for our community,” says Ferdinand.