(Credits : Pictures from The Matrix directed by the Wachowskis 1999)
This is a follow up from my first essay “What is the future for music after COVID-19?” I was lucky to be able to exchange with DeForrest Brown, Jr. a New York-based theorist, journalist, and curator, with who I’m now doing a series of conversations with, about the music industry and the state of affairs that you can follow on my patreon. I will also be joined by Rich Jensen, ex Subpop and the Co-op Executive for Resonate Co-op,an international fair-trade music streaming cooperative.
I also wanted to get some insights from a DJ/Producer perspective as well so I reached out to Berlin based via London Luke Dubuis,Ex Resonate/ Circadian Rhytm co-founder, and finally DJ/Producer BAE BAE & Zab Mustefa Multimedia Journalist.
At the time I’m writing yet another wave of Islamophobia unleashed in France, alongside a debate around free movement. It’s pretty transparent that governments across continental Europe are trying to divert their citizens from their sloppy management of the sanitary and social crisis created by the pandemic — wich is creating a crisis of trust across the continent.
DeForrest Brown, Jr : Yeah. The entire West is going through this simulation of post-war trauma that they need a full like Lacanian rebirth from and it’s really sad because they are a bunch of diaspora people that are just like, please leave us alone.
Well, there’s something that’s quite interesting about this. That’s we’ve got a few things going on at a time. Cause like, I think that they’re doing some primitive, ancient, European stuff that we don’t know nothing about. Like, this is some stuff deep in like, like the sixth century. And they’re performing these bacchanalia.
DeForrest Brown, Jr : I was like, okay, the flying cars aren’t coming by the time the dark knight came out. And I realized my student loans were kind of obligating my credit. I was like, okay guys, I don’t think this is working.
I think at the time, we had the 2007 crisis. People were like, the next crisis is student loans, brace yourself.We’re waiting for the crisis. Like, it’s a new movie or something.
DeForrest Brown, Jr :
Well, the thing is that they keep inflating the stocks. And so we’re just sitting here on like this weird EDM high. It’s funny, the other night they were partying so hard outside and there’s this one random EDM DJ that I’m sure it was playing to four people. And it was actually kind of beautiful. I cried. It was like four in the morning but he was building up this drop. It was like a good four minute buildup you could tell he hadn’t played like a club in a long time and he just kept building. And I was like, I really don’t want to hear this drop. Finally, someone screamed: ‘’ shut the fuck up’’ it didn’t even hit.
This remind me of this Picasso quote
“Painting is not made to decorate an apartment, It’s an offensive and defensive against the enemy.” Which can be applied to art as a whole. if you apply it to music, specifically, it’s now used to do Spotify playlist for cool cafés or Starbucks or whatever. It’s purely functional and totally devalued and with no intent to stand for anything and especially not fighting the enemy. We totally let it get commodified and this applies to art as a whole because of this late capitalism we live in, and the question is does art still even exist at this stage?
DeForrest Brown, Jr :
That’s crazy,this is exactly what I mean about the whites and their cognitive dissonance. When you talk to people about where music been positioned in society since the beginning of European civilization, it’s always been a torture device inside of some kind. I guess for someone speaking, or someone in a cathedral and they locked into the chairs and you’re there for five movements and it’s since like the first moment they figured out how to record sound, Europeans have been trying to figure out how to distill it to atmosphere.
But that’s what the futurists were doing, Yves Klein was doing it, Stockhausen. Like, I don’t know what this is, but they were constantly just trying to like flatten music into this.I don’t think they know what the end goal is for it though.
Jean-Hugues Kabuiku :
For me, it’s this kind of utilitarian kind of thing. It’s either you’re going to use it for a movie because, it’s literally one of the only few things where you can make money in the music industry. So like sync deals with Netflix or movies, you make like this kind of epic thing or you making this kind of folkey thingy and they use it.
DeForrest Brown, Jr :
Very manipulative, but also very, again, very bureaucratic where they assigned your role in it. And it’s weird because what do you do with, sounds out there?
Yeah, exactly. On Spotify, you have like, those playlists, called “Playlist to study to” you even have like on YouTube those one hour binaural sound mix. It’s like ‘’ here this drone sound is gonna help you work. It’s gonna expand your neuronal connections.’’
DeForrest Brown, Jr :
See, this is the real reason I named my record Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry. It’s a music that they cannot consume in that way, but they also can’t turn away from it, because it’s weird. I think we all just need to have a big conversation about what we want music to be
If you want to see the full on conversation with Deforrest Brown,Jr you can subscribe to the patreon where you will have access to the video.
When I exchanged with Rich Jansen on what is music in our Zoom Call,
this is what he answered :
“ It’s a human capacity that I think is absolutely, you know — it’s as much a part of our body as our lungs, honestly, in terms of it’s because it’s mental it’s, sublingual,area of abstraction. it’s very much about spatiality interiority and exteriority so if I can, exteriorize my interior affect, it’s now in a social space where others actually physically get into it. this is why we call the loudness knob”volume”, just because it creates a spatial volume in which others are now encountering. And so it’s, it automatically creates an orientation field, a social orientation field for others to measure in their own capacity. So of course, this is how groups of human beings 20,000 years ago found cohesion, found identity, found expression. ”
On the future of music :
Rich Jansen, Resonate Coop executive :
“We have an intellectual property framework based on this land property concept. Now one way to loosen the grip. Is an exchange between artist and people who are hoarding assets to give gifts, and not necessarily financial gifts, but material gifts, we don’t have to convert them back through currency.For example if there’s a house by the beach and this guy owns it, he could give it in trust to the co-op and it will send artists there to write albums, you know, like a writer residency, we don’t need to know how much it’s worth. Like all we need to know exactly. We can have good food, you can sell music on our co-op and it can earn money at your local food co-op and you just go there and get the food you want. ”
and to continue
“ another way of loosening the grip is the difference between a license and property. Like in masters, for example, you know, my last record label, we did licensing, we didn’t do ownership. So this is another thing co-op members could build licenses with each other about what they think is fair. So instead of doing things like the Catholic church in a way that is throughout this lifetime and the next [he laugh] we can have lightweight contracts that allow us to move more freely and evolve socially. “
A critic of the dance music industry
“The false choices offered by spectacular abundance — choices based on the juxtaposition of competing yet mutually reinforcing spectacles and of distinct yet interconnected roles (signified and embodied primarily by objects) — develop into struggles between illusory qualities designed to generate fervent allegiance to quantitative trivialities. Fallacious archaic oppositions are revived — regionalisms and racisms which serve to endow mundane rankings in the hierarchies of consumption with a magical ontological superiority — and pseudo playful enthusiasms are aroused by an endless succession of ludicrous competitions, from sports to elections. Wherever abundant consumption is established, one particular spectacular opposition is always in the forefront of illusory roles: the antagonism between youth and adults. But real adults — people who are masters of their own lives — are in fact nowhere to be found. And a youthful transformation of what exists is in no way characteristic of those who are now young; it is present solely in the economic system, in the dynamism of capitalism. It is things that rule and that are young, vying with each other and constantly replacing each other.”
The Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord
My work with this series of essays is to provide a radical critic of the music industry in order to outline what should be done.
We have first to scrap any techno-determinist paradigm when we trying to outline the future of the music industry, which we are experiencing is a crisis created not by lack of technological infrastructure but years of commodification under the pretense of we going to outsmart capitalism thanks to the adhesion of the cultural elite to the Birmingham school.
This ideology of “creative” or even “critical” consumption is accompanied by a total refusal to take the commodity-form as such in the line of fire of criticism (left-wing postmodernism being a really weak framework compared to the Marxism of the workers’ movement, instead of transcending it, which he pretended to do).
The problem is no longer the fact that the commodity-form, as a necessary evil, still impregnates the contents of its critique, so that it can only be articulated and reproduce its material presuppositions; the problem is that the commodity character is accepted or ignored.
Brand sponsorship for example was always present in the music industry,
but there is a difference between an event sponsored by a corporation and music solely created to produce content for brand, all this without any bit of critic as it is normalized.
Having an energy drink company owning an archive of the dance music and creators lament over the fact that they are stopping this venture, show you in what stage we are in the total vampirization of the dance music “subculture”.
How to outline any alternative when the “creative class” just want to accelerate the commodification of music? when creativity consists only in the way to consume goods and to combine between them the goods to consume, the consequence is a state of emergency of the” use-value”.
While for-profit organizations disguising as cultural institutions are enjoying the few financial advantages that our neoliberal government offer while maintaining relationships with creators like they are struggling art institution while being back by VC.
As Luke Dubuis (Ex Resonate/ Circadian Rhytm co-founder) puts it
“we need to fundamentally think about what is producing value for people? What happens if we have a cooperative form or whatever, which provided enough value for us to have free time to be creative people. Artist maybe have to understand that existence purely through music alone is not possible anymore and that we need to be more like balanced individuals, engaging with the environment and social issues and being a musician,but the problem is, is that we live in a society which fundamentally massively put an halt on social welfare. So we just don’t have the means to do anything at this point, which is why it’s pretty tiring for everyone I think. ”
The Economy of being an artist
Between 1970 and 1980, the decline in income was, in the United States, France and Canada, greater for artists than for other categories of workers.At the same time, the number of registered professional artists rose sharply at an annual rate of over 4%.
(Sources Tom Bradshaw “ an examination of the Comparability of 1970 and 1980 Census Statistics on Artists — Grail Graser “ Manpower and the arts”)
Fast forward, a census in 2016 establish the median individual income of Canada’s artists is 44% less than all Canadian workers. As a society, we accepted this situation as normal since we totally subscribed to the romantic myth of the struggling artist. Meanwhile, the art market is reaching unheard records and the use-value of music is being proved by the success of initiatives like “United We Stream” among other or the holistic place that music takes in late capitalism.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Rent of Primary Residence in U.S. City Average [CUSR0000SEHA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CUSR0000SEHA, November 18, 2020.
On the graphic above you can see that the average rental price experienced hypergrowth from 2008 to 2020 in the US compared to the minimum wage that stays stagnant. This combined with the fact that cultural center are concentrated in capitals or big cities, where the rental pressure is bigger than in other places, you have a situation where artists are earning less than even minimum wages and are supposed to keep up with a rental market in hypergrowth and relative inflation on goods, which make it unsustainable to be an artist full time but even combined with a job the situation is still grim hence the graphic above. So it makes it almost impossible for someone who doesn’t come from relative wealth to pursue a career in music or art in general for that matter.
As the discrepancies in the west between the rental market and what a worker make even when he earn more than minimum, grow bigger, one can ask yourself especially during this COVID-19 health and social crisis what are the government waiting for to roll an Universal Basic Income ?
On what should be done to make it easier for artist multimedia journalist answered Zab Mustefa ‘
“Haha I could write an essay on this. It’s pretty unbearable. There’s an amalgamation of governments turning a blind eye to nightlife and creative industries, combined with irresponsible DJs playing at plague raves and setting a bad example. One of the most unbearable things for me was the fuckwits attending these recent raves and likening their “anti-establishment” and “underground” covid raving to that of illegal raves in the 80s and 90s, that somehow it’s making a statement. It’s not comparable and it’s not remotely underground, darling. During Thatcherite times in the UK, of course there was a collective and justifiable creative community fighting the Tories and organising raves as a form of release. But when they did it, it didn’t risk killing anyone.
There’s so many individuals from various sectors of the creative industry that need support right now and I wouldn’t rely on any government or big club/venue to provide that. Realistically, there has to be more help and support at a grassroots level, but at this stage, given everything that’s happened in the last few months in terms of Arts Council funding being designated to the wrong institutions and the corruption entailed in all of it, I’m not holding my breath that there is one thing that can be put in place to make a change.”
The cultural Boom experienced these last few years, encouraged by the multiplication of platform where artists can host their content without any barrier of entry, was also followed by a hyper-concentration of cultural actors in the following cities: New-York , Paris, Berlin, London.
Djing and Music production is exercising the same attraction as the role of the writer in the first half of the 19th century in Paris as the sociologist and anthropologist César Graña first described it.
The absence of visible barriers of entry into literature gave the writer’s profession an exceptional power of attraction.
A particular embodiment of the “self-made man”, the writer had complete freedom to define himself as a creator, in the absence of a univocal exercise of the profession and of any requirement of certified competence.
In a society where access to all other professions of comparable prestige was governed by rigid selection mechanisms, academic or social or both.
access to a universe where achievements were both spectacular and unpredictable made the world of letters a zone of apparent meritocracy without any social determinism. Remind you of anything?
and What happens when an artistic role is being oversaturated by an overwhelming number of candidates?
Barriers of entry are created via academia and now you are able to study Djing as a course and recently in the UK you can even validate an official academic diploma in the field.
As the news of a potent vaccine is getting heard, you can already sense that people are tempted to go on with their old ways.
As an artist/ cultural worker you have the responsibility of educating yourself on socioeconomic analysis and on anti-racism in general both are linked anyway. It will avoid running for corporate sponsorship when is the role of local government to back down the art. It’s our role to remind them that it’s their job and we can organize toward this instead of selling out to energy drink company or Vodka brands.
Poverty is cyclical and our support needs to be consistent if we want to provide real Mutual aid. The trap that entitles by giving up most of our energy to share Gofundme lay in the fact that we accepted as a fact that the government shouldn’t be pressured into helping its citizens.
“I come from a working class background in south central los angeles. My dad is a retired carpenter and my mother is a dental assistant. Both of them are immigrants from Central America so I’m first gen.”
say DJ/Producer BAE BAE
on how can we support artists in her position, she reply :
“ Covid makes it hard to really be in the practice of djing so many of us djs have used this time to develop our practice as producers. We could use the support of our community buying our music and sharing it on social media platforms. Also just generally stay connected with us — we really need to cross the gap of alienation that covid creates. Reach out to the artists you support and let them know how their music makes you feel. It keeps us feeling like we’ve managed to reach you across the current circumstances and that we’re not creating in a vacuum.
Creatives should be given access to public arts funds and they need to be spread out and accessible. We have very limited arts funding in the U.S., especially if you live outside of New York. We need more state funded arts funding for independent. Unfortunately so much of that has been deprioritized, which I feel is a political thing. Artists challenge the status quo, and so the state sabotages them by limiting access to funding to a chosen few.
End the non-profitization/privatization of the arts so that we can have a viable and vibrant range of creativity and culture endorsed by the state. Ensure that black, indigenous, and poc folks are given access to financial resources as a form of reparations. Cancel student loan debt so that we can be free from obligatory forms of passionless work. Above all let artists help to create a vision of how we can create a livable and soulful world.
In Ishmael Reed’s book Mumbo Jumbo a liberatory disease called “jes grew” (“just grew”) spreads everywhere, causing people to gyrate their bodies and become musical and expressive — in effect blackening the world. Ideally the state would allow artists to unleash their own plague panacea that frees us to be here in the full expression of ourselves. The current pandemic can be leveraged as an opening to disrupt the fetters capitalism has over the state. It’s all an illusion any way.”
On music being a force of change Luke Dubuis answered the following :
“I think it can, well, I mean, it brings together groups.that can then unify, not through music, but through a physical space just like a space, they can bring a space for solidarity , I’ve seen it, because I was involved in it, in london So I know that it did definitely have that, but right now we are living the most fragmented isolated lives. So music itself obviously has massively been overplayed as a force of change, like I give a fuck that there’s going to be some extra political music this year, because things are even worse than ever.
With pressure from the establishment that we have to “ keep carry on” (England WWII Propaganda slogan). While the Tory government is targeting people who earn 20K per year for new income taxes, and people will keep carrying on because this is what british people got taught to do”
So how to ensure better and more equal social conditions for artists, in an atomized world of artistic invention?